Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Chasing Bruce: Seven Reasons Why

Photo by Rhonda Delaune Welch
When you've seen Bruce Springsteen perform over fifty times (most of those in the last decade), people tend to ask you why, often in the gentle, concerned tone reserved for dealing with the delusional. Why spend so much time and money chasing one performer?  Isn't one show pretty much the same as all the others?   

Here's my answer, in seven parts:

1)  Every show is different, with Bruce drawing from his extensive catalog, tossing in new material and rarities among old standbys like Born to Run, Dancing in the Dark, Badlands, and The Rising.  Miss a night, and you might just miss that one song you've been chasing forever.

photo by Michael Zorn, from www.backstreets.net

2)  Every show is special.  Of course Bruce is famous for playing concerts that clock in at over three and a half hours--playing longer and with more gusto than musicians a third his age.  He starts with a setlist, then calls audibles, keeping the show fresh by shaking it up at the last minute.  And he takes audience requests, so there's always hope that if you make an eye-catching sign, he just might play your song.

3) But some shows are extra special.  Take last Saturday night's show in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Bruce started with a very rare song, The Iceman, from his multi-disc outtakes album, Tracks.  The rest of the show was sprinkled with covers inspired by audience-made signs--Louie, Louie, Mustang Sally, and Brown-Eyed Girl--and unusual choices from his own material: From Small Things, Light of Day, and My Love Will Not Let You Down--surprise after surprise after surprise.

Photo by Rhonda Delaune Welch
4) A Springsteen show is epic.  The mood ranges from playful frat rock to sexy soul to angry political commentary to high romance to elegy and back again to celebration--with all the shifts in mood carefully orchestrated to bring everyone in the crowd along for the ride.  And sometimes a song you've heard many times before will pierce you straight through the heart for the first time.  For me that song this time around was Racing in the Street.  Saturday night, I heard the lyrics--really heard them in a way I never had before--and was moved to tears.

5)  A Springsteen show is interactive.  Bruce crowd surfs.  He pulls people on stage to dance and play his guitar.  He runs through the crowd, brings children onstage to sing, then hoists them on his shoulders.  Where you sit or stand matters, because if you're really lucky you just might get a kiss, or a hug, or at the very least some serious eye contact.  If you're willing to take part in the grueling pit lottery that determines who gets to stand in front of the stage, you might get to be a part of the show.  But even if you're in the nosebleed seats, Bruce wants you to stand and be counted; he works hard to reach every single soul in the house.  When the lights come up for Born to Run, and every face in the audience becomes visible, it's a powerful moment: so many people soaking up Bruce's energy and giving it back in a huge tidal wave of love.  

Photo by Rhonda Delaune Welch
6) The legendary E Street Band.  Nobody--but nobody--does it better.

7) Every show is a party.  Come to enough of them and you become part of a core of die hards who travel together, who put up out-of-towners, who help each other find tickets, who argue on fan websites about Bruce minutia, who celebrate and mourn together, and who understand there's no situation in life for which one can't find the perfect Springsteen line.  

Saturday night's crowd: photo taken by one of Bruce's roadies

Southern Misadventures

I'm just back from a very ambitious little roadtrip--Philly to Charlotte, North Carolina and back, and all to see a single show.  Of course when the act in question is Bruce Springsteen, it's a given that the show will be epic and the journey worthwhile, even if that journey includes a flat tire on a very busy highway.  

Luckily, that highway ran through North Carolina.  Also luckily my travelling companion, Diane, thought to call our local buddy Todd, who got on the phone with IMAP--Incident Management Assistance Patrols--a wonderful North Carolinian institution that saved the day and got us on our way.

Special thanks to Ronnie Minor of the North Carolina Department of Transportation  for being so kind, prompt, and helpful.  Did I mention that it was Easter Sunday, and that we felt pretty stranded and helpless beside route 85 on an Easter Sunday with traffic whooshing by us...until he showed up and saved the day?

Of course I'll be writing about the concert in some detail.  Stay tuned!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Where the Band Is

List of things to pack:

Song request sign: check
Dancing shoes: check

And that's about it.

