Praying in the chapel of rock
In the Sixties, my alma mater, Franklin & Marshall College, was the venue of choice for rock and folk groups passing through Lancaster on tour. Five bucks bought you a seat in the college gym for such big-name entertainers as the Temptations, James Brown, the Beach Boys, Jefferson Airplane, and the Lovin' Spoonful.
Down the decades, groups and solo artists came and went, while the venues kept getting grander - growing from mere chapels to secular cathedrals - and the ticket prices pricier. A few iconic performers have held onto to their audiences throughout all the years and all the changes: Jimmy Buffet, the Rolling Stones, U2… and, of course, New Jersey's own Bruce Springsteen.
My brother Leo and I caught Springsteen's concert at the Philadelphia ballpark last Sunday. Bruce still works hard for the money. His concert commenced at about 8:10 and was still going strong at 11:40, when the Bro' and I threw in our towels and beat the mob out of the parking lots.
Readers of this column know that a couple of weeks ago I bemoaned my inability to shed the flab around my middle. Bruce, who is only two years younger than me (he turns 63 in two weeks), has no such problem. My guess is that the Boss can afford a whole phalanx of personal trainers and, when not touring, can get into his own private gym seven days a week.
My seat-of-the pants guesstimate is that Springsteen nets at least a million dollars per show. A website I googled gave the same number. Look at it this way: Our two tickets were about $100 each… for mediocre seats. So, let's use $100 as the average ticket price. Multiply that by the 40,000 fans in attendance and you come up with a cool $4 million. Net out the rental fee for the stadium, the equipment and labor costs - Bruce travels with a 12-piece band and who knows how many techies and roadies - and the hundreds of other expenses Springsteen, Inc. must have, and $1 million still seems a conservative estimate to me.
At any rate, Celebritynetworth.com pegs the Boss's bank account at $200 million. This is a one-percenter-sized reward for singing such blue-collar classics as "My Hometown": "Foreman says these jobs are going, boys, and they ain't coming back to your hometown." With his sleeves rolled up, and with his leather vest and his boots, he's the spitting image of the working stiff he glorifies in so many gritty tunes. We working stiffs reciprocate with our dollars, shelling out to sing the Springsteen standards along with him.
We relate to the guy the way pro sports fans - often the same working stiffs - seem to relate to the young multi-millionaires who pack these cathedrals, when Bruce and Jimmy and Angus and Mick are home in their cribs, enjoying their fortunes.
I don't pretend to get it, any more than I get why I still say the "Our Father" when the times are tough. I suppose there's comfort in worshipping our icons, whether godly or flesh-and-blood.
You may recall from previous articles that I'm not much for religion. My parents tried, but it just didn't take. Not that I'm a nonbeliever; I would never be so cocky as to think I know anything about how we got here, really, so I call myself agnostic.
Coincidentally, I feel the same way about musicians.
I'm not a "music person," per se. I like music, of course. (Have you ever met someone who said they didn't like music? If so, I suggest running, because it seems like the sort of comment only a sociopath would make.) I listen to music often and loudly, and I've even been known to go to a concert or two. But I don't worship at the altar of Bruce, Bono, or Gaga.
Maybe it's just me, but I haven't been deeply, powerfully moved by a band since I was in middle school and going through a serious U2 phase. I've been intensely affected by specific songs, yes, but as a whole no band has captured my heart as "The Band," my favorite band forever. I don't know if it's simply that there are so many bands competing for attention today, and thus it's harder to root out the really spectacular ones, or if each band necessarily becomes part of a niche interest, appealing to a certain group for a certain reason. Whatever the case, it seems telling that no one has stepped up to replace The Boss, a rare man who manages to sing across the generations.
I myself worship at the altar of words more than anything else. Music has enhanced that experience, but could never replace it. I remember reading "The Secret History" during my first year of college while listening to Ani DiFranco's self-titled album; the two will always be entwined in my memory, equal as favorites, but never separate. My U2 obsession actually began when I was 12 and reading S.E. Hinton's "The Outsiders" for the first time. I read that book a total of 17 times that year, and listened to U2's "All That You Can't Leave Behind" as many times. I've written my own words to the strains of Yo-Yo Ma's cello and to the 10 minute, wordless sounds of Explosions in the Sky.
I'd rather be inside my own house rereading "Paint It Black" by Janet Fitch than watching the Rolling Stones play the same song live. I realize I'm probably in the minority here, but these are my gods and goddesses: not the authors, or even the books, but the words themselves.
So while I appreciate, and can even relate to, the hero worship of bands and musicians, I cannot speak to it. For me, it will always be an album playing in the background while I read or write, helping me get that much deeper into a story. But the music will always be the context, not the content.