You can't start a fire without a spark
This gun's for hire
Even if we're just dancing in the dark
I had the privilege of seeing Bruce Springsteen LIVE at the Oracle Arena in Oakland last Sunday with my brother. To say that it was a ‘great concert’ would be the understatement of the year. And, true to the spirit of America about which Springsteen hoarsely bellows, we had to stand up for our rights just to get seated...
At the end of 2012, when Springsteen played in Oakland on the Wrecking Ball Tour just a few days before a few of us flew to Knoxville, TN to swim at Junior Nationals (and I, of course, did not attend the show), I promised myself that I would seize the opportunity the next time he came anywhere near the Bay Area. That finally happened.
Not having been born in the period of Born to Run, Born in the USA, or even Human Touch, I came to know Springsteen through osmosis from my parents. Though not die-hard fans, they did have a CD (remember those?!) of Born in the USA that my brother and I loaded in his Sony CD Walkman and listened through a headphone splitter to Dancing in the Dark on repeat all the way up to Lake Berryessa one summer more than a decade ago.
Springsteen’s loyal fans tend to be a generation or two older than me (this was confirmed in Oakland on Sunday, although I will point out there were some other attendees under 30) – but there is something amazing about his music in the way it can resonate with a fresh-faced nine-year-old, as well as with the beaten-down, disenfranchised Americans whose lives he immortalizes. (Not to mention getting 50,000 in Spain to yell, "I was / born in the USA!")
He has his critics, of course: those who think he is a poser, someone casting the blue-collar life as an aesthetic rather than the true, gritty reality of millions. Those criticisms are not without truth, and Bruce has included some self-references in his songs to the irony of a multimillionaire singing about “sweat[ing] it out on the streets of a runaway American Dream.”
Whether or not you’re a big fan of Springsteen, you have to admit he is an extraordinary performer. For one, it’s all live music. I don’t believe they used any recorded tracks, and there is certainly no lip-syncing, both of which have become notoriously common. His shows always hover around 3.5 hours of nonstop rocking; often a song’s closing chords don’t even get completed before “HUH. TWO. THREE. FOUR!” is shouted – and the next number begins. It was seriously impressive just how little of a break he took, although I guess he did sneak in some horizontal time while he crowd surfed across the standing pit back to the stage:
I purchased our tickets online several months ago and I didn't know who I would invite to join me, but there was no way I was going to miss this concert.
A few weeks later, Adrian sent the itinerary for his spring break from law school, and wouldn't you know it…he was scheduled to arrive back in California from Chicago just six hours before the show. Perfect. He's my guy.
Now, it's important to note that I selected seats right above and just behind stage-left – I thought that would give us a good close look down to the band – and that I did not select any “handicap-accessible” option.
This was quite intentional, for two reasons. The first: it is assumed that, if you arrive using a wheelchair, you will stay on that chair for the duration of the show. As I have written here before, I make a special point to use the wheelchair as nothing more than a temporarily-necessary vehicle, so everywhere I go I get off of it and sit wherever everyone else is sitting. I would just ask a stranger to help with a lift up some steps to my seat if I needed it.
The second reason is that “accessible” seats are often just not as good in their view or position as the “regular” areas. Every so often, however, it’s true that they do allow you to get closer to a field or stage.
In the second, over two years later, I kindly talked my way to the very front of the standing area and then, with the help of my therapists and friends, Stephanie and Rachel, and with just a few breaks, stood at the barricade for almost three hours. I would absolutely not have been able to do that on my own, or even with just one person helping, but they're pros. And, there's no way I was going to sit at the back at a concert like that. I wanted to be where the action was.
“No, because I…"
“You did a bad thing” – yes, he actually said that – “this isn't going to be good because this whole place is sold out. I'm going to bring these (tickets) to the box office to see what we can do.”
And with that, he left with our printed-out tickets to check options for us, or so we thought. No discussion, no explaining that I could make the raked seating, despite being up some steps, work just fine, no listening, just a definitive verdict that I had screwed up and obviously didn't know what was good for me. Welcome to the concert you've been waiting years to see.
Many minutes later, he returned to the now-much-busier corridor carrying two arena-issued tickets, with no printed sheets in sight. “You're lucky, they had a couple available. Over this way.”
You know why they were available? Because the accessible seats he showed us were completely behind the stage and far enough back that if I wasn't fully leaning over the railing, I wouldn't be able to see a thing. They were awful. This was not going to do.
We expressed our concern about not being able to see, and he said sorry, but the whole arena was sold out. I said I would make the other stadium seats work – to which he replied that wouldn’t be safe for me, and besides, he’d turned in our original tickets to be resold so someone else might get them. Then, he walked off.
What would you do in that situation? At this point, the show, which you’ve been looking forward to for a long while, is scheduled to begin in just a few minutes, and you feel like you’ve been robbed of your seat because of some stranger’s assumption about what you can and cannot do. This person, of course, is following orders he has received about who should sit where, and apparently those orders include not listening to anyone explain their own situation.
That’s the problem: assuming and not listening. Assumptions in themselves are not the issue; it’s when one is unwilling to change his understanding of the situation in light of new information – which requires, on some level, admitting that you’re wrong.
It’s about openness, which is a common theme for me, especially on this blog. It is equally about being present: being aware of the desires and rights (or ‘Hopes and Dreams’, as Springsteen would say) of those around you, and being willing to act on what you observe.
It was not this man’s intent to insult and punish me, but I still ended up with an undeservedly bad deal. Instead of getting angry and reporting the situation, Adrian and I went back to the first usher, who actually listened to our predicament, agreed that it was ridiculous for us to be forced into bad seats, and didn’t bat an eye when I asked a passing fellow Bruce fan to help Adrian bump the wheelchair up a dozen narrow steps, and then to help lift me up several more into my seat. Or rather, what started out as my seat. The wheelchair was stowed on the “accessible” level below, and a couple minutes later, the lights dimmed, and 20,000 people roared.
It’s a really special thing, being present in the congealing of so many different lives and stories, everyone united by the thrill of this semi-spiritual experience. As I said above, in the audience there were people of all ages, colors, physical abilities, and orientations, wearing everything from ripped and dirty jeans, to blazers and slacks, to tie-dye. There are few places where you can find such a cross-section of society all gathered in one place, and fewer still where those differences, large or small as they may be, seem to be borne away by a communal ‘rising’. That sense of oneness means a lot more to me now than it would have four years ago.
So, what about the box office selling my original tickets again? Sure enough, a couple came to take our seats after several songs, and luckily there just happened to be two empty seats a row down that they could take. Really lucky, in fact, because I looked and didn’t see any other empty ones around.
Things tend to work out in the end, but they can sure take some improvising. We breathed a sigh of relief, sat back, watched and, yes, listened. The River had just begun flowing:
Remnick, David. “We Are Alive.” The New Yorker. Condé Nast, July 30, 2012. Web. Accessed March 15, 2016. www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/07/30/we-are-alive