Leftovers: Springsteen showed us a little faith

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“Leave behind your sorrows/ Let this day be the last/ Tomorrow there’ll be sunshine/ And all this darkness past.”

— Bruce Springsteen, “Land of Hope and Dreams.”

If one more person feels compelled to tell me Bruce Springsteen sounded like crap during the “Celebrating America” TV special on Jan. 20 I’ll explode. 

This is based partially on decades of personal, not-always joyous learning moments. Springsteen and I mirrored adulting angst while growing up, and long beyond. As much as I like to fancy myself a thought-provoking writer, I still look to him for lyrics that express what I cannot. After all this time, he has never let me down. 

With failed marriages, the mixed emotions of bringing children into this world, and bitter disappointments in our country, we have both moved through our time as proud Americans.

Before you label me a fangirl or try to figure out what over 100 live shows equals in cash money (my first Springsteen show cost $3), know that he has long told his audience to trust the art, not the artist. He owns this and shared it in his 2016 autobiography, “Born to Run,” and in 2017 on the Broadway stage at the Walter Kerr Theater, where he (paraphrasing) called himself a fraud. He wrote anthems about cars, he told us, yet didn’t drive until he was 20. 

Nonetheless, I trust the art as told through his pen, wailing saxophone notes, partnership with the E Street Band, and as stated, the pebble-in-the-pond rippled reflections.

Such obsession cannot come without my own artistry of thought, even if it’s rudimentary. In the early days, I would become indignant when people tried to out-Bruce me by telling me how many more shows they’d seen, reciting his lyrics (Ha! I’m still the champ here), and other inconsequential facts. How dare they imply the same intimacy and understanding I held with the music? He couldn’t really be speaking to all those people the way he spoke to me. 

In 1992, when I was eight months pregnant with Number One, I went to a show in Worcester, Massachusetts. It was a four-hour extravaganza, as good as any I’d seen before. Throughout the rocking first hour, my daughter was visibly dancing to familiar music and occasionally sticking her foot through my ribs. She was also pressing on my bladder. 

With zero hesitation, I waltzed past a line of men directly into their bathroom.

Bruce Springsteen jumps into the crowd during a 1980s show where columnist Natalie Ladd was among the front-row fans. (Courtesy Frank Moriarty)

“Obviously, I’ve seen whatever you’re showing before,” I said loudly as I waited outside a stall. Everyone laughed. No one was mad. “Patti (Scialfa, Bruce’s wife and bandmate) is pregnant too,” one voice about six people deep yelled. “Hey, you should name the kid Bruce,” came another. Then all those guys waiting to use the bathroom start clapping.

Such a stunt of necessity has been pulled at shows of all types, by many women, but that paper ticket made it into Number One’s baby book before she took her first breath. 

Fast forward many shows and years later, and I’m sitting at my desk at a former job, but with some of the same people I work with today. One mundane winter morning, the announcement of “Springsteen on Broadway” broke and tickets went on sale. Without even thinking, I yelled from my desk, “Oh my God, #neverthatkaren, give me your credit card. GIVE IT TO ME!” She didn’t ask or hesitate. She just handed it over.

My millennial columnist colleague, Kate Gardner, feels and thinks much the same about Taylor Swift as I do about Springsteen. They have, in fact, been compared as the voices of their relative generations. However, as much as I admire Swift, it is my belief that Bruce has been picking up riders on the train all along. 

As “Land of Hope and Dreams,” the song was introduced in 1999 as a tribute to America’s immigrants. The most polished version was recorded for the “Wrecking Ball” album in 2012 (pre the Miley Cyrus song of the same name.) It was the last time saxophonist Clarence Clemons would record with the band. 

The same recording also had the full sound of the Victorious Gospel Choir and an electric drum, making it a religious experience when listening to Bruce invite us along for the ride. In concert, the E Street Band was able to recreate the sound and the song became a frequent concert closer.

Maybe Bruce’s striking inaugural-evening solo on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial wasn’t as glitzy as JLo’s Hollywood-like nod to Woody Guthrie earlier in the day. Or of other wonderful performers that evening. His voice was raspy and, after watching it a few times, I’m convinced he was crying. 

There’s no doubt in my mind this is a fact. After all, I was crying, too.

Natalie Ladd is a Portland restaurant veteran, freelance writer, and connoisseur of all things Bruce Springsteen. She loves Boston sports, chewy red wine and has never sampled a cheese she didn’t like. She can be reached at [email protected].

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