I'm disturbed by all these wagging tongues at the New York Times or Washington Post who watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics and said that the orchestrated horde was proof that the Chinese were some kind of anti-individualist hive mind. What would they say about an American marching band? Or Arlington National Cemetery?
These thoughts were inspired by none other than Bruce Springsteen, who took the sprawling, catwalked stage at the Richmond Coliseum Aug. 18 to a sold out house. One could see the range of ages (with high concentrations of baby boomers -- mustaches, deep summer tans and tattoos faded to blue). It was amazing that some of the young girls were allowed to dress that way; it was amazing that some of the men were able to dress themselves at all. These are Bruce's people.
But so when he took the stage about an hour late, the audience was ready, chanting along immediately as Springsteen and the E Street Band launched into “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.” There's a real old-time revival feel to some of Springsteen's music -- he the raging preacher, reaching out to his flock as he intones truth about the streets. And watching the folk throw up their hands with him and chant along, I thought then of those Olympic celebrations and wondered, what's the difference? They bang on drums, we chant with Bruce. Because it's all about giving yourself away to something, isn't it? To relaxing the grip on your Self, to letting it go, to becoming part of a bigger thing. I mean, this is spontaneous stuff, isn't it? Sure, some of those folks had been practicing their arm thrusts for 30 years, but not together. The People's Republic of Bruce.
And he knows how to please his people. Strutting, running, collapsing against the mic stand, the very picture of the worn-out troubadour, Springsteen at 58 plowed through more than 2 1/2 hours of material, sweating practically the whole time. His is a sound designed to fill up stadiums, and while the Coliseum certainly did fill, it seemed to have trouble figuring out where to put all that sound. Often it sounded like the edges had been rubbed off the songs. Loud standing in for clear.
No one seemed to mind. Perhaps the interminable lines at the beer stands had worn down their resistance. (SMG is running the show at the Coliseum and Landmark Theater, both places with suspiciously few concessions. Let's hope they ramp it up when they take over CenterStage next year -- no one likes to see opera without a wicked buzz).
Down front the fans waved homemade signs with favorite songs that Springsteen collected and chose from. He waded often into the embrace of the crowd, sometimes coming up with a small child, to whom he sang, and who sang … hey, wait a goddamn minute -- I know what this is. I've seen this before. This man's putting together a campaign. Sure. Springsteen's running for president.
It all makes sense. Democratically selecting songs from his people, preaching about unity, hugging kids -- yes, a Springsteen show resembles a well-run campaign. And, I see now, he announced his platform right before launching into “Mary's Place”:
“Do you wanna get there? Because if you don't wanna get there, you can't go. And if you can't go, I can't go. Because you can't get there by yourself.”
There, see? A man who knows we're in it together. A man who plays guitar, piano and harmonica in one show alone. A man who lifts a pretty girl in short shorts from the crowd and then, in a manner exactly unlike other politicians, gently releases her back into the throng.
And he knows how to relate. Springsteen played Richmond back in his early days, howling down in Monroe Park with Richmonder Robbin Thompson (then they were called Steel Mill). Springsteen recalled those days:
“Lord we were so thankful to have another audience to play for,” he said -- Richmond being the only source of crowds other than Jersey ones back then.
And humble? Shoot. He pulled a sign requesting “Crush on You” during the encore and called it the worst song on that album. “The riff was taken from ‘Car 54, Where Are You?’” he said.
He's got the union vote; he's got the baby-booming Republicans. Yessir, the man may have a shot at this thing. I can't believe I missed it before now. If he can carry a swing state like ours, even for one night, he can take the whole country in November. Looking at the set list after his Richmond show, he's certainly got his choice of slogans.
“Springsteen: Livin' in the Future”
“Springsteen: Prove It All Night”
“Springsteen: Born to Run”
or, my personal favorite,
“Springsteen: I'll Work for Your Love”
But who would he choose for a running mate? Steely Dan?