Bruce Springsteen was talking about compromise. Specifically, the type of compromise at the core of, Independence Day, a song at the emotional core of his 1980 double album, The River.
“It’s the kind of song you write when you’re young,” he said in Portland earlier this year, “and you’re first startled by your parents’ humanity. Shocked to realize they had their own desires and their own hopes that may or may not have played out the way they thought they would. And all you can see are the adult compromises they had to make, and you’re still too young to see the blessings that come with compromise.” As he said it, I looked over at my daughter, sitting attentively in her Moda Center seat, already up well past her bedtime — and the show had just begun. She loves Springsteen and has since I was working on my first book, Springsteen: Album by Album. “When can I see Bruce Springsteen?” she’d say over and again. Then she heard on the radio that he was coming to Portland.
She was almost 6, and he wasn’t getting any younger. I swallowed my fears and bought some tickets. About those fears: She goes to bed around 7:30 p.m., and the show wouldn’t even start until 8 p.m. He and the E Street Band were playing The River in its entirety, and while its rockers rock, its lows are slow and low down and side four might grind her tired little self into submission. And selfishly, Springsteen shows are important for me. They wipe the hard drive of cynicism. I tend to leave feeling better about my potential than when I arrived. Taking her meant worrying about snacks, general comfort level, navigating the bathrooms at a rock show. Daddy issues, basically.
We got to the arena early and we had great seats. I bought her a T-shirt and a snack and we made a few passes around the concourse. At 8 p.m. on the dot, Bruce and the band took the stage and he counted off the opener and we were off. She got to shout along and air guitar to Meet Me in the City Tonight, her current favorite. She pumped her fist to Badlands and she got to hear The Promised Land, one she’s been singing since she was 3. I got to hear Drive All Night — from the concourse, while we walked, because I was right about side four. It was tough.
To her credit, she made it 2 hours and 20 minutes and so if she’d been attending a performance by a mortal, she’d have pulled it off. But she was home and asleep by the time 66-year-old Bruce led a lights-up Shout well past the three-hour mark. I’d told her before the show we weren’t leaving early, but when she looked up at me and said, “I’m tired. Can we go home?” I said, “Of course.” The next day, a friend asked how she did. “She did her best,” I said. A couple of other friends who were at the show told me it was among their favorite Springsteen shows. I wouldn’t know. I spent most of the show making sure she was okay. On the quiet drive home, I returned to “the blessings of compromise,” which that night were arriving home before the show was over but hearing her say, “This was the best night ever,” and, during the opening number, “I love this so much my heart is beating like never before.” Maybe it was my favorite Springsteen show after all.