“Springsteen On Broadway”

Note: This was from an earlier, failed attempt at blogging in 2019. I like the post so I decided to re-use it.

I admit that when I first heard about Bruce Springsteen appearing on Broadway, I didn’t get it. I figured that “theatrical performance” was being loosely defined by both parties – the Kerr theater and Springsteen. Having never seen the show, I didn’t get it until I watched the Netflix special – and then I got it profoundly. Of course, it makes so much sense! Bruce has been a storyteller throughout his career. It’s an art that he has crafted through songwriting, verbal storytelling during concerts, his autobiography, and his various presentations for events like Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions ceremonies.

Springsteen was already a storyteller par excellence by the time I saw him in concert during the original “River” tour. He told the one about getting his draft notice and his father’s placid but heartfelt expression of relief when he failed the physical exam – “That’s good; that’s good.” His introduction to “This Land is Your Land,” which he related to Vietnam veterans, prompted me to read a book that he mentioned – “Woody Guthrie: A Life” by Joe Klein. That book, and my ensuing infatuation with Guthrie’s music, had a profound impact on my worldview. Later, when I saw him in 1985, he told the story of how a great Nor’easter blew wind, rain, and Clarence Clemons through the barroom door.  

Having seen the Boss in concert back then and more recently, in 2016, I can say that his shows have always been intense, but the older shows had a different kind of intensity. They used to burst with physical energy, as Bruce ran around the stage and performed comic routines like fainting and being resuscitated à la James Brown. One of the things that strikes me about “Springsteen on Broadway” is how he achieved the same level of intensity in his performance, but through verbal art rather than physicality. This is an intelligent and necessary transition at his age, and one that had clearly been developing in his live concerts. For example, when we saw the 2016 “River” tour, my husband was not a Springsteen fan and had never seen him live. At one point, during “Point Blank,” he turned to me and said “This is the best thing I’ve ever seen! It’s like being in church!” He was converted. We both walked out of the arena feeling more energized than we were four hours previously, even though much of the energy that we and the other audience members absorbed was musical, emotional, and indeed spiritual, rather than physical. There’s some deep well from which Springsteen draws, and I’m amazed at its abundance all these years later.

I hung on to this album for almost a month before playing it. Having seen the Netflix special first, I knew that listening to it would take a good amount of time and attention. Furthermore, my father passed away just six months ago, and the first half of the show – largely about Springsteen’s dad – had me in tears. I knew it would be similarly difficult to listen to this album, so I put it off until I had the emotional wherewithal for another go around.

I suspect that most Bruce fans will purchase “Springsteen on Broadway,” because that’s what diehard fans do. But if you’re on the fence about it, try to watch the Netflix show first so that you know what you’re getting into. You’re buying an experience, and it’s a heavy one even if it’s not the whole experience of the live performance. If you have parents, a childhood, or a hometown, then you’re likely to be emotionally affected by these masterfully-crafted songs and stories. 

The “Springsteen on Broadway” vinyl edition consists of four records, each on 150-gram vinyl. It was released in December 2018 on Columbia Records.

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