Tuesday, July 19, 2005

He's Just a Man

When did it become not about the music but about the star power? Why, when you have the honor and the privilege of witnessing performances that often border on genius, when you are given the chance to truly connect with one of the most warm, generous, human artists of this or any other era—why is it more important to simply bask in his presence, to be physically close to him, to maul each other like a pack of starving wolves for a look, a glance, a touch?

I saw and heard a particularly solid and moving performance by Bruce Springsteen on Saturday night, the kind that you never want to end, never want the spell to be broken. It used to be that it all continued after the show was over, that even when the lights did come back up, there was a high, a magic that continued for hours afterward. A warm glow almost like a drug–you wanted to relive each moment with those who had witnessed it with you, to go over each detail, each nuance. It was a special bond that existed in few fan communities. We all felt a part of something special, something we didn’t have to defend or explain; it was just understood.

But something’s changed. When the lights come up now, you just want to run before the inevitable behavior continues. You can ignore it when the show is in progress, but when the lights come on, you have to look into their eyes and see the madness, the greed, the jealousy and selfishness that have infected these seemingly intelligent, sensitive people. They are sad and they are desperate. The music isn’t enough—the need to be close to The Man, the Jesus figure that they think will change their lives overwhelms them. One look from him, one touch will not suffice. They measure and compare how close they were to him, count how many times they made eye contact, whether or not he reached out and touched them. And they compete against each other, it’s some mad game out of a movie, this obsession not with a person but with a persona. If they could only embrace this presence somehow, this contact would give their shallow, empty lives meaning.

It must be so startling, so disconcerting, so depressing, to look down from that stage and want to really reach people, to really connect, and instead to see the same manic faces desperately clawing to get closer, knowing that you can’t give them what it is they want, no one can, it must come from inside themselves. He knows this, knows it better than anyone, for it used to be that, like them, he needed these performances to remain sane because he had nothing else. Those four-hour shows of yore were literally his means of survival. Happily, he finally allowed himself to see that the emptiness inside him wasn’t right, that things were out of balance, that there was more to him, more to life. That he was worth something without a guitar in his hand. It took years of hard work, and it is clearly still an ongoing process. But he saw it, continues to see it, and is at last, a whole person.

Paradoxically, though, as he has found and embraced his true self, he increasingly seems to draw empty, sad people who come to him for precisely the reasons he used to come to them—sustenance and meaning and self-worth. And he can’t give that to them—never could—he can only give them grace and power and uplift, give them the knowledge that they are and always have been worthwhile, that the respect and dignity that they crave like a drug must come from within. And they would know this, if only they would listen, really listen, to the music. But they can’t, or they won’t, and so they continue to demand from him what he can’t give, what they can only get from themselves. It is a desperate, unfulfilled yearning that will never be satisfied, and it is a terrifying, depressing thing to watch.

Part of being a performer is a basic human need, a craving to connect, to communicate because you can’t do it any other way. What must it be like to realize that with your core audience, there is no true connection, only sycophancy and desperation and need that sucks you dry? How must it feel night after night to be the trained monkey onstage evoking these same predictable emotions from these same sad people no matter what you do, how great or terrible your performance was? Do they even listen to the songs, do they even understand what it is you’re trying to do? They say they love you, but really, do they even know you?

When that realization finally hits you, it hits hard, and you had better be ready, better be strong, better know who you are and what you’re about and have that strong foundation of self-awareness and self-love, because if you don’t, you are lost. And even if you do, sometimes it’s still too much to ask of a person. After all, the only person in this world that you are responsible for—the only one you can ever really save—is yourself. You are not responsible for the happiness of others.

No wonder John Lennon retreated, resigned, hid. Who wants to be Jesus when all you really are is a man?


  1. First time I checked out your blog, Lisa, and I love this post. Am going tomorrow night to see Bruce here in CT - judging from your sidebar, you and I have some musical tastes in common. Glad I wandered by!

    Lisa McKay

  2. Great post Lisa.
    The word I use for it is pathetic.
    It's all a competition now.
    Who talks about the show anymore?
    They all talk about where they sat and it all means (to them) that they're better than you because they had better seats.
    Ask someone how the show was and they say:
    "I was third-row center in front of Bruce's microphone and I made eye contact with him during the encores!"
    What a pathetic life these people live. Their lives must be a terrible dissapointment.
    It's making me more and more embarrassed to be a Springsteen fan.
    But then again I try to seperate myselfs as much as I can from these idiots.

  3. one day these sad pathetic people will wake up, look in the mirror and realize how much time they wasted-time wasted on somoene who doesn't know they even roam the planet. Then they will be carted away to the land of the misfit toys

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