“What I do for a living, is I imagine America.” — Bruce Springsteen, Des Moines, Iowa, Nov. 5, 2012
Four years ago, I was trying to figure out where I was going to get drunk the next night. House party? Bar? Home with a friend or two? Whatever the decision, we’d cut out of work a little before 5 p.m. — 8 p.m. back East — and open something as election results rolled across the country like the sunset.
My wife of a little more than a year would be working, because she covered the news and on election night it’s all hands on deck. I covered sports, so it was my turn to watch everyone work on deadline while I knocked a few and a few more back.
Tonight, I was going to the bathroom when there was a tiny knock on the door.
“What is it, sweetie?” I said.
“I drew you a picture,” the tiny voice behind the tiny knock said.
“Can it wait until I’m done in the bathroom?”
“I drew you a picture,” the tiny voice said again.
It’s hard to argue with that, even on the toilet.
A little while later, as she fell asleep cuddled next to my wife, nearly a book into the usual bedtime routine, I sat downstairs watching Bruce Springsteen step into the spotlight of the presidential campaign for the third time in a day.
The same goofy campaign song, “Forward,” essentially the same moving stump speech, the same closing number, “Land of Hope and Dreams.”
The tone Springsteen’s most recent record, “Wrecking Ball,” turns on a lyric in the title track. “Hard times come and hard times go, just to come again. Bring on your wrecking ball,” he sings, but he does it with such determination that it’s heels in the ground; it’s digging in for a fight.
The record swings up from anger and despair to hope and aspiration, the latter being the word I’ve always hung on “Land of Hope and Dreams,” the record’s penultimate song, the set up to “We Are Alive.” It’s slightly re-imagined on record, opening as gospel before giving way to crashing drums, and then settling into an acoustic strum. It moves with the ebb and flow, calm and chaos of history itself.
“Land of Hope and Dreams” is more than a decade old, having debuted on the 1999 reunion tour. It pre-dates Bush v. Gore, the Sept. 11 attacks, two wars, the phrase Swift Boating, color-coded terror alerts, debates about torture, wire tapping, Katrina, a financial crash, the election of the country’s first African-American president all the many loud noises that followed. They’re the loud noises of a page-view-and-ratings-dominated age and if you spend too much time listening they can make you feel like the country’s gone insane with anger. Really, we all still get along quite well.
That song had a lot of miles on it before it ever made a record, and there again Springsteen in Iowa, on a night where the crowed was bundled and he had his sleeves rolled up, going to work yet again.
Carries saints and sinners
Carries losers and winners
Carries whores and gamblers
Carries lost souls
I scooped my daughter up tonight and confused the hell out of her.
“Just treat people right,” I said. “Be kind.”
I think she was hoping I’d carry her to the basement and let her watch Dora.
I won’t be out drinking tomorrow night. I’ll pick my daughter up from daycare, because my wife will again be out covering campaigns, and we’ll come home, and I’ll make something resembling food, and we’ll read books and when she’s asleep I’ll turn on the TV and see what’s happening.
Whatever that is, I’ll hope for a kinder Wednesday, one with something for everyone. A day after with second chances, and fresh opportunities, and I’m pretty sure that whatever it is, we’ll chug along like Max Weinberg’s drums powering that song.
“So this is the night before the day,” Springsteen said in Iowa. We’ll “go to work the day after that and the day after that, when the work really counts.”
I imagine he’s right.