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REVIEW–Springsteen & ESB LA April 2012: A Remembrance by Ron Wells + Videos

April 30, 2012
On Thursday April 26, my husband drove with his buddy Scott to the LA Sports Arena to see Bruce Springsteen and they sat in Arena 3; on Friday April 27, he took our 8 year old son (read a review of the album here).

After standing in line for hours, at 8:15pm, they got a pair of tickets in Arena 18, in the VIP section on the side right by the stage near Bruce’s sister (read more here).
Both shows ranked up there as some of the best my husband had been to in his 30 years of following the Boss.
Hard to say what made it so special–being there with our son, being there after losing his dad and no Clarence Clemons on stage, or what; suffice to say the shows were special. Here’s a review of the LA Sports Arena “Wrecking Ball Tour” shows by guest blogger and long time Bruce fan, Ron Wells, where he shares what the shows meant to him.

“Lights out tonight
Trouble in the heartland.”
–Bruce Springsteen
“Badlands” Darkness on the Edge of Town 1978

“Hold on. I’m Coming.”
–lyrics by Sam and Dave

“When the blue sky breaks
Feels like the world’s gonna change.”
–Bruce Springsteen

When Bruce Springsteen walks onto the Los Angeles Sports Arena stage with the E Street Band on Friday April 27th and lashes into “Badlands,” I can’t contain myself. A tidal wave of emotions washes over me like a sacred light of remembrance, and when he sings “there’s trouble in the heartland” (from “Badlands”) I break down and embrace 37 years of joy and heartache that this artist, my friends, my family and I have shared.

Of all the venues, over all those years, I am standing in that one special arena, the LA Sports Arena, in which I have attended every show but one.I see Roy Orbison sitting in the risers while Bruce praises him from the stage. I see the Halloween shows in which Bruce enters from a coffin, smiles, and launches into “Haunted House.”I see my brother at the Vietnam vets show watching his first Springsteen concert, and I see my mother and father dancing during a Tunnel of Love concert.

As he ends “My City of Ruins” with its gospel chorus of “with these hands,” I see the day my father died and I watched as the life slowly left his body.I see my friend Dan laughing during his only Bruce show and then years later having his wife call me and tell me that my much younger co-worker suddenly passed away when his heart quit beating forever.I see Cheryl outside the Sports Arena at 2 AM during The River Tour waiting for Bruce to come out and we talk about movies, songs, and her getting her nursing degree, not knowing that Cheryl will soon find out she has MS and thus have to quit seeing Bruce many years ago as it eventually grew so bad that she couldn’t even walk.

When Bruce asks if we’re missing anybody, my answer, like his, is in the affirmative.

