Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Damn You, Shawn Mendes! Tuesday in Cincinnati (November 29, 2016)


Someday we'll look back at this and it will all seem funny.
Yesterday we woke up just after 4am, piled in to the car at 5:45am, and drove more than 4 hours to Cincinnati. We stopped at a shopping mall and went in to a nice book store. I had my most important business meetings of the year, but at the most crucial moment my phone was on mute -- it would be hard to participate while Bruce Springsteen was standing atop the bookstore's staircase, surveying the hundreds of people cramming every aisle of the store.
Meet me in Cincinnati! Bruce preparing to meet and greet.
I thought I had missed the book signings. Last month's event in Toronto was supposed to be the end of it, and I hadn't managed to get myself a ticket. Of course, I could rationalize it: After all, who would really want to drive 4 hours each way for a firm handshake and a snapshot? < raising my hand /> And who would really want that full day excursion for a ridiculously below-market rate for a personalized copy of the book? < raising my hand, again />

So the first thing to realize, before any existential questions, is: don't bother rationalizing this. It is what it is. And I'm thinking, yes, it was worth every minute. But I won't do it again... this month.

The book-signing event at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati was only arranged last week. The store opened at 8am; some confused holiday shoppers wondered why it seemed so crowded. The meeting itself, of course was very brief. I didn't time it, but my thinking is that for every hour of the day's total trip, one second was spent with Bruce.
Bruce greets fan Brian Resnik. Photo by Ron Valle
Just like Luca Brasi, I practiced my "speech": I figured I'd get about four seconds, so I shortened it to the bare essentials: It would be an introduction for my daughter, whom Bruce recognized in 2012 when she was 11: "Toronto. 'Thunder Crack.' Striped Hat. That's her!" The former girl has grown up; there's no more hat and the long black hair is short and blue. The person is the same.
Toronto! "Trhunder Crack!" Striped Hat! That's her!" August 24, 2012: Elianna singing "Thunder Crack" with Bruce.
I took this picture.
I practiced test shots on my good camera. Bad lighting; use the flash. The staff was going around reminding people to have their batteries charged and their cameras turned on. One friend came down the staircase, shaking: "We got a family picture!!!" New goal: Family picture!

At the bottom of the stairs, I asked a store employee about their events. She said, "This is pretty big!" I asked her if this was the biggest. "You mean, this year?" You mean, that's not automatic??? Okay, this year. "Shawn Mendes was bigger." I had to ask Elianna. Twice.

Attendees were divided in to about 20 groups of 50 each, based on arrival time. We were in the eighth group. From the top of the staircase, before winding around the last aisle, we could see Bruce with some fans a few spots ahead of us. At this store a backdrop had been created from enlarged copies of the book cover (a good choice) and the bookshelf behind Bruce had history books: on one side, The Fall of the Ottomans; on the other, Target Tokyo.

Elianna with Bruce in Cincinnati.
The meeting moment was as brief as advertised. I said my lines. Bruce said, "Toronto!" I could feel the thought forming... "Toronto... Toronto... what's a Toronto?" The staffer took two quick -- and very nice -- snap shots, and... too late to ask for the family picture! The next staffer already had Elianna's cell phone in position, and that was that, though not before Bruce whispered a final, "thank you." When we returned downstairs, we traded in our wristbands for signed copies of the book.

I have wondered what Bruce gets out of these sessions. The line has to move super-quickly, and an egalitarian approach pretty much requires treating everyone more or less the same. Hand shake, snap pictures, say thank you, next in line! Imagine if Bruce had done something like Comic-Con circuit, where snap shots and signatures of lesser stars routinely go for much more than $35. But here Bruce is supporting booksellers (I'm sure there were substantial sales to many of us who came for the signing and browsed while waiting), and also affording to his fans a rare -- if necessarily short -- opportunity to a fairly priced meet and greet. I'll take it!

note - this review originally appeared in www.backstreets.com

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

A Really Long Walk Home

The bikepath on the way to the vote. Peaceful and free.
At 11am yesterday, I decided it was time to vote. The polling place is less than a mile from my home, and I thought it might be a good idea to walk it. The day was warm, as pretty much the entire fall has been warm. My fitbit said I'd been pathetic lately with the steps. Most of the leaves were down, and it was colorful and beautiful outside. I took some snapshots. "This is what my America looks like today." Regardless of who would win this thing -- and I had severe doubts -- this place, at this time, seemed a good place to be and good time to be here.

I walked around the corner, and up the next street. It started to rain, just a little rain. I didn't have an umbrella, and I was too far to come back home, so I kept going. I thought of walking songs, and the first one that came to mind was "This Land is Your Land." One of the most openly -- and great -- political songs of the last century, and I thought of that 5th verse, one that was cut out of the original recordings and discovered only in the 1990's:

There was a big high wall there
That tried to stop me
The sign was painted
It said "Private Property"
But on the back side
It didn't say nothin'
This land was made for you and me


I looked around, and noticed I didn't really see any signs at all. Typically when the elections roll around, there are lots of signs. I live in a reasonably diverse neighborhood: politically, nationally, religiously, racially. For the township primaries a few months ago, there were signs all over the place. And that was just for township clerk and treasurer. Yesterday, the 3 little signs that Lori put up at the corner of our lot seemed... lonely. There was just nothing to see. No Clinton signs. No Trump signs. Whatever excitement there might have been about this election, it had bypassed my little part of West Bloomfield.

I made it to the bike trail leading to the primary school hosting the 7th precinct. A neighbor was walking his dog. He was going to vote, too... but first he had to walk the dog. The walk was quiet, and free, and peaceful. The bike trail passed over a little branch of the Rouge River just before I reached the school; the same branch that passes under my house. We've had rain lately, so the river was a bit swelled.

Ever since Brexit I felt that Donald Trump was likely to win the election. There were too many single-issue (or nearly single-issue) voters: The voters who would vote Pro-Life. The voters who would vote Gun Rights. The voters who would vote Supreme Court (often in support of Pro-Life or Gun Rights or "Religious Rights"). Too many disaffected, who wanted to hear that magic word: "change." They were going to vote for him so long as he seemed to speak for them, even if he was personally a scoundrel or worse, even if he lost every debate. Then there were the scary ones, the ones who spoke in dog whistles, of dark things to come for immigrants and minorities and people like me. Running against this, we had a lifer establishment candidate who excited... nobody, it seemed, running with a Vice Presidential candidate who somehow excited even few people than her.

The campaign was ugly and stupid. Instead of issues, we got a diet of hacked emails and leaked videos, fake investigations and unreleased tax returns. Some people I knew were totally passionate in their positions; probably more just tuned the whole thing out. To them, one candidate was simply "corrupt," facts be damned, and that was the end of the story. Along the way, I'd lost a bunch of facebook friends. The further they tilted to the right, the more likely they were to slip away from me... or for me just to unfollow them. Some people I thought I knew revealed themselves to be racists or conspiracy theorists; others just didn't want to read about the election on social media. Oddly, I didn't lose any left-leaning friends.

The school was busy but orderly. The whole thing took maybe 10 minutes. There were no poll watchers. I'd read the League of Women Voters guide to the candidates. One Republican candidate for Township Supervisor started off his "top priorities" by writing, "The voices of the people were being ignored or overturned by the courts or shut out by minority special interest groups." He wasn't getting my vote anyway, but to see someone in town leading off with such openly paranoid racism was disturbing enough.

Where do we go from here? Where is there to be?
Trump will likely be a disaster for the environment, for international relations, for civil rights, for the economy, and more. There is talk that he might put Sarah Palin in his cabinet, and there is just no suitable joke to respond to that. I always felt that a Clinton election might only have delayed the sort of hostile takeover that began last night, but I wanted that delay.

Bruce Springsteen performed at Hillary Clinton's campaign event in Philadelphia the night before the election. He performed "Long Walk Home." On the surface, it may seem a song of healing: "everybody has a neighbor, everybody has a friend, Everybody has a reason to begin again." He introduced it as "a prayer for post-election."


But when Bruce first performed that song, almost exactly 10 years ago tonight, it had one extra final verse:

Now the water's rising 'round the corner, 
there's a fire burning out of control 
There's a hurricane on Main Street 
and I've got murder in my soul 
Yeah well when the party's over, 
when the cheering is all gone 
Will you know me, will I know you, 
will I know you

We might need to re-learn that one.

Monday, September 12, 2016

May Your Strength Give Us Strength - Pittsburgh, 9/11/16

I pray for the strength, Lord.
Of all the things that Bruce Springsteen has done in the 15 years since 9/11, there was one thing he hadn't done: Perform in public with the E Street Band, on 9/11. Last night's show... would be different. It would have to be different, somehow.

