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Skin2Skin

How I Became a Bruddhist and Won the War

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So. I write these highly personal Bruce reviews (when I can summon the energy) to think out loud. Before this tour started, I decided to go to Albany. Period. I was sure Bruce would add some Philly and/or MSG dates and that would be perfect and sufficient.

But Bruce, being Bruce, forced my hand when he started with “May I” at the VA Beach gig. It was so obscure, so inspired, so damn perfect and thoughtful and rocking and poignant, it reminded me why I love him so, still, after burning down this road lo these 40 years.

Now things have changed in 40 years. In the seventies and eighties, Bruce was the highlight of some relatively dark and depressed days. I’m ridiculously optimistic, so I can only get so dark and depressed. But I didn’t have the love of a wonderful husband, a secure way of living, and I didn’t really know who I was, in terms of my own psyche.

Now I do have a good life, except for chronic illness. And other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how’d you like the play? Because while I try not to write or think about my health issues, they pervade everything I do and am now, including my Bruce fandom. I hate being the only one of my friends who can’t do GA because the time on my feet involved means I am in too much pain to enjoy the show. It makes me feel like a less-than-committed fan. (Not using the term “casual fan” on purpose. More on that later.) And I certainly can’t run myself ragged the way I used to.

In 2014, my brave companion of the road, my good companion for the Charlotte and Albany part of the ride, is April Lindner, an English professor and writer. Needless to say, we talk every minute of the long hours of our trips, analyzing Bruce’s lyrics, choice of live songs, just about everything. Yes, we also talk about Jane Austen and the Brontes. She used to be more anxious about trips, but I like to think my more free-spirited style has been a calming influence. Certainly it was when we had a flat tire on our way home from Charlotte. A ridiculously long trip, and one I wouldn’t repeat for such a short time, but worth it because Charlotte was an immensely satisfying experience where I got to hear songs I had never heard (this doesn’t happen all that often anymore), we had great seats, and Bruce was on fire.

In the pre-Internet days, I would scour every possible source of information to find out what songs Bruce was performing live. This was much harder than it might sound. Oh, to finally hear Jole Blon, Trapped, Johnny Bye Bye and the occasional Elvis cover live! Bliss. And agony to know these songs were being performed night after night…without me to soak them in and give me ecstasy.

The advent of the internet allows me to follow set lists, and again, for years, the agony and the ecstasy of seeing treasured rarities burned me up inside. I was insatiable and my empty maw could never be filled. The four night Philly stand in 2009 changed all that. The love in that building showed by the fans was more than matched by Bruce’s love for us, and not only were the shows stellar (Elvis even showed up one night—I kid you not. The PHILLY Elvis!), but I felt every hungry spot inside me was filled up. I was replete. There were no secret debts unpaid; everything was satisfied in the fiscal and emotional sense of the word.

I knew I’d see Bruce again, but everything would be gravy. And, for the most part, it has been. Seeing Bruce so much on that tour also made me realize for the first time (in Baltimore, MD) that I no longer deserved my seat as much as or more than everyone else in the room, because I no longer had the sense of the sacred moment. The constant state of epiphany and dedication and attention and presence.

This changed the Bruce mindset I have held for 40 years—the most Bruce is the best Bruce. Go to every show you can—you never regret going to a show, but you always regret not going.

I don’t feel that way anymore. I don’t want to see too many shows in a row and become jaded, annoyed at yet another version of Lonesome Day, another happy child warbling Waiting on a Sunny Day. I have never yet left a Bruce show to go the bathroom or get a drink (as if!), but I have had the “get this over with” feeling on occasion. And that is SO wrong. Because every moment should be precious at a Bruce show. He earns that evaluation every night. The fault is within us when we don’t recognize it.

And we call those people who enjoy Lonesome Day and Waiting on a Sunny Day “casual fans.” Those people who have normal lives and love Bruce’s music enough to spend good money on tickets but only see him once—oh, the disdain for people who haven’t given up everything for another Bruce high. It’s really pathetic. I know. I was one of those people.

