Bruce 7

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...”   


Those lyrics would 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 evening 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, Land Of Hope and Dreams 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 - "he just fell into the arms of grace". 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.”

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.

Right up to date and 2020's Letters To You was like a cathartic record for the loss of our friend and mad Bruce fan, Glenn Jordan. The opening:


"Big black train comin' down the track

Blow your whistle long and long

One minute you're here

Next minute you're gone."


Oh my!

Then the closing I'll See You In My Dreams that Bruce has been closing out recent gigs with:


Ghosts runnin' through the night

Our spirits filled with light

I need, need you by my side

Your love and I'm alive.


It warlike a companion piece to our grief for Glenn, just as Bruce has lost many down the years. The songs seem to have a spiritual understanding of loss and hope for beyond. 


No Nukes 2

For a period of time between the 70s and the 90s I had an aunt in Toronto who worked for WEA Records. I am not sure her exact job but as an employee she had the perk of being able to purchase so many records per month for $1. Knowing my love for music she would often grab me some albums that I wanted. One of the goodies from 1980 was the triple album of the No Nukes live concert recorded at Madison Square Gardens in 1979. 

At the time I wanted it because of Jackson Browne and Tom Petty. I was only just discovering Bruce Springsteen through my friend Rab McConaghy. The River would be the first of Springsteen’s records that I would buy new. It was released less than a year after the No Nukes album and though Bruce was 5 years from the commercial peak of Born In The USA his legend post Born To Run had already written.

There was that 1978 Old Grey Whistle Test footage of Rosalita. It was charismatic rock n roll performance par excellence, full of dramatic stop start, running, kneeling, jumping on pianos and the most exuberant rock music I had ever heard. Every fan will have a difference of opinion at to what tour saw Springsteen at his pinnacle. For me, I wish I’d seen him between 1978 and 1980. No Nukes is right bang in the middle.

So on that No Nukes album when Springsteen welcomes Jackson Browne for a rocked out version of Stay, the Maurice Williams and The Zodiacs song that Jackson Browne made his own on his most recent album Running On Empty, I am elated. Even better on this recording is that it is obviously from Springsteen’s other concert at the No Nukes weekend as he invites Tom Petty on stage too! Wow! Springsteen, Browne and Petty. In 1980 it doesn’t get much better than that.

In my eyes Springsteen doesn’t get much better than this either. We get the best of his iconic 70s catalogue with a hint towards The River and then after Stay, a 25 minute rock ’n roll celebration with a ten minute Detroit Medley of Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels songs and another 10 minutes of Gary US Bonds’ Quarter To Three. Just when he must be exhausted he is back for Buddy Holly’s Rave On. It is all done to a home crowd, just across the river from New Jersey in Madison Square Garden. Hear those fans on Jungleland, a deep cut about the space between!

The Detroit Medley and Quarter To Three have been in the E Street Band’s set list for a few years. You can hear them in the famous 1975 Hammersmith Odeon shows. Here at No Nukes though I get the sense of more confidence and more rock strut as well as a good few minutes more music. 

In 1980 there were no Bruce Springsteen live albums. We’d wait another 5 years and then be deluged with a triple album of best live cuts spanning 10 years. Interestingly nothing on Live 1975-85 has anything from 1979. I loved that long awaited box set BUT I have to say that this legendary show does it more for me. This is one night with The Boss and his E Street Band at the absolute top of their game. You are hearing the future of rock n roll and its name is… Worth every minute of the 40 year wait!



If we ever had the time again

Then I would make more time

In the meantime I’ll hear your whispering

In every Bruce Springsteen rhyme.


I wrote these words back in June when my friend Glenn Jordan died suddenly. It is still hard to take in. I attempted to capture Glenn in a poem that had me standing beside him, by his own secret gifting, watching Bruce Springsteen at the Kings Hall on a July afternoon in 2013. Glenn and our other mate Mark Houston were Bruce mega-fans. I wondered if I knew anything about Bruce at all when I was with them!

Not long after I wrote the words I heard there would be a new Springsteen album this year. I immediately considered what that would be like with out Glenn. As I listened to that record, as soon as it went on stream at midnight, I could hardly take in the extra poignancy.


