On Saturday, Bruce Springsteen kicked off three days of Vote For Change concerts on behalf of Barack Obama with a powerful acoustic set that drew estimated 50,000 to the Ben Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia. Cutting a distinctly Woody Guthriesque profile in rolled up flannel, denim and tousled hair, Springsteen stood atop a 30 foot high stage emblazoned with the word “CHANGE” and belted out a seven-song, 45 minute acoustic set as a gift for Obama volunteers and a catalyst for the disengaged to register to vote. Plenty of people heard the call — according to the Obama campaign, some 21,000 new voters were registered as a result of the event.
“I’m not Barack Obama, but I’ll do my best,” said Springsteen, before wheezing his harmonica like an angry freight train launching into a tense, jingle-jangle reading of “The Promised Land,” his 1978 affirmation of faith in the ideal American in a time of dwindling opportunity and diminished expectations.
Four songs later — including a like-minded “The Ghost Of Tom Joad,” the obligatory “Thunder Road” and the rarely-heard “Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?” — Bruce spoke humbly about why he believes in Barack Obama. “I’ve spent most of my creative life measuring the distance between that American promise and American reality. The distance between that promise and that reality has never been greater or more painful. I believe Senator Obama has taken the measure of that distance in his own life and in his work. I believe as president, he would work to restore that promise to so many of our fellow citizens who have justifiably lost faith in its meaning.”
After a mournful rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” Springsteen sent the people back out onto the streets with marching orders to take their country back from “those who who would sell it down the river for a quick buck.”
Set List: “The Promised Land”
“The Ghost of Tom Joad”
“Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?”
“This Land Is Your Land”
Bruce Springsteen’s Speech:
“I am glad to be here today for this voter registration drive and for Barack Obama, the next President of the United States.
“I’ve spent 35 years writing about America, its people, and the meaning of the American Promise. The Promise that was handed down to us, right here in this city from our founding fathers, with one instruction: Do your best to make these things real. Opportunity, equality, social and economic justice, a fair shake for all of our citizens, the American idea, as a positive influence, around the world for a more just and peaceful existence. These are the things that give our lives hope, shape, and meaning. They are the ties that bind us together and give us faith in our contract with one another.
“I’ve spent most of my creative life measuring the distance between that American promise and American reality. For many Americans, who are today losing their jobs, their homes, seeing their retirement funds disappear, who have no healthcare, or who have been abandoned in our inner cities. The distance between that promise and that reality has never been greater or more painful.
“I believe Senator Obama has taken the measure of that distance in his own life and in his work. I believe he understands, in his heart, the cost of that distance, in blood and suffering, in the lives of everyday Americans. I believe as president, he would work to restore that promise to so many of our fellow citizens who have justifiably lost faith in its meaning. After the disastrous administration of the past 8 years, we need someone to lead us in an American reclamation project. In my job, I travel the world, and occasionally play big stadiums, just like Senator Obama. I’ve continued to find, wherever I go, America remains a repository of people’s hopes, possibilities, and desires, and that despite the terrible erosion to our standing around the world, accomplished by our recent administration, we remain, for many, a house of dreams. One thousand George Bushes and one thousand Dick Cheneys will never be able to tear that house down.
“They will, however, be leaving office, dropping the national tragedies of Katrina, Iraq, and our financial crisis in our laps. Our sacred house of dreams has been abused, looted, and left in a terrible state of disrepair. It needs care; it needs saving, it needs defending against those who would sell it down the river for power or a quick buck. It needs strong arms, hearts, and minds. It needs someone with Senator Obama’s understanding, temperateness, deliberativeness, maturity, compassion, toughness, and faith, to help us rebuild our house once again. But most importantly, it needs us. You and me. To build that house with the generosity that is at the heart of the American spirit. A house that is truer and big enough to contain the hopes and dreams of all of our fellow citizens. That is where our future lies. We will rise or fall as a people by our ability to accomplish this task. Now I don’t know about you, but I want that dream back, I want my America back, I want my country back.
“So now is the time to stand with Barack Obama and Joe Biden, roll up our sleeves, and come on up for the rising.”