Thursday, January 29, 2009

We Didn't Count Tomorrows

I probably wasn't alone Tuesday in getting to a record shop (they aren't called that anymore (of course), but that's what I call them anyway) or in this case, asking my wife and daughter while out on a T & L sojourn for school and beyond, to pick up the just-released Bruce Springsteen album (sorry, compact disc) Working On a Dream (and the audio files should hold you until you get your own copy. I'll wait here-go now). Like many across the country and (perhaps) around the world of a certain age, I've done almost nothing else but listen to it since I slipped off the shrink wrap.

I'm a fossil (and yes, I know you're thinking of a different word; hold that thought), so the DVD that comes with the CD is more or less a drink coaster for me. I think (the last time I checked), we had/have four DVD players in the house (though only three televisions, perhaps) and I know how to work none of them. Eventually one of my children will ask me if I want to watch the DVD and that's how I'll find out what that's like.

Right now, all I have is the music, which, from the time I first started to listen to him, is all I have ever needed. Sorry for the repetition of this story. I used to catch him and his band, under a variety of names, 'Child', 'Steel Mill', 'Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom', 'Bruce Springsteen' (the marketing guys were left cold at that one) starting in the winter of 1971 when he'd perform at The Ledge, the commuter lounge on the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers University (I searched in vain for a reference to it online; like so much else of my life in Jersey, it's just gone).

By the time Greetings from Asbury Park, N. J., came out in 1973, I'd seen him about seventy-five times at a total cost of perhaps eleven dollars. It's amazing he and the band survived on the starvation wages they earned from back then (The name changes were to get us into the place on Friday nights, thinking we were going to see someone new). Of course, it wasn't the money they were playing for, in much the same way as it's not the rock and roll I still listen to him for (and yeah, that's a split infinitive, for those keeping track at home).

Yeah, I could tell you he is the poet laureate of New Jersey, but it's been my experience you don't need to be from the swamps of Jersey to realize that and for decades, despite the differences of life experiences between and among us, he has more often than not been my voice and yours for hopes (dashed and otherwise), dreams (fulfilled and less so), hurts (real and imagined), trials, travails and triumphs, with words you didn't realize until you heard his that were what you wanted, and needed, to say.

I come from a large family, and not especially close-knit (from my perspective; some of my younger siblings might offer a different insight) spanning literally decades, and two different generational cohorts and yet, Kara, Jill and Adam have, each in her/his own way, made his music a part of the soundtracks of their lives as much, if not more, than I.

If I were to tell you as a fan, that the album for me, ties up loose ends from Magic and earlier work, I'm not sure you would either agree or even follow, so I shan't. Especially when there are songs like Queen of the Supermarket which echoes ideas I read in a wonderful John Updike short story a lifetime ago, A & P, and I smiled wistfully as I typed that just now as Mr. Updike, Rabbit Run, has, himself, run for the last time though his passing is coincidental to the release of this record. (Has there ever been a more exuberant turn of phrase in American literature than "...just having come from between the two smoothest scoops of vanilla I had ever known were there..."? Rosalita, it gives you a run for your money, honey. And let's not forget, 'At six months old, he'd done three months in jail.")

Springsteen speaks to me and for me, "With you I don't hear the minutes ticking by, I don't feel the hours as they fly. I don't see the summer as it wanes, Just a subtle change of light upon your face." I'm blessed to have someone to whom I, too, could sing those lines (and she is eternally grateful that I don't try). He has one more wife and one more child than I have, but that's okay-it turns out, after all, it is the journey and not the destination. We've all lost people along the way, and you can hear his grief about the passing of his band mate and friend, Dan Federici, most especially when Dan's son, Jason, in an evocation and echo of Wild Billy's Circus Story, plays accordion on The Last Carnival.

Together we've grown older, though the jury's still out on the wiser part.
You really need to get this record. "Did you say something, Sammy?"
-bill kenny

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