Watching Springsteen & I at the Showcase Cinemas in Revere, Mass. last night, I couldn’t help but think of Lawrence Kirsch’s fabulous 2007 collection of Springsteen fan stories, For You. That volume, with its long-form essays from fans about their Springsteen experiences and inspirations, packs more of an emotional wallop than the filmed snippets in Baillie Walsh’s new fan-sourced documentary. But when it’s said and done, the film leaves the same overall impression as Kirsch’s book: That we’re not crazy, or at least we’re not alone.
The “we” in that sentence is of course Springsteen fans, and not the casual, “won’t change the station when ‘Glory Days’ comes on” kind of fans. We know who we are: The ones for whom Springsteen’s music has been the soundtrack of our lives for decades, the prism through which we tend to filter our greatest successes and most dismal failures. Those are the people Springsteen & I is about, and for. You won’t love every fan who turns up in the doc, but it’s a pretty safe bet you will relate to them all. (Well, except for Dave, the long-suffering husband who wishes Bruce would just shorten his concerts already.)
It’s amazing how many of the clips, all fan-submitted, tap so resonantly into what Springsteen’s music means to his most ardent followers, and how many of the contributors are just downright likable. Not that a few don’t go over the top: The mother who trots her 10-year-old son out to extol the virtues of Bruce seems a tad 0ff-kilter, and the guy who starts crying in his car while trying to explain what Springsteen’s music means to him just made me nervous. (I kept wanting to yell “Pull over, you’re going to kill somebody!”)
And the less said the better about the woman who pops up continually, in extreme close up, to talk in faux-poetic prose about her up-close concert experience with Bruce as a high school freshman — by the time she was waxing rapturously about being scooped up in the talons of a firebird, or something, I just felt like backing away slooooowly.
But most of the subjects — the young truck driver with a master’s degree, the stadium employee who became a convert at age 9, the factory worker who got “upgraded” from his last-row seats — seem like old friends the moment they open their mouths. They’re able to explain with amazing precision how Springsteen’s music — its honesty and heart — can be such an empowering force. And how the man himself, with his unflagging devotion to his work and his audience, can inspire you to at least try to be, well, a better version of yourself.
I have trouble imagining what a non-fan would think of this film — I’d like to think they wouldn’t find Springsteen fans to be complete loons, and would at least seek out more of his music to try to better understand what the fuss was about. At the very least, the concert clips in the film — from almost every era of his career — are enough to grab even the most casual observer by the throat. You’ve probably seen many of them on YouTube, but it’s hard to overstate just how thrilling they are on a big screen, with booming all-around sound taking the place of tinny computer speakers.
The producers haven’t made much of a secret of the post-credits concert clips from Springsteen’s 2012 Hyde Park show — the famous pulled-plug concert with Paul McCartney — and they’re stunning, particularly his solo “Thunder Road” and a sweeping, raucous version of “Shackled and Drawn.” But the real reason to stay to the very end is the final “epilogue” footage tacked on after the concert clips, of Springsteen meeting with some of the film’s fan contributors backstage.
Throughout the film, and in a memorable closing sequence, fans line up to say “Thank you, Bruce,” and in that final segment, Springsteen gets to say thank you back. He’s natural, friendly, funny and moving, and lives up to every story you’ve heard about his encounters with the public.
“Where we want to go, we can’t get there by ourselves — we need you!” Bruce tells a concert crowd at the start of the film. And in that last segment, you can tell how much he means it.
The film gets one more theatrical showing, next Tuesday, July 30, and if you missed it last night I’d suggest you get to the theater rather than wait for the DVD. At the showing in Revere, fans clapped and hooted to the concert footage as if Bruce were really there, and at the very end, when the lights finally came up, something extraordinary happened: A voice from the crowd yelled out, “We should sing something together!”
Laughter, then another voice: “The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves …”
A few more voices: “Like a vision she dances across the floor as the radio plays …”
The rest of the crowd, tentatively at first, and then stronger as we headed into the lobby: “Roy Orbison’s singin’ for the lonely, hey that’s me and I want you only, don’t turn me home again, I just can’t face myself alone again …”
And in a way, that too is the message of Springsteen & I: Thanks to the man and his music, and an incredible community of fans, we really don’t have to face ourselves alone again. And that in itself is a cause to celebrate.