Meet the New Boss-Heads

(Originally published on MOLI 5/7/8)

The hand-lettered sign was one of many that dotted the arena. “Thunder Road [written in Bruce Springsteen’s script] for my 21st Birthday Please.” The Boss is in an obliging mood on this tour, so he played the piano-driven anthem that used to be his signature but for years he had dropped from his repertoire. The irony, of course, is that the 1975 song was written long before the requesting fan was born. Looking around the Bank Atlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida, May 2, that wasn’t actually so surprising.

There are few things more annoying than bald boneheads shouting for songs from their youth at classic rock concerts. Sure, there was a lot of that Friday night: “Just play ‘Rosalita’!” some old codger rocker shouted behind me, precisely as Bruce was in the middle of a very soulful moment in “Devil’s Arcade.” The song from his ’07 album Magic is about a soldier in the desert, and the music got still as Max Weinberg’s drums enacted the lyrics: “the beat of your heart, the beat of her heart.” Then the idiot shouted.

More heartening were the teenagers in front of us singing along to every song, old and new. There was a surprisingly wide age range at the show – perhaps because Springsteen has never stopped generating new albums. Sure there were a lot of people (like myself) reliving the days when Born To Run defined their adolescent urges. But a generation of kids alienated by bling-hop and teen pop is listening to their parents’ rock’n’roll. (I recently interviewed the high school students behind the group For Darfur, and despite the fact they’re promoting a Kanye West concert in Miami on May 6, executive director and music obsessive Gabriel Schillinger confessed he’s a classic rock fan.) And while I’m not down with being stuck in one’s “Glory Days,” I think it’s important for music fans to learn from the masters. The Beatles were long broken up when I became obsessed with them as a pubescent – and I think my pop instincts are all the better for it.

I’ve been to many a concert where the Boss challenged his old-school fans, by turning “Born in the U.S.A.” into a noisy protest song, or playing “American Skin (41 Shots)” in a Madison Square Garden full of cops shortly after Amadou Diallo’s murder. In general, this wasn’t one of them — although he did raise the heckles, and hackles, of some of those around us when he prefaced “Living in the Future” with a speech about how the last eight years have been an attack upon the Constitution. “Fuck Obama,” another bonehead near us muttered. (Springsteen has endorsed the presidential candidate.)

Bruce reunited the E Street Band for this tour, and he played oldie after oldie – including “Rosalita.” He took the requests written on the hand-lettered signs, not the shouted ones – apparently, there was some Boss-head memo about this, as hundreds of fans knew to bring them.

The show was originally scheduled for April 18 but was postponed when Danny Federici, Springsteen’s keyboardist and friend for 40 years, passed away April 17 from melanoma. Bruce opened with a video tribute to the original E Streeter, accompanied by the song “Blood Brothers.” History shouldn’t be repeated – but it should be honored.

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