Bruce Springsteen last performed in Ann Arbor with the E Street Band 32 years ago today, and I’d like to use the anniversary as an opportunity to express my adoration for him and his music. But more importantly, I want to attempt to explain why Springsteen, who turned 63 a little more than a week ago, is in fine pitch with the tune of America and the world today.
At 63, Spingsteen is still performing shows that last more than four hours; he is cajoling, screaming, running, sliding, whispering, beckoning and then doing it all over again. When asked why the show exemplifies the true concept of a performance, he has often said that he’s “in a lifelong conversation with [his] audience; the theatrics are a necessary part of telling our story, of connecting together.”
But it isn’t the four-hour shows that please his fans. It’s his ability, in all of the tenets of a live performance and each facet of what he does to remain, by a long measure, the most relevant artist of our day.
Many front men today utilize similar stage theatrics and attempt to convey the emotion like Springsteen. They make political references and form connections with their audience. But Springsteen, though he has backed Democratic causes and candidates his entire life, continues to be so relevant for the same reason he isn’t publically endorsing a candidate this election cycle. He’s the physical embodiment of America — discomforted by too much instability to remain one-sided, divided and overly concerned with politics to take a stance. Even in the self-mockery of the live performance, as he laughs off his own fortune: “People at the top, these rich guitar players, have been given a free pass!” Springsteen recognizes that no politicization or professional metaphor can equate to the intensely emotional and personal journey of pain and loss that America is going through.
In the Gaelic-driven warning tale, “Death to my Hometown,” he cautions a “sonny boy” to “listen up” and “be ready when they come,” so he better “get yourself a song to sing; sing it till you’re done. Sing it hard and sing it well; send the robber barons straight to hell. Whose crimes have gone unpunished now; walk the streets as free men now.”
Springsteen is part youthful performer who instills a minted vigor and thirst for answers in every show-goer in the room. But he has also found his part as the wise older Springsteen, intent on nailing life lessons into his audience, and the convergence of these two is precisely why he remains so relevant.
Bruce Springsteen is the personification of the cultural identity of America: what America is meant to be, what it’s become and the measurement of the distance between the two. He exemplifies what America needs and what it doesn’t have: unity, a culture of acceptance, an impeccable, unparalleled work ethic and a community that embraces and helps each other out.
The only mentions of politics throughout the live show’s stories on the current Springsteen tour are when they are equated to the loss of people’s jobs, relatives, close friends and identities. “I’m gonna do this for our ghosts and for yours,” Springsteen says each night, because “if you’re here, and we’re here then they’re here.”
Thanks for being here each night, Bruce. And thanks, for everything.
Brandon Shaw is an LSA junior.
Correction Appended: A previous version of this article misstated the last time Springsteen performed in Ann Arbor.