The opening lines of the first song One Minute You’re Here:


Big black train comin' down the track

Blow your whistle long and long

One minute you're here

Next minute you're gone


The closing lines of the last song I’ll See You In My Dreams:


I'll see you in my dreams when all the summеrs have come to an end

I'll see you in my dreams, we'll meet again in another land

I'll see you in my dreams, yeah around the river bend

For death is not the end

And I'll see you in my dreams


Bless my soul. It wasn’t just that I was imagining Glenn’s thoughts about these songs. They almost became about him. If you’ve lost a fanatical Bruce fan in recent months this record is emotional, cathartic, and somehow with a little Springsteen genius, celebratory.

Bruce Springsteen has lost a lot of friends down the years. It is well known about the death’s of The E Street Band’s Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici but it seems that it was the death of George Theiss from Springsteen’s first band The Castiles that inspired Letter To You.

Letter To You is as urgent a record as Springsteen has made in decades. It is loud and raw and rocks out with only that opening One Minute You’re Here showing any reflective quiet.

Every other song sees The E Street Band let loose, tight as ever and playing to the very edge of full tilt. Letter To You is a bang bang bang of boom boom rock songs. There’s no let up and no desire to even get up to turn the vinyl over. It is as gripping from start to finish as any Bruce Springsteen album has ever been.

Now that doesn’t mean that it is the best Springsteen album though with an artist like Springsteen that is a futile venture. You can’t set 50 year’s of a catalogue side by side never mind the different genres and reasons to make albums that Springsteen has dabbled in.

Letter To You is not full of hit singles or songs crafted to a sheen. If ever a record needed listened to all the way through this is it. It sounds like a band becoming aware of their mortality and deciding to get together and have a big blow out before they get blown out. The fun of playing with mates is all over this record. There is an urgency in the joy of it in the midst of the grieving around them.

If it had come out 40 years ago who knows how many of these songs would still be in the set list but if this band can get out the other end of Coronavirus intact then these songs will fly off the stage on the next band tour. Letter To You, Last Man Standing, Land Of A Thousand Guitars, Ghosts and even Power Of Prayer are songs full of the joy of bands and music. Live? It’ll be something!

Of course I am now considering that if I should ever see this live in Belfast my friend Glenn will not be there to stand beside me and enjoy it. I hope though that as Bruce rejoices about life and celebrates the love of lost friends on the stage that we will all be part of that emotion in the crowd. Bruce has broken that barrier yet again. He has spoken for us and yes Glenn I hear you whispering… 


Ghosts runnin' through the night

Our spirits filled with light

I need, need you by my side

Your love and I'm alive.


Bruce Springsteen_WesternStars

I remember back in 1993. I was in Wichita with songwriter Rich Mullins. He was playing versions of his next record, A Liturgy, A Legacy and a Ragamuffin Band. We had heard the songs, live in our front room in Dublin, just after they’d been written the summer before. Here they were recorded but Rich told us that all was left to do were the strings. NO! Our last words before we left Rich was, “No strings Rich, no strings!

I hated strings and any kind of orchestration in rock music. It was soft. Easy listening. Twenty five years later and I am listening to a Bruce Springsteen album covered in orchestration and loving it. Whatever happened in between?

Jimmy Webb is the simple answer. My primary musical love is the song and songwriters who hone them into 4 minute perfection. Discovering Jimmy Webb’s Ten Easy Pieces record drew me into the genius of his craft.

From there I had to listen to those 70s orchestrated pop versions of Witchita Lineman, By The Time I Get To Phoenix and Galveston by Glen Campbell. Webb had torn out my bigotry towards the cinematic strings.

Western Stars suggests that Springsteen has gleaned more from Jimmy Webb than the strings and brass. Western Stars, just like Webb’s songs, are filled with those American places names, usually on the edge of the desert. Springsteen has even used Galveston already - Galveston Bay on The Ghost Of Tom Joad.

Around 1989 I heard Springsteen say, “I realised that now that I put all these people in all these cars I was going to have yo find some place for them to go.” He went on to talk about connection and community. 

Thirty years later and he has made an entire record of people who are out on the highway with nowhere to go. There are thirteen punters on this record and most of them are somewhere out on the road either by choice or life’s unfortunate fate. A stuntman, a failed actor, a failed songwriter and on it goes.

I am left thinking that this is as bleak an album as Springsteen has released since Nebraska. Most of his recent records have swathes of light, shining across the realities of 9/11, the Iraq War or the economic crash. Even those western stars don’t twinkle much light across this album. 

Why? Is Springsteen saying something about his own life? Is this some comment on the state of America? Or did he just want to see what would happen if he hadn’t found all those people, in all those cars a place to go! The gentle reflective closer Moonlight Motel has the jilted lover parking outside the boarded up motel they used to go to, pouring a glass of Jack Daniels thinking at least, “It’s better to have loved.”

Whatever Springsteen’s reasons these are fascinating characters to engage with. There is no smaltz in the lyrics!

The sound does takes time. With Bruce Springsteen we are more comfortable with Tom Morello adding his noisy guitar sound than the tremolo guitar favoured on Western Stars. I will warn that for some Springsteen fans this new sweetness of sound might take time to orientate to. 

It was about four listens before Western Stars sneaked through the door of my heart. Like Webb there is some serious song craft here. The melodies and the the half melodies are gorgeous. Before you know it you are singing along to The Wayfarer, Tucson Train, Sundown, There Goes My Miracle, Hello Sunshine and the title track! 

Though it is another original turn n the road for Springsteen you can set Western Stars on the shelf between The Ghost Of Tom Joad and Tunnel Of Love. If you make it through your disorientation, you will find that alienation has never sounded so utterly beautiful.


My City Of Ruins

Released on The Rising album, Springsteen's cathartic, pastoral and hope filled response to 9/11, it would be obvious to think that My City Of Ruins was about New York city. It wasn't. It had been written before that horrible New York morning about Asbury Park but oh how it fitted:

"There's a blood red circle on the cold dark ground
And the rain is falling down
The church door's thrown open, I can hear the organ's song
But the congregation's gone

My city of ruins
My city of ruins"

Of course it could have be about many hometowns and it is very easy for me to set it in my wonderful and wounded Belfast

So, I do. As the 4 Corners Festival 2019 approaches in just two weeks time, I am listening to My City Of Ruins and using it to focus the intention of our mission. We are a city divided, still rising out of the ruins of thirty five years of Troubles. The buildings may be restored from their bombed out ruins but our deepest emotional, spiritual and psychological  rubble are still needing redeemed.

The 4 Corners Festival is our contribution to such redemption. The spirituality and prayer at the heart of the Festival and its audacious aims is what draws me to My City Of Ruins.

Bruce Springsteen turns this song's catharsis into a musical prayer that not only pleads that God would “rend the heavens and come down” as Isaiah once prayed but then make ourselves available for the way God answers.

Come on, rise up

Come on, rise up

Now with these hands
I pray Lord
with these hands
for the strength Lord
with these hands
for the faith Lord
with these hands
I pray Lord
with these hands
for the strength Lord
with these hands
for the faith Lord
with these hands..."

In the past, I have criticised Yoko Ono for suggesting, as she has, that imagination in itself can change the world. Of course it can’t. We need to imagine the transformation needed but then we need to go out and make the dreams we conjure happen.

Christians can use prayer in Yoko Ono ways, believing that the prayer itself changes things. We need to always remember that God’s way is that we should pray and then get up of our knees and offer our lives to be instruments by which he can answer them.

Prayer should stoke our imagination for prayer and for what then should happen after we get up off our knees. The 4 Corners Festival is a ten day prayer for re-imagining.

 So let us use Bruce’s words to seek God’s help, without which nothing can happen, but then let us offer our own hands and ask God to give strength and faith as we use them to bring his kingdom and his will to the streets of the four corners of Belfast... or indeed whatever city you find yourself praying in!

info about HERE!



In his two and a half hour Broadway Show, performed at The Walter Kerr Theatre, five nights a week for over a year, Bruce Springsteen speaks a lot about his magic trick. That trick is conjuring songs out of racing cars when he couldn’t even drive and working in a factory when he had never seen the inside of a factory. He doesn’t mind admitting that he was very good at the sleight of hand!

