It is the hackiest way to begin a story (“It was a dark and stormy night”), but in this case, the night truly was dark and stormy, so I guess it’s fair to say a cliché led us to this moment. So, if you’ll indulge me, I want to share my own version of that time-honored story, the one of how a truck ride in Haiti led to a musical night in Nashville.
It will, of course, involve Bruce Springsteen.
In May 2009, I found myself in the back of a truck with my two youngest nephews (the oldest remained dry up front, occasionally looking back to check on us/mock us), riding along the broken-up streets of Haiti during a storm with raindrops falling more like soft pellets from a black sky that found itself lit only by our headlights and lightning flashes.
To keep the youngest nephew calm (and in the interest of full honesty, to keep myself calm, too), I suggested we sing, but none of us knew any of the same songs. They were, at that time, 11 and 8, so our musical tastes somewhere between The Beatles (mine) and The Doodlebops (theirs), although to be fair, I have no idea if they actually listened to the Doodlebops, but that seems like something an 11- and 8-year-old would listen to.
I vowed that night to get them into Springsteen, and soon enough, thanks to some albums I shared, all three of the boys became fans of The Boss. In November 2009, they saw their first Springsteen show — they were with their parents in the seats, I was on the floor in the general admission area with friends. Three years later, the youngest two were again in seats (this time with their mom and grandmother), while I was on the floor. The middle nephew, Nathan, said he enjoyed it but “wished (he) was down on the floor with Kevin.”
I knew I’d have to make this happen.
Tomorrow, it will.
My three nephews and I are heading to Nashville, with tickets on the floor in the general admission area to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. I’m not sure who is more excited: my nephews or me (I’m limiting the choices to them or me, although I can’t be certain Springsteen himself wouldn’t be equally as excited for us, if he only knew).
For the boys (Matthew, Nathan and Jon), it’s a chance to go on a road trip with their (the adjective here had better be “favorite” although I’ll also accept “coolest”) uncle. It’s just three men, hitting the road, with the radio loud and the rules lax (although not too lax; I am, after all also fond of the adjective “responsible.” Also, their parents and my parents are reading this).
For me, it’s a bit deeper.
I have no children of my own, and at this point, I’m not certain I ever will. While that could change, nothing will ever change the way I feel about these three young men. They make me proud, daily, in ways they can’t understand. I realize my bond to them will never be like a father to a child, but I have my own kind of love for them, in ways that are special to an uncle. I can talk to them in ways their parents can’t. Because of that, I think (hope?) I can be a positive influence in my own style.
I want to take them all and hug them tight, telling them not to make the same mistakes I made.
But I know that won’t work.
They’re going to make their own mistakes. They’re going to fail, and they’re going to learn.
They’re going to grow apart from some friends, grow closer to others, fight with them, maybe not talk for years, but if they’re lucky, the bonds can be repaired and they won’t have friends but more brothers.
Thursday night, I want them to watch Springsteen and the E Street Band play. Watch how they have fun. Watch how they interact. Watch how they love what they do and who they’re doing it with. I want my nephews to soak that up and someday find a job they love as much as Bruce et al love what they do.
And I want them to realize that it’s not always going to be easy. I’ve struggled finding my way, just like they’ll struggle finding theirs. Bruce hasn’t always played with the E Street Band. Hell, he’s’ not always gotten along with them.
Listen to his words when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: “We struggled together, and sometimes, we struggled with one another. We bathed in the glory, and often, the heartbreaking confusion of our rewards together. We’ve enjoyed health, and we’ve suffered illness and aging and death together. We took care of one another when trouble knocked, and we hurt one another in big and small ways. But in the end, we kept faith in each other.”
Springsteen’s songs can generally fall into one of three categories: being young, growing up and growing old. So tomorrow in Nashville, and on the way to the show, these three boys—these constant reminders of the glory of youth—and I will be celebrating a couple of those themes. For three-plus hours there in Nashville, as Bruce plays his heart out, we’ll all be young and growing up.
We’ll save the growing old for later.
And when that time comes, we’ll grow together, arm in arm, heart to heart, blood on blood. We’ll always have this trip. We’ll always have Springsteen.
We’ll always have each other.