But I have truly become a Bruddhist. Since the Philly shows, I have no attachment to what Bruce is going to do. And I no longer suffer. “He did Clampdown! I would rather have had that than Don’t Change!” I moaned to Jeff while I followed the Hershey setlist. I still have preferences, I still discern, but the pain is no longer keen. It is not even really pain, just an awareness. (I still moan out of habit.)

All of that to lead up to my trek to Albany. I chose Albany primarily because my long-time Fight Club adversary and dear friend Eric Coulson (53E) now lives in Albany and I wanted to see him and meet his wife, Karen. I also have good memories of the Times Union Center—April and I caught a ticket drop and had amazing seats a few years before, it’s small and a great venue. I had hopes that it would be a FC gathering the size of Greensboro, but it was not to be.

(The FC is the political discussion section of Greasy Lake, a Bruce forum I frequent, though not as frequently as I used to. When I started there, I demonized those who believed differently from myself. I learned how small-minded and insular I was because of the discussions in the FC and changed. It was a huge part of my personal evolution and I will always be grateful for it. Yet another gift from Bruce, inadvertent or not.)

As is my wont, I have studied Bruce’s setlists this tour. While he does an occasional “follow the template” show with a few sparkling rarities, there have been far more wild shows where he throws out the playbook and takes multiple sign requests. This has led to belittling the “standard” setlist—again, people with agendas that are quite oligarchical. MOST people do not go to every show on the tour. The majority of show attendees go to one. If you criticize a setlist, it’s because it dissatisfies you. So stop going and paying $100 (or more) to be dissatisfied or recognize how damn lucky you are! (I have become a Bruce scold. I’m not ashamed of it, either, even if it is unattractive. The sense of entitlement has really begun to make me a little sick.)

Now that I have become a Bruddhist, I say (and mean), “I am ready for whatever Bruce gives me.” Do I hope for lots of rarities? Yes, but not fervently. I know I will love whatever Bruce serves up.

As a result, I am so damn happy and grateful at every show I go to.

Albany was a particular joy. I have been getting over a demonic flu that laid me completely low for over a week. I finally went out on Sunday for Mother’s Day after 10 brutal days, despite my beloved husband’s advice to stay home so I could save my energy for the Albany show. (See how lucky I am? Even a Bruce show isn’t better than Jeff.) I stayed at my mother’s Sunday night to take her to a doctor’s appointment the next day. It was a long day and when I got home, I crumpled into bed. I tried to sell my Albany ticket, I felt so ill. I even turned to the tarot for advice, because my rational self told me to stay home.

For going, I received the Page of Wands—tapping into the passion and fire and creative juices that a Bruce show holds. There is the element of the child, including childlike wonder but also youthful health, which I no longer possess. For staying home, I got the Devil reversed. I could stay imprisoned by my health, or break out of its chronic grip. On the other hand, maybe my Bruce obsession was a habit I needed to break. Would going be a way of breaking free or staying in a trap? And since April was doing GA, I’d be at the bar for five long hours before the show…would that be torturous? Would I feel like I was in a self-imposed prison?

I waited til morning and I felt better than I had the day before. I made my decision to go. I felt relieved.

The ride seemed ridiculously short with my excellent companion. I got to the bar and bought my bottle of water and a not-very-good crab cake appetizer. The bathroom was beyond disgusting. I’m short, but those toilets were made for midgets! Short midgets! And the stopped up sink with putrid water…I now must stop describing that aspect or I will gag.

Despite the bathroom conditions, I was most certainly NOT in prison. I was free and merry, interacting with the various Bruce fans and friends who wandered in and out of the bar, some known, some new. I must admit I was not very Bruddhist with one woman I met. She was complaining about seeing Bruce in Paris because he did “Born in the USA” (the album). At first I said something to the effect that one does not get sympathy for seeing Bruce in Paris. But when she argued her case some more (“Everyone said it wasn’t a good show. I paid $8000 to be there!”), I said, “And here I was, thinking the Nigerian girls who were kidnapped had it rough, but compared to you, I realize who is really suffering.” Yes, I actually said that. Sometimes you scratch a Bruddhist and find outspoken, judgmental, liberal Diane underneath.

