This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
I wrote the column below in 2012, just after taking my son to see Bruce Springsteen for the first time. I had grown up in an insular, blue-collar world and I desperately wanted something different from the life that my parents lived. I wanted to travel, live in different places, meet different kinds of people, help find solutions to big problems, write, and most of all, bust out.
Springsteen got me. Even my complex and troubled relationship with my grouchy father. Springsteen’s music made me want to be my best and to do it with passion and poetry. And, whenever I could, a dash of rock and roll.
It was important to me that my children – who grew up with different experiences than I had – could relate to this hunger, this struggle, and this passion.
I thought it could explain me in ways that words couldn’t and prayed that it would ignite something in them, too.
Heady stuff, I guess, to say about a rock and roll singer from Freehold, N.J.
Anyway, it all went well, as you can read in the column.
Fast forward to October 2017 and I am back in Philadelphia (“My Hometown”) and privileged to be running the Philadelphia Public School Notebook. I am so grateful for the opportunity to practice journalism in pursuit of better urban education.
The Notebook is the lucky recipient of a News Match grant again this year. If we raise $28,000 in individual donations by Dec. 31, the Knight Foundation and the Democracy Fund will match that amount. This money is critical to the Notebook’s ability to report on the future of the School Reform Commission, conditions in public school buildings, innovative approaches to education, and the ongoing quest for equity in Philadelphia’s schools.
To kick off that fundraising effort, we are giving away two prime tickets to see Springsteen on Broadway on Nov. 24 at the Walter Kerr Theater. This show is sold out for its entire historic run, and these seats are amazing, with a $1,500 face value. They would cost much more through ticket resellers.
Anyone who donates $50 or more is automatically entered to win these tickets and your donation is doubled.
This giveaway is really special to me personally as I am thrilled to be able to share my love of music with Notebook supporters while helping to raise the money we need to operate.
I hope that you enjoy the column below and that you will consider helping the Notebook and its reporting thrive by making a donation of $50 or more at http://thenotebook.org/articles/2017/10/02/springsteen-on-broadway.
First published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on April 6, 2012.
A baptism in the church of Springsteen
I had my first glimmer of hope when I saw my sometimes self-conscious 14-year-old son play air drums with Max Weinberg to "Jackson Cage." But it was when he sang "Thunder Road" with 20,000 of the faithful that I knew I had him.
I had taken my son to the church of Bruce Springsteen, and he came out a believer. Amen.
Going to see Springsteen with my son was a thrilling prospect, but I grew anxious as the day approached. My son is a musician, so I knew he would be impressed by the mighty talent of the E Street Band. And he is a performer, so I knew he would be blown away by the Boss’ showmanship and marathon sets.
But would he get Bruce? And, more important, would he get me and Bruce?
My son had grown up relatively privileged, in a small, beautiful New England town with more trees than people. Could he understand my experience of being brought up in a gritty Philadelphia neighborhood of brick rowhouses? How I played "Darkness on the Edge of Town" in a tiny, stuffy back bedroom and plotted my escape? How Springsteen was in my room every night, sometimes whispering and sometimes shouting, but always reminding me that I must do my best – and that if I did, I would have a shot at my personal promised land?
I lived in a quiet house with my older parents and elderly grandmother. I was raised on a steady diet of show tunes and Frank Sinatra; a portrait of Ol’ Blue Eyes hung in our upstairs hallway. I was raised to love Frank (and I still do), but man, I wanted to bust out, and "I’ve Got the World on a String" wasn’t going to cut it.
A boy in the neighborhood introduced me to Bruce when I was 14. Soon I had devoured every album and memorized every song. Springsteen made me believe that there is power, beauty, and redemption in striving for something better. I could change my life. I could see the world. I had choices.
My son lives in a world of choices. He has been to Italy and Ireland. He is surrounded by books and different kinds of music. He has always been told he can be whatever he wants. He is encouraged to try new things and meet different people.
We want our children to have comfortable lives filled with advantages we didn’t have. But yearning and desire are powerful motivators. For me, they were the greatest gifts of the gospel according to Bruce.
Seeing that gospel performed live is like going to a revival. In recent years, the shows have become even more like a rockin’ religious service; the current tour includes New Jersey gospel singer Michelle Moore.
Springsteen acts as the minister, demanding your participation through call and response. If you don’t do your part, he will demand more, exhorting you to sing and cheer until you’re hoarse. He makes you listen to his stories, feel the pain of his characters, understand your role, and go forth and spread the word. And he does it all inside an amazing rock-and-roll show with one of the tightest bands on the planet. By the end, you are wrung out and filled with the spirit.
Springsteen’s music has an increasingly moral dimension. He writes about what is happening in our towns and cities, what wakes us up in the middle of the night, and what eats away at our souls. His lessons are about work, compassion, prayer, redemption, love, equality, and, of course, noise. His new album, Wrecking Ball, takes us straight to the heart of the country’s economic devastation, fills us with sorrow, gets us angry about those responsible, and then puts us on the road to redemption and hope.
The Wrecking Ball tour also offers a tutorial on grieving. Dealing with the deeply felt loss of his longtime friend and saxophonist, Clarence "The Big Man" Clemons, Springsteen bares his heart and invites the crowd to show him – and Clarence – the love. The outpouring washes over the band and the crowd, leaving an immense sense of healing.
A few days after the concert, my son and I were in the car when he turned to me and said, "I saw Bruce Springsteen, and my life hasn’t been quite the same since."
Later, on Facebook, he posted: "It’s a town full of losers. I’m pulling out of here to win."
Can I get an amen?
Maria Archangelo is the publisher of the Philadelphia Public School Notebook. She grew up in Olney, but lived away from Pennsylvania for 28 years before returning in 2016. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.