Bruce Springsteen’s Odyssean quest

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 9:30pm

Bruce Springsteen, like Odysseus, is a man of twists and turns trying to get home — both finally did get home; Odysseus got home to the island of Ithaca, and Bruce got home to Freehold, New Jersey, and to Penelope and Patti.

In the bardic tradition of Homer, Springsteen is a hell of a story teller. As I predicted in my column, “Bashing to windward” (see my archive), there would be a video of Bruce Springsteen’s Broadway gig. In fact, directly after the night it ended, Netflix put the show up on their menu. The next day I punched it up and watched him for about 20 minutes. Then, I hustled Sailor and Tuppence outside for a run at the Point Judith Lighthouse. As the dogs were running aimlessly, I sat in my car and punched up Springsteen’s Sirius channel. Bang, there he was doing a piece of the Broadway gig.

People need stories and songs to understand the world. They act as guides and charts and give us context on how to comport ourselves in the world. Stories can give us a sense of order in contrast to a sense of chaos. “The Odyssey,” recited by the wandering poet Homer, has something for everybody. Arrogance, cockiness, laziness, forthrightness, love, loss, conflicts, temptation, faith, relationships and humility all get a nod in this story about one guy; however, it’s not gender-specific — it’s a human story that is stacked with relatable stuff about what is okay to do in the world, and what is not okay. (The Robert Fagles translation of Homer is a good one and reads easily out loud.) The story is an examination of a life lived as good as it can be. Homer would recite his story in a series of evenings, not in one shot; people needed to digest and discuss the elements. Homer knew how to work his audience and create cliffhanger suspense so they would show up wanting more. I’m watching Springsteen’s show in sections for two reasons. First there are time constraints, and secondly, I want to absorb this guy’s quest — what’s the rush — and want to hear more. In this structural respect, these guys are very similar.

The world today has a twisted narrative and an amorphous and mind-numbing context. Also, this world on a good day is chaotic — always was — and if we add to this the news cycles, which are spilling divisiveness and utter confusion, it appears that folks are burned out by the incoming mixed messages. Until the pendulum swings back to the center — which I believe it will — the idea of hearing a guy tell his story in the small intimate setting of a 900-seat theatre can sound like a really good idea. Just think, for some cash we can dump our iPhones and get a seat to hear a guy tell us his story. And, we can get a break from our own heads — and maybe get some focus and retool our lives to boot. Maybe Homer knew he was creating a respite from the world’s travails for the people of ancient Greece. Add to this, Homer, like Springsteen, told a compelling and fun story. Both guys were informing and entertaining their audiences. Both guys understood their role as troubadours. (Most importantly, their stories were relatable; which goes back to my position that we need the stories.)

Springsteen talks and sings of love, family, loss and perseverance. He strips away the bright and shiny of performance, and lets his voice and fingers simply tell his story — his piano playing is grounding and there is no schtick while he guardedly hits the keyboard. The whole gig is one of austerity and minimalism. The story is front and center and nothing he does can upstage this. The narrative of the show is similar to his book, “Born to Run,” however, it plays more like a monologue punctuated with melodies, piano notes, and simple rhythm shots on his beat-up guitar. This guy has some great acting chops hiding up his sleeve; he can work a pause, and play that silence and draw us in. I’m sure Homer used similar tricks to force his audience to stay in his moment.

Besides having some memorable moments in the show where we see Bruce and his wife paying homage to their love and commitment to each other — it’s nice to see this — there are moments where the levity creates balance. Last week I clicked in after work one day, and picked up where I left off. It was the part of the show — my favorite part of the book — where Springsteen talks about a cross country trip in a very sketchy rig with a guy named Carl Virgil “Tinker” West. Tinker was a West coast guy living near the surf breaks of the Jersey shore in his factory, where he made Challenger Surfboards. Springsteen, Vinny “Mad Dog” Lopez and Tinker lived in the factory. West had some connections out in California, and the band took off and hit the road on a non-stop trip across the country. And, things happened.

This is all you’re getting from me.