Springsteen on Broadway

The Boss, on the importance of stories

The other week, I saw the soundtrack album for Springsteen on Broadway, an unvarnished recording of Springsteen’s Broadway residency, on Spotify. I thought I might enjoy an evening listening to it, like listening to a performance on the radio. But a few minutes in, I realized it’d be much better to see Springsteen as he spoke and sang, so I decided to watch the filmed version on Thursday evening, when I returned home to Ottawa.

I thought this’d be a movie I could put on in the background, with the speakers turned up loud, while I puttered about my apartment. I couldn’t have been more wrong. From the start and throughout its two-and-a-half-hour runtime, I was pulled in, entranced.

A friend of mine recently called Springsteen “unironically good”, and it’s a label I’ve come to appreciate. I’ve long questioned my relationship to the singer—it seemed too easy, too predictable for me to appreciate him and his work as much as I do.

I’m a white boy who grew up in suburban Canada, so of course I’d like Springsteen, right? And to further complicate that, I grew up in a very comfortable, relatively affluent setting, far from any sort of manual labour, so the main themes of Springsteen’s songs would seem, to an outsider, amusingly distant from my life. (A fun note from the show was hearing that Springsteen has also never worked a day of manual labour in his life.)

But you love the music you love, and it touches you for reasons you can’t always understand, so here we are.

Some favourite quotes (scribbled by hand while watching, so not word-for-word) and tidbits:

  • On the funny places life leads us: “I’m Mr. ‘Born to Run’. I currently live ten minutes from my hometown.”
  • “Those whose love we wanted, but didn’t get, we emulated. … I chose my father’s voice.”
  • Springsteen had never driven before the age of 21.
  • “Clarence and I, side-by-side, … doing our modest version of God’s work.”
  • “We are either ghosts or we are ancestors in our children’s lives.”

My favourite part of the show comes right near the end.

After discussing his mother’s love for life (“Do as my mother would: lace up your dancing shoes and get to work!”), Springsteen launches into “Dancing in the Dark”. He then smoothly transitions into “Land of Hope and Dreams”.

The two songs can stand well on their own. But together, they capture perfectly the major theme of Springsteen’s show: the importance of understanding and respecting both the individual and the collective stories.

Message keeps getting clearer
Radio’s on and I’m moving ‘round the place
I check my look in the mirror
I wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face
Man, I ain’t getting nowhere
I’m just living in a dump like this
There’s something happening somewhere
Baby, I just know that there is

Yes, this train carries saints and sinners
This train carries losers and winners
This train carries whores and gamblers
This train carries lost souls
I said, this train carries broken-hearted
This train, thieves and sweet souls departed
This train carries fools and kings thrown
This train, all aboard

While the former touches on the individual’s attempt to make something of their life, the latter respects the diversity of experience in the American story. It’s a theme that you can find throughout Springsteen’s work, one worth keeping close to heart.

For other perspectives on Springsteen and his life, I recommend the New Yorker’s 2012 profile and Hinton Als’s touching review of the Broadway show on which this film is based.