10 months ago
Let’s start here: Bruce Springsteen is the most overrated artist of all time. I also note (and this is very important) that he is and always has been a very, very good artist. I would go as far as to say you can’t be that overrated without also being very good. That’s a fascinating irony: Anyone can be overrated, but only a truly great artist can be the most overrated artist of all time. Someone that overrated, that ubiquitous, has to be doing something right, has to really be capturing people’s hearts and minds. There’s just a rather gigantic differential between how Mr. Springsteen is perceived and how good, both as a recording artist and a live performer, he actually is.
Secondly, the Springsteen on Broadway long-run currently at the Walter Kerr Theatre is a terrific glimpse into the future of the rock’n’roll senior circuit touring. Long ago, Brian Eno said that he wished that he didn’t have to go to his audiences; he could do his best job if they came to him. That’s a good idea whose time has come.
Also, let us note that despite the intensity, sincerity, and attention to quality Mr. Springsteen conjures within the walls of the 975-seat, 96-year old theatre on W. 48th Street in Manhattan, for at least some portion of each show he really needs to wear a t-shirt that says, “This is a Cash Grab Disguised As Credibility,” and in smaller letters underneath, “But That’s My Prerogative and Now That We’ve Gotten That Clear Let’s Try to Have a Good Time.”
Now, let’s proceed, shall we?
Why do we go to a live concert event?
(And I am talking about when we make a deliberate effort to see a specific artist, like when we buy a ticket to see Chocolate Reichstag or The Styrofoam Mimes, not when we attend a club, and a band – say, The Splashdown Summerdowns, or Buzzong! – just happens to be playing.)
These may be some of the reasons we go to a concert (in no particular order):
Peer Pressure; We seek transcendence; We want to hear that one song; Empathy (the artist says those words I wish I could say, and/or they feel those feelings I feel); It’s so much louder live; Someone had an extra ticket; The artist may die soon; I want to be in the same room as someone famous; I’ve heard this is a good band; This is a “Special Event” (i.e., Uncle Tanoose are playing The Lonesome Death of Laika the Space Dog in its entirety); This is an “event” that I want to feel part of and might tell my grandchildren about; Tickets were cheap, so why not?
That kind of covers it, yes?
I don’t think I speak for everyone, but when I think of live rock’n’roll and when I consider attending an event, this is somewhere in the back of my mind:
Because I love rock’n’roll, I live in the ecstatic shadows of the most outrageous and beautiful moments my eyes and ears have witnessed. I am always seeking the windmill that knows all, the E Minor chord that touched the gown of god, the tom-roll at the beginning and end of time. I have, truly, measured out my days in memories of bent-knee leaps off of monitors, the sullen crouches of gaunt bassists, and the narrow fingers of singers scratching at the smoke-fogged air of old burlesque theatres.
I believe many of the people who go to see Bruce Springsteen, even at the extreme and troubling price it costs to see Springsteen on Broadway, seek some of that same transcendence. In that sense, we are brothers. Since the functional demise of the Who as a living, engaged ensemble, Mr. Springsteen, more than any other artist, has represented the idea of the great physical sweaty kerrang that imparts user-friendly erotic terror on willing and awestruck audiences. Regardless of my belief, there have been dozens upon dozens of artists who have done this better, Springsteen has done this very well, and for a very long time, and with a very good heart.
But back to what’s going on at The Walter Kerr Theatre. What Springsteen is doing is smart and makes perfect sense. Once you reach a certain age, you can probably do your best work if you don’t have to actually grind it out on the dizzying, soul-numbing roads of America for six or eight weeks. Springsteen is ahead of the curve, and it’s a smart move.
All senior artists should be considering similar moves: It’s been the Las Vegas model for decades, and there’s no reason it cannot work outside of Vegas. Put on a show, do it night after night (or five nights a week, like Bruce does, or thirty-ish times a year, like Billy Joel does with his residency at Madison Square Garden or Phil Lesh at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York), and let your fans know, hey, this is the place where you can come see me. Your favorite. Your idol. I’ll put on a great show, and you will be comfortable and the sightlines will be great.
