Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A Great Disturbance in the Force

Ten days ago we went to see "Rogue One." Ten days ago.

Like way too few films in the Star Wars canon, this one had real emotion. It was imperfect, to be sure, but it seemed worth a "review" of sorts.

I had stayed away from all of the formal reviews. Didn't even want to know what this movie was, let alone anyone's particular take on it. Star Wars, after all, was the adventure film of my adolescence, the ultimate coming of age movie as I was coming of age. I didn't know a thing about Seven Samurai, nor anything about THX 1138, nor Lawrence Of Arabia. I had no context, and I didn't care. When that death star exploded, so did the theater. At least, the first 3 times I saw the movie.

The depth of the plot wasn't such a big deal to me at age, nor the quality of the acting. Even at 15, I understood that there was a gap between Mark Hamill whining about power converters, and Oscars. But I didn't care.

So when my 15-year old demanded to see this latest escapist adventure for the 2nd time in 3 days, I was on board. A bit of a mystery, this one, not really part of the 9-movie canon. Just sort of a side story wedged in, just before the move that is now referenced as "Episode IV." Even that much I didn't know walking in, though it was obvious soon enough.

Peter Cushing... still dead, and still badass 
The first shocker to me was the sight of Peter Cushing, looking exactly as menacing as he did as Grand Moff Tarkin in that first movie. Not having paid any attention whatsoever to any of the advance press, this was a bit of a jolt, even with CGI. Hasn't he been dead, for like, a long time? Oh, never mind, just roll with it. Had to be one of the best zombie performances... ever.

For a change in this series, there was also a story worth following, even thought the "big" part of the ending was clear from the start. Yhe inclusion of moral ambiguities. Sure the Empire was one-dimensionally evil, but the Rebel Alliance wasn't necessarily all light and good and guided by the Force. The near total absence of the Force worked in the film's favor, for the most part.

There is a scene, relatively early in the movie, in which the new heroine Jyn rescues a child during a fire fight in Jedha City. It's a small scene, not even a plot point really, until the Death Star gets its test run.

Not that the plot is all that. I mean, I understand that this was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, but... data towers to the sky? Really? With data slots that look like rejects from HAL's memory banks? All we needed there was a verse of Daisy. 

And, excuse me, but if Galen Erso could smuggle out a hologram of himself, and an Imperial pilot and a ship, couldn't he just, you know, find a way to smuggle out the plans? Rebels blast out the Death Star plans to the entire known universe, and it's all wrapped up in a single disc with no other copies?? Where are the Russian hackers when we really need them?

Characters from the main stories made small appearances, just in case we forgot this really was a Star Wars film. Darth Vader had a few lines, mostly as a caricature with a cool light saber... but James Earl Jones was still doing the speaking, so it was all good.

As the movie wound towards the climactic battle scene, it became the destiny of Jyn and crew was along a different path than that of Luke. The disc survived, at least, so that Leia could stuff its contents in to R2-D2.

That was 10 days ago. Ten days ago, when that final scene played out, there was an audible gasp in the room. CGI or not, how did they do this? Even more than the appearances of Cushing and the red and gold leaders, that was like seeing a ghost. And I didn't care.

Ten days later, it just doesn't feel the same.

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.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Party Noises - Cleveland, February 23, 2016

I was a college freshman when The River was released. It was the first record I remember buying for my own turntable, to play through my own receiver, and to hear on my own speakers. I still have that turntable, that receiver, and those speakers, too, and I still use them regularly. Felt like the best $150 I ever spent… until tonight's show in Cleveland, more or less.

The ticket I bought to my first show on the original River tour was $12.50, tax included. I still have the stub, too. That first show, Bruce played "Independence Day" and introduced its meaning to him, about talking to his dad late at night: "I never once asked him what he was thinking about... and later I realized that what he was doing every night was, he was sitting there dreaming... but what happened to him was... he didn't have the strength any more, or the power to begin to make any of the things that he was dreaming about real." And that felt so real to me. Now I know the things you wanted that you could not say.
Things have changed for me besides the ticket price. I met a girl and I settled down. Our son is a college freshman. I may be on the other side of that kitchen table now. Bruce said back at that first show, about holding on to dreams, "that's the hardest thing you gotta hold on to, so don't lose it." Bruce now refers to "Independence Day" as "the kind of song you write when you're young," but maybe that's only because it's the younger person doing the speaking. Punctuated by Soozie's melancholy violin, the song hits as hard now as it did then. Harder, maybe, for all of us who have walked parts of that dark and dusty highway these 35 years.

