Monday, February 20, 2023

Springsteen, Showing Your Age, and Knowing Your Truth

“I’m getting a certain vibe here,” my twenty-one-year-old son said as I drove my car on the streets leading to Houston’s Toyota Center. With less than thirty minutes before showtime, the traffic crawled and the sidewalks were jammed with people heading to the arena to see the 2023 version of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

Yes, there was a vibe. Lots of middle-aged people, many with all-gray hair and loose, baggy clothes worn to hide bodies no longer as thin as fit as they were when The Boss ruled the airwaves in the Seventies and Eighties. Some wore concert t-shirts from ages past while others sported more modern Springsteen attire. A decent number of the concert goers were like me: attending the show with a younger person, hoping to introduce what it was like to see Springsteen the Showman fill an arena with sound and lead the fans in singing his songs. I chuckled as my son and I made our way to our seats. So many people my age and older crowded the hallways. Not like when he and I saw the band Ghost in early 2022. Then, I was in the age minority.

But there was a moment before the lights dimmed and the music started when I looked around at the people who sat near us and lots of the people we had seen coming into Toyota Center: they were old, or at least they looked old. But if they were old, that meant I was old, too. Right? I’m not one who takes my age into account on any given day. Looking out of my eyes, I’m like a perpetual twentysomething person. Looking in the mirror, I see the truth. Looking at all these older Springsteen fans, I see their truths.

And when Bruce himself got on stage and started the evening with “Night,” his face was broadcast on four screens hung over the stage. We had decent seats, but it was nice to have the professional camera folks giving us close ups of the Boss and the members of the E Street Band. When the camera often zoomed in on Springsteen’s face, you could see his truth as well.

The man is seventy three. Yes, he’s aged well. I hope I look as good as he does when I’m that age. Yes he has access to medical and dietary resources that help him age gracefully, but you can still see the age on his face, his eyelids, and the wrinkles around his face. You can tell that he’s not as animated as he used to be when he ran across stages, sliding on his knees, and leaping into the crowds.

But he was still thrilling, and he still put on a helluva show.

And yet I never expected to tear up at a Springsteen show. Well, I should have expected it, but when it happened, it actually moved me.

Every rock star I discovered in my youth, teens, and twenties have aged right along with me. Of course they have, you say. We’re all human. Yes, we are, but when you spin a record that came out in 1992 or 1982 or whenever, your mind can time travel back to that year and you can remember how you felt hearing those songs. In those moments, you can be that age again, even if you’re driving an SUV and taking your kids to band practice.

We got that sense of time travel on Tuesday evening with Bruce. So many of those songs are all time travel songs. That’s what they’ve become. Some songs never get old. “Born to Run”, sung at full volume with the house light up, everyone punching the air with upraised arms, will never, ever get old. But twice on Tuesday, mortality and truth entered the room and reminded us that time never stops.

In a long, spoken introduction to “Last Man Standing,” Bruce told us about he was the last person who was still alive from his first band, The Castilles. It was in this story that Bruce uttered a particularly great quote: “Death’s great gift is expanded vision.” None of us knows how many days we have, so it is necessary to make sure the lives we live are the best possible version.

The final song was just the two of us. By that I mean it was Bruce, on stage with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica, singing to everyone but, in reality, he was singing to each and every one of us like it was just him and us in a room together. “I’ll See You In My Dreams” is a song about mortality and aging and loss. But it’s also an inspirational ode, especially with the line “For death is not the end and I’ll see you in my dreams.”

On the record, it’s the last track and the last time he says those words, he talking, to us, individually and collectively. On stage, the same vibe could be felt throughout the arena as the crowd was mostly silent, listening to Bruce Springsteen tell us that he’ll see us—his fans, his friends—in his dreams. The implication is that when he finally calls it a day and stops touring, he’ll have dreams about the fifty-plus years he’s experienced life on stage.

And we’ll have memories of concerts like this as well.

When I listened to that song on the record back in 2020, I wondered if those last few words would be the last time I’d ever hear a new Bruce Springsteen song. I should have realized that his restless spirit will always create new material even if he doesn’t tour it.

When I listened to that song live in 2023, I wondered if that would be the last time I ever heard Springsteen in person. Maybe. Maybe not. But if it was, what a way to say goodbye, not with a loud, bombastic anthem, but a quiet, gentle song about aging and mortality yet filled with hope, joy, energy, and the truth that shows like this will last a lifetime.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Poker Face and the Spiritual Reboot

Poker Face had me at Rian Johnson. But had I not known it was his brainchild, the show would have had me at the title font.