Yet, when Springsteen speaks of being at the very top of his industry he isn’t speaking from ego. He is merely using the same eye for detail that his songs have evoked for forty five years. When he speaks of his success it is merely fact. From that fact he is actually very deprecating, making himself vulnerable in his honesty about who he pretended to be, foolishly thought he wanted to be and how the boy who spent the first ten years of his career singing songs about getting out of his home town, now lives ten minutes from it. 

There can be no better evidence for the brilliance of his magic trick than this Broadway performance, a walk though his life and career, a live reading almost of his powerful autobiography Born To Run. What Springsteen does here is maybe as remarkable as anything he has ever done. You can understand a band with the players he wrapped round him, to play the songs he wrote, captivating a stadium with their tightness, jamming, extended instrumental flourishes and a front man gallivanting all over the stage. 

Stand in a theatre on your own for two and a half hours and talk. That’s a trickier prospect. He tells us about his mum and dad and the tree outside his house growing up. He tells us about driving a car across America without knowing how to shift gears. He tells us about the Big Man joining the band. Even the songs are not only stripped back of instrumentation but they are almost at times spoken, the melodies not even what matters. He only moves from guitar to piano. 

You are transfixed to the screen. You never take your eyes or ears off him. Yet, without much dramatic effect in body moves, The Boss pulls it off like some less spectacular Houdini or Blondin. A magic act indeed!

As friends who had seen it before me suggested, I was very taken by the storyline. Not that it surprised me. I have been talking this storyline since I wrote a chapter in my book The Rock Cries Out back in 2003. For me Bruce Springsteen’s life and music is a modern day telling of Jesus’ parable of The Prodigal Son.

In this Broadway production Bruce tells the tale. A son brought up in family and faith needs to get a way. He feels he is Born to Run and that there is a Promised Land that he needs to find. He finds it but in the end loses his hatred for the father he left behind and ends up back home, where it is all familiar and not at all as bad as it had seemed when he was too young to know what it was he was looking for.

“I grew up surrounded by God,” Springsteen tells his audience early on. His house was a stones throw from the Church, though he makes it very plain that he was bored and maybe even a little smothered by it. In my chapter in The Rock Cries Out I call Springsteen the Prodigal Son returning but say that I am not sure where he is in Jesus telling of the story. That was 2003.

On Broadway in 2018 Bruce Springsteen gently testified to where he is, the story comes right back round and, over two hours in, Bruce is back outside the doors of that Church reciting The Lord’s Prayer. Oh my!

Springsteen On Broadway is a phenomenal performance. Springsteen takes his own particular story, a story that fascinates millions of fans. In the telling of that story because people are intrigued by it, he opens up all our stories. As you listen you are constantly asking about your own dad and your own mum, your own youth, your own dreams, your own marriage and your own faith. You are asking how you see the world and war and peace and justice. 

Like a preacher, or I would say parish priest, Springsteen shines the light of the spirit onto the souls listening to a rather long homily where God is not so much explicit most of the time as implicit but at the end becomes just that… the end of the journey! 

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN - BORN TO RUN... Autobiography Reviewed

Bruce Born To Run

When I read Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography Born To Run I rationed myself, reading short sections, staying in it, almost like I was able to spend some time in the great man’s presence.

It was easy to read in small chucks because of the way Springsteen wrote the book. It seems that the whole idea began when he wrote a short piece on the E Street Band’s half time performance at the 2009 Super Bowl. That led him to prose. The short chapters are themselves broken down. The entire life of a rock star in little vignettes.

And those vignettes are beautifully written. That cinematic Springsteen lyricism finds a new outlet in prose and you can almost see the street that he grew up in, almost step into it.

I have read many Springsteen biographies, I have written a chapter myself for goodness sake, so what you are looking for in a memoir is more depth, more personal details around the facts, commentary and opinion. Springsteen delivers this very cleverly.

You do get into his life. He is very honest. That relationship with his father that we have heard about in concert monologues, between and during songs, gets teased out a lot more. He does admit to suffering from depression which for fans who watch him do up to four hour shows, pumped and vibrant, is hard to come to terms with. Rightfully this openness has been lauded. 

