A Bird in the Airport
is like Bruce Springsteen.
I can’t quite put my finger on the feeling that you get when you see a bird in the airport. There you are, in the airport, breathing in toxic fumes from huge machines, dehumanized by security theater, usually toiling your way across glossy linoleum floors toward the mirage of a Starbucks at the other end of the terminal. And then suddenly you see a bird, usually flitting two stories above you from one metal beam to another. You immediately wonder how that bird got there—how it is staying alive, probably eating leftover muffins and chips that smell like old refrigerator. Your heart leaps as if nature is starting to work its way back into the apocalyptic scene that is an airport terminal. But you also know that bird isn’t supposed to be there, and that maybe it will never get out.
Recently, I watched the filmed version of Bruce Springsteen’s Broadway performance on Netflix. I’d never really engaged with Springsteen’s music until I encountered the live versions of the songs he sang on Broadway, with his commentary between the songs. It’s the commentary that made the songs make sense to me—what might have come across as self-contained rock music on a first listen revealed itself as vulnerable and personal. In the introduction to “My Hometown,” Springsteen describes Freehold, New Jersey, where he grew up:
Now when it rains in Freehold, when it rains, the moisture in the humid air blankets the whole town with the smell of moist coffee grounds wafting in from the Nescafe plant on the town’s eastern edge. Now, I don’t like coffee. But I love that smell. Was comforting. It united our town, just like our clanging rug mill, in a common sensory experience. There was a place here, you could hear it, you could smell it. A place where people made lives, and where they worked and where they danced and they enjoyed small pleasures and played baseball and suffered pain. Where they had their hearts broke, and where they made love, had kids, where they died, and drank themselves drunk on spring nights. And where they did their very best, the best that they could, to hold off the demons outside and inside, that sought to destroy them, their homes, their families, and their town.
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