"Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." This is the opening of the Lord's prayer, the one all Catholics know and recite and those were the last words spoken on stage by Bruce Springsteen, before he kicked into an acoustic version of another prayer: Born To Run.
Welcome to the church of The Boss, located under the bright lights of Broadway, until the end of June.
Getting a ticket to Springsteen On Broadway, the most-coveted show in New York (suck it, Hamilton), resembled something out of The Twelve Tasks of Astérix, as it took a series of numbered steps, none of which included string-pulling as that, failed miserably. But once I did score a ticket, via a new fair and equitable Ticketmaster system, I felt like Muhammad Ali at the 1960 Olympics.
"People don't come to rock shows to be told things. They come to rock shows to be reminded" said Springsteen, during his uninterrupted 2 hours and 15 minutes set. That is what we call "reading a room". Because in one sentence, Bruce Springsteen crystallized why on that night, 953 of us congregated to receive communion at New York's Walter Kerr Theater and why others have done the same, 5 nights a week, since last Autumn.
We came to drink the words of one of America's most beloved un-ordained priests. The one who sang about factories without having worked in one. The one who turned a protest song into a toe-tapping anthem. The one who fought against apartheid and the one who stood side-by-side with the likes of Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder and Bob Dylan, to raise money and awareness in the wake of famine in Africa.
Today, all this still matters. We are divided like rarely before, despite all the new tools designed to bring us closer. The leader of the free world - an expression I hope will soon disappear- is testing our morals and the limits of what we will and will not stand by idly watching. A Springsteen, that has been around to sing about segregation, veterans, isolation, police brutality and other social ailments, is thankfully still around to remind us of the hurt. But he's also around to remind us of what feels good: love, carefreeness, freedom of an open road, dancing in the dark and taking care of our own.
Does anybody really need to still be singing Bruce Springsteen's praises? Of course not. Yet, the exercise seems warranted in a time when in music and in culture in general, we too often confuse being popular with being talented. But in this befuddlement of our modern times, Bruce remains a rare breed: he can conjugate popularity and brilliance. And because he made it rich at a time when record and ticket sales solely decided whether or not an artist would make it to the Forbes’ list, Springsteen can afford to speak in his own language and not in sponsor-ese or in 280-character friendly formats. That freedom of thought and authenticity of speech are what we still want.
The Boss doesn't sing upside down in a harness. He doesn't have 10 back-up dancers. And alas, he doesn't even have Clarence Clemons anymore. Springsteen on Broadway is a stripped down tête-à-tête. It’s a tour de force by a man and his guitars (and his wife, during two songs), his soul and his stories. Our stories.
When I first heard Bruce Springsteen's music, I was a kid who got high on BritPop and who moonwalked at every basement party I attended. Suddenly, by the second track of the Born In The U.S.A. cassette I got on a 80’s Christmas morning, I was subjugated by the Ambassador of blue collar Americans, who rocked tight blue jeans and ever tighter white tees. And somehow, his stories of dead-end towns - though I was living in effervescent Montréal - spoke to me.
It was the 80's of Reagan which weren't that glorious, regardless of the nostalgia the Grand Old Party insists hanging on to, and Bruce Springsteen had proven the success of his first albums weren't flukes.
Today, in the Trump era, the problems seem to be worse and to cut deeper. But Springsteen is still here, still preaching, still telling the stories we need to hear.
Entertainment comes in many shapes, thankfully. These days, even better if it comes in the shape of activism. We need it and this is why Springsteen still matters.
Martine St-Victor is a communications strategist, based in Montréal. She also co-hosts CBC Radio One's Seat At The Table.
Springsteen On Broadway runs through June 30th, 2018.