There's nothing better than a road trip to see Bruce Springsteen, unless it's a last minute surprise road trip to see Bruce Springsteen.  I'm so grateful to my husband Andre for this late birthday present, and for holding down the fort while I run amok.  And I'm thankful to my friend Diane for scoring some tickets and for being Thelma to my Louise...or Louise to my Louise...since neither of us wants to be Thelma, and for the fellow Bruce fanatics who are opening their home to us.  And for the friends we'll meet up with along the way.

In case you're wondering, Susan Sarandon is Louise

Next stop: Charlotte!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Nightsun Writers Conference

Now that the daffodils are out, are you thinking ahead to summer?  I am.  This July, from the 24th to the 27th, I'll be teaching young adult fiction at the Summer Nightsun Writers Conference.  The event (located at Frostburg State University in Maryland) also will feature Bruce Weigl (poetry), Brenda Clough (sci-fi, fantasy), Marion Winik (nonfiction), and Clint McCown (fiction). 

The festivities will include workshop opportunities, individualized feedback, craft sessions, and readings by faculty, participants, and special guests.

Interested in joining us?  Drop by the website for more information.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Delphi, Greece and a Poem by Anne Sexton

I photographed this laurel tree, and the columns behind it, in Delphi, Greece--office of the oracles, omphalos of the earth. Mount Parnassus, home to the muses, rises imposingly behind it:

As with so much of Greece--where the names Penelope, Adonis, Calliope, and Apollo are still popular, where cities are named for Poseidon, Athena, and Hermes--the ancient myths echo powerfully in Delphi.

Finding these photos in a recently rediscovered cache of missing study tour snapshots, reminded me of this poem, by Anne Sexton, one of a handful that first made me fall in love with poetry and want to write it myself.  From the myth of Daphne, transformed into a laurel tree in her flight from the amorous god Apollo, Sexton conjures longing and regret of flesh turned into wood:

Where I Live in This Honorable House of 
the Laurel Tree

I live in my wooden legs and O
my green green hands.
Too late
to wish I had not run from you, Apollo,
blood moves still in my bark bound veins.
I, who ran nymph foot to foot in flight,
have only this late desire to arm the trees
I lie within.  The measure that I have lost
silks my pulse.  Each century the trickeries
of need pain me everywhere.
Frost taps my skin and I stay glossed
in honor for you are gone in time.  The air
rings for you, for that astonishing rite
of my breathing tent undone within your light.
I only know how untimely lust has tossed
flesh at the wind forever and moved my fears
toward the intimate Rome of myth we crossed.
I am a fist of my unease
as I spill toward the stars in the empty years.
I build the air with the crown of honor; it keys
my out of time and luckless appetite.
You gave me honor too soon, Apollo.
There is no one left who understands
how I wait
here in my wooden legs and O
my green green hands.

Delphic stray

Saturday, April 12, 2014

After Greece: Odds and Ends

Ruins of a temple to Apollo
Thought I'd share my essay on James Merrill's poem "After Greece."  Contemporary Poetry Review just published it here.  And if you aren't familiar Merrill's gorgeous poem, read it here, at the bottom of this post.

In related news, this week I stumbled across my missing photos from Greece.  Not all of them.  The coveted Santorini mule pictures are still missing.  But most have been accounted for.  Having them back is a true gift.

To celebrate, here are some snapshots I took on the Island of Naxos.  Here's the beachfront taverna where we had breakfast:

And an alleyway in the old walled city:

And here's our wake as we waved goodbye.

Friday, April 11, 2014


It's spring on Hawk Hill, and last Sunday was Admitted Student Day.  This time for once I got to attend as the parent of an incoming hawk, and to see my workplace, Saint Joseph's University, through the eyes of someone about to begin a new chapter there, about to discover and define his adult self.

Is it any surprise the colors were a little brighter, the air a whole lot fresher than they've been in a long time?

For the very first time, I got to see the inside of the art department, where my son Noah wants to study. I got to see the sculpture in progress, the still lifes waiting to be painted:

I got to visit the stained glass and carved wood sanctum of the art history classroom and absorb some of Noah's readiness to move in and get started.  

All of which helped me remember the reason I wanted to be a college professor in the first place: so I could spend my working life on a campus, surrounded by the energy of people learning new things and by the bright color and hubub of new beginnings.