"Finding Grace in the Concert Hall" by Linda K. Randall


Grab your ticket and your suitcase
Thunder’s rollin’ down this track
You don’t know where you’re goin’
But you know you won’t be back
Darlin’ if you’re weary
Lay your head upon my chest
We’ll take what we can carry
And we’ll leave the rest.  — Bruce Springsteen, “Land of Hopes and Dreams”

I felt this man speaking to my heart, to my life’s wins and losses.  He identified with my struggles and frustrations, not waiting for me to identify with him, and perhaps that is his talent and genius.  Bruce places the onus of understanding on himself, and not on the listener; his job is to convince us that he knows what we know, to provide us with hope; and not to ask us to understand him.  Sitting there, I felt as surely as I knew my own name that this man needed me as much as I needed him.
–Linda K. Randall

From the time the troubadours roamed Europe in the 11th century, serenading lovers but also conveying the day’s news, music has been a defining element in human lives, a major contributor to community cohesion.  We even speak of “the baroque age” or “the ragtime era”.  Today’s issues and feelings are powerfully expressed by Bruce Springsteen through his international concert tours, his many recordings and the devotion of fans, a devotion with many aspects of religious fervor.  Springsteen also attracts the attention of scholars who exhaustively analyze his appeal, delve into the roots of his creativity and seek understanding of our times in his songs.  The newest of these academic studies is “Finding Grace in the Concert Hall: Community and Meaning Among Springsteen Fans” by Linda K. Randall.

Ms. Randall — an anthropologist from Oneonta, NY who has taught at SUNY-Oneonta and Empire State College — is an unabashed “Tramp”, as devotees of “The Boss” dub themselves.  She has attended about 70 Springsteen concerts in both North America and Europe and mingled with the fans who are the focus of her book.  She is a member of the International Springsteen Studies Association. Her research and experiences were gathered over a period of eleven years.

Bruce Springsteen is not just a popular performer or even an avatar of rock ‘n’ roll.  His songs tell the story of his life, his difficult relationship with his father and even posit a moral and social lesson that is the same as the world’s great religions.  His work shows “a remarkable ability to understand whatever situation he is writing about, ” Randall states,”whether it is an illegal immigrant working in a methamphetamine lab or a Vietnam veteran seeking work.”

Randall observes (and usually shares) a nearly cultic connection to Springsteen.  In her conversations with fellow fans she finds that many are distanced and disillusioned with traditional organized religion — Bruce refers to himself as a “lapsed Catholic” — but many people have found a transformative spiritual meaning in his songs.  Some of them (such as “Jesus Was an Only Son”) are clearly religious in theme and tone, but many are so personal and significant that they are known to move Springsteen’s predominantly male audience to tears.  Randall writes with clarity and sensitivity of both the gender and emotional nature of the fan base, and of the powerful sense of community.

Bruce’s and Linda’s voices are not the only ones that appear in “Finding Grace in the Concert Hall”.  Much of her research was done via the Internet, through Springsteen chat groups that are a gathering place for both casual and serious fans and by e-mail.  Many of the observations and testimonials come from people only identified by screen names, and they are all thanked, by moniker, at the end of the book.  Randall also provides a listing of the best Springsteen websites, including www.backstreets.org, www.brucebase.org, www.greasylake.org and www.njrockmap.com.  Also www.Brucespringsteen.net, www.bruce-springsteen.com,

Linda K. Randall joins Bill Jaker on OFF THE PAGE to play some of Bruce’s recordings and tell about Springsteen, his talent and fans.

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