Bruce Springsteen is Alive and Well

bruce In keeping with my previous post of seeing the divine in the everyday, I write this …..

Finally Bruce Springsteen came to Perth.  And what a concert, one myself and many others will never forget.  He played for 3 hours, a joyful musical extravaganza.  I have never seen a performer who embraces their audience so much and gives so much of themselves. It was truly unforgettable.

But Bruce Springsteen is more than a performer, he is a poet and maybe even a theologian.  A book called “The Gospel of Bruce Springsteen” by Jeffrey Symynkywicz, clearly sees insight and wisdom in his lyrics that may help us find who we are and who God is.  And more importantly what our role is in bringing God’s kingdom alive on earth, here and now.

At the end of the concert Springsteen came out without the band, just with an acoustic guitar, and played “The Ghost of Tom Joad”, an achingly beautiful but socially subversive song. Springsteen uses as his inspiration for the lyrics, Tom Joad, a character in John Steinbach’ classic 1939s novel, “The Grapes of Wrath”, but there is also some reference to “The Ballad of Tom Joad” by Woody Guthrie, and even George W Bush’s New world order. The song makes a profound statement, reflecting on what little has changed for the marginalised and poor in America, and particularly those seeking to come from other places. It could apply equally to Australia, a rich affluent country but who behaves as if it doesn’t have a nickel to rub together, with policies that neither welcome or support refugees or help those who are poor and marginalised here. Near the end of the novel, Tom Joad makes his famous “I’ll be there” speech, which is also noted in the lyrics. Springsteen uses these words as a calling to all of us to join together in community and in solidarity with those suffering, for it is together that change can happen….

Men walkin’ ‘long the railroad tracks
Goin’ someplace there’s no goin’ back
Highway patrol choppers comin’ up over the ridge

Hot soup on a campfire under the bridge
Shelter line stretchin’ ’round the corner
Welcome to the new world order
Families sleepin’ in their cars in the Southwest
No home no job no peace no rest

The highway is alive tonight
But nobody’s kiddin’ nobody about where it goes
I’m sittin’ down here in the campfire light
Searchin’ for the ghost of Tom Joad

He pulls a prayer book out of his sleeping bag
Preacher lights up a butt and takes a drag
Waitin’ for when the last shall be first and the first shall be last
In a cardboard box ‘neath the underpass
Got a one-way ticket to the promised land
You got a hole in your belly and gun in your hand
Sleeping on a pillow of solid rock
Bathin’ in the city aqueduct

The highway is alive tonight
Where it’s headed everybody knows
I’m sittin’ down here in the campfire light
Waitin’ on the ghost of Tom Joad

Now Tom said “Mom, wherever there’s a cop beatin’ a guy
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries
Where there’s a fight ‘gainst the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me Mom I’ll be there
Wherever there’s somebody fightin’ for a place to stand
Or decent job or a helpin’ hand
Wherever somebody’s strugglin’ to be free
Look in their eyes Mom you’ll see me.”

Well the highway is alive tonight
But nobody’s kiddin’ nobody about where it goes
I’m sittin’ down here in the campfire light
With the ghost of old Tom Joad.

 When Springsteen finished this song, he urged the audience, to donate what it could to the many representatives of FOODBANK*, who were present in the aisles and foyers.  “For they were doing God’s work in this place.”  It was a fantastic final act by a musical master, who had us eating out of his hand.

As Symynkywicz says “Springsteen isn’t much of a romantic in his music,” “He presents life as it is — life in all its grit and all its pain.” But Springsteen is also hopeful, about what is possible, if we all join together.  Well, we were all joined together that night!

There is life and there is God, and the two are totally intertwined.  For the sake of the world let us find the path that leads us into the light.  That path can be opened by the most unlikely people.


*FOODBANK is a non-denominational, non-profit organisation which acts as a pantry to the charities and community groups who feed the hungry.


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