That yellow font on the title card, the year represented by Roman numerals. What decade are we in? Well, the headspace of creator Rian Johnson was the 1970s and 1980s with shows like Colombo and The Rockford Files. I suspect he gets nostalgically triggered when he sees the title cards of those shows and others and wanted to bring sensibility forward to the 2020s.

What sensibility is that? A traditional crime-of-the-week series. But not just that: a new crime every week with a whole new cast. Which brings me to another 1970s TV it reminds me of: The Incredible Hulk. Both feature a lead who is being chased across the country, meeting new people every week.

Now I know what you’re thinking: there are plenty of crime-of-the-week shows from Law and Order to Castle to all those shows on CBS I don’t watch. That’s not new. No, it’s not, but the laid-back aesthetic is a refreshing return to a modern TV landscape full of season-long streaming shows to modernized takes on old tropes.

Both of those things are fine, and I enjoy them, but I also appreciate the slower paced TV shows that used to dominate networks with stakes that are not really that high. And I very much applaud Johnson for channeling that vibe into something new rather than a modern reboot of an old franchise.

He could just have acquired the rights to, say, Colombo (the obvious ancestor to Natasha Lyonne’s Charlie Cale) and created a story around Colombo’s grandkid who is a rumpled detective just like Peter Faulk. I’d watch that and chances are, you would, too. But we’d constantly be comparing the new actor/actress to Faulk, much to the detriment of the new show. Also, we’d probably have the admittedly fun “sequel” to some random episode that no one remembers save the dedicate Colombo fans.

No, what Johnson did was take all those elements and, crucially, made something new, unique, and his own. That last bit is probably the key factor for Johnson. Given the opportunity, he’d probably make a Colombo sequel or adapt some Agatha Christie novel in to a movie, but with Poker Face and Knives Out and Glass Onion, he gets to revel in all the stuff he loves while playing in his own sandbox.

Monday, February 6, 2023

It’s Never Too Late to Restart Resolutions and Habits

How are your New Year’s Resolutions coming along?

I saw a statistic that said by today—Day 36 of 2023—a shocking 80% or more people have already given up on the resolutions they so fervently made at midnight on 1 January. Eighty percent. I think the figure is higher, to be honest. There’s even a holiday to help folks who waver on their resolutions. It’s called National Quitter’s Day and that was back on 13 January.

As I wrote back in December, I had certain personal goals—okay, let’s just call them habits, okay? That’s what they really are—that I wanted to do in January. I started re-reading the Psalms (one a day for 150 days), I re-read the Proverbs (31 chapters for 31 days in January), and have started to re-read Ryan Holiday’s Daily Stoic. Taking a cue from Bryon Quertermous, I bought a weekly planner and kept track of every habit I wanted to set.

So far? Success. It’s feels very nice to have reached the last day of the why-does-it-feel-so-long January and all my boxes were checked.

The other thing that also was checked? The writing habit. My writing goal for January was simple: start a new project and write on it every day. I had no word count goal but I tend to zero in on 1,000 words per session. Again, 100% success.

Now, it wasn’t perfect. There were a couple of days when I had to slog through the writing, but I sat down and did it.

By the 31st of January, I had amassed approximately 39,000 words on the new novel. That’s not quite NaNoWriMo speed (50,000 words over 30 days) but considering the dismal writing I did in 2022, I’ll take the win. You know how I knew the new habit was locked in? When on that first Saturday morning, I opted not to watch a movie before I finished my words for the day. That Saturday Habit has continued. That, my friends, is a fantastic feeling.

But what do you do if life threw you curveballs in January and you’ve had to catch them, dodge them, hit them, or let them hit you?

Start again. Seriously it’s that simple. Just start.

What’s great about February is that it has the fewest days of any month. If you’ve wanted to start a new habit and have fallen off the wagon, start again on Monday. Do the writing, do the exercise, do the reading, do the calling of your friends or family you haven’t spoken to in a long time. There are only 24 more days in February. It’s a nice, short length of time to get back to the habit you know you want to ingrain in your brain.

Start today or tomorrow and do that new habit every day for a week. Your reward? The Super Bowl. Then aim for the next week. You make it that far, you’ll only have ten more days until the end of the month.

You know you want to create that new resolution, that new habit. I’m here to tell you that it’s never too late. But you will have to do one thing: