Bruce Springsteen’s lesson – Song for a Sunday

I have to start with a disclaimer: I’m a Jersey Girl, which means I am, more or less by default, a huge Bruce Springsteen fan. I watched the video below because I will watch almost anything that involves Bruce and his band. But there’s much more to it than the band playing an old Chuck Berry song on request. Listen past the infectious beat of the music and I think you’ll hear Bruce Springsteen’s lesson — about working together and learning together. Even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone.

Bruce Springsteen's lesson involved a Chuck Berry song
Publicity photo of Chuck Berry, circa 1957

Fans prepare for Springsteen concerts like they’re going to a political rally. The floor of every arena he plays in is awash in handmade signs requesting songs they’d like to hear Springsteen sing. Not his own songs—mostly they request songs from other artists they want to hear him cover. At the end of his concert, Springsteen chooses one request and covers it.

At this 2013 performance in Germany, Bruce chose an old Chuck Berry song, “You Never Can Tell.” It’s a fun song, and I loved thinking about young Bruce identifying with the teenagers in the song and today-Bruce perhaps identifying with the people in the refrain:

“C’est la vie,” say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell.

Bruce Springsteen’s lesson

But I promised you a lesson. Springsteen hasn’t played this song in a while, so he starts blocking out the melody, trying to find the right key. Once he finds his key he keeps blocking out the melody—much more clearly and deliberately. He’s teaching his band the song, right there onstage. He gets the audience to sing the notes, too—giving the band more time to figure out the chord changes and learn the melody they’re going to riff on.

And then, once he’s sure everyone’s on board, he lets loose and they play the song.

So where’s the lesson? It’s got to be about more than learning new music.

Indeed, it is.

Pick whichever resonates with you:

The power of repetition to improve one’s performance—that’s the theory behind my daily writing practice, and we can see it at work in real time on this video.

If you want to get more business-y, you could see in this the capacity of a group working together to effect change.

But the first time I saw the video, this is what struck me: The band was going into (literally) uncharted waters. Some of them look so young that their parents probably never heard the song—unless they remembered it from the soundtrack of Pulp Fiction. They trusted in their talents and their instincts and in Springsteen’s capacity to teach and lead. And they delivered an outstanding performance.

So that’s Springsteen’s lesson for us this week, I think. Trust yourself. Step beyond your comfort zone. I mean, you never can tell.


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