The clever thing that Springsteen has done though is to tell us more without telling us everything. He writes candidly about himself, band members, parents and wife without ever invading their privacy. 

It is all enough to give us a fascinating portrait of the artist and an insight into all the influences that have honed him. Catholicism, his Freehold New Jersey small town and the bigger vision of America. This is a story of songwriter seeking identity. He lets us in to his place in his own psyche, his family life, his life in the community of band and his engagement and place in the nation. 

I found too many things fascinating to write about here (there might be a series of blogs) but let me pick out a few favourite bits.

The background detail to the making of his first two albums had me enjoying Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ afresh and appreciating The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle more than ever before. Then the layered precision and intent of Born To Run and introduction of Jon Landau.

The evolving creation of and the inner dynamics of the the E Street Band revealed the relationships and politics of a long running rock band. Springsteen’s intensity of solo vision yet ability to hold such a gifted band together. Then there is dealing with the deaths of Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons and Clarence’s nephew Zak joining the band. He shows what it is and maybe why he is called The Boss. Intriguing.

The Born In The USA years were also interesting. The thought out decision Springsteen and Landau made to go for megastardom with a hit single laden album, the effects of that even on his first marriage to Julianne Phillips, and then the conscious deconstruction of that with Tunnel Of Love

Springsteen’s relationship with Patti Scialfa has been pivotal to almost thirty years of his life. He tells their love story beautifully again without exposing Patti’s or their privacy. Similarly with his children. 

I particularly loved the vignette with Frank Sinatra. That this young Freehold boy grew up to become a friend of Sinatra, to even be invited to his funeral, is a mark of Springsteen’s place in Twentieth and Twenty First Century music. There is a moment at the piano when Sinatra and Bob Dylan acknowledge Patti’s singing voice. Sweet moment in the book and maybe one of the sweetest in Bruce’s life. 

For me the theo-musicologist Born To Run could have undone all my theories about Springsteen’s spirituality. The shadow of the Church next door certainly never leaves him and God and grace make regular appearances throughout the book. I of course would have liked much more but again Springsteen reveals enough but not too much about his faith.

I had a friend back in 1988 who didn’t get Bruce Springsteen. She was too young and Springsteen arrived on her radar in his pop star Born In The USA days. I always found that a shame and hope that she later discovered his poetry, story telling and the subjectivity of his story that can feed the objectivity of all our stories. As I read Born To Run I wanted to send her it. She would love the literacy of the book itself and the artist whose story is told within. 

If you haven’t realised it already, Born To Run confirms Bruce Springsteen as one of the most substantial artists of our time. It is gripping from first page to last.


Springsteen BTR

Born To Run. It’s almost a Bruce Springsteen cliché. It was inevitable that it would be the title of his autobiography. So many of his other songs must feel the injustice of perpetual rejection. 

Yet, it is more than the breakthrough song, catchiest title or ever present encore. A few years ago I used the Born To Run, as well as my favourite song from the album, Thunder Road, as a centre piece when Fitzroy, my Church, did The Gospel According To... Bruce Springsteen.

On such evenings we take the songs of iconic musicians and perform them live with spiritual commentary, drawing out the meaning of the songs. When we focused on Bruce Springsteen’s catalogue there were some mighty performances by Fitzroy’s Musical Collective plus quality guest spots from Mark Houston on an acoustic Born To Run and Gentry Morris on Mary Don’t You Weep.  

In my commentary I leaned heavily on writings I have done on Springsteen down the years BUT what became the crux of the evening was Springsteen’s introduction to an acoustic version of Born To Run that is available on The Complete Video Anthology 1978/2000.

I had set the evening up as a journey of Springsteen’s faith in an almost Prodigal Son story. We had set off with songs of alienation and escape. The Radiator Blues Band had just done a rocked out version of Thunder Road with its “this town’s for losers and we’re busting out of here to win.”