Springsteen's recent shows have turned in to early career retrospectives, going album by (rock) album through the first dozen years of his career, and stretching the whole thing out over 4 hours. Sure, the songs feel like old friends now, mostly. But last night felt different.

Last night there was a wound to check on, and it was still bleeding. In an arena that seemed to have more people than it could hold, and that was several degrees warmer than comfortable, Bruce led a service. It was raw, emotional, intense, with mourning for the dead and prayers for the living. When it was all over, after a typically goofy suite of party songs, we were collectively drained.

I had no particular expectations for this show: For me, it was just "the one show I could get to," after a summer of mostly ignoring Bruce's summer tour in Europe. Only after seeing the periscope feeds from New Jersey, with new features such as the shocking version of "American Skin" with Jake holding up his hands, did the feeling return: That feeling of needing to see this, while I could.
American Skin
The lights went down early. At 7:45 the string section walked on stage, meaning the show would open with "New York City Serenade." But where recent shows have seen explorations of Bruce's first album immediately following, last night it was The Rising on display, starting with the most direct tribute to the fallen, "Into the Fire," then "Lonesome Day," a stark and still raw version of "You're Missing" (with a harmonica play-out), and finally the wake song, "Mary's Place." A 4-song sequence through the process of loss and attempts to heal. But the realization, 15 years on, is that the wounds don't heal, not really.

From there, yes, the show mostly resumed the career retrospective presentation. Though not exactly anything new for long-time fans, it's still nice to see the guitar duel of "It's Hard to be a Saint in the City" and to have "Incident on 57th Street" lead in to "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)." The shtick is good and even funny ("Don't Bruce me!"... "ok, Bruce me!"). And, of course, Grushecky per et fils for "Light of Day."

While the show did eventually land on the party songs -- noting that it was twenty-nine songs in to the set before he played the only song that had been a top 20 hit for him ("Dancing in the Dark") -- there were two more stunning moments:

First, a detour to "My City of Ruins," the song originally written for Asbury Park that Bruce re-imagined after 9/11. First with three people holding up cell phone lights behind the stage. Then 7. Then the section. And finally the entire arena, it seemed. And here the words seemed to cut through: "With these hands... I pray for the strength, Lord... Rise up!"

Then, at encore time, Bruce came out with an acoustic guitar; the chords weren't familiar. "Somebody gave me a copy of the Constitution of the United States... It does say 'Fuck Trump' on the front of it... and this was his request."

What followed was a devastating solo performance of "Long Walk Home": Last night I stood at your doorstep, trying to figure out what went wrong. You just slipped something in to my palm and you were gone.

As if to issue the challenges: "what have we learned?" and "where do we go now?"

You know the flag flyin' over the courthouse, means certain things are set in stone; Who we are, what we'll do and what we won't."

Monday, September 05, 2016

Some beats and eats in Royal Oak

Friends of mine have been posting links to articles claiming that going to concerts makes people healthier and happier. Apparently, many studies have proved this effect. The studies don't even claim that this is restricted to good concerts, though I'm supposing that helps.

So on Friday evening we went in to Royal Oak for part of the 19th annual Arts, Beats and Eats festival. The "healthier" aspect was clear enough immediately: My fitbit says it took 1871 steps to get from our parking space - at a Middle School on Glenn Frey Drive - to the Michigan Lottery Stage. A few of those on a daily basis would help, no doubt!

We went to see Stewart Francke and then Joan Jett. Stew had played the event every one of its 19 years; it's nice to see him get a huge audience. Stew's band had 11 members of Friday, including a horn section and multiple singers. Beginning with a tribute to David Bowie of "Rebel, Rebel," Stew then took the show crisply through several of his career highlights, interrupted only occasionally by the freight trains passing by just behind the concert area. My favorite -- and I think much of the crowd's as well -- was when Greg C. Brown took over "Sam Cook's On the Radio." 

By 8, it was time to make way to Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. At 58, Jett looks great, and she's maybe the first person I've seen who can wink while soloing. Starting, as she typically does, with "Bad Reputation," she ripped through a set lasting barely an hour, leaving the audience both breathless and wanting more (not possible, really, as Buckcherry was to take the stage after her). She went through career highlights and also mixed in a few songs off her latest CD. The band collectively saluted a passing train during "Hard to Grow Up." My favorite sequence was the back-to-back of "I Love Rock and Roll" in to her cover of "Crimson and Clover."


