THE MADE IN AMERICA CONCERT
So the prevailing verdict, from everyone speaking on the matter, is that the Made in America was a huge success. It went off without a hitch; none of that blat blat you get shot by da gun boyeeee which many were cynically expecting from an event smack in the center of Killadelphia. Soon as I get in there, I meet Flagman by Ireland (i.e. the Irish Flag on the Parkway), once we see all these lil’ things walking by in flags, Flagman gets really excited – says – I haven’t seen this many people wearing American flags ever. Momma shoulda known better to drop you off and let you walk around in that alone…
In the end, however, even more impressive than the flag shorts and the hippidy-hop was the temporary feeling of community and hope that reverberated throughout the make-shift village. Once Flagman walks me to his crew, there’s a sense of goodness and universal belonging that Philly has lacked for a long time…I spot a couple of guys dancing to the reverberations of the Dirty Projectors and their dancing is complete revelry, with friends eliciting pure joy.
Throughout the evening, various cats give a quick glimpse of their joyful party-expressionism. For example, J-Dubs, Ellinger, The Man, waltzes up to say hello in passing, in a flag cape, as Captain MadeinAmerica, quickly shooting the breeze with a million dollar smile. “Let me tell you, my friend, this is the best weekend I’ve ever had. I don’t think it can get any better than this.” “Ellinger, you getting into anything good?” “Well, I can’t really get into details if you know what I mean, but don’t worry, I’m in a good state of mind. I don’t have a job, so I figure, shit, might as well have some fun, right?” Suddenly, Miss MadeinAmerica walks up to J-Dubs entreating, I’ve been looking for you, and she a bikini flag strapped to her chest and when I look away for a moment, in the corner of my eye J-Dubs lays his dirty-mind projector between her purple mountains majesty, but that’s just a hallucination, my own mind alteration of what reality is desired to be even if it is not. Mais non Ellinger quickly grabs Miss MadeinAmerica, with a shiteating grin, hot blonde on his side, Ellinger bids farewell and into the crowd, he’s gone…with his Maiden America.
Unfortunately, despite the populist appeal, this is an event for those with money to spend…sadly the thousands of homeless in the city had to enjoy the sounds from outside of the bounds of the festival, but even standing on the outer rungs looking in, despite the heartache of not being in the midst of the shit, still provided an uplift to those around, at least feeling part of something greater than the normal doldrums permit. The entire weekend ran $150 so this event (on Labor Day) was probably not as much for the working man or woman, but at $150 for two days of music, it’s something that a blue-collar type like myself could save up for and afford and therefore enjoy a sense of unsurpassed pride I have ever felt towards my hometown, the City of Brotherly Love. One of Flagman’s friends, a cheesy man from Quebec, with a Velveeta voice, who I will call Gruyere, explains it precisely, “Look I live in Baltimore now. We call Philly big Baltimore. As much as I hate this town, though – it’s beautiful…” He points to the Cira Center. I explain to him the evil lurking below the flashy veneer and synchronized lights of the Cira Center, “Look man, I used to work in that building. It’s rotten on the inside.” “Nonesense, he says.” Disagreeing, just like a Quebec born, French-speaking, Irish American would, “I’m not talking about what’s inside the building…” He’s mumbly, drumbly, hard to understand… “Of course the work that’s inside the building is like that. Shit everywhere. Bigger Baltimore. More shit. Shit fuck football team.” Then, Gruyere’s French Canadian optimism comes out, “Nonetheless, look, it’s beautiful. Look around. Buildings, City Hall and William Penn watching, people crowded around even on the streets outside, no gunshots, magnifique!”
He’s right. The whole night has been perfect. Ever since I parked my car on the Chestnut St. bridge (there’s usually parking there) and began walking along the Schuylkill river bike trail, drinking a Southern Tier Double IPA that I had purchased at the Wegman’s bottle shop on Marlton Pike, NJ, out of a WaWa plastic cup that had been formerly a 36 oz. diet coke, I noticed people everywhere, in colorful shirts, exercising, walking, fishing in boats on the river. It was simply a festive time of coming together. The whole Schuylkill Trail buzzing with excitement, as loud vivacious sounds of the Dirty Projectors washed over our heads like a musical quilt, patched together with harmonies, bass drums, a lone guitar solo. Their harmonies projected sheer brilliance in terms of knowledge of sound and overtones, how the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts, while the crowd eats their sound, with joy, however, not like how America Eats Its Young, with fear and loathing.
