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Report from Highway 9

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From the darkness he invited us. "Come on up for the rising."

And we did.

In mini-vans, tricked-out four-by-fours, stretch limos, and beat-up Chevrolets, Bruce Springsteen fans made their way to Greensboro last Saturday night, graying dads and soccer moms.

Informally called his 9/11 tour, this Springsteen tour, in support of his album The Rising is about faith and peace. "Badlands," a song from pre-1978, has figured prominently in his last two tours. Everyone knows all the words, and sings them back to him, in chorus, "I believe in the faith that someday it will raise me!" In one Saturday night encore he sang, "On this train, faith will be rewarded."

Springsteen started writing songs for The Rising after seeing his name mentioned several times in memorial biographies published in The New York Times for World Trade Center victims. He talked to family members. Bringing this tour and the songs to the people feels even more heartfelt and tangible than previous tours. Singing in thinly disguised metaphors about Sept. 11, he cries, "I want an eye for an eye. I woke up this morning to an empty sky." But his anger turned.

Sounding like he was speaking directly about current events in "Lonesome Day," he sang, "House is on fire, viper's in the grass, a little vengeance, this too shall pass. Better ask questions before you shoot." Introducing his anthem, "Born in the USA," he reminded us, "I wrote this 20 years ago for the Vietnam War. But now I'm singing it tonight as a prayer for peace."

The three-hour-plus show wasn't all serious and reflective; this is rock 'n' roll we're talking about. At one point, rounding an amp too fast, racing around the set, trying to say hello to EVERYONE in the house, Bruce fell off the stage! Oh my God, he's mortal! He continued his youthful antics though out the show with a bloody gash on his left forearm.

His tumble was a gentle reminder to each of us in the audience. It didn't go unnoticed that time is passing. With a nod to the next generations who now own the airwaves, Bruce spent one song pogoing and power-pop posing as our guitar hero. Songs about the ambivalence of growing older, written years ago never sounded more true now, and humbling. In "Glory Days," he chanted, "Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture a little of the glory of, but time slips away." Middle age mea culpa all around.

There were knowing nods and squeezes as we sang the lines to "Dancing in the Dark," with extra glee, "Man, I'm just so tired and bored with myself. Hey there baby I could use just a little help." Of course a few minutes later Bruce was laughing with bandmate, Miami Steve Van Zandt, "That's it! Time to go back to the hotel for some fried chicken."

The house lights came up. The full band strolled to the edge of the stage and waved goodbye. Sated once again, we slowly and orderly filed to the exits and interstate ramps. Back to the land of car pools, leaf blowers, shopping lists and laundries.

Born to run, but also to look both ways before crossing, and to have some faith.

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