I grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio. A land of manicured lawns, a plethora of sidewalks and a mandate to have all trash relegated to the rear of the house so as not to create an eye sore for it’s proud and prim citizens. This was all masterminded back in the day by the Van Swerigan brothers whose goal was to create the ideal suburban community reflecting the ethos of the Shaker principles. Apparently the fact that I hail from this “idyllic” suburb is fairly transparent. When I tell people I am from Ohio they routinely reply, “Oh, you must be from Shaker Heights.”
I believe that where we grow up is inextricably tied to our identity. And while I am a product of my hometown, thanks to my brother Bill, the gritty and less manicured Asbury Park – pretty much the polar opposite of Shaker Heights – was alive and well just down the hall from my childhood bedroom.
My brother Bill was an all things Bruce Springsteen connoisseur. He had every album and enjoyed blasting the songs throughout our brick colonial. Above his bed he hoisted a wall size image of his childhood idol and I can still see the image of the rocker/storyteller splayed against the 1970’s tan and black crisscross wallpaper.
It is thanks to my brother that I know most of the lyrics to Bruce’s impressive cadre of music. Not on command so much, but when his voice pops through on Sonos or Sirius I know every word. I am a Bruce fan by association, which is why when I had the opportunity to purchase two tickets to Bruce Springsteen on Broadway I took it. And by on Broadway I mean in a theater that seats 975 people, in contrast to a stadium that seats on average a whopping 80,000 people where I have seen him perform in the past.
When the husband, my intended date, let me know that he couldn’t join me at the show… I knew just who to invite. This is how I found myself in the 3rd row next to my brother Bill and some 15 feet from Bruce Springsteen for 2 hours and 20 minutes.
It would be impossible to sit through this show and not consider your childhood years. Then for Bruce (I feel that we are on a first name basis now) to open up with the song “Growing UP” when you are sitting next to the person that you literally grew up WITH the show takes on a whole new proportion of meaning.
The show is his book Born to Run brought to the stage with a captivating intermix of his raspy and quiet words juxtaposed with his on point and powerful singing. It was almost like watching two different people perform: Bruce the thoughtful, fragile and painstaking writer and Bruce the wheels up, hold nothing back, go for broke rock star. As we plowed through his life story he was endearing, captivating, self deprecating, playful and funny.
When his wife, Patty Scialfa, came to sang with him on stage he was downright romantic. Talk about a date night! The two of them get to re-kindle their clear admiration for one another night after night via the power of live music! Wow!
When Bruce spoke his style was reticent, but he was super generous via the honesty of his words. That said, I was happiest when he was singing. My brother is a musician himself and he observed that each song had been carefully re-arranged for an un-plugged performance. For example, “Born in the USA” was re-configured into a delta blues slide guitar rendition with no hint of the familiar synthesizer riff (Bill’s words, not mine).
To be so close to Bruce as he belted out the soundtrack of my childhood was a gift. I am grateful that Bruce Springsteen and Asbury Park infiltrated my somewhat cosseted upbringing. Bruce joked that his career was built on songs based on his running away from the very hometown he now lives a scant 10 minutes away from. He said “Born to Come Back Home” wasn’t as catchy.
I am a bit further from my hometown, but my hometown remains very much a part of who I am and how I am raising my children. Thank you Bruce and Bill for this powerful reminder and powerful evening on Broadway.