I really enjoyed Bruce and the E Street Band's performance at the Super Bowl Sunday evening. I thought I'd make a note since it's rare for something on TV to bring tears to my eyes, and for reasons I don't entirely understand, Bruce made me tear up.
Frankly, I haven't listened to a new Springsteen record beginning-to-end in 20 years. High school and college were my Springsteen years, high school in New Jersey when feeling kinship with Bruce was maybe the only fringe benefit of Garden State residency I could see. Then college years, when "Born in the USA" came out, Springsteen hit his peak of stardom, and he mounted the worldwide tour when I saw him live the one and only time so far, Charlotte, NC, 1985.
We lost the thread in the 90s, both Bruce and I, but he has snuck up on me recently. I saw him on the campaign trail for Obama in the fall, saw him appear with Pete Seeger during Inauguration Week. I read the Rolling Stone profile of Bruce just last week, which pointedly celebrates the E Street Band, which Bruce dissolved but later reconciled with, the band aging and hobbled and depleted by death (RIP Danny Federici) but still on a mission. I also read a brief item in the newspaper just days before the game, when Bruce related that the Super Bowl gig has been pitched to him repeatedly over the years, and he warmed to the idea only gradually. The biggest stage, the brightest spotlight in the music world, for better or worse.
Of course, Bruce admits, there is a new album the band wants to promote. He had a lot of bases to touch in 12 minutes' time in Tampa. A cut from the new record, a couple of his greatest hits ("Born to Run" almost certainly), and a little of the between-songs monologuing that his fans expect. I thought he pulled it off in terrific style, touching every base with panache. Mugging with Miami Steve and the Big Man, trading glances with Patti. Doing the commercially smart thing, giving the audience the thing it wants from him, and Bruce being at peace with it and having fun doing it. It was frenetic, sloppy, cornball. Plainly he's past his prime. So am I. He looked and sounded happy, and it made me happy.
I chatted with a friend online today, a guy about my age but not an old friend, who had the exact opposite take, that Springsteen's set was phony as hell.
My teenager was watching and listening with me, and when Springsteen did his spoken-word intro ("back away from the guacamole dip... put the chicken fingers down...") she asked, incredulously, "Is he trying to be funny?" She's never taken a liking to Bruce's records, never been exposed to his stage shtick. It's not what rock frontmen are to do nowadays, I take it; nothing within a mile of stand-up comic patter. That gives a little credence to my friend's dismissive verdict.
My daughter did laugh, however, when Bruce slid across the stage floor and crashed slam-bang into the TV camera.
I've been on a personal nostalgia trip lately. Facebook has put me in touch with some friends from the carefree days of youth, from my early-80s Springsteen period especially. Plus, God knows why, but I have been recalling the NFL collectors' stamp set that was marketed by Sunoco in 1972. I was only in the 4th grade, but that was the year I became a football fan, driven by my mania for completing my stamp set. I must have driven my dad insane, making him fill up the Buick Skylark at Sunoco every blessed time so I could get stamps. My mother or I eventually chucked that stamp album in the trash, probably in the great purge when the family moved from northern Virginia to New Jersey in '78, and I never gave it a thought again until the last couple of weeks.
I was really quite the mawkish sentimental American fool Sunday evening. I embraced our vulgar national football feast. Never was heard a cynical word. I wowed over James Harrison, Larry Fitzgerald, Darnell Dockett, and Santonio Holmes. I was happy for the Pittsburgh Steelers, their owners and fans in triumph. I was happy for the Cardinals, that they could hold their heads high in defeat. I even chuckled at some of the commercials. I actually looked forward to the halftime show and it actually did not disappoint.