This alienation’s need to leave somewhere and find something better made great rock 'n roll and some great albums BUT... did they win? Fifteen years after Thunder Road, Springsteen brought a new twist to Born To Run. His introduction went like this: - 

“it’s changed a lot over the years...when I wrote it I was 24 years old... the questions I am asking in this song... it seems I have been trying to find the answers to ever since... when I wrote the song I was writing about a guy and a girl who were on the run and would keep on running... and that was a nice romantic idea...but I realised that after I’d put all those people in all those cars I was going to have to figure out some place for em to go... and I realised that in the end individual freedom when it’s not connected to some sort of community ends up feeling pretty meaningless... so I guess that guy and that girl were out there looking for connection... and I guess that’s what I am doing here tonight... this is a song about two people trying to find their way home... this song has kept me good company on my search and I hope its kept you good company on yours..."

"Needing a place"... "freedom without connection is meaningless"... "songs as companions on the way home"... wow! Springsteen eventually found his home. In the 90’s he married, had children and made a literal home. 

He also started to find himself drifting, or being pulled, back to the home of Christian faith; his Catholic upbringing. He even, after a sojourn in California, came literally back home to New Jersey.

The songs that followed Born To Run in our evening all pointed to this need. That individual freedom is meaningless without connection is powerful wisdom and deeply spiritual. 

When Dave Thompson sang Death To My Hometown it was revealed as a cathartic song of lament for a community ripped asunder. 

Caroline Orr led the “congregation” in the prayer that is My City Of Ruins, a commitment to rebuilding community. Caroline’s closing If I Should Fall Behind rose above it’s romantic meaning to become another commitment to connection and giving to another. It says I cannot make it alone and when I struggle I need you to be there for me.

In between The Spring Teens gave a vibrant version of Rocky Ground, Robbie McIlwaine’s guitar sparkling and sparking Sarah McNeill’s haunting vocal and Jonny Fitch’s edgy rap with Tom Trinder on the back beat; shepherds are being called to help the flock through to a “new day coming”.

This eschatological hope was cranked up in The Radiator Blues Band closer Land Of Hope and Dreams with a lovely Gospel style blending into People Get Ready from Burnett, Orr and McKinlay!

Springsteen’s songs are nowadays full of this life of connection and community. Forty years ago he was a young man seeking freedom. Since then he has matured and caught on to the limited satisfaction of freedom roads. The Prodigal needed to come home to a land of hope and dreams!


Seeger Sessions Live

(a sermon from 2007 on Revelation 19 where I drew comparisons with recent record releases... this morning's sermon in Fitzroy by Prof. Gordon Campbell reminded me of it... I post it again...) 

In the morning Bruce Springsteen and his Sessions Band release the CD and DVD of the live concert they played at The Point Theatre in Dublin last November. The Seeger Sessions as they were originally called was a wonderful little accident that has given Springsteen a whole new lease of life, making him an heir to the civil rights folk music that first gave us Bob Dylan in the early sixties. In early 2006 Springsteen released a whole album of songs that had been recorded by Pete Seeger back in the fifties and sixties. When he took it on tour it was for a few limited dates only. I happened to get to see that tour in Dublin in May of 06. So successful was this spectacle of Bruce and near twenty musicians that an extended tour was soon planned. 

Now, what has that got to do with the New Testament book of Revelation? Quite a lot really. This is not a man reaching for some tenuous link with what he knows best, trying to trendy up the Scriptures. The remarkable thing about many of the songs that the civil rights movement chose to use to energise the resistance to racial oppression and domination was that they were old hymns, rooted in the spirituals and blues of the slaves of the nineteenth century. In the Seeger Sessions Tour Programme Springsteen describes one of the songs, Mary Don’t You Weep, “one of the most important Negro spirituals, predating the Civil War.” He goes on to say that the Mary could be the Virgin Mary or Mary Magdelene or Mary of Bethany but that is not what the main content of the song is based on. Indeed the song is an Old Testament song where we find the singer standing where Moses stood at the Red Sea and seeing Pharoah’s army getting “drownded.” 

“Brothers and sisters don’t you cry

They’ll be good times by and by

Pharoah’s army got drownded

O Mary don’t you weep.!

