Thursday, January 12, 2006

32. He's the One

for Tom G.

This has been my week for friends: I've already been favored with email wisdom from one, and another recently passed through and gave me a great gift--actually, two: his and his wife's sorely missed presence, plus the thirtieth anniversary edition of Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run, which fortunately contains two DVDs, thus allowing me to write about it in this journal. Although I guess I could've snuck in Springsteen earlier, since videos count, yes? I hope so; I'd like to write about Bjork's some day--and with Springsteen there's been some remarkable filmed concerts, especially the Live in New York City set--but the current offerings seem to fit well here, this week, one in which I have been swinging wildly between that old black magic called angst and a kind of electric summit, from whose heights I imagine I can see everything, and with thundercrack clarity.

I'm reminded of one of my poetry-heroes, W.B. Yeats, who captures this spiritual bipolairity in--no surprise here--"Vacillation," an eight-part progression--free-association collection?--of brief verses; the first begins, "Between extremities / Man runs his course"--go, dog, go--but the bit I'll never forget is the fourth section, in which the speaker tells us, "My fiftieth year had come and gone"--and I'm getting there myself, in the sweet by and by--and he sits, "a solitary man, / In a crowded London shop"; I am compelled to quote the next stanza in its entirety:

"While on the shop and street I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed;
And twenty minutes more or less
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was blessed and could bless."

That poem, that section in particular, reads like Scripture; it is a feeling that is transsubstantial, and why music and film must run through my head every day, ready reminders, testimonies, even when the tone grows harsh and the image dim.

The dancehall in my head where Yeats' music plays packs 'em in every night, and John Donne, Tom Waits, G.M. Hopkins, Scorsese, and Springsteen are the regular headliners, and their voices blur like rushing birdflight and run into one another, until I cannot see them clearly because I see them all at once. Again, they testify, and I raise my hand without even knowing it.

One of the DVDs in the Born to Run set is a documentary about the album, and once again I know I'm among friends as I listen to them talk about a record that marked a turning point in my life in 1975--although as I recollect I had been drawn to Springsteen a bit earlier, gazing at his first album in the record store, happy to see New Jersey on the cover. I was just going to college, and had been vacillating--I am always irked when I use anything but the present tense for that verb, but I need to tell it as a story happening in the past; convention must have her due--between revolution and renewal, eager to blast down to ground zero everything I had been, afraid I'd have nothing left for whatever was coming next. I wanted to see a new heaven and a new earth, but the more I thought, the less I understood. (Cripes; thank you, Socrates.) I'd listened to Springsteen before; Ed Sciaky (pronounced SHOCK-ee, rest his soul), the first person to play Springsteen on the radio, kept us tuned in. I remember an all-night--or so it seemed--gig Springsteen played from The Main Point in Bryn Mawr, broadcast on WMMR, I think, with Ed at the helm. And then I went with Tom Wilk to the 3500-seat Tower Theatre in Philadelphia, and "tied faith between my teeth" for once and all. Between the deep understanding in "Thunder Road"--that urge to take hold and run--and the gauntlet he threw down with "Jungleland"--making me feel like one of those poets who "Don't write nothing at all" but "just stand back and let it all be," winding up "wounded / Not even dead," I was able to accept my need for faith, hope and love, and the strength to look for them.

Oh, you can roll your eyes, but Born to Run gave me permission to imagine I could "go out walking"--not stumbling or crawling. And even though I didn't accept that invitation for a long time--maybe even not yet, but I must admit I don't look as close as I could; as one of my favorite cartoon characters once said, "Everyone is beautiful if you squint a bit"--I could always listen to the songs to reaffirm that I should, and that, even if I didn't, someone still knew what it was like to be "a prisoner of your dreams." Hearing Springsteen and others on the DVD talk about the cinematic nature of the songs, their spiritual insistence, their promises and warnings, I was reminded once more that I have gotten it right every once in a while, when it comes to the people and music and movies I love. And although my foot slides more than I care to confess, I can look at my loved ones' faces or watch Raging Bull or listen to "Thunder Road" and maybe not know much, just that I was blind and now I see. Even with the squint.

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