Springsteen's rock helps us heal

Cincinnati Post, 2002-11-07, by: Rick Bird
It's rock imagery full of post-Sept. 11 references with such song titles as "Empty Sky," "Lonesome Day," "You're Missing" and "My City of Ruins." "The Rising," released last July, is Bruce Springsteen's way of using rock music for healing and remembering. The Boss brings his current tour of rock redemption, yearning and heart-wrenching Sept. 11 images to the U.S. Bank Arena on Tuesday.

It is a concert tour that produces mixed feelings for many long-time tri-state Springsteen fans. Many of the faithful have already taken road trips to see the show since it opened in August. On one hand, they are elated the Boss is back rocking hard with his venerable E Street Band. On the other, he is performing 12 of the 14 songs on the new album during the concert, which makes for a very different feel than the usual Springsteen house party.

"His shows have been like a giant rock 'n' roll party. He's always had intense songs, but there's never been so many of those songs as there are in this concert," said Mary Peale, host of the oldies show "Jelly Pudding" heard Sunday nights on WOFX-FM, who saw Springsteen in Detroit last August. "It's not a subdued or serious concert. It's just very intense."

Longtime fans realize Springsteen is unlike most 50-something rockers content to rehash their hits. They know Bruce has to have his say. "He already did the greatest hits tour, so now he's playing the new stuff. He's like any artist supporting a CD," said Scott Springer, WLW sports director who has seen Springsteen a couple dozen times including his August Cleveland show. "It's an upbeat show, even if the topic matters are a little dark."

"With a lot of rockers over 50, it's usually heavy on the old stuff, with a couple of new ones thrown in," said Yancy Deering, an account executive with Dan Pinger Public Relations, another boss veteran. "For somebody that age it takes a lot of guts to go out there and say `Look, half the stuff I'm doing is brand new, so you'd better buy the new record or you aren't going to enjoy the show.'"

When Springsteen released the album, some critics wondered whether rock is the right format to relive the horrific images of Sept. 11. Springsteen's emotionally-charged lyrics are often cast in upbeat rock anthems. Most critics agree he pulls it off. His lyrics run the gamut of emotions from loss to rebirth, poignantly portraying the feelings the tragedy spawned. Indeed, Springsteen deals with horror and hope far more subtly--and with more respect and nuance--than the knee jerk jingoism of 9/11-inspired songs from such artists as Neil Young, Toby Keith and Alan Jackson. "It is a little intense to sit down and listen to all of it at one time. It's not an album to listen to if you are real depressed," said Deering. "But there is a lot of redemption in this, too."

It's interesting that Springsteen adds a violin player for this tour, as the instrument strengthens these songs of yearning. In many ways, he is doing a rock 'n' roll Tom Joad. On the "Ghost of Tom Joad" set Springsteen went acoustic, without the E Street Band, and sang of the hopes and dreams of the common workingman. Some Springsteen fans think this album should be similarly played. "A lot of these songs should have been done with him and his wife and a violinist in a smaller hall. A lot of the songs from the album don't need the whole band," said Marilyn Kirby, owner of Everybody's Records in Pleasant Ridge, who has seen Springsteen about 100 times and will catch him another six on this tour.

Others are just glad Springsteen is back rockin' with the E Streeters, regardless of the subject matter. "I must admit, I could have banged him over the head with a guitar for the Tom Joad tour," says Springer with a laugh. "I still went, out of interest, but to me that was a guy spending two hours destroying all of his songs. Most everyone that's a Bruce fan likes the new stuff."

Fans will, of course, go because there is no better dose of rock 'n' roll religion than a Springsteen concert. Most of the long-time faithful have a similar story: They weren't hooked until they saw the light at a live Springsteen show. "I first saw him at Rupp Arena in '81,"Springer remembered. "I was always more of a head banger. If they had horns I didn't understand it. He just came out and he immediately had everyone right there. He just played forever and seemed to enjoy every minute of it. I went out the next week and bought everything the guy had on the market."

"Born in the USA tour. Buffalo. September of '84," remembers Dan Hoard about his first Bruce show. The Channel 19 sportscaster, another Springsteen devotee, remembers he was not a fan at first, mainly because his college roommate played Springsteen music to the point Hoard was sick of it. "Then he said, `We are going to a show. I'll buy the ticket. If, after this, you don't like him, I'll never bother you again.' The first song is `Born in the USA.' About 30 seconds into that I was hooked for life." Springsteen is making old fans happy bringing back the electrified version of "Born in the USA" for this tour and sprinkles his set with other classics, like "Born to Run."

The tour sparks some controversy in these parts, as it will be the first rock concert at the former Riverfront Coliseum using partial festival seating since 11 people were crushed to death trying to get into a 1979 Who concert at the venue. Just 1,800 floor seats were sold as general admission with the rest of the house reserved. The entire tour is being staged this way, and those who have already seen shows say the festival floor plan works fine. In fact, many say there's so few tickets sold for the floor it had a sparse look. "It's no mosh pit down there. There's all sorts of space," said Hoard, who saw the Springsteen show in Cleveland. "Actually, I was envious of the people who had those tickets. I can't imagine it will be a problem here." Still, some of the Boss' older fans will leave the floor experience to younger ones. "We had nice safe seats on the side to protect our brittle bones," Peale said with a laugh about the Detroit show.