Today’s blog is about Bruce Springsteen’s song, “Long Time Coming’,” from his 2005 album Dust & Devils. The song unfolds during a family camping trip, viewed through a father’s eyes. The album version is classic Springsteen, backbeat-driven with gorgeous background vocals on the chorus. But the way he plays it in his one-man show, Springsteen on Broadway — slower, just Springsteen accompanying himself with an acoustic guitar part that is pure poetry — is literally breathtaking.
Springsteen sets up the song with a story about his own father, who drove 500 miles, unannounced, to pay his son a visit just before the birth of Springsteen’s first child:
Up until then, Springsteen said, his father was his hero and his greatest foe. This surprise visit was, he said, “the greatest moment in my life with my dad. And it was all that I needed. ” The story, is about the song it introduces, is breaking free from the damage that has been lifetimes in the making:
In the song, the father is urgent in the moment, and the moment is sacred. The song he is singing is not just for himself:
Later on, he watches over his family, sleeping safely in the glow of a campfire, and what he sings is somewhere between a vow and a prayer:
The kids in this song would be all grown up by now. In my mind, their story has a happy ending. The father lives up to his personal vows. And the children he and his wife raise grow up to be full human beings, rich in gratitude and self-love, with generous hearts and compassion for others. They will certainly make mistakes, and their sins will mainly be their own. In other words, it gets better.
Bruce Springsteen’s father was a source of pain in his son’s life, but in the end he showed up for his son in a way that was profoundly loving, and life-changing. Truth is, most of us come from at least some damage, and we pass some of it on to the next generation. We’re all someone’s children. We can’t change the past, but there’s value in trying to understand it, because we’re all parents to the future as well. It’s up to us whether we acquiesce to our pain, or we follow Springsteen’s lead and come up with our own fresh map, that guides us on a journey toward inner-freedom and self-love. That’s the choice we get. And what we do about it truly matters.
Springsteen said it beautifully, talking about his dad. “We are ghosts or we are ancestors in our children’s lives. We either lay our mistakes, our burdens upon them, and we haunt them, or we assist them in laying those old burdens down and we free them from the chain of our own flawed behavior. And as ancestors we walk alongside of them. And we assist them in finding their own way, and some transcendence.”
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