Were I to give you a full accounting of my popular musical allegiances over the years, you would likely suggest that I should hang my increasingly hairless head in shame.
The first musical act that I took seriously was The Monkees – and they were not even a serious musical act, at least not at their beginning. I took them so seriously that I even sent in 50 cents so I could become a card-carrying member of the Monkees Fan Club.
In 1973, I pieced together enough savings from my grocery store job to buy an album and, after much consideration, chose Golden Earring’s “Moontan” over Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd,” which means I thought “Radar Love” was of a higher and more enduring quality than “Gimme Three Steps,” “I Ain’t the One,” “Tuesday’s Gone” and “Free Bird.” For Pete’s sake, “Free Bird!”
I’m happy to report, though, that things got better as I matured. While I listen to virtually no contemporary artists, I do lend my ears regularly to some of the still living and still performing classics – Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Jimmy Buffett and Crosby, Stills & Nash, to name a few – and, of course, Bruce Springsteen – The Boss.
Eric Stone is my friend, church member, fellow traveler and current deacon chairman. He’s also a huge Bruce Springsteen fan. I’m the kind of fan who owns a bunch of Springsteen’s albums, but Eric is the kind of fan who has seen The Boss in concert lots of times in lots of places.
So I told Eric that, “Hey, I wouldn’t mind going to a Springsteen concert some time.” The next thing I knew we were driving from Fitzgerald, Ga., to Tampa, Fla., on a Saturday to watch a concert that would last until 11 p.m. Afterward, we drove back to Fitzgerald, which meant that I got to bed around 4 a.m. on Sunday and had to get up to preach later that morning on Senior Adult Sunday. This somehow seemed appropriate since Springsteen, who was less than two weeks from turning 60 when we saw him, had just appeared on the cover of AARP magazine.
People told me I did a good job preaching that morning. Go figure.
We had pretty good seats, if you call the second row behind the pit where the “lucky” fans who stood in front of the stage were positioned “good.” And you do call them good, my friends, you do.
Bruce and the E Street Band walked out at 8 p.m. and started playing. When they hit the first notes of the first song, “Badlands,” it seemed that a wave swept over the crowd gathered in the Ford Amphitheatre. It also seemed that just about every person was singing along.
It continued that way all the way through the concert, through “Out in the Street,” “Spirit in the Night,” “The Promised Land” and “Born to Run.” It continued through the encore set that started with “Hard Times” and wound its way through “Rosalita” and “Dancing in the Dark” until they finished for good with “Thunder Road.”
I’m not much on idolizing folks and I don’t idolize Bruce Springsteen. I do admire him. I admire his productivity. He’s still writing and recording because he still has something to say. I admire his work ethic. He and his band worked very hard the night I saw them, and I understand that’s the case at every show. I admire his body of work. He has amassed quite a catalogue of songs, such a vast catalogue that he has his own channel on satellite radio. I admire his passion for what he does. It comes through in his every move and in his every word when he is on stage. I admire his attempts to help. He supports and urges his audiences to support the hunger relief efforts of the Second Harvest Food Banks.
As a preacher, I think I can learn from Springsteen. At least, he caused me to wonder.
When I am in front of my congregation, do I do admirable work? Am I still writing and speaking because I still have something to say? Am I still giving it my all every time that I go out there? Am I still developing and presenting my body of work? Am I appropriately returning to the great themes that have characterized my work while still being creative? Am I still feeling and showing passion for what I do and for the One and for the ones for whom I do it? Am I helpful?
He’s The Boss. I’m A Preacher.
He shares real words that speak to real people in their real lives, and you get the idea that they receive it as good news.
I hope that I share real words that speak to real people in their real lives, too. And I hope that the Good News of the Lord Jesus Christ comes through.
Michael Ruffin is curriculum editor with Smyth & Helwys Publishing in Macon, Georgia.