Eric and his wife and JimCT were the people I got to spend most of my time with, and while Eric and Jim share a lot of views (and a military background), I posted on FB, “Help! I am surrounded by conservatives! And I love it!” Both men are true gentlemen and compassionate and kind and funny and smart. Eric’s views have also changed quite a bit since we first met, and I admire his honesty and openness to change. Jim has been socially progressive since I have known him. And we ALL love Bruce, for so many of the same reasons. It was utter joy to spend time with them. I could tell Eric was delighted with my being exactly the same person in person as I am online, passionate and outspoken—and he missed my Nigerian girls comment… I think that would have cracked him up.

On to the show. (And I apologize for going on so long. But I am thinking out loud.) I originally tried to upgrade my seat, but it turned out it was the perfect seat for me in more than one way. It was on the aisle, right off the stage, three rows from the back of the first section. Behind me sat two lovely men: Danny and his son Sam, who had never seen Bruce but had brought his more experienced Dad to the show. Danny hadn’t seen Bruce in a while and asked questions about who had replaced Clarence. These are people who would have been called “casual fans” by the Bruce oligarchs. Maybe even me before my Bruddhist conversion…but I just enjoyed them and loved seeing a dad with his son.

Even better were my seatmates, two of whom scrambled into their seats at the very start of the show. The one next to me was beefy, wearing a wifebeater and bandana, and swigging a beer. The pre-conversion me would have judged. But he wasn’t obnoxious and if I needed a bit of room, I simply stepped into the aisle.

Bruce started with an INXS song—I was aware of its rarity, but it isn’t a song I thought I needed to hear. I just allowed myself to enjoy it. Then he ripped into My Love Will Not Let You Down and I went just as nuts as he did. My heart began to literally pound…it tore my holy walls down! I had me a promise I wasn’t remotely afraid to make! That’s one thing you gotta know.

Here’s another: from that moment on, all my health concerns evaporated into thin air. Bruce truly did heal me. I danced like a madwoman, not feeling an ache. (This has not been true at previous Bruce shows, either.) Toxins? What toxins?

Ever since I saw that video on Salon with the two young men crashing the stage to sing No Surrender it has meant something more. Everything seems something more these days with Bruce—aging, mortality, my life and what I’ve done with it—including my dedication as a Bruce tramp—and that No Surrender touches on that youthful romanticism (those romantic dreams in my he————addddddddd) that struck a chord within me and continues to do it so intensely with other young people…it just makes me feel part of something so large and unwieldy and wild and diverse and colorful, a freakflag of a tapestry that will ripple forever. I felt every word.

It was also the tour debut of This is Your Sword, which hasn’t been getting its proper attention. It is every bit as romantic as No Surrender, and it’s anthemic, too. It has the additional gloss of spirituality that makes me think of the tarot (This is your sword, this is your shield—Justice and the Empress promising protection during these dark times).

The lyrics to Death to My Hometown have always been incendiary, but they take on bomb-like proportions with the addition of Tom Morello. With the various labor symbols Bruce and Tom sport, these lyrics:

Send the robber barons straight to hell
The greedy thieves who came around
And ate the flesh of everything they found
Whose crimes have gone unpunished now
Who walk the streets as free men now, now NOW!!!

and the echoing, angry guitars pile on, revving up the anger and…frankly, revolution, I feel like Bruce is planting a bomb, nestling it in the warmth of the crowd and the happy horn section, no retreat, baby, no surrender. The elite didn’t go to Woody’s shows, but some of Bruce’s audience are still rattling their jewelry.

It is breathtaking and I wonder how many people hear the ticking, even when High Hopes describes the current conditions of the common man—don’t they know these days you pay for everything with fearful sleep (or lack thereof) that your kids don’t have the same chances you did and you’re scared to death?

