“Is there anyone alive out there?”
The call from the darkened stage is met with a cheer from the crowd.
The call is repeated with greater passion, “Is there anyone really alive out there?”
A thunderous roar erupts, the stage lights rise, and Bruce Springsteen lifts a hand to greet the assembled masses.
While Bruce’s customary concert rallying cry energizes his fans, it is also a promise to be fulfilled that night. A Springsteen concert is part rock show, part revival meeting, part philosophy class, and always a shot of adrenaline. Live or recorded, his music is a lesson in what it means to be alive.
Sky of blackness and sorrow (a dream of life)
Sky of love, sky of tears (a dream of life)
Sky of glory and sadness (a dream of life)
Sky of mercy, sky of fear (a dream of life)
Sky of memory and shadow (a dream of life)
Your burnin’ wind fills my arms tonight
Sky of longing and emptiness (a dream of life)
Sky of fullness, sky of blessed life
Come on up for the rising
Come on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight
These are lyrics from Bruce Springsteen’s song “The Rising.” The song was recorded following the tragedy of September 11, 2001. It relates the feelings of sadness being overcome by great hope.
I was lucky enough to hear Bruce perform the song live in 2002, bringing many of the audience to tears. At a time when our nation was still in pain, Bruce’s music was there to move us beyond the despair.
In 2002 Bruce spoke to the nation like he has spoken to me all of my life. As is true for so many other fans, Bruce wrote the soundtrack of my life. For every big event, every up and every down in my life, there is a Springsteen song I associate with that time.
During this new phase of my life, my life with multiple myeloma, he is here again.
In 2016 Bruce’s live tour included a complete performance of his 1980 double-album “The River.” It was released the year I graduated from high school, started college, and met my future bride. The songs on this record elicit strong memories for me.
“The River” is unique because it includes every type of Springsteen’s music. As Bruce describes it, the record is as big as life, and contains fun, jokes, dancing, laughter, good friendship, love and faith, lonely nights, and, of course, teardrops. His songs touch the full gamut of life, all the good and the bad.
When the tour was announced in December 2015, it looked like I was going to have to miss it. Initially he didn’t announce a Seattle concert, and the closest show for me would have been in Oakland in March 2016. A true fan would have figured out how to get to Oakland from Seattle.
However, the real problem was that it looked like I would be somewhere in the process of an autologous stem cell transplant at that time. I felt sad that my condition, and scheduling, would prevent me from attending the show. As Bruce and I both get older, it isn’t clear how many more chances there will be for me to attend one of his shows.
It was also about this same time that I stopped responding to the Revlimid (lenalidomide), Velcade (bortezomib), and dexamethasone treatments that I’d started in November 2015. This was definitely a low point for me, but things turned around in January.
I started on Kyprolis (carfilzomib), Pomalyst (pomalidomide), and dex and had a good response, so good that my doctor decided to extend the treatment and push my stem cell transplant to June.
Days later, Bruce announced a March 24 appearance in Seattle. The fates aligned. I was responding well to the new treatment and I was going to see The Boss.
During the show, I felt happy, sad, thoughtful, hopeful, inspired, and alive.
At the conclusion of the roller coaster of emotions ushered in by the 20-song performance, Bruce summarized his work this way:
“One of the things ‘The River’ was about was time, time slipping away. And how once you enter the adult life, you chose your work, you chose your partner. The clock starts ticking. And you walk alongside not only the people that you’ve chosen to live your life with, but you walk alongside your own mortality. And you realize you have a limited amount of time to do your work, to raise your family, and to try and do something good. Try and do something good.”
I felt as though Bruce was talking directly to me that night. How many times since my diagnosis a year earlier had I contemplated my mortality? What have I accomplished in my life? What regrets do I have? Could I have done more? Do I have time to finish what I’ve started?
How many times before my diagnosis did I think, “Oh well, today may slip away, but there is always tomorrow.” It shouldn’t take a cancer diagnosis, or a rock-and-roll show, to remind us that our time is finite. We owe it to ourselves to make something of every moment.
While some people might hear the negative in Springsteen’s remarks, in the context of all his music, I believe it is hopeful. Springsteen’s music encapsulates all of life’s balances. Loss balanced by love. Challenge balanced by opportunity. Sadness balanced by unbridled joy. Life is full, but bounded by time. Every moment is valuable and part of the next.
But living well doesn’t have to be so deep.
Bruce closed his nearly four-hour show with a rousing, get-out-of-your-seat cover of the Isley Brother’s party tune “Shout.” Even after standing all night, my bones didn’t ache, I wasn’t tired, I wasn’t thinking about my chemo treatment the next day.
That night in Seattle, Bruce reminded me how important it is to let go and to dance and sing because it feels so good.
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Photo Credit: (c) 2013 Mark Pouley
Like the lyrics from “The Rising,” the sky above North Twin Lake is a beautiful reminder of the balances of life. Moments after a torrential downpour and lightning storm, the winds calm and the sunset breaks through the clouds.