The book

The author

  • David Shenk is the national bestselling author of five previous books, including The Forgetting ("remarkable" - Los Angeles Times), Data Smog ("indispensable" - New York Times), and The Immortal Game ("superb" - Wall Street Journal). He is a correspondent for, and has contributed to National Geographic, Slate, The New York Times, Gourmet, Harper's, The New Yorker, NPR, and PBS.

    More info here.

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May 26, 2009



One of my long standing dreams was to attend Bruce Springsteen concerts live. . I know all the words of his songs by heart …well he is performing this year. Next weekend I’m going to visit my sister and we will attend his
Bruce concert; someone recommended me to get cheap tix.
So I'll be analyzing as well as enjoying the concert.

Greg B.

david, if i'm not mistaken, this is the first time i can remember you saying a discouraging word about the boss. (i'm still waiting for you to say something critical about obama.) to be honest, while i was once a big fan, i long ago ceased to be enthralled by springsteen. in the past, i've always blamed bruce for this -- i thought there were just too many moments on too many albums that veered into self-parody over the past decade. reading your post though, i came to a different conclusion: that the fault is mine. springsteen, like most artists, has only a handful of weapons in his arsenal: the dumb rocker (Ramrod), the mid-tempo piece about a specific American moment (glory days, atlantic city, thunder road), the quiet personal relationship song (brilliant disguise), and the big political gesture (ghost of tom joad, streets of philadelphia, american skin) being the principal ones. once i had heard him write 6-7 variations of these genres that bruce lost a great deal of his power over me. but again, reading your post, i think that's less about him and more about me: as i grew older, i just naturally needed different sensations. similarly, i wonder how a fan seeing springsteen for the first time would have reacted to the concert you saw. you are comparing him to more than three decades worth of live performances and bootlegs -- it is basically impossible not to repeat yourself or to have some of the spontaneity sucked out of your performances across that a career of that length. my sense, and i could be wrong, is that springsteen has done a fairly remarkable job of not becoming just a nostalgia act. he continues to release new music, add news songs to his pantheon (as an aside, i like My City of ruins as much as anything from his late 70s-mid 80s prime), and attract new converts -- maybe not as many as he once did, but still.

Jon Greer

Nice post David. I generally agree with the thrust of your well-written post. Much of the NOW is missing from this tour, it seems, because the new music he released didn't jibe with the times we are in, so he has ditched most of it. A bummer, but understandable. And while the NOW is diminished, it is not gone altogether. There are moments of spontaneity at every show -- not rehearsed, not expected, just things that happen. Many fewer than in the past, but hey, he's a lot more grown up than he was. People mature and change.

David Shenk

Thanks, and thanks for your thoughts. I don't mean to sound cynical, but yes, I think everything that happens on that stage is very, very well thought out by Bruce. Sure, many of the gestures are natural and were once spontaneous. In that sense they have fallen into a groove, and that's unavoidable and a perfectly reasonable thing after all these years. But to the extent that Bruce is invoking the "legend" rather than creating a new authentic moment, it rubs me the wrong way.

Barbara J

Hey- really interesting reflections on Bruce/ESB. I grew up in NJ, have been "with" (emotionally) the band since the 70s, though I'm only in the low double digits in terms of shows attended (started back at Rutgers in the 70s; three on the Rising tour, two so far on the current tour).

I have never liked kneejerk refusal to think critically about Bruce and the band. And I do see the same-old same-old patterns of habits, gestures, poses that you mention. But does this have to mean there's a strategically managed Experience going on? Could it mean instead that the band members have fallen into a groove that feels right and natural to THEM? Not stale, but a kind of foundational synergy that lets them concentrate on ths music? For anyone (like me) into dynamic systems theory, their patterns are like an attractor: it's a natural system (the band) and their members fall into a natural pattern that then strengthens over time, i.e., it gets more and more canalized and resistant to change. Just a thought. Thanks... Barbara (fellow Doubleday author!!)

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