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A Wrigley Field of Dreams: Bruce Springsteen and his Ghosts

Bruce Springsteen spoke of ghosts last night at Wrigley Field. 

“The older you get, the more ghosts you have. These are your friends and companions along the way. Old houses carry ghosts, old guitars carry ghosts … lot of ghosts in old ball parks.”  

I wish I could remember more of the quote than this. But this is what stuck with me throughout an evening performance that was unparalleled for me. 

This is not a review, just a personal memory of a night which I hope will relive itself, like a ghost, in my memory for a long, long time.

 

Springsteen is 62. But he seems immortal, as if he is of Númenórean descent. Much like one of my favorite fictional characters, Aragorn, The Boss seems to be in the prime of his musical life. 

There are days that I wish I had even a bit of the energy displayed in this 3-hour rock spectacle. 

Springsteen invited native Illinoisans Eddie Vedder (Evanston) and Tom Morello (Libertyville) to the stage for various collaborative performances throughout the evening. 

But even if he had to carry the entire evening himself, I have no doubt about his ability to do so. 

The energy flying around the stage and directed out toward the audience was palpable beyond just memorized lyrics and thunderous rock sounds shaking the old seats at Wrigley.

At one point a very drunk and stoned young man who had been twirling in his seat for two and a half hours turned and held his arms out and sang to a middle-aged woman who had been arm dancing in her seat behind him the entire evening.

“So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore. Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night. You ain’t a beauty, but hey you’re alright, oh, and that’s alright with me.”

“Thunder Road” was more than a little thematic for the concert in support of the “Wrecking Ball” tour.

But as he held his arms out and belted out the refrain as loud as he could, with darkly stoned eyes and a wet smile on his face, I watched the 50-something woman connect across some ghostly bridge. There was no age difference, no genre walls between them. Just disembodied experiences relayed on an invisible stave. 

For every great Springsteen song, every personal favorite, he left out a dozen songs that people would have given body parts to hear. But three hours is barely enough to satisfy the record label, let alone thousands of fans young and old. 

Then the heavens opened, and Springsteen unbuttoned his vest, shook it off at the base of the drum set, wielded like Oden’s Hammer, by Max Weinberg, and descended into the fray. On a little pedestal at the base of the stage, the venerable rocker stared up into the maw of a collapsing cloud and delivered a benediction for every drought-stricken county and musically deprived soul within the sonorous sound of his voice. 

Several times he entreated the crowd. “Chicago, are you ready to go home.” The response was an overwhelming no, spat through rain-drenched lips. 

The ghost of Clarence Clemmons was there, as was his nephew, Jake Clemmons. Springsteen seemed to enjoy the companionship of traveling ghosts, and it could be said that New Jersey was in attendance as much as Chicago was last night. 

As the evening wore on, you could tell that there were more than the 20-or-so E-Street Band members on stage. The performance seemed to suck all the electricity out of the storming sky above us.

“There were ghosts in the eyes of all the boys you sent away. They haunt this dusty beach road, in the skeleton frames of burned-out Chevrolets. They scream your name at night in the street, your graduation gown lies in rags at their feet. An in the lonely cool before dawn, you hear their engines roaring on…”

Bruce Springsteen, it seems, is not haunted by his ghosts, which eats at some performers like a cancer. Instead, he has embraced them, those companions and friends along the way, which is maybe the reason a Springsteen concert is as much a worship service as a rock show. It’s caught somewhere between heaven and hell, between Jersey and Illinois, D.C. and Afghanistan.

These ghosts, these haunted guitars and saxophones. The ghosts of every union man and woman, factory workers and farmers in the Springsteen canon were in attendance, boosting the 40,000 seating capacity of Wrigley. But that’s the advantage that ghosts have. 

“…lots of ghosts in old ballparks.” – Bruce Springsteen September 8, 2012