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MARY CLIMBS IN co-author Lorraine Mangione on her one-week double-shot of Springsteen in concert

Updated: May 6

Syracuse, NY - April 18, 2024 - photo by and © Dan Reiner - used w/ permission

May 2, 2024

EDITOR'S NOTE: We at Letters To You are very excited and honored to feature essays on some of Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band's recent concerts by both co-authors of Mary Climbs In: The Journeys of Bruce Springsteen's Women Fans, an important book on which we've previously reported here. Last week, we featured an essay by Donna Luff, and this week Donna's Mary Climbs In collaborator Lorraine Mangione weighs in on her experience of seeing the recent shows in both Albany and Syracuse, NY. As was the case with Donna's essay, Lorraine's essay below is also accompanied by Dan Reiner's beautiful concert photography.

Two Springsteen shows in a week... supersonic emotional expansion/transformation for Bruce, me, or both? Frozen, absolutely frozen with anxiety, fear, sense of danger, not knowing, for the first several songs in Albany. My friends and the crowd around me were all swaying, pumping, singing, rejoicing, yet I couldn’t move. "Candy’s Room," such an intense way to start, yet I barely heard it. Was he okay? "What is going on with Bruce? Will this really work out? Are we really here? Is he really there? How much of a bullet had he dodged this past year? Is he okay? Is he okay? Is he okay?" All of this streamed through my mind and body as I stood there, close enough so that he was a real person, glancing at the video screens when I needed more assurance and detail.

“Letter To You” felt like he played it just for me, as it so resonated, every line. It was my life, particularly the last few years. And he eked out every possible thought, feeling, and connection as he delved deeply into all that song entails... the connection we all have, or feel we have, with him and his work. "The Promised Land..." yes, some hope, the theme that winds through all his concerts, yet seemingly more necessary, and so more recognized, now. Yet that doesn’t take away how hard life can be, whether in "Atlantic City" when you go ahead and make a deal that you might not really want to make, or when one is "Trapped," no hope, no exit ramp. My friend next to me had that as her signature song that she hoped for, and shrieked in utter joy, yet frozen, still frozen, I stood there while the audience screamed of being trapped. How can one reach the promised land when one is trapped? Bruce gets it - the coming together of impossibilities - and pushes on.

Finally, finally, finally, "Spirit in the Night," the preacher exhorting us all to feel the spirit, call and response, and I could feel it. My shoulders stopped hunching. I could sway (or is it wave) a bit, unlock something, join in the great church of Springsteen, gather together with others, feel the grace, and then the tears came. Years ago my own Jackie and Marvin died unexpectedly, way too early, a few of them, especially Gene, Cathy, Lynn, and Lisa, all Springsteen fans, and "Nightshift," my favorite from Only the Strong Survive, again, felt like he was singing it just for me, although I am sure so many folks in that arena have unresolved and tragic losses, and we all lost Marvin and Jackie, way too early, and now a friend has just lost a little grandson. Tragedies abound. Thank you, Bruce, for honoring them and reminding us.

Philosopher, minister, priest, spiritual guide, it was all there as he moved into "Racing in the Street" with the elongated ending, going up the scale slowly but surely, painstakingly, as we held together, holding out the hope for the woman to find new dreams, to get off her Daddy’s porch. Yes, we all need to keep living, even when one’s oldest friends are dying. “Grief is the price we pay for loving” wove together his tribute to his friend. Advice on how to live wove through all this, even given all the losses. So bring on the "Wrecking Ball" where, yes, all the dead are here, but so is the intensity of living and life, connections and dreams, honoring and surviving, feeling the anger.

Albany, NY - April 15, 2024 - photo by and © Dan Reiner - used w/ permission

His move to what felt like romantic relationships with "Because the Night" and larger societal issues and commentary, with "Badlands" and "The Rising," could have offered a respite from the loss and hope interchange, but I couldn’t really take in some of the songs. I was on a different plane. "The Rising," though, feels both personal and societal to me, and, no longer frozen, still very much alive, I was back with my NYC friend with whom I went to one of The Rising Tour's concerts. Tears fell, and I loved that my husband was right there. The empowerment and hope seep in there too, but I wasn’t feeling them. I wasn’t in Mary’s garden.

