Monday, November 09, 2009

Those Romantic Young Boys

Saturday night I saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at Madison Square Garden, a spectacular show as always, made even better with the inclusion of The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle played all the way through for the first time. That 1973 album, which he introduced by referring to his “romantic ideas about New York,” is sonically rich, requiring the addition of a horn and string section to the usual lineup. It was a particularly poignant choice for the first night of the last New York City stand of a lengthy tour, over in just seven more shows, that included the deaths of longtime E Street Band member Danny Federici and roadie (and Bruce's cousin) Lenny Sullivan, many appearances on behalf of Barack Obama, and Bruce’s 60th birthday.

I brought a longtime friend with me, an incredibly talented woman who’s been feeling stuck about where to go next and what to do. I thought it would inspire her to see a guy who clearly still loves what he does, and who I think would still be doing it even if he weren’t selling out arenas and stadiums every night. And it had its intended effect on her. But it also made me think about what it must be like to devote 40 years to the pursuit of what you love to do, working with the same group of people (including your wife), and to achieve a level of success where you can also work with just about anyone you want. (An example: at Saturday’s show, Elvis Costello – another favorite of mine - joined the band onstage for an energetic closing rendition of “Your Love Is Lifting Me Higher.”)

As I watched the show, I thought about a photo I'd seen at the recent opening of the Who Shot Rock and Roll? exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. It's a shot of Bruce, in his early 20s, standing in front of what looks like a small-town record store, surrounded by adorable and adoring high school girls in short skirts and knee socks. He was, of course, grinning broadly, but no more so than he was the other night, and probably for many of the same reasons.

In that same exhibit, and in the book of the same name, my friend Ed Caraeff tells the story of how he shot what's been called "the greatest rock 'n roll photo of all time," at 17, with the last few shots of his last roll of film. To see him with a camera is to understand how much he loves to capture what he sees. Yet after considerable success creating images, he decided he also loved to create food, and moved on.

Do the same thing masterfully your whole life, or do something different and equally well - those are two different, and instructive, ways to grow up. At this point, the likelihood of me doing anything for the next 40 years is low. And I do enjoy what I do most of the time. But it’s been my mission for the past few months to figure out how to consistently do what I love and truly love what I do. Seeing Bruce Springsteen crowdsurfing, exuberantly, was a good reminder why.

(Post title from “Incident on 57th Street.” But you knew that. Didn’t you?)

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