(with The Gospel According To... Bruce Springsteen happening in Fitzroy on May 12th at 7pm... Stocki surmises his journey with the spiritual life and work of Bruce Springsteen...)
My preaching relationship with Bruce Springsteen started way back in the mid 80s. Bruce was the biggest thing in the world on the back of Born in The USA and I was trying desperately to catch the ear of teenagers at Coffee Bar Missions. With my cut off fur lined denim jacket, and maybe even a Bruce t-shirt on below, it I would quote songs like Badlands – “Talk about a dream; try to make it real/You wake up in the night with a fear so real/You spend your life waiting for a moment that just don't come/Well don't waste your time waiting” to set up the opportunity to offer Jesus as the way to life in all its fullness.
Then in 1992 in Limerick University I took my Bruceology to a more academic level. Tony Davidson was minister in Limerick at the time and set up something through the Limerick Chaplaincy and I remember driving from Dublin with my colleague David Montgomery and doing an evening on alienation in the work of Springsteen. That was probably a prototype to The Gospel According To... series. I used videos of Springsteen to open up the alienation of humanity from one another, society, politics, creation and of course God. I remember at that time that Springsteen had just released an acoustic version of his most famous anthem Born To Run. In the introduction to that stripped back, slower version Springsteen spoke about his early career being about getting people into cars but that he now realised that he had to take them somewhere. That somewhere was about community and relationship. He was needing to find something to deal with the alienation.
By the time I came to write my chapter on Springsteen for my book The Rock Cries Out, something had changed. As I wrote that chapter I sensed that Springsteen was a Prodigal Son on his way back home. I had been moved by the new song, Land Of Hope and Dreams, that he did on his 1999 concert tour. Related closely to Curtis Mayfield’s People Get Ready it was like ending the concert with a hymn. It seemed though that now a happily married man with some of his alienation dealt with and the reflective lessons of children his spiritual core had opened up and made a peace with the Jesus of his youth. Springsteen’s songs had always been rich in Biblical imagery but it was suddenly as if he had moved from the Old Testament damnation of his early works to a more grace centred New Testament theological scattering!
There is nothing like being proved right in the fullness of time. Almost as soon as The Rock Cries Out appeared Springsteen upped the Christian content of his work. Devils and Dust threw up Jesus Was An Only Son and on the acoustic tour that followed Springsteen spoke about not being able to escape his Catholic upbringing. This was a Biblical song, that though perhaps influenced by Scorcese’s Last Temptation of the Christ took us up Calvary’s Hill to Christ’s “proving ground”. A year after this came The Seeger Sessions album where Springsteen brought a huge near carnival band together to record songs that Pete Seeger had used through the Civil Rights Movement. Included were a string of old hymns. Introducing one of these, Jacob’s Ladder in Dublin Springsteen gave a little exegetical introduction of Genesis and who this Jacob dude was. The entire gig added another hymn or two and being interviewed coming out of the Belfast gig one man declared that “it was great BUT it was like being in Church.”
And so up to date. Last year’s Wrecking Ball was one of the most significant records in recent years. Springsteen took on the recession and the bankers who stole from the poor. Littered throughout the record were references to Scripture and Jesus. The suite of songs took a shift in their journey as the record ended with pastors looking after their flocks, belief in resurrection and the train that was taking the faithful to the Land Of Hope and Dreams. There it was again, finally with a studio version.
So, it makes sense to be doing The Gospel According To... Bruce Springsteen in Church. This 40 year old journey will be catalogued in song and commentary. In the end we will arrive at prayer and a grace centred community waiting for each other when they fall and then boarding that eschatological train of hopeful redemption to set sail; out of the Badlands to that Land Of Hope and Dreams!