I saw Springsteen last night, for the first time. My sister, who’s been moving heaven and earth to attend his concerts since she was a kid, flew to Atlanta to take me. To be there with me for my first time. Even so, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Not from Bruce– I never doubted him. But from myself.
To see someone in person, after you’ve loved them for so long, incorporated them into so many important memories… Bruce, who was there in the happiest moments of my childhood, and the hardest. Whose songs I’ve carried with me to every home, danced to in every kitchen I’ve cooked a meal in. Whose words I’ve crooned to my own kids at bedtime.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from myself. I was afraid to be disappointed, or too tired, or something… I was afraid to not get enough out of it.
I need stronger faith.
This is going to sound insane to those of you who’ve never been emphatically in love with art, literature or music, a performer or performance. Who’ve never let yourselves tip over the edge of worship. Ironic distance and the safety of self-awareness have no place in this story.
Because never have I experienced anything like the emotions of last night. I had this totally uncontrollable physiological reaction to seeing him, him, play. I wept. Literally. I cried in public. Over and over. I couldn’t stop crying. It was like I couldn’t understand how it was possible that I was in a room (however big) with him. It was the music that overpowered me, but as much it was his presence. His energy, his commitment, and above all–his devotion to the crowd. Gushing out of him and into us and I was crying.
It feels funny to type this now, and I know that some of you will laugh at me, but it didn’t feel funny last night. Because everyone around me, all these crazy awesome rabid fans, didn’t think it was weird at all to see a grown woman crying at a rock&roll song. They knew what it was. People told me their stories, wanted to share their first times with me, as thoughthis shared ecstatic experience was a given. A sacrament.
You think that’s weird?
But then I’m sorry for you.
I’m thinking about faith today, about religion. Not about God–that’s something else again. But the other stuff, the not-God stuff. The community of the faithful. The practice of worship. The rituals we create to surround the things that take us outside ourselves, and at the same time, make us more ourselves. The stuff we share, and what we do with it.
I went to a bunch of Dead shows in high schools, and saw that happen to people, though it never happened to me. I’ve witnessed it at political actions, and a few times I’ve seen something like it at a poetry reading–a roomful of people sharing an experience, transported and informed together, as a body. I’ve seen it happen to people when they were on drugs, together. I’ve stared at pictures of girls welcoming the Beatles, or Elvis, and thought about how much their faces resembled faces at a tent revival.
Well, last night felt like a tent revival to me. Or it felt like how I imagine a tent revival might feel, on a good night.
What fascinates me is that this isn’t about a shared object of faith–in this case I’m not even sure what that would be–music? I don’t worship Springsteen. He’s not an object. Though the line feels blurry sometimes, I guess.
But no, I’m talking about the feeling created when a charismatic leader somehow channels the energy in a room, draws all the people into a common experience. With powerful words or music or some other form of communication. Indicates to the crowd that there is something greater than the individual. And everyone buys in and cries or holds hands or falls on the floor, speaking on tongues.
Generally, devotion like that freaks me out. Big time.
But last night was so real, so good, so genuine. And maybe partly that was because it was not in the service of an object of faith. There was no sense of, “Here, now that I have you all under my spell–put your money in the basket/ vote for a candidate/ follow me.”
It was sort of the opposite. In the absence of a message, my crazed energy had nowhere to go but back into me. I left the concert shaky, feeling supercharged. Feeling like–if someone could be that amazing, that powerful, that brilliant, that energized… maybe I should be trying harder in my own life. Doing more. Living a little harder. It made me want to go for a run, cook a huge meal for a ton of people, stay up all night. Only I was tired (and 38) so I ended up going to bed.
But then, when I woke up, and looked into my normal work-day, it didn’t feel the same. I was haunted by this lingering sense from last night– that I just want to make better art. Suddenly all the obnoxious parts of my author-brain feel wiped clean. Worrying about the fact that some of my books aren’t good enough… or that some of them aren’t selling well. Blah blah blah.
No, no. That’s not what art is. Art is when you put some ideas or sounds or words or colors together, and they add up to more than they did before, or they make something new, and they touch people, teach people, maybe even make people cry in public.
It’s like I have this little bit of Bruce, this shard of light I found at the concert last night. I’m carrying it in my pocket, and I need to use it, to drive myself, make myself more true to whatever it is I’m doing.
So I’m typing this now, and I’m going to post it right away. For fear that I’ll lose this afterglow, this crazy feeling, and become self-aware again, embarrassed of having felt something this big and sloppy and youthful and joyous. I’m going to use this post, I think, to remind myself, later… what life can be.
Out in the world, there is a 62 year old man walking around, who can sing his heart out for 3 hours, race around on a stage, throw himself bodily into a sea of people, make goofy faces and shout anthems… and inspire those people to be better versions of themselves, to be more happy, generous, creative, kind… He is out there, running full steam at the world, believing in shit, continuing to try. And writing words that make at least one person weep.
What did you do last night?