The title of the album itself is We Shall Overcome and again Springsteen says of this, “the most important political protest song of all time, sung around the world, wherever people fight for justice and equality.” In this song there is a real belief that peace will finally dawn, that those who stand for justice shall overcome, “Well, here in my heart I do believe/That we shall overcome someday.” On the CD and DVD released tomorrow this idea will be embellished by a wonderful version of When the Saints Go Marching In. These are songs of another day; a day when the world will be turned upside down, when peace will come, justice will reign and the oppressor will be vanquished at last.

Are you getting my drift? If John was releasing his Patmos Vision tomorrow he might well call it We Shall Overcome. As people left the Seeger Session concerts there was all kinds of talk that they had been in some kind of Church experience. The power of these hymns become protest songs had the ability to lift people, strengthen them and give them a glimpse of a transcendent vision. And so the songs of Revelation. These are songs sung by a people living under the evil power of a dominant Empire being given a vision without which they would perish but with which they can find hope, restore the preciousness of their humanity and resist the moulding and shaping of the powers of the age.

This also happens to be the week when many of us have celebrated the 40th Anniversary of The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Revelations has similar wild imagination. Tangerine dreams and marmalade skies in Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds and questions of how many holes it might take to fill the Albert Hall can be compared to men with hair like woman, breastplates of iron the sound of whose wings was like thunder! Charles Manson of course recognised that this could be a description of the Beatles and that their experimental piece Revolution 9 should have been Revelation 9 where this description is given. We should also remember that in the middle of Sgt Peppers, on George Harrison’s Within You, Without You , often called the sermon, he sings “We were talking about the love that’s gone so cold/ And the people who gain the world and lose their soul/ They don’t know/They can’t see/ Are you one of them.” In the dominant culture of the sixties where God was being squeezed out by materialism there were songs resisting.

Anyhow Revelation is the work of a poet whose vision of another day is a resource to strengthen the people of the day it was written in. It can and should be seen as a worship book. Eugene Peterson sees it as such. He writes, “The Bible ends with a flourish: vision and song, doom and deliverance, terror and triumph. The rush of colour and sound, image and energy, leaves us reeling… John… has worship on his mind, is pre-eminently concerned with worship. That is what we find here in what Derek called The hallelujah chorus. 

But this is not worship for worship’s sake. I have to confess that I am very dissatisfied with modern worship music. It seems to me to be often worship for worship’s sake. I don’t find the Bible caught in such a self indulgent cul-de-sac. As worship was for the Israelites, as it was for the black slaves on the plantations of the southern states of America, as it was for the civil rights movement, these songs have a function and that function is theological, missiological, spiritual forming and never consumerist. One of the reasons that the Spirituals are able to last for a couple of centuries is that it was a functional song for the people singing it at a time when all other art had been tainted by the Renaissance and become art for art’s sake. So today, consumerism affects the making of art rather than function. Even the worship songs we sang tonight were not written for a Church service but to sell Cds. That has an impact.

Back to the pastoral concerns of the worship writer John of Patmos. John was watching believers being crushed underneath the pressures to conform to the Roman Empire. The writing of his vision was for their survival. Springsteen is singing the songs written for the same reason when racism was dehumanising the African America in a place where they had to use different toilets and parts of the bus. Beatle George was trying to battle against the decadent materialism of the swinging sixties. So what should our modern day Christians be writing against. Where are we being crushed and squeezed? Who is our domineering Empire? It is much easier for the persecuted Church around the world to recognise their oppressor. 

Last week at our end of year service in Chaplaincy I read from a brilliant book called Colossians Remixed by Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat. They write, “Is there an empire in the shadow of which we live? Are there cultural forces that seek to take captive our imaginations? Well, think about it for a moment. The average North American person is confronted everyday by somewhere between five and twelve thousand corporate images, all geared to shaping our consumer imagination. Whether you are running a political campaign for the highest office in the land or selling a peculiar brand of cigarette, it’s all about image! A society directed by the consumerist imperatives of global capitalism is driven by images with a vengeance. And these images – purveyed especially through the quintessential image producing medium television – must change constantly in order to create and sustain an insatiable desire for more consumerist goods and reach the ultimate goal of economic abundance.”