By following the album's script, this tour almost forces internal questions. I remember that first listen, already knowing a few songs from radio broadcasts, with most of the others being revelations. The feeling of being suddenly kicked in the gut when the title song rolled around, and then the procession of disoriented and lost souls on the second record: their struggles, desperation, and lonely demises. Even "Cadillac Ranch" and "Ramrod," though they rocked out, weren't really happy songs.
With a mighty arm and an outstretched hand: Jake pulls Bruce on to the stage while playing.
How to make it all real and now, that's a challenge, and Bruce came through for Cleveland. He may have called out "Party noises, Pittsburgh!!" before "Sherry Darling," but he quickly corrected himself and with a laugh blamed the gaffe on seeing Joe Grushecky backstage before the show. The stage is no frills, but it gives each of the players their space, in a "front line" tonight consisting of Bruce, Steve, Garry (in Patti's normal place stage left, Patti not being present this evening), Nils, and Soozie, and a back line of Roy, Charlie, Max and Jake. Bruce has easy access to the audience on the perimeter of the pit, and to the first rows of the side; he uses that space to draw in the crowd. "The River" features the audience singing out "union card and a wedding coat." "Crush on You" is a sing-along, too, and if Bruce doesn't hit all the high notes of that one, so what? The audience doesn't, either. But Stevie does, in harmony — how did his voice get better?

Most of all, I think Bruce has drawn his own band closer in to the show. Stevie hasn't been engaged in the show like this in many years, but here he is providing vocal and instrumental support for Bruce song after song. Bruce enabled this in part by sometimes stepping aside himself: for a three-song stretch beginning with "I Wanna Marry You," Bruce doesn't play the guitar at all, as Steve takes lead. Then, after the guitar and violin blow-out of "Cadillac Ranch," two more songs without the guitar. Steve's 12-string support for a funereal version of "The River" and for "Fade Away" are notable high points (nevermind that Bruce flubbed the second verse of "Fade Away" tonight). And the harmonies! It wasn't so long ago that, after a televised performance of "We Take Care of Our Own," a musician friend emailed to say, about Steve, "I think he was singing 'Cadillac Ranch.'" Onthis show, the harmonies soar. The jaw-dropping moment for me is the "Here She Comes" introduction to "I Wanna Marry You," with Bruce pulling out maracas, and then trading the "little girl" line with Steve over and over again, so earnestly and soulfully that we're transported to another reality: these aren't mid-60's men anymore, and we're not greybeards in the audience; we're all romantics on our street corners, this is our shared moment, and for these few seconds we can even forget that the "love" in the song is just "youthful imagining." Other times, they would be goofy but no less spot-on; during "You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)" they even appeared to toss in phrasing from the local frat rock classic, the Human Beinz' "Nobody But Me."
This show also reminds just how great the songs of The River are. It's easy enough to imagine grown-up themes; this record and these performances make them resonate. "Stolen Car" may be the greatest hidden gem of Bruce's career. There's the 1980 arrangement of "Point Blank," a soul-wrenching "Fade Away," an intense "Drive All Night," in which Bruce seemed to intentionally go hoarse, only adding to the sense of desperation. Add a goofy crowd-stroll of "I'm a Rocker" (aka "I Maraca" for me), "The Price You Pay," and finally, the terrifying vision of "Wreck on the Highway." All songs just from the second disc, rarely played in the past three decades, now dusted off and played as if they were brand new.