Walking to the show on the Schuylkill Trail, You didn’t even notice the whir and buzz of cars on I-76 expressway, cars typically moving upwards of 70 MPH, either those cars were less numerous, understanding for a moment the beauty of rest on Labor Day Weekend, or for a change they weren’t the loudest noise makers along the river walk. The Dirty Projectors were drowning that car-noise-pollution out…Soon I was chugging the crap out of this double IPA, standing next to a trashcan like a homeless guy, so I could get in there as quickly as possible. No one even seemed care or shoot dirty looks to the old young guy choking this high ABV beer down, because ultimately, nobody cared about vagrancy today – c’est la vie, nous sommes tous vagabondes!
The Parkway morphed into the most beautiful of cityscapes – oh city to be not dominated by the automobile. Beginning from the river, cutting in front of the Art Museum, then around the perimeter of the concert, towards the box office of 22nd street – what a beautiful world it would be without the constant clogging and disruption of cars. To walk around the urban environment, not feeling crowded or enclosed on the sidewalk alone, a place to walk in a city as big as the sky above! Without cars, the walkway, the street, had again, become a market, a place to walk, not a place to fear. Without cars the Parkway became a greater community within the communities. People meeting, falling in love. Coming together under the cool summer night. Oh Creation! Things were happening on the inside. A true village! Stuff! Food trucks! Beer! And there is the Flagman waiting by Ireland.
As he acted as a my guide, pointing in the directions of this utopian village, the sounds from the stages continued in waves.
Skrillex’ played a short set, which came from the stage on a hill, north of the main stage. The Thriller from Skriller demonstrated why “Dub Step” is truly amazing. Those of us who appreciate hip hop recognize it as the amalgam of jazz, rock, fusion, reggae. Dub step then adds hip-hop and electronic to the mix, with upwards of 16 tracks on a single song, with all popular music humans know and love coming together. It’s the newest sound, not because it’s all that new, but because it combines everything before it, forces us to dance, forces us to push ourselves farther than ever before, louder, scarier, and if you just face it with a blank slate, you realize you are facing the most advanced music the universe is offering us at this time.
Just when it couldn’t get any better, Skrillex ended and on walked Jay-Z to the main stage.
Jay-Z’ greatness cannot be understood until one sits before the grand reverend of rap. He is the Jigga, Hova, and as you sing H to the Izzo, V to the Izzay, you realize that the hand of Creation has truly blessed this man. His power is the line, his understanding, the word, turning a dark and dangerous urban landscape into an opportunity. Empire State of Mind comes on, and the excitement that Beyonce’ would be on stage soon, followed by the disappointment that Beyonce’ was not on stage…only better justified the excitement a few moments later when Kan-yezzey makes his special appearance before the Philly crowd. I lose my shit…KANYE! KANYE!!! OH MY GOD! KANYEEE! Dr. Blyth Goodlove – my love for the evening and throughout this glorious summer – looks at me with shock and awe, thinking, oh no, this partyboy finally lost his mind. “What is wrong with you?” She mouths to me…No shine blocking goddamit…it’s KANYE! KANYAAAYY! I scream from what might as well be miles from the stage. He can’t hear me over any of the other ridiculous screaming going on. He’s here!
And yes, Kanye was here…for a moment, Kanye wanted to see us. HE came here for US! We didn’t know Kanye was gonna show up, but he did – because THIS WAS THE PLACE TO BE! Kanye came here because he wanted to see us…and this is the power of the party. This is the importance of the party. It let’s everyone feel part of their own movie, their own life, those whom we see on TV and idolize, suddenly they are for the people, with the people, and by the people. Although divided from one another due to distance and status, we all become part and parcel of the same party, same essence.
