Well, surprise, surprise, surprise, happy birthday to you Mr. Springsteen on this very special day. Greetings from Illinois, the Land of Lincoln. My name is Ryan Hilligoss, better known as “Ryan from Chicago” to regular listeners of E Street Nation and The Wild and The Innocent. While the music and programming on E Street Radio are excellent, what Dave, Jim, Vinnie and others, but more importantly, the listeners have truly accomplished has been creating an incredible community and collection of friends who have come together through this channel and developed true, meaningful friendships through your music. And because of this community, I was given the opportunity to speak today.
I’ve been thinking and stewing about this for a few weeks because what do I say to someone I’ve listened to on a daily basis for a very long time? What do I say to an artist whom I’ve admired since I was a ten year old growing up in Alton, Illinois where I was fortunate to have a cool, older brother who drove me around with The River, Nebraska and Born In The USA blasting from the tape deck as we rolled down the windows and let the wind blow back our hair? What do I say to someone whose music and art I’ve listened to and absorbed as part of who I am as a person all this time. What can I say that at this point in your life and career, that you haven’t heard a million times over? In the end, all I can say and would like to say, simply, is thank you.
In 1951, JD Salinger published his classic The Catcher In The Rye, in which his teenage protagonist Holden Caulfield had this to say, “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.” And while most of your “books” have been albums and songs, the same applies to me and you. With each song and album, I’ve listened, absorbed the music and words, reflected and wanted badly to call you and ask you questions or just let you know how much I enjoyed the music and the moment. Despite the fact I’ve seen you in person several times in concert, we’ve never met and probably never will, but by Salinger’s definition, we share a friendship over space and time built on the moments of time I’ve spent with you over the years watching or listening to a master craftsman at work. The point of culture and art is to connect us to our core humanity through the artists we come in contact with, and when we share those moments with our friends and family around us, those artists and their work become the fabric of our lives, our minds and our souls.
I have a blog site, unionavenue706 on wordpress.com where I write a lot about your music and a lot of other artists including Elvis Presley whom we both admire for his music, his impact on American and world culture, and for his personal story and his dreams of living in a better land where all my brothers and sisters walk hand in hand. After Elvis died, you said “It was like he came along and whispered some dream in everybody’s ear and somehow we all dreamed it.” One of my favorite songs of yours is Follow That Dream in which you took one of Elvis’s songs and made it your own. Just like in Jack of All Trades when the character says, “So you use what you’ve got, and you learn to make do. You take the old and you make it new”, you took an existing piece of art, rearranged the music, slowed down the tempo to dramatic effect and added new lyrics to make a masterpiece in which you sang about following our dreams no matter how distant they are and no matter where they lead until we can find the love we need.
You once said, “I believe that the life of a rock and roll band will last as long as you look down into the audience and can see yourself and your audience looks up at you and can see themselves, and as long as those reflections are human, realistic ones.” In 1965, Elvis met the Beatles at his Bel Air home and the five of them spent a few uncomfortable hours making small talk and playing a little music. Elvis was too racked with self-doubt and low self-esteem around the four Liverpool Lads who had stormed America, and the Beatles were in awe being in the same room with one of their idols. You’ve long played in concert with many of your inspirations such as Sam Moore, Darlene Love and Chuck Berry, and now, you’re returning the favor to those who grew up idolizing you such as Brian Fallon of Gaslight Anthem, The Dropkick Murphy’s and Eddie Vedder to name a few. You allow those younger musicians an opportunity to make a human connection, to “make that dream real.” That is the key difference between the two: Elvis’ artistry ended at a certain point in time, but you have continued to grow as an artist and as a performer. At the end of Elvis’ career, he could no longer look into the faces of his audience and see an accurate reflection because he could no longer see himself. Every night that you are on stage, you look into the faces of his crowd and make connections with the eyes and minds of your fans, bring fans onto stage to dance and sing, get help on vocals from younger fans on Waiting on a Sunny Day, and in the penultimate connection, literally puts your body and faith in the hands of his people by crowd-surfing from the back of the pit area back to the stage. You put your faith in your fans, and as they pass you forward, hand over hand, they repay that faith and belief in the promise of rock and roll a thousand times over.
Like Elvis and his music did for earlier generations, you’ve helped your listeners create true friendships that stretch across states, regions, the nation and across oceans. You’ve helped foster a sense of community filled with fairness, respect and concern for those around us, and that has formed what I like to call the collective unconsciousness of E Street Nation which holds all that is decent and true and righteous down on E Street!!!! On many occasions, you’ve talked about wanting to have a conversation with your fans on the topics and subjects that concern you and the world around us. Well, you’ve been having that conversation with us for 50 years now and it’s been one hell of a conversation, one filled with joy, laughter, tears, a lot of good times but also a lot of dark times. We’re always here with open ears, open minds and open hearts listening to you talk and in turn, you listen to us talk back whether in concerts, interviews, letters or messages like this. The next time you’re ready to start another conversation with another project or album, we’ll be here waiting.
During your concerts, often times we raise our hands in a sign of solidarity with you and the band but also in solidarity with our friends and strangers around us. As time goes by, together, with these hands, we’ll continue to search for the things that come to us in dreams, wherever they may lead and we’ll find the love we need. We’re all riding together on a universal Mystery Train towards a land of hope and dreams. A train that carries saints and sinners, losers and winners, the brokenhearted, lost souls and sweet souls departed, but in the end, we’re all good companions for this part of the ride.
Thanks Bruce. Happy birthday and may you have many more. We’ll be seeing you up the road.
(Expanded text of message recorded as part of a special project headed by Kevin Farrell and to be played on Sirius/XM E Street Radio to celebrate Springsteen’s 65th birthday.)