What can I say about Treat Her Right—as Bruce prefaces by rattling off the name of soul standards like Too Many Fish in the Sea and Joe Tex’s Hold On To What You Got (I said the title with him, to the amazement and delight of my seatmates). It was a little bit of camp, but mostly an upwelling to the soul lyrics that inspired his (and my) passionate love of music and the soul connection it has with our very essences, our dna. When he reaches back into Solomon Burke-like territory, he encapsulates everything the music means: love, civil rights, the core of our shared humanity. Yes, it’s my favorite of all of Bruce’s aspects and I treasure it—it is what made me love him from the very first chords of Incident to May 15th, 2014. He and I span this together. He doesn’t have to know it. I know it and it’s more than enough. It’s everything.

So, you think that’s it for the night. The high point. The epicenter.

Something in the Night is my favorite song from Darkness, in part because it’s so rarely played and has been so since the beginning. If Streets of Fire is the blazing pit of Hell, Something in the Night is painful purgatory. It’s the nothing place for the nothing man, and it hurts even more in some ways. It tore me up from the inside out.

It was magnificent.

The two young men next to me have gone in and out for beers twice by this time. Normally, this annoys me. I simply sweep to the aisle and watch the stage and allow it to be just another ripple of the diverse and unwieldy freak flag. I barely notice. The third young man sitting furthest from me comes up to me (Nick) and says, ‘Let me know if my brother and his friend bother you. It’s only their second show. I’ve been to 40 shows so I know. I know you’re a true fan, so let me know if there’s a problem.’

My heart melted completely. I have sat next to drunken jerks and let me tell you, his brother was fine. That this kid, Nick, would be so considerate again gives me such faith in the future. Bruce fans have empathy at their core (for the most part). I hugged him and told him I was fine. (What I thought was, “I’ve sat next to assholes—your brother isn’t remotely one.”)

So it can’t get any better. Great seat mates and a great show. And then Bruce reads a sign which includes a letter asking for a mother’s day gift from him—to dance with a girl’s mom. My empathic heart got even fuller as Bruce played the utter mensch (his mom must be kvelling), carefully choosing dance music (Save the Last Dance for Me), and giving this woman (who was perfect, btw—so purely in the moment and so humbly happy) a time she will never, ever forget. She was quietly, holistically ecstatic and she knew how lucky she was. She wasn’t thinking shallow thoughts about getting a selfie.

I think I love this woman.

Was I envious? No. I swayed in the aisle, dancing with them (unaware though they were). I will never forget the moment, either.

Much as I don’t want to go over each song, I must mention that Nick had just been talking about Better Days on the way to the show (he told me) and what a great song it was and how there was zero chance of hearing it. More magic.

Seaside Bar Song. More magic.

The much reviled Mary’s Place. It has never been reviled by me. I think the lyrics are brilliant, it is not Rosalita Redux, and it absolutely harkens back to blue lights in the basement soul. I was thrilled to hear it. I always am. So there, elitists. Despise me if you will. I despise the reviling of a great song.

Stayin’ Alive. Would I have chosen to hear it? No. Was it awesome? Yes. Hell, yes.

By that time, I had Nick next to me—I wanted to share a Bruce moment. We agreed Stayin’ Alive didn’t count. Not a true Bruce cover in the sense of Shout or Raise Your Hand or Twist and Shout. It took both of us a few lines before we recognized acoustic Kingdom of Days (I got it first. Oh, Bruddha! Such a victory of the ego-mind.)

Okay, here is where the magic really starts. Bruce said it would be a night of transformation and it was. I usually go to shows with people I love, hardcore Bruce peeps. I have sat by myself a few times (because of the GA thing) and I don’t mind. I have never really connected with strangers, though I have chatted with them before the show, because my connection is with Bruce. I don’t want to engage with others, especially strangers. Except to share a happy glance or shoulder squeeze, my focus is on that stage. I have to tear my eyes away from Bruce just to see the band and that’s torment enough. If you look away for a second, you miss that smile, that moment in time that can’t be recaptured. It’s not a crush (though Bruce is quite attractive). It’s like appreciating the highest form of art that there is. I can’t explain it any better than that. I have danced with Bruce friends in the pit and they are uninhibited (partly because of the alcohol), but they seem to want attention I don’t want to take away from Bruce. I can give other people attention when Bruce isn’t on the stage, thank you. I normally always give of myself. At a Bruce show, I want to make sure people I love are happy and I don’t want to waste another moment on anything else.

