On a good week, Friday night gets to be “date night” for me and my husband. Which consists of putting the kids to bed, making tea and then popping corn, and choosing a film to watch together without putting extra hours into being artists.
The film we chose to watch this week was Springsteen on Broadway, an intimate storytelling and acoustic music performance by Bruce Springsteen held at the Walter Kerr Theatre in New York City. It is breathtaking in its simple depth.
I had noticed that Oprah recently mentioned she went to see his live performance three times, and now that I’ve watched it, I can see why.
Because of the demands of everyday life, the moments where a couple can weep healing tears together are quite rare. We got to do that with this film.
In the way Bruce Springsteen tells his story, you can tell he’s gone the distance in his healing, because it is not the kind of storytelling that passes the buck and scapegoats, but it is the kind of storytelling that has become a sort of sacrifice for the listener and the viewer, to be mirrored and healed, almost by proxy. And there was no oversharing - a lost art form that I long to emulate.
The way his face contorts just a little bit when he speaks about his father. The way he implies how, if our story still haunts us, those in our bloodlines, become our ghosts. But when our stories are transformed, the ghosts become our ancestors.
The way he walks through the stages of life, really brought me some centering, and helped me to look at the journey I’ve been on as a songwriter too.
In the mid 2000’s, I had the opportunity to stand stage side at a Bruce Springsteen concert in the UK, but I declined the offer with thanks, saying that I was also on a concert tour, albeit much smaller. The night he was playing for probably 80,000, I was playing for about 60 people in a beautiful little venue outside of Liverpool.
In the early days of my time in the music business, I had a lot of youthful naiveté and more attitude than I care to admit. At one point I was described in the papers as “having the exuberance of a young colt” (I still recognize that performer’s clamouring tendency to stand out, in me, but it has been tempered by time, age and contemplative practice). Later, an Irish paper music reviewer said I was “maturing like a fine malt”.
Watching Bruce look at his 20 year old self, I couldn’t help but remember my own rock star complex when I was younger.
The performing arts are a tricky business. You need to showcase your gift in an embodied way. You really need to be present to deliver the goods. And sometimes what that takes is a whole lot of drive, and tireless effort, and the willingness to be witnessed. In her 2009 Ted Talk on the elusive creative genius, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about the dancer in North Africa, lit up, on fire with divinity, and the people watching the dance, knew it for what it was, and would chant “Allah!”.
When I think of how many transcendent performances Bruce Springsteen has delivered in his lifetime, and how I know he needed that youthful egoic, edge to give himself to the music, there is something new here in his performance on broadway, that should be observed. And that is, that in this performance, we are witnessing what a rock star looks like when they become an elder. Tempered by time, he still has all his moves, but he can sort of laugh at his own moves and love his young self with the tenderness of an aging father.
In a beautiful sermon recently delivered by Matthew Wright, at one point he reads this brilliant parable by Niko Kazantzakus:
"A man came up to Jesus and complained to him about the hiddenness of God. “Rabbi,” he said, “I am an old man. During my whole life, I have always kept the commandments. Every year of my adult life, I went to Jerusalem and offered the prescribed sacrifices.
“Every night of my life, I have not retired to my bed without first saying my prayers. But . . . I look at stars and sometimes the mountains—and wait, wait for God to come so that I might see him. I have waited for years and years, but in vain. Why, Why? Mine is a great grievance, Rabbi? Why doesn’t God show himself?
Jesus, in response, smiled gently and said: “Once upon a time there was a marble throne at the eastern gate of a great city. On this throne sat 3,000 kings. All of them called upon God to appear so that they might see him, but all of them went to their graves with their wishes unfulfilled.
“Then, when these kings had died, a pauper, barefooted and hungry, came and sat upon that throne. ‘God,’ he whispered, ‘the eyes of a human being cannot look directly at the sun, for they would be blinded. How then, Omnipotent, can they look directly at you?
“Have pity, Lord, temper your strength, turn down your splendor so that I, who am poor and afflicted, may see you! “Then—listen, old man—God became a piece of bread, a cup of cool water, a warm tunic, a hut and, in the front of the hut, a woman giving suck to an infant.
“Thank you, Lord,’ he whispered. ‘You humbled yourself for my sake. You became bread, water, a warm tunic and my wife and son in order that I might see you. And I did see you. I bow down and worship your beloved many-faced face!’”
There is something here in this text, that pertains to witnessing a rock star who has experienced many times what being a porthole of divinity is like, on a massive, liminoid scale. But now he wields himself like a covert mystic, where he “turns down the splendor” and humanizes the music and the man, so that we can step into it with him.
I decided to cover Bruce Springsteen’s song Land of Hope and Dreams for this Sunday Song and Rumination because I understand him when he sings:
I will provide for you
And I’ll stand by your side
You’ll need a good companion
For this part of the ride
He is singing those words to each listener he gets to serve.
For the songwriter, we love writing many kinds of songs, but perhaps our very favourite are, at least for me, and I daresay for Bruce, songs for the journey. What might be called, Psalms of the Ascents. The songs that will help you feel heard… that will help you to take another step, and be a light for you when it is hard to see in the dark. Songs that can help you feel ok, about being human.
There is something about the descent from the stadium show into the small theatre that symbolizes a god coming down from the heavens, to enter the world as a real human being. Something to watch for these days, as so much can appear shapeless and without poetry.
PS: a friendly language warning for the film. Personally, I am far more offended by hypocrisy than a few well-placed f-bombs but I thought I'd let you know :)
Alana Levandoski is a song and chant writer, recording artist and music producer, in the Christian tradition, who lives with her family on an aspiring permaculture farm on the Canadian prairies.