And when he sings angrily “Death to My Hometown,” I see my long time friends, Jim and Jenny, who have lost their home in Northern California–knowing nothing about bundled derivatives nor credit default swaps–now trying to latch on to any hope they can, and I feel Tom Morello’s raging, biting, bitter guitar on “Ghost of Tom Joad” knowing that in this day and age anyone can feel the anger and despair which the Joads felt in Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.
The beautiful, haunting “Jack of All Trades” represents more people than I can name and it could include me if things don’t turn around in a hurry. Near the end, he pounds a big round drum almost like someone in a Salvation Army band welcoming wandering souls, so that when he sings “Something in the Nigh”t there is a primal scream that chills me to my very core. I get it. I know the feeling.
Love should cure all, but “Candy’s Room,” “She’s the One,” and “Easy Money” speak to uneasy relationships  and I want to close my eyes and let them melt, let them fire, let them burn. The body dances, but nothing comes easy in this world. Yet, still we reach for the “Ties That Bind,” for someone who “will ease the sadness, who’ll quiet the pain.”
So we “Wait on A Sunny Day” when the children shall lead us. Bruce’s joy of watching the little girls sing each night is so apparent that the crowd senses the innocence and hope that these tiny voices can chase the clouds away.
As he leads into the Smokey Robinson and Wilson Pickett medley, he talks about the “bliss right in front of your face” in the form of soul music. “634-5789” resonates from my high school years while Bruce is held aloft by hands of those who touch the energy and realize that he is no god, but a mere mortal just like them. There is no one worshiping him, just those who want to support him as he  has supported them through his artistry, a physical thank you for showing them just a small amount of light to help them find their way through the darkness on the edge of their towns.
Then he leads us once again through a “Lonesome Day,” as those standing throughout the arena throw their hands in the air and sing because “it’s all right, it’s all right, yeah!” Even the dead arise in “We Are Alive,” the spirits of those who have left us reminding us that they are forever with us, “carrying the fire to light the spark” as we “stand shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart.”
That fire burns so brightly within him. Always has. Always will. It counters the superficiality and negativity, even the hate, which seems to permeate our discourse today. And if you don’t feel that fire emanating from him, that’s okay too, but I hope you will keep seeking some art, whether it be music or books or paintings, to fill your heart. Bruce, along with so many other artists, has certainly done that for me and many others.
One way or another, leave behind your sorrows. Get on this train. The one whose ultimate destination is to take you where dreams will not be thwarted. Let your faith be rewarded. Yes, it’s been a journey on “Rocky Ground,” which reminds me of a trip many years ago over a bumpy, horrific road leading to Chaco Canyon in New Mexico where I found some hope to latch onto, some timeless faith to believe in, and so I and others throw our arms in the air and sing with purpose that we want hard times to come no more. Always keep moving. Always forward.
Then astoundingly, I’m transported back as Bruce channels the Rivieras blasting “California Sun” from my transistor radio as I ride my 10 speed bike as a kid with my pal Steve and I ride past a California girl’s house who has no intention of speaking to us. Yeah, but so what, we’re “out there having fun in the warm California Sun.” How could a guy from Jersey even begin to understand that? It’s easy. It’s the song. It’s always that musical connection. No matter where you’re from. Which is why I find myself dancing to the “E Street Shuffle,” a place I’ve never been to, but I’ve visited more times than I can count.

The Arena explodes, everyone up, hands pumping as “Born to Run” sounds as youthful and hopeful as it ever has. How many times as he played this and how many times does a new fan scream in joyous recognition as we all have done the first time we ever heard the song.

With everyone in dancing mode, the arena bathed in light which shuts out the darkness, Bruce and his sister remind us of how important family can be. To see them dance together and knowing the story of their journey makes it all the more beautiful.

I know “Tenth Ave. Freeze Out” is coming. I’ve seen the video. But nothing prepared me for seeing this live, as Bruce looks to the screen where the Clarence tribute memorial video is playing, his eyes open and then closed, almost as if in prayer, and my composure is gone. My father and my friends who are no longer here join Danny and Clarence in my mind, emotion fills my heart with remembrance of all the years that have passed, the importance of knowing the loss, embracing the love of eternal souls,
and then celebrating the life that we had together.

When the show is over, Bruce stands next to Max’s drum stand and thanks every single member of the band for their contribution to the show that night. He apparently does this every night now and it says so much about the man and his appreciation for the work his fellow musicians put in night after night. It’s always about connection.

I am physically and emotionally drained.
And then I remember the little 5 year old girl I began working with last year. Such a beautiful child, of African-American and Persian descent, she is autistic, speech delayed, and when I met her parents a year ago, her mother broke down in tears thinking her sweet child, the one with the Little Mermaid t-shirt and the smile that could light a dark cave, will never be like “normal kids.” But I won’t let her go there, I won’t let her descend into that darkness.
In my mind I’m thinking, “Dreams will not be thwarted, faith will be rewarded,” and I tell the mother we will make this journey together through the darkness into the light, but we will never quit, we will never give up hope. The mother just looks at me, as her daughter grabs my hand and we begin saying the alphabet. The mother smiles through her tears and I carry Bruce’s spark to light the fire.
As we all do. For each of us feels the connection. Each of us feels he’s speaking directly to us.
It’s only rock and roll. And so much more….
Thirty seven years later, I hear the call of “trouble in the heartland” and with Bruce ringing in my ears, I rise up and reach for the sky of fullness, sky of blessed light.
Sometimes you can find grace in the oddest places, including what many call an aging, run down arena. For what makes it matter is not its age, but the souls that have filled it. Especially the troubadours, the artists like Bruce Springsteen, who remind us of the struggle, the power, and the glory.
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