"Come on rise up, rise up..."
With those words from his song "My City of Ruins" -- written barely a month before 9/11 -- Bruce Springsteen continued the theme of redemption that runs through much of his work.
Bruce Springsteen at Hyde Park, London. © Jo Lopez
But, as I watch the sound bites about a general with a vaguely patrician name, my thoughts are on a different battlefront. Emails, texts and Facebook postings cry out at me from every corner of my online life. There is Rose, my accountant in Matawan, N.J., whom I have not been able to reach since Sandy presumably swept her life away. And Bob, my friend from childhood, whose telegraphed emails speak about one horrific turn of events after another. Tonight, his wife's brother has died, and they have lost power again, and he is writing to me from McDonald's, which, of course, has WiFi.
The chorus of Springsteen's gospel-like invocation was on my mind when the phone rang a week ago. It was a new friend I had just met on Facebook -- Jim Shive. Shive made many of the most memorable images of Springsteen in the early 1970s. He was breathless as the words spilled out about getting a group of Springsteen photographers together to raise money for the victims of Sandy along New Jersey's shore.
Bruce Springsteen and Clarence Clemons, 1974. © Jim Shive, the Shive Archive
I listened patiently, as my eyes drifted to my computer screen, and I read a Facebook posting I made a week earlier:
... for the first time, I think it's hit home. 9/11 affected a small number of buildings in a concentrated area of a few blocks. Sandy hit a much larger area, and affected a far greater number of people. As darkness falls an hour earlier this weekend, and as the first waves of an early winter frost kick in, and people find themselves queuing to vote or to get gas, the ripples in the pond are moving outward. It will be an unsettling Thanksgiving, celebrated by some, as the New Dispossessed huddle in shelters. We would all like to walk away from... from what? Haiti? New Orleans? Both worlds away. But we will all be forced to watch this and to squirm. It's an "inconvenient truth."
Jim's voice came back, and there was a brief, awkward silence. And then, resolve.
The truth is that whether you believe in Springsteen or not, you find some reason to believe. In the words from one of his songs, "faith will be rewarded." I hear that faith in the voice of Springsteen photographer Frank Stefanko when we talk, I hear it in the voice of photographer Lynn Goldsmith, and I see it in the laughing faces of the New Jersey police in her famous photograph of the "Boss," caught in the headlight of her flash at night as he was stopped for speeding.
Springsteen with New Jersey Police, Route 9, 1978. © Lynn Goldsmith
I asked her for the caption to the image, and I got a "beat" poet poem in return:
a cool nite
from manhattan to holmdel
rod stewart singin "Tonight's the Night"
drivin' fast down route 9
breaking the law
snap pop snap pop
pics with the boss
You are preaching to the choir when you talk to his fans, but when you talk to the photographers who have photographed him, you hear a deep, heartfelt resonance and awe that captures his own words when he was interviewed by Ed Bradley on 60 Minutes nearly two decades ago. Laughing, with an impish grin betraying his obvious delight, Springsteen said, "I make grown men cry." Never one to hide his emotions or self-deprecation, his words presaged the sight of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie unabashedly admitting that he had shed some tears when they hugged.
Bruce Springsteen, Haddonfield New Jersey, 1982. © Frank Stefanko
After Jim Shive and I hung up, we were on a mission -- to bring together a group of Springsteen photographers and some of the best images of Bruce in concert, on the road, and at home. More than twenty spectacular prints of Springsteen and his band soulmate Clarence Clemons -- ranging from the album cover of Springsteen's Nebraska to the album cover for The Promise -- are being offered right now at the Springsteen fan site Backstreets. Fans who make a $25 donation to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey will have a chance at getting a spectacular print in time for the holidays. Many of the prints are one-of-a-kind artist's proofs, and all are signed. One is even a rare platinum palladium print, and most of them have never been offered before.
Cover for the album 'The Promise.' © Eric Meola
"We've heard from Springsteen fans from all over who've wanted to help out in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy," says Backstreets publisher Chris Phillips. "People are particularly concerned about the Jersey Shore, the setting for so many of Bruce's songs as well the home of so many of his fans. The chance at owning one of these brilliant images can only help encourage and galvanize the support that's out there, and the FoodBank is an organization well-positioned to help displaced families and people in need."
"Springsteen Photographers for Sandy Relief" has a precedent -- in 2009 many of the same photographers came together for the first time to raise money for the FoodBank as their funds ran low. That effort resulted in more than $135,000 being raised.
And to us, that is the message of Springsteen's music. Bruce is about the fans, and the fans are about Bruce. He is the voice of our generation, and his music has followed many of us through our lives. This is our small way of thanking those fans and of sharing our work with them, as well as making them aware of their responsibility in honoring the message in the music that influenced who we are.
Gearing up for 'Wrecking Ball' © Danny Clinch
The eleven photographers are:
Danny Clinch, Lynn Goldsmith, David Michael Kennedy, Jo Lopez , Eric Meola, Neal Preston, Barbara Pyle, A.M. Saddler, Jim Shive , Pam Springsteen, and Frank Stefanko
Bruce Springsteen Writing a Song, 1990. © Pamela Springsteen