A few eats and another 1541 steps back to the car (is the walk back always shorter?), and I'm thinking, we needed a study for that?



Friday, April 15, 2016

The Bruce Springsteen Diet - The Palace of Auburn Hills, April 14, 2016

I dragged myself on the bathroom scale this morning. It was reading kind of low. Good, good, I thought, I haven't seen that number in months. That's when I realized, the Springsteen diet works!

Oh, I got that Fitbit and I track my steps and my climbs. But on Bruce show night, I walked twice as many steps and climbed twice as many floors.

It starts with the 10 minute walk in. That can be tripled if the teenage daughter leaves her ticket in the car -- unplanned benefits!

Then the show starts, and there are so many opportunities! Free weights, during "Hungry Heart." Lateral motion, during "I'm a Rocker." Hand grip exercises, for "Drive All Night"; bring your own cell phone or lighter. Aerobics, during "Dancing in the Dark"; the teenage daughter offers to take lead. Voice exercises, during "Backstreets." Jumping, during "Shout." And, of course, staying upright for three and a half hours with no break. Just keep wearing those rock and roll shoes, and never be afraid of large group exercises.
Bruce has even been kind enough to provide the perfect tour shirt for a totally hot exercise. It's a plaid job, looks just like the cover of The River and that thing is hot! Look around the arena and it's clear: Many people are on to the wardrobe portion of the Springsteen diet.

With most diets, we might struggle to lose a pound or two a week. The Springsteen diet is good for 3 pounds per night! There are some caveats, of course: No cold beer, not at a reasonable price or at any price. No bathroom breaks; after all, bathroom breaks might lead to warm beer at unreasonable prices and besides, that means missing a song. No periscoping. And no sitting down.

Do these things, and it's 3 pounds per night, every night! Unless, of course, you are Bruce Springsteen, in which case everyone is just gawking at you and saying, "do I need to go on the Springsteen diet to look like that?"

There's also the food for thought, no calories attached. Bruce provided that during the encores, with this statement: "Michigan is considering bills similar to the ones that forced us to cancel our show in North Carolina. So just on behalf of the LGBT community and many caring people of this state, we hope the bill doesn't pass, because we love playing in Michigan! So keep your heads up." Then he launched an absolutely thunderous this-is-OUR-flag reading of "Born in the USA." Who said that music, politics and exercise don't mix? They're not on the Springsteen diet.

Last night, Bob Seger took the stage to join the E Street Band for the final two songs. Bob looks great... for a guy who's not on the Springsteen diet. But he learned fast: He shook that tambourine, twirled around, and he didn't even need that plaid shirt to work up a sweat as he was in some vest thing that looked like it would have kept him warm at 20 below. I bet he lost five pounds last night.
Another thing about the Springsteen diet: It's fun. The morning after, you don't wake up thinking, "damn, less than 4 hours sleep again and my head is hurting and I never ate dinner and I think I left the poster tube at the arena." No! You don't wake up thinking, "that was too expensive and my taxes aren't done." No!!! You don't wake up thinking about the election, except to wonder, "did Bruce sing, "I didn't vote for this package deal" last night? You wake up and think, "well, that was fun, and I lost 3 pounds, too!"

The Springsteen diet isn't for everyone. It can be really expensive, especially for people who travel to participate. And there's really no substitute for being there; periscope just isn't the same. So this was probably my last night on the Springsteen diet for a while. I may be in withdrawal for a while.

note: pictures previously appeared in backstreets.com

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Springsteen's North Carolina Boycott

Earlier today, Bruce Springsteen canceled an upcoming show in Greensboro, North Carolina.

This is hardly the first time he's canceled a scheduled concert, not even on relatively short notice (the show was scheduled two days from now). Just 10 weeks ago, he postponed a show in New York just hours before the scheduled start time. In 2009, he canceled a show in Kansas City after some fans had already arrived at the arena for the show. In 1992, I traveled to California to see a pair of Springsteen shows in Mountain View, and they were both postponed, just a day before the first show.

Of course, the circumstances were different each time. The New York show was postponed due to a major snow storm. The Kansas City show was canceled due to the death of one of Bruce's cousins who was also part of the crew for that show. The California shows were canceled due to illness.

This time, it's different. This time, Bruce is choosing not to play the show. He's choosing not to play the show because of a law signed in to law in North Carolina just 16 days ago, commonly referred to as the "bathroom bill" due to some of the bill's openly discriminatory language.

