I was all prepared for someone to give me some lip about taking two days off in the middle of the week to go to Charlottesville.
I had the speech ready to go. “You want me to choose between work and Springsteen? Fine. I CHOOSE ROCK AND ROLL.” And then I was going to blow out of work in a cloud of dust. And then set the building on fire.
Not really. I stole the “set the building on fire” joke from Office Space. But I was totally going to do the I CHOOSE ROCK AND ROLL thing. I am dying for someone to set me up for that line.
My coworkers absolutely ruined my spectacular departure by being excited and supportive. My boss was particularly nice about it because Springsteen is a big, vocal Obama man. So, ok, I’m still employed. Whatever. I also just had a stunning October drive up to the Virginia hills. There were gourds,
and apple orchards.
So I found my lodging for the night, supremely fabulous story to follow, and then since I was hours early on purpose, set off on foot for downtown Charlottesville. I was something like two minutes from my car when a sweet old man (think Nick Nolte at 80, Hawaiian shirt and cane) stopped me. He whistled a little bit when he talked. “So this fellow Springsteen is playing today,” he told me. “I know! I’m so excited! I have a ticket tonight!” I said. “No, I mean, he’s playing right this minute. For free. At the Pavillion. It’s for Obama and all.”
I almost kissed his face. Five minutes in Charlottesville, and I have a free Springsteen concert to attend. My busted knee and I found that we could move pretty darn quickly, when free Springsteen is involved. I made it just as the speeches started.
The speeches were fine; there were candidates and veterans and Virginians, all very enthusiastic, but nobody can compare to Springsteen.
The Boss took the stage, just him and a guitar and a harmonica. He played I song I’d never heard, which was beautiful. And then he started to talk.
He talked about social justice, and how since he was a kid he’d been worried about the divide between our haves and our have-nots, and said that the measure of a great country is how it takes care of its own, and how this land is full of hardworking, patriotic people who struggle, because our systems are tilted towards the rich. TELL IT, Bruce, I spent a decade as a public school teacher, because I believed that that’s the best way to help level the playing field. It helps, some, but believe me, I can tell you stories that would turn your hair white about why even in America, this playing field is not only not level, but filled with land mines and gullies and ravines, if you’re not born into a supportive family like I was. Bruce gets it. He spoke, beautifully and eloquently, with a quiet intensity, about why he supports Obama. He made me want to run out and vote all over again.
Bruce also does a dead-on, deadpan Obama impersonation. It’s perfect. And he cracked a joke about how glad he is that General Motors is still making cars, because good heavens, what would he write about with out GM cars?
And then he played “The River.”
When my sister e-mailed me this morning, she told me she’d woken up singing “I’m on Fire” in her head. “The River” is not my favorite Springsteen song, but is absolutely the one most likely to get stuck in my head, because it’s the character I’m most likely to worry about, and one of his most poetic. It’s about hard luck and mislaid plans and destiny unachieved, and also escape in a fast car, just for a little while. “And for my nineteenth birthday, I got a union card and a wedding coat” tears me up. And when he gets to “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse, that sends me down to the river...” I am usually a puddle of emotions.
I know he played that one for the line, “lately there ain’t been much work, on account of the economy,” but it’s about so much more. Yearning and anger and coping, and also a glimmer of hope and a better life on the other side of the tracks. Listening to this man sing, it makes you want to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, and give someone else a hand, and feel proud to be an American, and take off in a cloud of dust in a fast car.
All of this, before the actual show tonight started.
After he did Thunder Road, just Bruce and his harmonica and guitar, possibly the most beautiful acoustic rendition I have ever heard live, I wrote this on the chalkboard wall outside:
and I mean it. Man is a poet and a sage. He understands things. He would do a better job than most.
Next go-round, I am writing him in if he doesn’t run.