Albany, NY - April 15, 2024 - photo by and © Dan Reiner - used w/ permission

Clarence came to me, along with a few lost friends, with "Bobby Jean," and, of course, with loving Jake and what felt like a much bigger role in the band for him. Then I was a bit annoyed when Springsteen went into "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," not understanding how he could even do that without Clarence, but, of course, he did not let me down. He did it with Clarence, with his noting that “this is the most important part” when the Big Man joined the band, with the absolutely gorgeous pictures, with running through the crowds, and with Jake right there with him. Thank you, again, Bruce, for showing us how to do this with our loved ones who are gone, for memorializing, for doing what was said years ago: “Italians tend to keep their dead with them,”* which also fits with Springsteen’s words in his eulogy for Clarence.

*[Giordano, J., McGoldrick, M., & Klages, J. G. (2005). Italian families. In M. McGoldrick, J. Giordano, & N. Garcia-Preto (Eds.), Ethnicity and family therapy (3rd ed.). The Guilford Press.)]

Now we all can think about this, at whatever age, given Bruce’s age and his wisdom to know how to live, and to know that it won’t last forever. Yes, we will see each other in our dreams. Thanks for coming back and sharing that with us in Albany, Bruce. An incredible night….

And then something happened, to me or to him or to both of us, in the couple of days between shows, such that Syracuse was a whole different experience, even with some overlap in the music. I was no longer frozen with fear and anxiety, although a bit crept back when he and the band were later in taking the stage than they were in Albany. Uh-oh, is something happening back there, in the bowels of this gigantic mega-stadium that can hold a football field indoors?

Syracuse, NY - April 18, 2024 - photo by and © Dan Reiner - used w/ permission

But no, there they soon were, Bruce brimming with excitement and energy, even as he came out to greet us with - in comparison to "Candy's Room" - the somewhat less energetic opening song, "Lonesome Day." But "Lonesome Day," which still rocks, is also a song that so effectively sets the frame for the despair/hope juxtaposition that winds through so much of his work and his current presence. In cramped bleacher seats a straight shot all the way back from the stage and not conducive to standing or moving, "No Surrender" totally subsumed and screamed through my entire body, as I shouted and pumped out every word while it spoke to the decades-long fighting spirit. (I felt bad for the newly met fan on one side of me.) It was as if we were both back in school, busting out in our own ways, over fifty years ago, and somehow that had sustained us.

Moving directly into "Two Hearts," with Little Steven right there as their hearts and voices embraced in a frenzy, set the stage for the night for me. Hope, empowerment, love, and relationships will get you through... the bursting camaraderie with everyone in the audience, and even with the women in our fans research who were there in spirit.

I wasn't consumed by the loss and grief, as I felt in Albany, and it seemed that Bruce wasn't, either. Yes, the loss was still there in the setlist, the "Ghosts," the vows to remember, the honoring of his old and beloved friend, as the loss still was there for me. But Bruce was in a different mode around this set of life experiences. He was the teacher, mentor, and spiritual guide that the women in our research and book, Mary Climbs In: The Journeys of Bruce Springsteen’s Women Fans, described with such fervor and attachment. Maybe because he did not do “Letter To You,” the perspective shifted, perhaps less intimately personal? Maybe… Or, perhaps he danced into the other side of loss, what some grief researchers call “oscillating”, such that one does not always have to be consumed by the loss, and he was giving us the strength to be there, too.

Syracuse, NY - April 18, 2024 - photo by and © Dan Reiner - used w/ permission

"The Promised Land" brought me to my feet, despite only one other person in my whole section standing, but she was right behind me, so that gave me "permission" to stand, too. He was moving into his preacher stance and having way too much fun with the audience up front for me to stay seated. The giant video images in Syracuse flooded the arena and it was impossible to not see them, something I had to get used to and accept, as part of me just wants to see the real Bruce, as tiny and far away as he might be, but the videos gave us a front seat view into some endearing and amazing interactions with fans of all ages lucky enough to be so close, and lucky enough to play harmonica with Bruce.