Seriously, imagine this: What if you could go one place – a theatre in Vegas, or NYC, or Los Angeles – and see KISS or the Who or the Eagles anytime you wanted to, in a relatively intimate space, with first-rate sound, lights, and production elements? Your favorite bands could be your vacation destination. I’m not being snarky, by the way, I think this is a really solid idea. Aging bands fleshed out with lots of extra players often look freaking stupid, weak, and humiliating in an arena, but the same package would look pretty damn good from the eighth row of a small-ish theatre. It’s time for the Senior Circuit to channel their inner Celine Dion.
This wouldn’t enable transcendence, of course, but it would be a lot of fun.
Stop and think: There is virtually no difference between Springsteen creating (what I will refer to as) a “destination” touring event – i.e., I’m on tour, but you come to me, and you’ll get an extra-special show as a reward! – and what, say, Celine Dion does at Ceaser’s in Vegas. She plays every night. She sells out. She puts on a hell of a show. She solidifies her legend and her reputation as a unique talent eager to make themselves and their remarkable skills available to their audience.
But back to Springsteen. Here comes the soapbox. Now I’m climbing on top of it.
Right now, I am (literally) going to go on the Vivid Seats website and look into buying Springsteen tickets. I am going to select December 6, because this December 6 will mark the 76th anniversary of the date the United Kingdom declared war on Finland.
Now, the cheapest ticket I can get for that evening is $2,334. The most expensive, $6,260. The prices on StubHub are roughly comparable. Keep in mind that if you want to take a friend, you’ll be doubling each of those costs. Let’s average this out, and say it’s going to cost you and your friend $8,000 to go see Springsteen on Broadway (by contrast, two seats to Celine at Ceasers will average you about $150).
I am not criticizing this. It is what it is.
This number — $8,000 — sits lifeless on a computer screen or an iPad, causing you no harm. But I want you, the reader, and I mean specifically you, Joanne in Paolo Alto, to consider what you make in a year; is $8,000 ten percent of your yearly pay? Eighteen percent? Five percent? What is $8000 to you, Danny in Austin? Is it, oh, six mortgage payments? I want you (I’m looking at you, Jeff in Charlottesville), to really think about $8,000. That’s about half of a very decent used Subaru. Catherine, you rent a very decent remodeled one bedroom in newly hip Morningside Heights: $8,000 is two and a half months rent for you. Two and a half months rent is nothing to scoff about. Terry in Yonkers: $8,000 is about five years of your monthly commutation ticket to Grand Central. Got that, Terry?
Rachel in Phoenix: visualize an $8000 tuition payment for your child. You, too, Matthew in Valley Village, you’ve got a kid going to Reed next year.
If you spend that money to see Springsteen on Broadway, will it be worth it?
Oddly, I am not going to judge that. I will not put a cost on an evening you may remember for the rest of your lives. I will only say that if we have reached a point where a Springsteen fan has to decide between going to see Bruce or paying a couple of months of their mortgage, buying half a Subaru, or commuting to work for half a decade, we either a) have a real problem here, or b) Springsteen is very deliberately deciding that his soul as an artist belongs with a very, very high-class audience.
And that’s his call. The man has worked hard, contributed mightily to our pop culture, shown genuine care and concern for his fans and tried, perhaps better and more consistently then any artist, to put on a good show and create a direct line of communication and empathy with his audience, and he can do what he goddamn wants.
But I do have a wish, and if he does this, I will honor and praise Mr. Springsteen until the day the angel Gabriel blows his horn and Asbury Park crumbles into fire, grime, and agony:
Once a week, Mr. Springsteen ought to buy all the tickets for sale on Vivid and StubHub to (just) one of his Broadway shows. There are not that many resale tickets available, so this will only cost The Boss about 50 grand a show (which is about a tenth of what he makes each night of the run). He – or a suitably unshaven minion – then need to give away the tickets. Let me repeat this, because it is a shockingly good idea: Bruce, on just one night each week, should buy ALL the outrageously priced tickets from the resale sites for that night’s show and give them away. Oh, and make sure the person you give them to walks into the theatre.
Then I will know this is all for real. That this isn’t actually two things that are antithetical to all that you seemingly have stood for: A Cash Grab and a conscious awareness that an intimate evening with you should only be available to the 1 percenters.