I grew up in the middle of the country, in the middle of the block, smack in the middle, age-wise, of six kids. We were middle class. Or so I thought. Then one day my 8th grade teacher at The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary drew a trisected pyramid on the chalkboard. The tiny top portion represented the upper class, he said, and the bottom slice represented the working class. Where did we think we fit in? Smack in the middle of the middle, of course, we all responded without hesitation. He asked us what jobs our dads and neighbors worked. He rattled off national statistics about average household incomes and average costs of housing. Then he estimated neighborhood demographics and compared it all.
"That," he said, "makes us working class."
The classroom erupted. "No!" "We are not!" "That's not true!" "Liar!"
The teacher was so taken aback by the response that he quickly modified his conclusion saying we were right on the borderline so could, if we insisted, claim lower middle class status.
Honestly, looking back, I think the guy just had his stats wrong. But the point is, in 1970, a lot of otherwise nice young students were utterly ashamed to be considered working class. By the late '70s when Bruce Springsteen came out with Factory I looked at the roofer, foreman, brick layer, gas meter reader and shipping dock worker dads on my block with respect. They were mostly good men, hard working and responsible to their wives and children who often took them for granted and didn't appreciate them. I still feel awful for the way I would gag dramatically at the stench of the oil refinery where my dad was a purchasing agent, and for the way I once asked, "How can you stand working there?"
So I heard Springsteen live for the first time in almost 30 years. Back in the early '80s he played the old rundown Paramount Theater. The place was grimy but intimate. Around the same time, I also saw Culture Club, Boomtown Rats, Bow Wow Wow and Portland bands Neo Boys and The Wipers and Face Ditch. Those bands seemed exciting and daring. Springsteen was a traditional rocker. I liked him but he wasn't shaking my world. I went to the Wrecking Ball show expecting not much more than sweet nostalgia. And, considering how far removed I'd be from the action, both literally and figuratively, sitting in one of the suites -- a corporate suite! -- I wasn't even sure I'd feel anything at all.
I am not embarrassed to admit that I got a little misty eyed to Death to My Hometown. Maybe it's the Irish sound of it but Springsteen makes me fall in love, not just with him but with men and with all that is masculine and raw and righteous and strong and . . . excuse me, I need a cigarette.
Phew. I'm back. So when Springsteen works his way through a crowd, all these strangers reaching out to touch him as though reaching for the robes of a holy man, you can't help but be awestruck by the trust he shows. He's out there with the people -- and on the people -- surfing the crowd. And he's laughing! He's having a great time! And he is singing in that raspy raw way of his the entire time. And then when he invites people up on stage to dance with him or sing or to just point at the crowd to hear them scream, it's four girls wearing Lesbians-heart-Bruce T-shirts, and a guy celebrating his 50th birthday, and some kids because, well, why the hell not?
The show went on for three powerful, earth-rocking, soul shocking hours. I was spent. Exhausted. Sated. And all I could think was in another day in another city Bruce Springsteen is going to do it all again.