Archive for February, 2009

Springsteen: ‘Let’s Go Get It’

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

Springsteen nailed it.

And I’m not talking about the Superbowl halftime show — though he certainly nailed that also.

Here’s what Springsteen told the New York Times, for an article that ran yesterday:

“A lot of the core of our songs is the American idea: What is it? What does it mean? ‘Promised Land,’ ‘Badlands,’ I’ve seen people singing those songs back to me all over the world. I’d seen that country on a grass-roots level through the ’80s, since I was a teenager. And I met people who were always working toward the country being that kind of place. But on a national level it always seemed very far away.

“And so on election night it showed its face, for maybe, probably, one of the first times in my adult life,” he said. “I sat there on the couch, and my jaw dropped, and I went, ‘Oh my God, it exists.’ Not just dreaming it. It exists, it’s there, and if this much of it is there, the rest of it’s there. Let’s go get that. Let’s go get it. Just that is enough to keep you going for the rest of your life. All the songs you wrote are a little truer today than they were a month or two ago.”

Really, it didn’t seem possible, did it? That seven years after 9/11, we could elect a half-black man with Muslim relatives; less than two years after Saddam Hussein was executed, we could elect a man with the same middle name; a progressive, who believes in honoring organized labor and elevating science and safeguarding civil liberties and promoting the rights of women and minorities and engaging, actively, with the world.

And, yet, we did.

That fact alone, Springsteen is saying, tells us something about ourselves that we thought was true — that we thought was possible — but, in our heart of hearts, we weren’t totally sure.

Springsteen is saying — god damn; who the hell knew? — these things turn out to be true:

Now there’s a fire down below, but it’s coming up here …

Someday girl I don’t know when, we’re gonna get to that place where we really want to go, and we’ll walk in the sun …

Leave behind your sorrows, let this day be the last. Tomorrow there’ll be sunshine, and all this darkness past …

And for every, hung up person, in the whole wide universe. We gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing …

Still at the end of every hard earned day people find some reason to believe …

Gonna be a twister to blow, everything down, that ain’t got the faith to stand it’s ground …

There’s treasure for the taking for any hard working man, who will make his home in the American land …

I believe in the hope and I pray, that someday it may raise me, above these badlands …

What Springsteen is saying is: This election has given something to the world that can never be taken away. Because if these things are true, then there’s so much more that’s possible.

The rest of the dream is there, too.

Just that is enough to keep you going for the rest of your life.

‘A Renewal of Public Conscience’

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

My friend Amalie said the other day that Barack Obama’s election has spurred her to re-engage with the world once again — she’s reading the paper more closely, staying up on the news, paying attention to what’s going on. The experience was a bit jarring for her. It made her realize just how dis-engaged she’d become in the past eight years.

My guess, from anecdotal evidence, is that she’s far from alone.

Reading the Torah portion for this week — parsha Bo — I was struck by a thousands-year-old Biblical parallel for large-scale public re-engagement.

We are currently in the third parsha of Exodus, smack dab in the middle of the Passover story. In a series of escalating confrontations, Moses tells Pharaoh to let the Israelite slaves go free, so they can worship God in the desert. Pharaoh, as is well-known, declines again and again — despite ever-worsening plagues. Blood. Frogs. Vermin. Wild beasts. Pestilence. Boils. Hail. Locusts. Darkness. Finally, after the tenth and last plague — death of every first-born child — Pharaoh relents: “Up, depart from among my people, you and the Israelites with you!” (Exodus 12:31)

Next, though, comes a part of the story that I never knew before, growing up. On their way to freedom, a large portion of the Egyptian population (roughly one-third) gives the departing slaves “silver and gold, and clothing.” (Exodus 12:35)

Here’s the midrashic interpretation, from the Sages:

The silver and gold given (not lent) by the Egyptians constituted a protest against the policies of a royal tyrant. They demonstrated a renewal of public conscience. Similar gifts were given to the Jews leaving Babylonia to return to Judea.

In helping the Jews attain their freedom, the ancient Egyptians were awakening, in a sense; shaking free, themselves, from their extended malaise.

Some 3,500 years later, perhaps we are, too.