showing not telling

I’m deep into Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography Born to Run. I like Springsteen’s music (yes, since that video with Courtney Cox in 1984), and have been particularly drawn to his quieter solo albums like Nebraska, and The Ghost of Tom Joad. I’ve never been quite enough of a fan to go and see him perform, although his concerts are legendary (check out the 12 minute half-time performance at The Super Bowl in 2009 for a sample).

The autobiography is captivating: epic, vulnerable, loud, and full of heart. It’s like reading a dream – a very big dream – and it’s astonishing to get some insight into his ambition, his fragility, and his love.

Here are two brief quotes that have stayed with me.

On respecting audiences:

When you came to work with me, I had to be assured you’d bring your heart. Heart sealed the deal. That’s why the E Street Band plays steamroller strong and undiminished, forty years in, night after night. We are more than an idea, an aesthetic. We are a philosophy, a collective, with a professional code of honor. It is based on the principle that we bring our best, everything we have, on this night, to remind you of everything you have, your best. That it’s a privilege to exchange smiles, soul and heart directly with the people in front of you. That it’s an honor and great fun to join in concert with those whom you’ve invested so much of yourself in and they in you, your fans, the stars above, this moment, and apply your trade humbly (or not so!) as a piece of a long, spirited chain you’re thankful to be a small link in.

On playing and shutting up:

I know how it works. I’ve done it. Play and shut up. My business is SHOW business and that is the business of SHOWING . . . not TELLING. You don’t TELL people anything, you SHOW them, and let them decide. That’s how I got here, by SHOWING people. You try to tell people what to think and you end up a little Madison Avenue mind fascist.

It’s SHOWtime. We go on. The audience seems reticent, the room feels uneasy. That’s my responsibility. You’ve got to let the audience feel that they’re coolly within your hands. That’s how you help them feel safe and free enough to let themselves go, to find whatever they’ve come looking for and be whoever they’ve come here to be.

On the Shore, mecca to the bar- and show-band elite, rabid disciples of the James Browns, the Sam Moores, the hard-core soul showmen who brought it every time they hit the stage, we come from where “professionalism” is not a dirty word. One . . . two . . . three . . . four . . . Motherfucker! That’s the time for action, for living, for manifesting life, for BRINGING IT! . . . NOT for dipping into the black recesses to pick the lint out of your belly button.

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