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Bruce Springsteen, Grace, and Mortality in Kansas City: Everyday Magic, Day 1077

Updated: Sep 25, 2023

A few days ago I went to my seventh and perhaps my last Springsteen concert, which was (as always) a tour de force love child of sacred pilgrimage and family reunion. Just seeing Bruce with all his living (and dead in a video and likely in spirit) band mates for over 50 years, plus the East Street choir (of heavenly proportion), the East Street horn section (of powerful lungs) and other players, is mind-blowing enough, but what stays with me most was his clear-eyed grappling with mortality and generous grace.

The reason I think this could be it is that Bruce is 73, most of his original bandmates are about the same age, they generally come to the likes of Kansas City and surrounds every four or five years, and the energy they expend is downright astronomical. Although the previous three-and-a-half-hour shows are now a mere two-hour-and-fourty-minutes affair, the pace is surely a high aerobic workout for all involved (one song is still ending when we hear the “1, 2, 3, 4….” of him beginning the next song). So I’m cognizant of the gift I received Feb. 18.

Bruce is cognizant too of aging, death, and what it means to be able to give and receive deeply with an arena full of open-hearted, loud-singing, and in many cases, over-the-hill and been-there-from-the-70s fans like me. He said this directly in his music and in a few moments of talking quietly, just him and his guitar on the big screens floating in the darkness, when he introduced the song “Last Man Standing,” a memorial of sorts to times and people long gone. He explained that seeing his dying bandmate George from the Castilles, he realized cozying up to mortality is “… you’re standing on the railroad tracks of with the white hot light of an oncoming train bearing down upon me, and it brings me clarity of thought and of purpose that you may not have previously experienced.”

Indeed, so many of the songs the band performed danced with death, flirted with the human condition, and whistled alongside what it means to be alive in the face of our limited (and who can say when or how in most cases) timeline. They burst out of the gate with “No Surrender,” then surged into “Ghost” (with the lyrics “I can feel the blood shiver in my bones/ I’m alive and I’m out here on my own/ I’m alive and I’m comin’ home”). One of the highlights was Springsteen’s and singer Curtis King’s rendition of “Nightshift,” written by the Commodores, soulfully praises Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson and talks to them from the side of the living, asking them where they are in death and saying, “You found another home/ I know you’re not alone/ On the nightshift.”

This grace was amplified in Bruce’s obvious affection for his band (and their affection for each other), constantly aiming attention toward the exemplary musicians belting, strumming, drumming, dancing, and giving their all. From the cheap seats we had behind the stage, we could see Nils leaning into Sookie, Little Stevie hamming it up with Bruce, the singers nodding to each other.

I was especially moved by Bruce’s introduction of Ed Manion, a back-up sax player who’s been with Springsteen for close to 40 years, who stepped up to the front to do one sax solo after another in covering for Jake Clemons (recovering from Covid). Bruce pointed out that finally, after 40 years, Manion was the big man, and after each solo, Bruce hugged or high-fived him, always gesturing to the audience to praise Manion’s chops and sound.

The second encore (after a seven-song encore that powered forth with “Thunder Road,” “Born to Run,” and “Rosalita”) especially moved me. The 17-member band took a final bow and left the stage, but Bruce stayed on, and just with an acoustic guitar, sang “I’ll See You In My Dreams.” He told us what we know from carrying the music and experiences that light up our souls even beyond endings: “Because death is not the end/ I’ll see you in my dreams.”

For decades, I’ve dream of seeing Bruce in my dreams, sometimes running into him at a grocery store or in a parking lot. I’m wildly grateful to have just seen him and the band in person too, and yup, this Jersey girl (even from the same school district as Bruce) will see him and the rest of the band in her dreams.

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