This is a boycott.

I have never been prouder to be a fan, and I have never been happier with any "statement from Bruce Springsteen."

Which is not to say that I am happy. I am not simply "happy."

I am not happy, on account of my friends in North Carolina who will miss the only show they would have seen this tour.

I am not happy, on account of the people who would have been employed in some capacity at or near the venue, and who will lose their pay.

I am not happy, on account of my friend Mike Telesca, a North Carolina teacher who not only goes to Greensboro shows, but who routinely buys dozens of tickets so that some of his students can go as well.

I am not happy with the timing of the announcement, so close to show time, thus inconveniencing travelers with airline tickets or non-refundable hotel room reservations.

I am not happy with people who "oppose" this decision on one stated objection or another, when it's all too clear that their actual objection is with people who are LGBT.

Most of all, I am not happy that this law exists in the first place; I am not happy that elected legislators passed it and I am not happy that North Carolina's governor signed it.

But I am happy, thrilled, even, with this decision. It is a decision for civil rights. It is a decision to stand up for beliefs. It is a decision not to participate in the enforcement of the law, in any way. It is a decision to say to the people who created, passed, and ultimately signed this bill in to law that what they did was wrong. and that it will have economic consequences. It is a decision to lead by example, to help demonstrate that if enough others make similar decisions -- paypal.com now, or organizations like the NBA later (the NBA all-star game is scheduled to be in Charlotte next year), then change will be the only remedy to avoid economic calamity.

Some of my friends have argued that Bruce should have played this show. That if he disagreed with the law, he should have said so from the stage. That he could have given the proceeds to any number of worthy organizations in North Carolina fighting against this law. That he could have organized a separate disruptive rally, or taken some other action.

I understand their points: Many of these people were ticket holders and want to see the show. Some of them live in North Carolina and can't just move out of state over laws passed by legislators they didn't vote for. And, of course, some of them still want Bruce to just "shut up and sing."

It took Bruce time from the passage of this law to make his decision. This should surprise exactly zero people, as Bruce routinely uses all deliberate speed to make his big decisions. No doubt he had to consider the thousands of people who would be inconvenienced or financially impacted by his decision. In the end, the principle won out. I believe it is the right call.

I have never been more proud to be a Springsteen fan than I am right now.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Springsteen in Denver, March 31, 2016



Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band at the Pepsi Center, Denver. March 31, 2016
Sometimes, opportunities arise unexpectedly. A trip that needs a change of planes. A tour that is stopping in a hub city. A chance, with just a bit of finesse, to make these intersect. That, more or less, is how I ended up in Denver this past Thursday night, as Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band continued "The River" tour there.

A happy fan came a long way to get his wish.
Unlike in many Eastern venues, ticket sales in Denver were relatively soft; tickets could be had for substantially below face value in the days leading up to the show. Turnout for the "pit" lottery was relatively light by some recent standards, as well. Inside the venue, the limited edition silk screen posters failed to sell out.

Once the show started, none of that mattered. There may have been empty seats, but the Pepsi Center felt full, and it was hot and loud. Bruce seemed to feed off the energy of the crowd, and his voice was clear and strong. The core setlist started with the same 21 songs as every other show on this tour, presented with a sense of complete assurance. Yes, it's a play, and that part is pretty much identical each night. The crowd interaction moments vary each time out: this evening we got a man from Japan who got a guitar pick, and a young girl who with a green hat; later on there'd be a dance with a Navajo girl. But it's a really good play. When he comes surfing on by, it's permissible -- I think -- to pause a moment to think, "yes, that IS Bruce Springsteen above my head, and that I am helping to move on up the line."

For those of us who have seen multiple shows on this tour, there are small changes: An extended opening to the piano intro to Point Blank; a cell phone sea of lights during Drive All Night. In this venue, the occasional aroma of legally purchased marijuana, too. With Patti absent, the stage line-up had the surviving participants of the original sessions all stage left, with the newer band members all stage right. Max, of course, was the anchor, featured not just on the heavy rockers but on many of the slower songs as well. Jake Clemons is also improving greatly as a man who can play and dance -- and hoist -- at the same time.

The highlight of the encores, no doubt, was Backstreets, presented here as a meditation. "Forever friends," repeated, over and over again, followed by many repetitions of "Until the end." Almost as if the repetition could make time stop for just that moment.