“Springsteen on Broadway”
Coming to terms with where you’re from, what that means, and all those other surrounding existential situations is something Bruce Springsteen has always swung at and danced around as a musician, but maybe never so nimbly or astutely as in “Springsteen On Broadway,” his run at the Walter Kerr Theater in New York City, a documentary of which is currently streaming on Netflix. Nostalgia, reflection, straight-forwardness and classic songs are at the heart of the filmed version of the multiple-month run that The Boss did on Broadway.
“I come from a boardwalk town, where everything is tinged with just a little bit of fraud … so am I,” he confesses in the opening monologue, eventually breaking into “Growin’ Up,” the second song from his debut record, standing on stage alone. Just him and a guitar.
“I’ve never had an honest job in my entire life,” Springsteen says halfway into the first song. “I’ve never done any hard labor. I’ve never worked nine to five. I’ve never worked five days a week, until right now … I don’t like it,” Springsteen said, as the crowd laughed. “I’ve never seen the inside of a factory, and yet it’s all I’ve ever written about. Standing before you as a man that has become wildly and absurdly successful, writing about something of which he has had … absolutely no personal experience. I made it all up. That’s how good I am.”
The film acts as part confessional, part here’s-what-I’ve-learned wisdom, and before the second song, “My Hometown,” he leaned into both, diving into something ubiquitous, something Springsteen captures so well.
“Everyone has a love/hate relationship with their hometown,” Springsteen says. “It’s just built into the equation of growing up. If you take me, I’m mister “Born to Run.” I’m mister Thunder fucking Road. I was born to run, not to stay. My home, New Jersey … it’s a death trap. It’s a suicide wrap. Listen to the lyrics, alright. I got to get out. I got to hit the highway. I’m a roadrunner. Man, I got white line fever in my veins. I am going to bring my girl and I’ve had enough of the shit that this place dishes out. I am going to run, run, run, and I’m never coming back … I currently live ten minutes from my hometown.”
It’s that coming-to-terms mentality that’s at the core of “Springsteen On Broadway,” a scripted concert that pulls at heartstrings while being affable and funny at the same time. For most of the film’s runtime, Springsteen is onstage alone, with the exception of being joined by his wife, Patti Scialfa, for two songs from the album “Tunnel of Love.” While best known for building big, soaring rock songs with the E Street Band, Bruce cuts every track to its bones on “Springsteen On Broadway,” magnifying the lyrics and their meanings. If you like Springsteen and his earnest, heart-on-his-sleeve sensibilities, then “Springsteen On Broadway” is a must-watch. It’s not going to convert non-fans, but it provides the sort of up-close look that the best interviews uncover. For being a show that he played over and over, the Netflix special has a lot of impact, conveying the ambitious magnitude that it clearly shoots for. The purpose of “Springsteen On Broadway” was to create a revealing and vulnerable look into the insecurities and issues of an icon. To show the average side of a cultural giant. To make him one of us. It’s a barrier he’s been chipping away at his entire career, and this is his master’s class.