The River album portion of the show ends with the reminder that time is limited, but of course, our time for the evening doesn't end there. For me, seeing this show finally for the first time, it could be, and I'd leave happy. It's that good. But for Bruce, it's not enough; for one thing, as long as The River is, it's not three hours. And it's not like he would send the crowd home thinking about a wreck on the highway. So bring on some Darkness-era rockers. Experience Nils blowing off the roof not just with one of his patented twirl-o-rama solos, but two, as the tour premiere of "Youngstown" followed "Because the Night." Bring out another "just for Cleveland" moment with a fun tour premiere of "Growin' Up." Bring Joe Grushecky and Johnny Grushecky on to the stage for "Born to Run," for those Pittsburgh party noises. Find someone with the coolest sign of the night and have a nice dance. Heck, find two someones, and have two dances, and let the second guy play guitar (Bana Moureiden is the girl with the cool sign, and Scott Williams is the guitar-playing guy). And finally, dance the night away with a sweat-soaked "Shout," and only then, after more than three-and-a-quarter hours, call it a night. The audience soaked it up until the very end, responding to every emphatic shout of "Cleveland!!" with a return shout of "Broooce!!"

Finishing the drive home in my own car, the memories from the arena still fresh, I wonder not so much when I'll arrive, or even how I'll get through Wednesday. I keep in mind that time has passed, and there are still dreams to keep and things to say.

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

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Up, Periscope!

Bruce Springsteen and Max Weinberg, earlier this evening at Madison Square Garden as seen on periscope.
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It's Wednesday night and I'm sitting at home in Michigan and I'm watching Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performing live in Madison Square Garden. Oh, it's not on TV, and it's not "official." The picture is somewhat awful, but the sound is pretty good through my computer speakers. Anyway, what can we expect from a cell phone?

This day has been coming for many years. The day when an event like this would be fearlessly broadcast, live, from inside the event venue to anywhere in the outside world. Periscope, acquired by twitter in 2015 before it was even released to the public, was hardly the first app to enable broadcasts from smartphones, but so far it sure seems to be the best. Their slogan is, "Explore the world through someone else's eyes." A week ago, when Bruce played in Chicago, at any given moment there were, it seemed, between 11 and 20 live periscopes. I'm becoming addicted: I may explore the entire Springsteen tour through many people's eyes.

For the most part, I don't watch. I just listen. As I type, I'm listening to Bruce give a soulful introduction to I Wanna Marry You that was retired for decades before this tour. It's beautiful and special and I'm happy being able to listen to it while I type. In a couple days it'll be for sale at live.brucespringsteen.net. Oops! Bruce just messed it up. "Sometimes even the tightest band in the world fucks it up!" "Ooooohhh!! I fucked it up!" Now I get to see him play maracas.

While I was watching that Chicago show, I texted my son in college. It went like this:

Kids don't impress as easily, I guess. Then he added, about the broadcasters, "really people should just enjoy the concert for what it is; live." He's a music major. He is also very wise. I agree that I don't completely understand the impulse to broadcast large portions of a show to the world at large, nor to hold a cellphone up for an hour or two at a time (hopefully -- but likely not -- doing it without distracting anyone else in the arena), but as someone at home being able to listen while I type, it sure is nice for me.

From stage left. The picture is nothing special, but the sound is good enough.
The technology, of course, is still wildly imperfect. People lose their internet connections. Or security finds them -- though there are too many of them for security to get them all, or so it seems. Some folks are just a bit dumb, shooting selfies of themselves or singing along a little too loudly with the music... no, make that a lot too loudly with the music. In Chicago one broadcaster, we'll call him Ivan, was plainly trying to impress some girls with his loud knowledge of the words; those of us following on facebook started feeling sorry for the people sitting around Ivan. Then there are those who feel compelled to add their own commentary to what they are allowing us to witness. It's a small percentage markup on the price I'm not paying to watch.

Watching a show on periscope can be a bit like having a personal transporter. With a couple mouse clicks we jump from one vantage point in the arena clear to the other side, or up, or down. One person tonight even advertised that he was broadcasting from section 227; I guess he's not too scared of security. During those moments when I watch, I can get an idea of the staging, to get an idea of what I'll witness when I finally get to a show in a few weeks.

