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Springsteen at the Belfast Odyssey, contemporary worship music and singing with the choir

December 17, 2007

This is a difficult post to write in a way that’s not naff. But here goes.

I was at the Odyssey last night for the Springsteen gig. My ears
testify most effectively to it, because they’re still ringing, not from
the sound of the band, but from the singing of the congregation – for
that’s what we were, and Bruce was the choir master.

Two things  have been reaffirmed for me in a tremendously powerful way.

1. CONGREGATIONAL singing really matters. Not the stuff I’m often
required to do in church, in my own private space, but
kinda singing. Honestly, when the opening bars of Badlands began, the crowd roared and sang every word so LOUD that you couldn’t hear the Boss. That’s not one word of a lie. It was even more extraordinary with Born to Run.

People WANT to sing. Loudly and joyously. I just don’t think contemporary worship music does it. And that brings we to my second re-affirmation of the night.

2. We can only sing that way  with songs that journeyed with us through life. Songs that have had time to soak into mind and memory and spirit. Songs that become carriers of our personal history. I’ve listened to Springsteen’s songs since the early ’80s. That’s 25 years or so of life experience with the same music.





Darkness on the Edge of Town is a freezing cold Portadown in January 2 1984; The River is a stage and a broken string in Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland; Tunnel of Love is 1987 and newly arrived in Belfast; Tom Joad is the birth of my daughter; etc. etc. These songs have travelled with me and they are shared memory with friends.

Significantly the older songs in a Springsteen gig get the biggest reaction, understandably. All sorts of memories are generated with the opening bars. And it was these shared experiences and history that ignited our passions in full-throated singing, including the hugely successful manager of one of our local football teams, who was standing in front of me, who leapt into the air on the opening of Badlands as if his team had won the league again.

Anyway, what I mean to say is that to become truly community events, songs need time to seep into the DNA of a community like Springsteen fans or church congregations. I find that worship leaders simply don’t give time to this process in the rush to get to the latest worship hit.

The kind of songs which are robust enough to carry the narrative of a life through all its stages do not have a shelf life. They are not consumer items to be discarded when something newer and shinier comes along.

On my death bed I’ll be singing BTR or The Promise or something like that, rather than the worship song that was current between June and December 2007.

From → Music, Worship

  1. It started for me with Streets of Philadelphia in 1993.

    Although I still knew them – some of the older songs on Saturday didn’t impact me as much for exactly the reasons you’ve given.

    Thought the new songs rocked though!

  2. Ah Jonny, you need to be grey and grizzled like me. Badlands, BTR, Because the Night, She’s the One, Kitty…all hard to top. Funny enough the new stuff didn’t play as well as I expected. Gypsy Biker and Girls were muddled and lacked energy. But maybe that’s to do with a lack of familiarity.

    Still, we’re talking about degrees of excellence here. Apparently the Spice Girls played on Sat night, 1 hr 40 mins for 26 songs. We got 2 hrs 25 mins for 24 songs which near brought the house down.

  3. Yep I thought the sound was a bit muddy for some of the songs. Not quite “the big muddy” but took the edge off songs like summer clothes.

    The Rising/Last to die/Long Walk home – that sequence was breathtaking!

    I’m going to see the Verve tonight – I nearly don’t want to go because I think it will be so disappointing in comparison.

  4. Pistol Pete permalink

    Excellent reflection. Springsteen has certainly been one of the most (if not the most) effective worship leaders of our generation. Occasionally, I think, with his Biblically-laden language, he can even point people to Christ. We have a lot to learn from the Boss.

  5. Marti permalink

    I’m glad you enjoyed it as much as you thought you would – and maybe a bit more! I’m not a Springsteen fan myself but I get the exact same feeling from U2 songs that have been with me through the years – and the very same feeling at the last U2 concert I went to in Ottawa with Katie (my daughter) who is also a huge U2 fan! It was one of the most spiritual experiences of my life!

    Funny you should say you’ll be singing BTR on your deathbed – I’ve left strict instructions for ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind’ to be played when I pop my clogs!!! (although I hope its a ‘golden oldie’ by then!)

  6. Agreed Pistol. On Saturday he even blessed us all and the band with the sign of the cross. He left the front of the stage, filled a sponge with water and walked to the right of the stage, then threw water in the sign of the cross. Then did it to the Big Man and the rest of the band. Powerful moment. And as for Badlands: he hit it ‘I believe in the love that you gave me, I believe in the faith that could save me, I believe and I hope and I pray that someday it may raise me above these badlands’. He sang it on Saturday like he believed it.

    And Marti, U2 are baby Bruce, and I hope its a true classic before it’s played for you. (bet you never thought I’d do ‘Sweet!’ did you?)

  7. George permalink

    Great commentary on contemporary worship, on worship, and especially on the power of the Springsteen life/concert experience. I preached a sermon once using my Springsteen concert ticket stubs as reference points on my life journey in much the same way you use particular songs. Your insight about the power of the song being wrapped up in the way the song is intertwined with the journey is spot on. THE SONG for me is Thunder Road. As a high school kid with all the prerequisite teen angst the song resonated perfectly. And over the years it has continued to speak to me at different times in different ways. (As an aside there is a nice lyric in Girls In Their Summer Clothes – “She went away, she cut me like a knife, Hello beautiful thing, maybe you could save my life, In just a glance, down here on magic street, Loves a fool’s dance, And I ain’t got much sense, but I still got my feet” – that reminds me very much of the “She aint a beauty, but hey she’s alright” of TR). Anyway, well done.

  8. brilliant post, he’s coming through columbus in the spring, I’ll be there.

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