Bruce Springsteen's evangelical nation baptized me in St. Paul

Throughout the show, Bruce made frequent trips into the crowd. He wanted to touch his people. His people wanted to touch him. He wanted them to touch the guitar. Does it have healing power? He brought old women and children up to the stage and the catwalks to sing with him. He pulled a grade-school boy up, put his arm around the kid and danced with him. He brought pre-teen girl up to the main stage to sing a verse, then gently lifted her back to down to her family, holding her like baptized infant.


He expounded on life and ghosts and honored the dead. His songs were (and are) sermons about love and loss, hope, tough breaks and redemption. His flock, thousands deep, recited the sermons in bursts, in unison. This was not a concert -- it was a service. Bruce is a preacher, and he leads the Megachurch of Springsteen.

I should have seen it coming. As the afternoon wore on, I kept asking Dan what the whole Bruce thing was really about. "I don't have religion," Dan joked, "So..."

As Bruce swung into the climax of the set, the opening bars of "Badlands" bringing the congregation to the edge, Dan tapped me on the shoulder, and said, "Get ready for your baptism." Mass human celebration ensued, riding the power chords and Bruce's growl.
The content of Bruce's words, or even his songs, seem utterly secondary. His rhythm, his passion, is straight evangelical. You half expect him to be blessing newborns, or to see a dude get rolled out onstage in a wheelchair, and walk off. (I will now get e-mailed a story of this actually happening.)

Evangelical being a loaded word, the metaphor stops there. With Bruce, it's less about the faith than the spirit. Bruce is a preacher in the least divisive sense of the word. He is a father to those who need a better one, the cool uncle you want at every family gathering, a brother who has your back, a ghost who hangs around for the right reasons. He stands up and says "here's what's happening, and we're gonna make the world alright. And by the way, let's rock and sing about cars."


In the end, that's the relief. The Church of Springsteen, whatever its politics, has no dogma. Yes, actual churches, do, reportedly, offer a sense of community and do good things for good people, but too many are in the business of things like setting feminism back 50 years, so it's hard to get into that. We instead look for communal uplift at football games, concerts, and scavenger hunt/running clubs. When we get lucky, we find it. The Springsteen Nation is that life-affirming form of brotherhood that, in our relentless modernity, we have supposedly inadvertently destroyed. I say it exists, it just requires a credit card and some good research now. 

If there is a generation gap, maybe it's that these older guys, Bruce chief among them, actually remember a time when that wasn't the case, and they have half a clue how to remake it. Bruce, Dan, Cleveland Tim, Jersey Jonathan--they've got a mobile brotherhood, and despite appearances, it's pretty inclusive. I'll hang with 'em anytime. Just don't ask any of them where they stand on LeBron.

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