"Atlantic City" was perhaps the best I have ever heard, the most intense and compelling, the seeing and feeling it in so much of life and death, in our world writ large and small, almost ubiquitous. Then he got to the emotional heart of the show… Which is when he really talked to us, straight from the heart, connecting with us, helping us, teaching us, knowing we all need each other to get to where we needed to go, to live with the losses, with our own mortality, with the friends and family who are leaving us. It was the conversation he has been quoted as saying he has with his fans. He walked us into "My City of Ruins," and the world shattered, as it did over twenty years ago, but he held it, and held us, as he did over twenty years ago. Part of how he did this was by really talking with us, by being there, directly, in what psychologists call “the here and now.” And the horns carried us through.

Syracuse, NY - April 18, 2024 - photo by and © Dan Reiner - used w/ permission

"Nightshift," what a gift to bring that back to us, to bring Marvin and Jackie back to us or, with the younger fans - and there were many - to introduce them. The horns and chorus singers took center stage with those on the nightshift, deepening it. His friend George was there, with the 45’s and the guitar and the KofC halls, as Bruce spoke of being the "Last Man Standing." His invocation of the years 1965, 1966, and 1967 with that first band as such monumental years in the history of our country—yes, let’s not forget that. Honoring those who came before us. I also felt his mother there, although I don’t think he named her, but she was there, with the early guitar. And his words of wisdom, again, to be put up on a banner: "Grief is just the price for loving well."

Then came the party, which brought us through, almost, until the very end, and my section, most of the arena, finally started standing up, moving, rocking, arms pumping. I was all in, totally overtaken, in a way I was unable to do in Albany, given the preoccupations. "Badlands..." I really felt it, shouted it, that it ain’t no sin. "Thunder Road," the all too famous line about which so many women in our fans research and book had so much to say, still singing it joyfully. "Wrecking Ball," feeling the anger that we need in our world these days to keep moving forward. How many times did he ask, “Are we having fun?” Somehow in there he included "The Rising," and, it got to me. My friend Lisa was there in New York City on that fateful day, and in Springsteen concerts with me so many times over the years. She's no longer with us physically, her birthday any day now, but as Bruce typically does, I came back... back to the hope, to the rising, to Mary in her garden.

Hard to say what was an encore, as the band never ever seemed to want to leave, but the giant party continued unremittingly with, of course, "Born to Run," and "The Detroit Medley," something I hadn’t heard in years and loved every minute of it. He already had introduced the band earlier, so I was thrilled when he introduced them again, as he just seems to have so much love and gratitude for all of them. He brought Clarence back, as he had in Albany, but tonight this felt more joyful and less sad, more honoring and less mourning. The Big Man.

Syracuse, NY - April 18, 2024 - photo by and © Dan Reiner - used w/ permission

And then, of course, the heartfelt ending. He will see us in his dreams, we will see him in our dreams, intimate and close. But it was the “Good golly, Miss Molly!” party that sustained us, that we walked out with, that accompanied us on our long drive home, and that kept us in the upswing of life. Ecstatic, my friends and I left the concert with comments like “Best ever!” “Unbelievable!” “Bruce was ecstatic!” “So much energy!” and "Played like it was his last”.

So what brought us to such heights of ecstasy? I would say his presence, his reaching out and really talking to - and listening to - us in his role as an artist and performer and ours as his audience, his commitment to the music, the band, and the fans. And his wisdom, his ability to see so much and work through it. As one woman fan said in our research, “Springsteen needs an audience; the audience needs Springsteen.” We were such a part of it, for so many reasons.

Yet for me, I keep wondering what happened between those first and second upstate-NY concerts that week, both amazing events but somehow different. Did I change, did he change, did the universe change, on the journey through life and through music, to frame each concert in its own unique individuality? What I do know, and "re-know"after having just seen both of these shows, is that women fans in our book have spoken of him as feeling like a friend, family member, teacher, mentor, guide, spiritual guide, and therapist. To me, he felt like all of those on each night.

Syracuse, NY - April 18, 2024 - photo by and © Dan Reiner - used w/ permission


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