I attended a concert the other night, which is a sentence I didn’t think I’d be writing at this point in my life. Not because of my age: I’m still reasonably young (for, say, a Supreme Court Justice, which, in full disclosure, I am not nor am likely to be) and in fact, the artist I was there to see, Bruce Springsteen, is essentially my parents’ age. It’s more that I suspect I’ve transitioned into the yelling at kids to get off of my lawn stage of life. I like Bruce Springsteen’s music quite a bit. Specifically, his gift for marrying the complex network of compromises, joys, and disappointments that make up life to lyrics that are somehow simultaneously plainspoken and lyrical.
Now, whether or not you cotton to The Boss’s music isn’t important for the purposes of this post. Frankly, as much as I like him, he’s not my all-time favorite (nor am I his, so we’re even). In fact, when my old friend from high school, whom I hadn’t seen much of the last couple of decades, suggested we go see him about six months ago, I enthusiastically agreed but then all but forgot about it. When reminded of it last month, I was ambivalent at best. I’ve been nursing a pretty resilient depression and it seemed like an enormous amount of work. I’d have to leave the house. I’d likely have to shower. And almost undoubtedly, I’d be obliged to wear pants. But, when I learned my oldest friend was also now joining us, I began to look forward to it. That is to say, I resigned myself to it, which is sometimes as close as I can get.
Our Graduation Gowns Lie in Rags at Our Feet
We had a long, enjoyable dinner first, which was my friend’s idea, and it turned out to be a great one. We all had significant catching up to do, and the hardwired warmth that instinctively reboots when we’re reunited with friends from our salad days lurched to life inside my unruly brain.
And then the concert began. Well, we ate, paid the check, and drove to the arena in between, but I’m skipping over that part, although now I’m not, apparently. Like him or loathe him, you have to give kudos to Springsteen for his work ethic. In his early 70s, he came out swinging and didn’t stop (often, quite literally for 10 songs or so at a clip) for three hours. I have a hard time doing anything for three hours, but of the few things I might be able to do for that timespan, I promise all involve sitting. His set was sequenced, my friends and I quickly all noticed, the way you would sequence songs on an album (an often overlooked but vital part of the art of album making). The order of songs was a narrative tool; it told the story of growing older, losing friends and family as time does its relentless and monolithic thing, and above all, how to honor and even treasure the past without succumbing to sentimentality or stasis. Also, there were lots of rockers toward the end, which is fun.
But this message, which in some of the rare moments of pauses between songs, he talked about explicitly, hit me in the solar plexus. I’m at the age at which I still have time to accumulate vibrant memories and author impactful experiences but am also aware I’ve had more summers than I’m going to have. And this realization, as the evening reinforced, can be a blessing. Seeing this show with two friends I’ve known most of my life underscored this visceral knowledge. 35 years ago, Bruce Springsteen was making music that my friends and I enjoyed. And 35 years later, with all of us having traveled – and continuing to travel – divergent paths, we are still around to bear witness to each other’s pasts. We are more than people we like: we are proof positive for one another that what we recall through the cloud-like curtains of ebbing memory truly happened. At least, our presence with each other confirmed the larger contours of our recollections are rooted in truth.
We’re Riding Out Tonight to Case the Promised Land
This soul-consoling thought was, for me, made more poignant by the knowledge that in another 35 years, which I know for a fact flies by swiftly, most, if not all of us, will no longer be here. That these roads occasionally intersect is one of these journeys’ simplest and purest rewards. At some point in the packed arena, I looked around to see people in their 20s summoned out of their seats by ecstasy and rhythm to sway and sing words they’d absorbed without having tried. And these people swayed and sang next to and with people whose ages spanned decades, thousand of individual roads intersecting for one moment, cohering for one joyous instant into one community. Souls who, for a blink, ignored differences in age, gender, education, and experience to form a tight-knit, briefly indissoluble tribe of complete strangers. Like all art or faith worth the naming, it reassured us we’re not alone in our aloneness.
And if Bruce was still here, still every bit present and accounted for, still pouring every atom of his Bruceness into singing “Born to Run” for the umpteen thousandth time like he was singing it for the first time, if he could still palpably register the love of his art and the moment, then maybe things aren’t as bad as they sometimes seem.
So, in the end, I did go to a concert, which after all, derives from the Latin “to unite,” but to label it as a concert feels far too flimsy a word to support the weight of the experience: it was a three-hour nonstop convocation/celebration/consecration/revitalization/big tent religious revival/uplifting/heart-wrenching/self-sustaining/city of brotherly and sisterly love and recognition which not only made feel blessed to be alive when the E Street Band performed, but to witness them with people I’d been lucky enough to have known, know, and will keep knowing for at least a little longer.