Soundinista: Who's The Boss? Door Is Open And Ride Ain't Free For Live Bruce Springsteen

-by Denise Sullivan

There was a time when rock ’n’ roll regularly served to inspire and act as a redemptive force in a world torn asunder. Ok, maybe that was too long ago for any of us to remember, but there was a time when the so-called American Dream was still alive in spirit, and people at least pretended to believe the country was redeemable. And if ever there was a musician who could give the listener the impression there was a reason to believe it was worth trying to keep faith and do good— if only for the length of a three minute song or three hour live show— it was Bruce Springsteen.

Over the course of 20 studio albums, countless audio and visual releases and several decades, Springsteen was so utterly convincing in his performance as the everyman who cared, some of us cleaved to his songs as words to live by. But don’t waste your time waiting for deliverance by Bruce or any other rock ’n’ roll messiahs in these hard times…

Over the past week, tickets to Springsteen’s 2023 world tour with the E Street Band went up for sale through Ticketmaster, commanding charges as high as $5,000 for one seat due to a corporate hustle known as “dynamic pricing.” Fans unwilling or unable to spend the equivalent of a mortgage payment or a decent used car were caught off guard, upset and genuinely disappointed in the Boss.

“I don’t want to sit next to somebody who paid five thousand dollars for one ticket,” said longtime Springsteen chronicler, author and journalist Charles R. Cross. A veteran of hundreds of Springsteen shows, Cross cited the thousand dollar tickets as a disconnect between Bruce’s everyman story songs that connected him with millions and an apparent lack of empathy for the characters he created.

“I don’t know where those characters are when they need to buy tickets for $5,500,” said Cross, conjuring visions of Springsteen’s Mary, Billy, Johnny and Terry.

In our full interview, Cross suggested Springsteen could’ve called off this nonsense immediately by refunding tickets, stopping further on-sale dates, and ultimately straightening out the mess.

“It’s against everything that I believe about rock and roll and everything that Bruce Springsteen’s music represents to me,” said Cross. “There are other ways this could be done.”

A founding editor of the Springsteen zine, Backstreets and author of Springsteen: The Man And His Music, Cross has written books on Seattle legends Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart; he’s covered the rock beat as a contributor to Rolling Stone and the Seattle Times. Throughout our interview he speaks with the authority of a critic and a fan on the ticketing scandal and the damage it could do to Springsteen’s legacy as an artist for the people.

“Try bringing your family of four or a kid to see Bruce Springsteen. It would cost as much as a year of college,” said Cross. He quoted Springsteen’s famous slogan, “Nobody wins unless everybody wins,” noting the irony in it.

Springsteen could’ve made a difference by taking a stand on income disparity during one of our country’s most difficult epochs; instead, he chose not to.

For the days that immediately followed the initial shock of the ticket prices, social media and news sources did their best to keep up with fan reactions and Ticketmaster and management’s statements. Official channels claimed only a fraction of the tickets fell into the thousand dollar plus category. The story is still evolving, but as of today, the Boss has yet to weigh in on the subject and it appears to be a disappointment to fans and observers.

“It feels as though the reason it hits so hard is we had the feeling that Bruce understood us, Bruce got us,” said Donna (first name only), founder and sole organizer of Bruce Funds, doing its best since 2012 to supply tickets to fans in need. Thanks to generous donations and a strong network of giving individuals, Donna has been able to live the Springsteen community credo, “We take care of our own.”

Bruce fans are truly a multigenerational and economically varied bunch. You’ll often find children, parents and grandparents attending shows together. Some remember when Springsteen famously appeared on the covers of news magazines, Time and Newsweek, within the same week in October of 1975, then broke through to wider audiences with his third album, Born To Run. Other fans date back to Springsteen and the Asbury Jukes’ beginnings as a club act along the Jersey Shore. But whether you care or remember when “Glory Days” was on endless MTV rotation, or when the E Street Band toured for “The Rising” post-9/11, you can surely recognize Springsteen as an artist who deftly tapped into a vision of an America that could be. Of course we continue to fall short on pretty much every score, but it seems it was a dream worth the price of the fight, and the soundtrack was all right: When Bruce sang “American Skin (41 Shots),” it was against racial profiling and police violence; when he sang “Born in the USA,” it was to shine a light on the cost of war to veterans; when he told the story of “Factory,” it hit close to home for Americans who lost their jobs in manufacturing; The Ghost of Tom Joad album acknowledged migrant workers and border crossers who left their own land only to find another kind of hell here. Springsteen on Broadway is yet another dimension of Bruce and another era entirely (I can only claim to have streamed the show; I did not like it).

As a fan who hasn’t been to see Bruce in nearly 20 years but was lucky enough to have seen him plenty, I’m not too bummed by the prospect of being frozen out on E Street ‘23. But I understand the dilemma and am appalled by the pricing scheme (my own household was gouged by Ticketmaster for a pair of Bob Dylan tickets this year). When did kicking down a few hundred or grand for a show become normalized? Are people expected to forego entertainment all together because it’s now cost prohibitive to attend a live show? Were it not for people like Donna and the donors to Bruce Funds, the whole arena at a Bruce gig might be filled with people who wouldn’t know the working life if it hit them with a two by four.

Donna recalled a meeting she had with Springsteen biographer and close associate, Dave Marsh.

“He heard what I was doing and looked me in the eye and said, ‘You get it. You walk it like Bruce talks it,’” she said. “I thought I knew what he meant back then but in telling you the story now, I understand it even more. Some of what we’re learning was always available to see. Maybe we just didn’t want to see it.”

Donna was initially disappointed to hear of the scandalous ticket prices. “I was so hurt and full of a private sense of betrayal, as if a contract had been broken,” she said. “The words to Bruce’s song, ‘The Promise’ leapt right to mind.”

When the promise is broken You go on living, but it steals something from down in your soul

“But I also feel I’ve taken on a responsibility. It’s a calling,” she said. Donna’s passion for sharing.

Springsteen tickets grew from the experience of going to concerts with her mother until she fell too ill to attend. Her mom has since passed but over 10 years, Donna has matched 600 concert goers in need with tickets to Bruce shows. Demand for Bruce Funds for the 2023 ducats is high, but there remains ambivalence among the hardcore.

“I know people who were fans from the start who are completely done. And I respect that. It’s a crisis of conscience,” said Donna. “Each person is going to arrive at a decision on their own.”

Donna had her own moment of doubt about going forward, but her resolve to help remains intact.

“It’s not about what Bruce does or doesn’t do, it’s about what I do or don’t do,” she said. “I will help people even if no one else wants to join me. I’ll still be the one person with an extra ticket, trying to help.”


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