Bruce Springsteen, Healer In Chief

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“Never has the mundane seemed so longingly attractive.”

So declared Bruce Springsteen on his own E Street Radio radio show and series From His House To Yours.

Springsteen has occasionally called into the radio station built upon him by SiriusXM. But In recent weeks, Springsteen has taken to the mic of E Street Nation playing songs, providing commentary and empathizing with the challenges we are all going through during the pandemic.

Ensconced on his farm and sequestered with wife Patti Scialfa, like much of the country he is home alone. His children are grown and out of the house. He longs for his mother who is over ninety and he can’t see due to the quarantine. Human touch at this time is illusive.

The events and perhaps turning seventy have affected Springsteen who recognizes his own mortality, using self-deprecating humor to declare himself old. But his raspy, soft-spoken provides reassurance that we’re all in this together. On a recent show, he put special emphasis on the words when this is over and added: “And I do have faith it’s gonna be over.” 

It was a pronouncement that felt like a declaration ricocheting across the spectrum for all to hear. If President Obama was once viewed as the country’s Consoler In Chief, Springsteen is perhaps the Healer In Chief for these troubled times.

Through the series initial four episodes, E Street Radio feels more like the Voice of America channel with Springsteen being its principal orator.

The shows have featured a wide variety of songs with Springsteen bringing his observations on death, sex, community and politics all the while spinning records that span a diverse palette of everything from Roy Acuff, Big Bill Broonzy and Roy Orbision to the Future Bible Heroes, Steven Merritt and Wyclef Jean. And when he talked about the impact of lost jobs on millions, he called on the great gospel singer Marion Williams’ “Trouble So Hard” and Common’s prayer in song “Letter To The Free” that provided A segue way to his own reflection.

“One of the strange side effects of what we’re going through is the element of the spiritual that you have to call on to make it through these days,” he observed. “Whether it’s prayer or just being together I don’t know. But I do know at these days end–and they will end–there will be a religious celebration, a spiritual celebration.” With that he teed up Sarah Jarosz’ beautiful reading of Bob Dylan’s “Ring Them Bells.“

Springsteen’s distinct imprimatur transcends just being a guest DJ. In many ways when he speaks between songs, you feel like he is writing another chapter of his autobiography Born to Run. The words have a special eloquence and cadence that feels familiar and is reminiscent of the stories he regaled us with on shows and tours past. In one sequence, he described how he loves to drive and still runs through his old haunts and towns. There is emotion in his voice as he describes the shuttered streets, seeing masks on people and his favorite hangouts closed. 

He picked up the pace as he described driving into Matasquan, the old stomping grounds of his father. But with the parking spaces and Boardwalk closed, he finds a side street and rolls the window down to feel the ocean breeze while he reads the newspaper. He is deeply affected stating the statistics of 30 million who have lost their jobs. 

“That is frightening and heartbreaking,” he waxes philosophically like he’s talking on stage. “Times like these are testing. They reveal character. They can bring out your selfishness, your kindness or your cruelty, your love or your fear. Just take a look at our man at the top. Hard times do that.”

When he began a long passage about his longing for simple things, it turned into a love letter to his home state. 

There was the thought of being able to step up to the counter of the Jersey Freeze ice cream shop and say, “Soft vanilla dipped in chocolate.” He imagined having pizza with friends at Federici’s. And he imagined walking again down the Boardwalk at night and losing some of his money on games of chance. 

On one show, Springsteen segued his playlist into Joe Ely’s “Tonight I Think I’ll Go Downtown”, written by Jimmie Dale Gilmore, later recalling the night he had dinner in Dublin with the Lubbock singer and Shane MacGowan of the Pogues .

But perhaps the rock and roll spunk of Courtney Barnett’s “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party” and its pivotal line “I want to go out but I want to stay home” capturing the angst of the year. Springsteen dubbed it perfect for the times and for his own ambivalent life story.

“Every day is like the other day and like the other day which is like the other day,” he lamented early on in the series, describing waking up, exercising, eating breakfast, sitting and reading, getting out on the farm, having dinner and finally going to sleep. “And when we wake up we do it again.”   

In recent weeks Springsteen has mourned the loss of John Prine, the legacy of Little Richard and shared memories of his old friends Joe Strummer and Warren Zevon who once sang “Don’t Let Us Get Sick.” The reflections come against the back-drop of time being slowed or as he described, “the feeling of your whole life being put on hold.” 

Sometimes that brings the past into sharper focus. Springsteen called upon the advice of his Aunt Frida who espoused the advice “just live everyday as if you’re going to live forever.”

As the country starts to re-open, perhaps Springsteen can imagine churches and dance floors and bars all being full.

In the meantime his drives provide a lifeline to what was once our way of life. As he drove by the parking lot of Shop Rite on Route 79, it was full of cars on the very pavement where he and his band the Castilles played in front of the supermarket in 1965.

“It almost brought me to tears,” he confessed of the memory before spinning his next record by Glen Campbell. 

“This is ‘Times Like These,’” he said in his outro. And with that, nothing more needed to be said.


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