But in Albany on March 13th, that all changed. I sang the lyrics into strangers’ faces and they sang the lyrics back. The couple in the row in front of us did the same. I fist-bumped more than I ever have in my life. (Truth be told, I had never fist-bumped anyone before. I guess I have become a Bruce terrorist.)

I also danced all night. I felt no pain. (That night in bed, my legs did a little barking. And I couldn’t sleep because I was so high from the show. No biggie. I’ll sleep when I’m dead.)

I couldn’t jump during Shout. But I felt like I was jumping for joy every time I reached my hands in the air with everyone else in the crowd. There was a time when it was the in thing to go to Bruce shows and there were really casual fans in the audience. But in Albany, the crowd was alive and wild and receptive and there was nothing casual about any of it. It burned just like fire would. We were all on fire together.

And when the last song was sung, I said goodbye to my Bruce compatriots. “You are amazing,” said Nick’s brother, kissing me on the cheek. Nick also kissed me goodbye. Blood brothers in the crazy-quilt. Such hope for the future.

Another new thing I’ve noticed Bruce does…he says, “Yes, yes,” after a song, like W.C. Fields reflecting on things. It’s very old-fashioned, a self-aware segue of someone who has seen it all, seen them come and go, and knows every night is something to remember—for himself and for all of us.

Ah, yes…I wouldn’t have rather been in Philadelphia. :)

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The lyrics to Death to My Hometown have always been incendiary, but they take on bomb-like proportions with the addition of Tom Morello. With the various labor symbols Bruce and Tom sport, these lyrics:

Send the robber barons straight to hell

The greedy thieves who came around

And ate the flesh of everything they found

Whose crimes have gone unpunished now

Who walk the streets as free men now, now NOW!!!

and the echoing, angry guitars pile on, revving up the anger and…frankly, revolution, I feel like Bruce is planting a bomb, nestling it in the warmth of the crowd and the happy horn section, no retreat, baby, no surrender. The elite didn’t go to Woody’s shows, but some of Bruce’s audience are still rattling their jewelry.

Enjoyed the whole post but this is my favorite right here. I've said since day one Morello's inclusion on the tour is justified with this song and Joad alone, neither are the same without him for me.

What a joy for you to be able to see Bruce, have a great time and experience no physical pain.

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A wonderful read to start the morning

So honest

Thank you skin2skin

But sorry about the physical pain your in

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I nodded off after the 73rd paragrap - did she say anthing about me? :D

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I can sleep soundly knowing that - thanks Diane ;)

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A very enjoyable read.

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Loved your account.

I could especially relate to the health question because I can never do GA, my legs won't allow it.

But what joy a Bruce show is, anyway!

I could read on and on, almost as good as being there...

Well, almost.

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Diane, that was truly inspirational! You are a wonderful writer and more than that a caring person. Tears are filling my eyes again.

Thank you for opening your heart to us. We are all truly grateful to our Bard Bruce for enriching our lives in so many ways and also

grateful to you for this wonderful piece of writing.

Thanks for taking us along! See you further on up the road...

Peace!

Brenda

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Well now, I'm glad I came out of my hole in time to catch THIS one.

Not only did it give me a smile, but it also gave me a term to use to describe myself.

"Bruddhist" -- LOVE it! :)

P.S. If we ever do get a chance to go to church/temple/synagogue/mosque together, I think our worship styles would complement one another quite well, lol. :lol:

(You had me at the John Lennon title allusion ;) )

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Thanks for all the kind words.

Too bad Bruce made me a liar when he did Frankie last night. It hurt.

A lot.

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I missed this when you posted it. It's fantastic. Thanks for linking to it on that other thread.

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Thank you. Albany was really a special show. They're all special, but Outlaw Darin's post reminded me of that, as he, too, made a connection he remembered so warmly.

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Charlotte was an awesome show. Crowd was over the top, probably had something to do with the literal all day downpour, including the people that had to wait out on the sidewalk on Trade Street for the GA line that were absolutely soaked by the time they got in. People were ready to let loose!

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