And now, from straight back.
Then... then... then... my computer crashed!!! Here Bruce is, introducing Stolen Car, and... well, I guess that is a propos. It took until The Price You Pay to get it back.
This show includes the entirety of The River album, so for the first 21 songs (the show opens with a River outtake called Meet Me In The City), it's a fixed order. Then there are the additional songs. Last week he worked up a sweet acoustic version of "Take It Easy," in tribute to Glenn Frey. Maybe there will be something special tonight, too. With periscope and the help of someone holding up a cellphone entirely too long, a few thousand of us will be watching, live.

The River is about time. Time slipping away. Make the most of it. That, more or less, is Bruce's closing spoken line to The River portion of the show. I'm not sure that watching a periscope broadcast of his show qualifies for making the most of it... but it's been fun so far.
Thunder Road from way up high.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Quite a Bit Warmer

Graph 1: Ascending: The global temperatures of my life. (data source: GISS)
January 9, 2016: Last January, I posted a piece I titled, "Just a Little Bit Warmer," just after NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) released the final piece of data for 2014 global temperatures. As expected, the data showed that 2014 was the hottest year since the beginning of record keeping in 1980, albeit by a very small margin.

In a few days, GISS will publish the final data for 2015. Once again, it'll be a new record. This time, by a wide margin. The data will be at http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/tabledata_v3/GLB.Ts+dSST.txt.

In October, the Global Land-Ocean Temperature Index crossed 1 full degree celsius above normal, for the first time ever. November became the 2nd month in a row above that mark, and December may well make it 3 consecutive. 2015 will also mark the 4th consecutive year of rising global temperatures; the last time that happened was 100 years ago. So far as I can determine, 5 in a row has never happened during the 135 years of record keeping.

As I noted last year, global warming has been consistent over the half century of my life. But warming is measured in increments we might consider "small." The GISS numbers are presented in hundredths of degrees celsius; the average yearly increment over the course of my life is barely one one hundredth of a degree. 2015 was fully a tenth of a degree warmer than 2014, which was already a year of record warmth. That's not really small.

Last year, I wrote: "2014's record warmth -- with no El Niño this time -- was as predictable as the sun rising in the East, and even cherry picked data points won't flatten the trend line anymore (note: with small data sets -- and 17 points is a relatively small set, one anomaly can throw the trend; just as having the start point in 1998 flattens things, so too would a single new "cold" year)."

That all changed, of course. El Niño returned in 2015, and the temperature records were shattered. Of course, once El Niño ends, we'll likely see a drop in global temperatures for a year or two -- just long enough for the deniers to come out of their foxholes again. In the meantime, even with 1998 picked as a startpoint, the trendline is no longer flat, nor even close to flat:
Graph 2: Even starting with the El Niño of 1998, it's still getting warmer. (data source: GISS)
Then there's the local weather: Last year, the question might have been, How can there be global warming when it's 10 below outside? Indeed, in Michigan, if I start with 1998 I can draw a trend line that's still down rather than up.
Graph 3: That local trend line is still down! (data source: Weather Underground)
Few people here are saying that this year, however. That's likely because in Detroit, where people are accustomed to low temperatures pushing 0 degrees Fahrenheit in the late fall and winter months, the temperature never once dipped below 21 once the polar vortex finally ended in March. Hours before writing this post, I ventured out to my barber, wearing nothing heavier than the same sweatshirt I might wear on a cool Michigania evening in early July. When the snow and cold finally arrives, as it is predicted to do within the next few hours, the "what warming?" questions will no doubt follow.

Graph 4: Detroit temperatures, compared to normal, in 2015. The historically warm December helped locals forget about February. (data source: Weather Underground)
Addendum, January 16, 2016: It took a little longer than I expected, but the final numbers for 2016 were finally posted today. As expected, 2015 is the warmest year on record. As expected, December was warm. Very warm. December is now the warmest month ever, compared to average. Warmer than the previous warmest December of 2014 by .34 degrees celsius, a huge margin. I'm confident it is the largest such margin ever recorded. The December warmth pushed the full year to 87 hundredths of a degree above normal, .13 degrees warmer than the previous record set in 2014.