Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Time I Saw Springsteen in Greensboro

You might have heard about this “transgender bill” the governor of North Carolina, Pat McCrory, signed into law about three weeks ago. The part of the legislation getting the most attention prohibits transgender individuals from using public bathrooms for the sex they identify as. The other less regarded part gives the state power to override cities’ attempts to pass their own nondiscrimination laws (as Charlotte had done, thereby prompting the legislation’s last push).

At the time, McCrory -- who as governor so far has made his mark by cutting education spending and joining other governors in taking an abhorrent (and impotent) stand against the state accepting Syrian refugees -- described the bill as “bipartisan,” although it was mostly Republicans voting for it in the House and, in fact, the Senate Democrats (a minority) walked out on the vote entirely, a highly unusual move.

You might’ve also heard about certain businesses either threatening to avoid NC going forward or having already made such moves. For example, PayPal announced it has halted its plans to create a global operations center in NC in response to the new law. A handful of other events have been canceled, and the NBA is starting to talk about moving the 2017 All-Star Game somewhere other than Charlotte.

There’s also a lot of negative vitriol being directed the state’s way. For example, in a humorous short piece yesterday, Charles P. Pierce of Esquire reported how a porn site is now blocking IP addresses from NC, a development he jokingly suggested would be the final straw to force NC to change the new law. Coincidentally or no, McCrory did, in fact, announce yesterday an intention to try to modify the law.

I normally enjoy Pierce’s political musings, although I have to say I’m getting a little tired of blanket statements about the state being mostly populated with crazed bigots such as the one he uses to begin his porn piece: “We all know that Bruce Springsteen has declined to play in the now almost entirely insane state of North Carolina due to the enactment of its Urinal Cooties Protection Act of 2016,” Pierce begins.

Okay, it’s a funny line. But the state is not “now almost entirely insane,” okay? I’m reminded of some of the response three years ago to Greg Raymer’s bust for soliciting a prostitute in Wake Forest, when support for the 2004 WSOP Main Event champion quickly bled over into damning acid-spewing aimed at the entire state.

Pierce mentions Springsteen skipping NC, deciding to cancel with just a couple days’ notice his Greensboro show that had been scheduled on this past Sunday. I don’t begrudge the Boss in the least, and in fact I’d suggest his decision likely had a lot to do with McCrory’s attempt to start backtracking a bit yesterday.

The news of Springsteen’s canceling his show caused me to think back to the one time I saw him and the E Street Band perform -- in Greensboro, in fact, way back during the Born in the U.S.A. tour (no shinola). I admit I wasn’t a big fan of his then. I was in high school and had a friend who went to Elon who had an extra ticket, and I tagged along. Over the ensuing decades I have remained only a casual fan, having just a couple of titles on my iPod that I only occasionally dial up.

I was curious to remember details of the show I’d seen, though, and so did some searching online. With only a few clicks was able to pinpoint the performance -- January 19, 1985. It was a typically monstrous show, lasting three-and-a-half or four hours, I recalled, and the setlist confirmed for me how it had gone on for 28 songs.

Clicked around a little bit more and was surprised to find audio of the actual performance on a site full of Springsteen shows. I downloaded and listened, and was kind of floored by how fantastic the show was. There’s just something about Springsteen playing live. I suppose it has to do with the stories he tells between songs and how they draw the listener’s attention more specifically to the songs’ messages. Or maybe there’s something else there that energizes the performances, something less simple to describe. In any case, hearing Springsteen live is always much more affecting (to me, anyway) than happens with the studio versions of the same tunes.

There’s a theme that runs through just about all of Springsteen’s songs -- call it a chase, a search, a journey, what have you. The songs’ protagonists are often on the move, trying to figure out where they’ve been, make sense of where they are, or get some idea of where they’re going. They’re all looking for something -- meaning, love, self-identity, self-worth -- with the thread connecting them being the quest. And, it goes without saying, “Born to Run” stands as the wholly appropriate anthem for the whole cast of characters Springsteen creates.

Kind of a weird, nostalgic trip listening to the show. During a long, funny intro to “Glory Days” he mentions getting a note from the assistant manager of the Greensboro Hornets (then the minor league baseball team), which then leads into a story about his failed baseball career (abandoned as a teen in order to “devote my life to rock and roll!”).

Then comes the song, which is, of course, all about being nostalgic. I couldn’t help but think back to being a teen myself, there at the show, with a whole life ahead of me and every possibility still open. It goes on and on and on, with the whole track (including the intro) lasting nearly 12 minutes, prompting this surprising feeling in me that I never wanted it to end.

There are many other great moments. Perhaps the one bringing me most quickly back to the present was the intro to “My Hometown” in which he delivers a short soliloquy about how tangled things like patriotism or pride in one’s state or place can be. He describes how as a teen he often wanted to leave his home and never go back, not wanting to be identified with the small town and its many seemingly “narrow-minded” folks populating it.

But as he got older, he realized just taking off and running away wasn’t such a simple matter.

“I guess one of the things when I was a kid that I was afraid of was... belonging somewhere,” he explains. “When you belong somewhere, that means you have some responsibility to that place, whether it’s your family, or your town, or your country. You know, if you stand up and say ‘I’m an American,’ that means you got some responsibility to America.”

Predictably, they (we?) cheered at that line. But just as “Born in the U.S.A.” is hardly the patriotic paean some occasionally mistake it to be, Springsteen wasn’t delivering an uncomplicated invitation to dance a jingoistic jig.

“Here in this country, you know we’ve got so many things to be proud of, and we’ve got a lot of things to be ashamed of. And it’s the things that we ought to be ashamed of that need some taking care of by all of us.”

Listening to that three decades later -- reliving it, in a way -- it’s no great surprise that Springsteen would skip Greensboro this time around. Obviously he viewed the decision as a way perhaps to help take care of something that needed taking care of.

North Carolina is where I’m from, and no matter how far I travel away from NC it’ll always be where I belong. I want others -- all others -- to feel like they can belong here, too.

It sounds like a simple desire, but in truth it’s pretty complicated.

Photo: “Bruce Springsteen,” Thomas Uhlemann. CC BY-SA 3.0 DE.

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Blogger Memphis MOJO said...

I was at the same show. My (then) wife and I didn't have tickets, but we decided to go to Greensboro and see what would happen. Just as he opened the show with "Born in the USA," a scalper had two tickets left, but they weren't together. We took them anyway (at face value!) and enjoyed quite a show.

I later saw him in the early 90s in Chapel Hill at the Dean Dome.

4/13/2016 6:17 PM  

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