In the Old Testament the believer battled idols. In the New Testament it was Empire. And us? We need to be aware of the idol and Empire that squeezes us into its mould and sucks the imagination from our minds and blood from our souls to dehumanise us as precious creatures of a creator and precious children adopted into the family of the King of kings; the Master who will eventually defeat all the dehumanising as we read here in Revelation 19. Worship songs should always re-humanise us, always give us a realistic view of our world and the transcendent hope we long for.

It was Children’s day here in Fisherwick this morning and we looked at conformity with the children. We quashed the idea of being like everybody else whether it was in the play written by Max Lucado about wooden people with green noses, or in the Fischy Music songs or the Scriptural readings from Matthew 6 and Romans 12. In one of the closing prayers by Thomas Webb I got a window into tonight’s sermon. In his prayer he confessed how hard it is to not conform and asked that God would give them strength to resist. That is exactly what this Hallelujah chorus is. It is here to capture that imagination lost to consumerism. We imagine how it is going to be and so live it right here and now. Was it Ghandi who said, “Be the change you want to see?” Worship that is caught in a Sunday night bubble for its own sake is fake and futile. Worship like we see and hear in Revelation is about strength for Monday morning. It is giving us a glimpse of heaven that will give us the steely intransigence to stride into Monday to bring God’s Kingdom and His will on earth as it is in heaven. 

That was the essence of the slaves’ Spirituals. Mary Don’t You Weep, We Shall Overcome and When The Saints Go Marching In were to empower for the fight. They remind us that we are part of a story. The story started at the beginning and a very good place to start. We are reminded by Springsteen that we were part of a story that includes Moses and the defeat of the Empire of the day in Pharoah’s army getting drownded. The story goes on until the Hallelujah chorus will ring out in Revelation 19 time! In between we will gather around a table, remembering another part of the story, that we were redeemed, that the Lamb of God took away the sin of the world, that we are heirs of the father and joint heirs with that lamb. Jesus asked us to re-enact this sacrament for the same reason that John wrote the last book in the Bible; to ready us for the steely intransigence of tomorrow. If it is an act in itself it is fake and futile. If we use it to re-invigorate our imaginations then we will live differently as a result. We are part of a story. Let us believe. God has freed the slave before. He wants to release us now. And one day we will be free forever! Hallelujah! Amen!

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN - A 65th Birthday Cover Versions Playlist

Cover Me

(to celebrate the 65th Birthday of Bruce Springsteen here is a playlist of cover versions of Bruce Springsteen songs. There is a thematic journey in my head but you might not notice... alienation towards redemption like Springsteen's life and songs!)

Born In The USA - Amanda Shires, Jason Isbell

(from Dead Man’s Town)

Because The Night - Patti Smith

(from Easter)

The Fever - Southside Johnny And the Asbury Jukes

(from I Don’t Want To Go Home)

Mansion On The Hill - The National

(from The Virginia EP)

Brilliant Disguise - Elvis Costello

(from Kojak Variety; Remastered and Extended)

Wages Of Sin - Damian Jurado

(from A Tribute To Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska)

It’s Hard To Be A Saint in The City - David Bowie

(from The Best Of David Bowie 1974/79) 

I’m On Fire - Heather Nova

(from Wonderlust live)

Brothers Under The Bridge - Cowboy Junkies

(21st Century Blues)

Independence Day - The Waterboys

(from Kiss The World)

Atlantic City - The Band

(from Jericho)

Born To Run - Melissa Etheridge

(from The Concert For New York)

Drive All Night - Glen Hansard

(from Drive All Night EP)

Further On (Up The Road) - Johnny Cash

(from American 5; A Hundred Highways)

The Light of Day - The Barbusters

(from The Light of Day soundtrack)

Blinded By The Light - Manfred Mann’s Earth Band

(from The Roaring Silence)

No Surrender - Holly Williams

(from Dead Man’s Town)

If I Should Fall Behind - Grant McLennan

(from Lighting Fires EP)

Land of Hope and Dreams - Martyn Joseph 

(from Tires Rushing By In The Rain)

The Ghost Of Tom Joad - Rage Against The Machine

(from Renegades)