Some three years ago I wrote about Springsteen’s concert as being a truly “civic experience.” It was more than a great concert; maybe like you, I’ve been to many of those over the years. But in 2009, one could feel the twenty-thousand people at the Verizon Center in DC come together, express a deep and abiding hope for the country, and live out their patriotism – all without apology or discomfort. It was a civic religious experience. This Sunday’s concert had a totally different vibe; because it was about something totally different. Amid these twenty-thousand people, Springsteen told a different story of America – at least a piece of the current story of America. The concert – the story – was no longer a celebration of possibilities on the heels of Barack Obama’s historic election, but about the hard times so many Americans have traveled in these intervening years (and before that for many among us).
This was a moment when pop culture told a deep story about people’s lives, where they find themselves, and how they fit into an increasingly and rapidly changing world. In three hours of unbroken song, I could feel the Main Street study I am writing come to life through Springsteen’s lyrics, melodies, and the sense of grounding that permeated the arena.
Just piecing together some of his lyrics gives you a sense of the story he told and the story I see unfolding in the nation. In many respects, it was one of hardship: “We’ve been traveling over rocky ground, rocky ground.” It was one of continuity and grittiness, as a dad told his son of the worth of hard work and his call to him to keep this ethic alive: “Pick up the rock son, carry on... Freedom, son is a dirty shirt. The sun on my face and my shovel in the dirt.”
But make no mistake, it was also about the aspirations of people who have been down-and-out and yet have not forsaken America and what it stands for: “Meet me in a land of hope and dreams.” And yet, his signature song, the one you may have heard him perform recently at the Emmy’s, or listened to on radio, had a simple and direct message, entreaty to us all: “We take care of our own.”
In 2009, Springsteen’s concert was like a civic revival, with a focus on politics and policy. Not this time: this was about people, their lives, and where we each fit. It was about what it means to see and hear one another. And it was about how we must come together, not to enact some new policy or program, but to care for one another.
There is much diversity in our country, in people, and in their experiences. Many good, even great, things are happening all around us, everyday. But there is more that we all see, and which we must act on.
Pick up the rock son, carry on.
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