After all of this greatness, I had to try to at least catch some of the second night – see Pearl Jam, innovators of grunge. Rock and Roll emo. Born from the examples of the legends, like Neil Young, Lou Reed, Jimi, Bowie, and Bruce. In the midst of their amazing set, featuring Jeremy, Alive, all the hits, Eddie Vedder even goes into a monologue spouting some pinko nonsense, championing middle class honest workers. This song is a song about someone who does everything right, raises a family, gets up, goes to work, then he loses his job even though he did everything he was told. Flagman starts joking, “This guy clearly hates Mitt Romney…who loves firing people.” Well, it’s true. Pearl Jam is a bunch of leftists…if the conservatives of the world who supposedly love no taxes and little regulation, and somehow also love Pearl Jam and rock n roll, actually listened closely to the music and knew what these guys were about, they would burn their records and never let their kids listen to this music. The empowerment of the music, its criticism of unchecked consumerism, promotion of populism, these are not songs intended for you to listen to in your Benzos before slashing jobs and making “the difficult decisions” leaving people out of work and desperate. Oh America, who loves rock music so, yet has built a society completely contrary to the views of Pearl Jam and baby Jesus. Outside of Seattle, the views are hated but the music so loved. What’s really going on? What would the world look like if we really turned it into the place championed by those artists whom we truly love and respect as a society. What would be so bad about that?
Eddie Vedder Takes a spill while party-dancing.
ENDING THE WEEKEND WITH THE BOSS
So what better way to end this Labor Day, pinko inspired, yet consumerism driven weekend than with the Boss?
For a long week of partying, awakening, discarding misunderstandings, and facing problems (knowing there is an election on the horizon), the Boss was an appropriate way to end it all.
The Boss’ final show (which ended on Labor Day, 2012) wrapped up possibly the greatest run of partying in Philadelphia since the bicentennial. Somehow, too, Philadelphia, the birthplace of Freedom via a Constitution that legislatively approved slavery, was the appropriate place for the partying to go down. If Madonna was the appetizer on Tuesday, Aug. 28, and Made in America was the entrée on Sat-Sun., then the Boss was the cherry-bomb on top. Since my childhood when the song “Born in the USA,” I have always had a thorough misunderstanding of the Boss. I assumed his music simply promoted mindless cheerleading of U.S. nationalism and jingoism, assuming the song to be a simple anthem. No, “Born in the USA” is not a simple cheer but a mirror, a contradiction that criticizes America as much as it promotes it. The Boss, like everything great about the US, is an enigma, a paradox swimming against the paradigm yet excelling in it – a Jewish Catholic Italian – highly patriotic, yet highly introspective and cynical as well. Nothing the Boss does is simple, and his message runs deeper than the surface. The opposite of a rote cheerleader. When conservatives blast “Born in the USA” from parties or cars, too often they miss the anti-war message, the criticism of the USA as a war machine, a country that will send its homegrown to fight political wars, for the egos of politicians.
After the ironic success of “Born in the USA,” the Boss become more folksy and quiet. The E. Street Band took a hiatus and the songs got slower, so it wasn’t that easy to get turned on to the Boss in the 90’s. So it just passed me by, so I stuck with Prince and Michael from the 80’s and lived my life in blind ignorance. However, ever since the Sopranos, the Jersey Shore, the Jersey Boys, Boardwalk Empire has made the country again appreciate all that is Jersey (including Bon Jovi – oh yea!) and Jersey’s national treasures, the Boss has had a huge renaissance. Add the fact that the E. Street Band is touring with the Boss again, and viola – by ways of a party epiphany, I can see the Boss in a new light – the shining light for which is deserves. The Boss is a legend, playing to the party for nearly 40 years now, and according to his own legend, the Boss brings the same power now as he did 40 years ago, a potency unmatched by any living soul with the exception of Madonna. Certainly, if James Brown were still alive, there might be a male competition.
And when the Boss sings, he doesn’t sing for ideas, he sings for people. We, those lost souls, singing for them/us, repping them/us, telling stories about and for blue collar America, or anyone else who is hardworking – rich, poor, middle class alike – we all feel better because the Boss is there and he understands how hard it is to get out everyday and do it. He means so much to us all simply because he tells our story, and makes it sound manageable, as if we can continue to work hard because he works so hard on stage, and particularly for those people from New Jersey (a place that only the Boss could love, full of day laborers and industry, crowded highways and strip malls, a place to be loved not all of that but because, there are hard working people just trying to make a go of it for their families…this is our hometown.).
The stories, the shared experiences, the spirits, love, and we are in a sense, from Bruce’s hometown, we all have our own Ashbury Park, and we all even have a little bit of New Jersey in us – the attitude, the love for leisure and recreation, the love for the beach. The Boss understands these common threads and he weaves it together thematically on stage as well as any musician. He can touch you from 600 feet away and feel like he is singing to you directly.
In the middle of the show, the Boss started talking of ghosts. We are all touched by and affected by these spirits in the night, in our lives, moving us in ways we can’t possibly be aware of, but there is spirit in everything “even in this guitar” he says.
The Boss then tells a story of the meaning of work, how important it is and how we should be grateful for work – those of us who have it – My father searched for work his entire life and could never find a steady job. Struggled to support his family. And My Mother, says the Boss, was the type who would sleep into the mornings and wake and be caught up by the spirits in her head. She would take me and my sister to the graveyard, and we would look at the names, sometimes laugh at the names unfamiliar, think about who these people are, feel their presence, feel their spirits.
The Boss, like Patron Saint of Labor Day, along with Eddie Vedder, his squire – helped me to understand the importance of work and why it is so tragic when people lose it. They have gone through life, doing the right thing, doing what they are told, simply to survive and support those whom they love. Then, when the plant closes down, to no fault of their own, the whole thing, everything that has been built around them, everything they love – family, life, pride – becomes in jeopardy. How different is that message from the message of those other hacks…My fellow Americans, yes, I enjoy firing people…and why would we want to live in such a place?
Once Badlands comes on, Beerman points out that Eddie Vedder is actually in one of the luxury boxes and dancing away in delight to the Boss. I think to myself – in a David Byrne-type moment – how did I get here – how did I deserve any of this – what have I done to be so lucky…we all need this – we all need a Boss singing to us. We all need it all over the world. This is what we need everywhere – all those places and people that don’t love America – just bring Bruce and the E. Street Band to sing Badlands to them – and all will be well. Take the party to East Africa, take the party to Afghanistan, take it everywhere – so those who have hatred in their hearts can understand that we are all brothers and sisters together. If we can just remember that then we might get through these modern times and truly achieve our potential as humans.
As I am floating in a land of spirits with the E. Street Band as my guide, and Dr. Goodlove by my side, suddenly the stadium lights come on during Dancing in the Dark, a song essential to our collective identity as Americans, meaningful because it is a story of love, youth, and hope. Tears begin flowing before the Boss, a pastor without a cause except for making us dance and love each other, a man who is powered by our collective love. It gets him through the night. At the end of the night, during the encore, he sits down and takes off his black books and tips them upside down and a steady stream of sweat come straight out of the boots. Then he introduces us to the “momma kissing, curphew hating, music loving, Viagra taking, E! Street! Band!” and we have traveled through his world, which is only a take on the world we all know and love, and we all feel grateful for his guidance through the evening. Those before the Boss, come out of the show just a little more hopeful, optimistic, because even though we all have hardship, we just need to keep each other’s back and we’ll be fine.
Leaving Citizens Bank Park, I tell Dr. Goodlove, “You can really understand why Eddie Vedder is a fan of the Boss. Their messages are similar, if they don’t do it in a different manner. Plus the music is so good. The saxophones, the layers, the seemless transitions. It created a fabric of tones I did not expect.” The Boss basically told us the story of Labor Day – we as people need to work – it’s a fact of life – but when we stand by each other through our journey, and not cut each other down or hurt others simply to benefit ourselves, we can all get through it together, and be stronger, and better for it in the end.