speaking of america, born in the usa faced hungry heart in the finals--i went born in the usa. it wasn’t an easy choice, but i feel good about it. i found the springsteen song bracket on instagram and had a blast filling it out. there was a real upset in the first round when better days knocked out atlantic city.
i thought of the end of your last letter, hoke, when browsing the boss’s catalog for lesser known gems not included in the bracket. to name something is to welcome it as part of our reality, you said.
in the fields of the lord stood abel and cain cain slew abel ‘neath the black rain at night he couldn’t stand the guilt or the blame so he gave it a name
here, by naming, cain welcomes something other than the truth into his reality. he names in denial, for relief. thereafter, murder is just a thing that happened, happens. you should check out springsteen’s record the ghost of <quote-01>tom joad<quote-01>, hoke--fan of nebraska that you are. it’s a quiet record, lyrically dire, not as lo-fi as nebraska--he’s pushing the fuck out of the pre-amps on that thing--and <quote-02>certainly not as wet, but every bit as intimate<quote-02>.
while we’re on the subject of names: henry jones sr. chooses to name his son after himself, but young indiana decides he’d rather be named after the dog. in the film’s final scene, indiana hangs by his father’s arm over the edge of the abyss. this time there will be no miraculous escape from the great fissure below, not like earlier when the tank plummeted into the ravine. no, indiana must possess the fulfillment of his father’s quest; rather death than the loss of the grail.
when you ask me about how i see the balance between work and fatherhood, murph, i think of this moment--the grail resting precariously on a ledge below, just out of reach, the son stretching downward to recover that object always held aloft in art.
junior! give me your other hand! i can’t hold on!, shouts henry. i can get it! i can almost reach it, dad! says indiana to himself, his father’s grip about to give. henry pauses before quietly addressing his son by his chosen name. indiana, he says. indiana, he says again. indiana swings his gaze upward and sees his father looking down. let it go.
can you imagine andy webber in his place, trying out each of the <quote-03>ridiculous monikers<quote-03> you’ve all come up with for me? no no, this isn’t funny, he’d say through his laughter.
on the cover of the springsteen boxset with the above tune is a photo of a scruffy and contemplative young bruce reclining across a sleeper sofa with his boots on. along with a couple pairs of bootcut jeans, i bought myself a similar pair at the boot barn in ontario after graduation. i wore them all throughout college.
i was lost when i got there. i found the work mind-numbingly unintellectual compared to the advanced placement courses we took in high school. we were meant to explore without judgement, to expand the ranges of our instruments. i doubt i did much of either that first year. my acting teachers insisted on multiple occasions i wear more comfortable shoes to class.
i was lonely. i missed my friends and i missed sharon. i flew back home that first semester for her homecoming dance--we went with you and kristen, murph. sharon and i were a bundle of nerves. i remember the night she ended things. she was planning to come visit the campus with her father in the spring but called the week prior to say she wasn’t coming and that <quote-04>we were over<quote-04>. casey flew into my dorm room minutes later, insisting i listen to this fantastic songwriter he’d just discovered. waltzing matilda was my introduction to tom waits; i remember being so moved by the tune and so numb to my <quote-05>life<quote-05>.
everything changed after sharon left me. casey and i started writing songs.
a directing professor at carnegie, jed harris, was a big supporter of our songwriting endeavor. he invited us to perform in an experimental play he was set to direct at the edinburgh fringe festival the summer after our freshman year: the collected works of billy the kid, by michael ondaatje. originally a verse novel, much of the heightened language remained, often in the form of lyrics. in addition to performing in the show, we were to write the music.
casey was billy and i was pat garrett. everything on stage was a sepia-tinged black and white--the set, the costumes, the makeup--save the red that exploded across the walls when i blew off his head at the end of the show.
jed bought us the elvis costello compilation girls girls girls at a used record shop down the street from where we rehearsed. casey got to it before i did and once again burst into my room, insisting i listen closely to this brash tune-smith, clever as he is catchy. brilliant mistake and man out of time were my first costello tracks.
i fell in love with a girl named mary kate in edinburgh. she was a couple years ahead of us at carnegie. remember tom hanks’s daughter in apollo 13 who didn’t want to go to the launch because she was too upset john lennon had died? that was mary kate. she liked rock n roll too. it didn’t last long between us once we got state-side, but we were still together on september 11th.
the 11th was a tuesday. i know because albums used to come out on tuesdays, and dylan’s love and theft came out that day. i left josh gad’s apartment where a bunch of us were watching the towers fall on loop to go buy three copies: one for casey, one for me, and one for mary kate. we all got high and listened through it twice. <quote-06>love and theft<quote-06>, clearer than any other album, continues to define for me what can be achieved lyrically in song. it is the most precious. i stayed at <quote-07>mary kate<quote-07>’s that night. we woke and drove to school the following day, listening to dylan’s time out of mind: yesterday everything was moving too fast, today it’s moving too slow.
i’m reminded of how much has changed over the last month as i recall hearing that lyric in mary kate’s car--too fast and too slow indeed. i dodged a bullet when i skipped out on the concert with eric; he went with his wife and they caught the covid. we got in a couple games of chess over facetime the other day, setting our phones opposite our boards and calling out our moves. every couple minutes eric sipped from a giant bottle of water. we’d both been watching tiger king, so we talked about that before moving on to discuss the merits and faults of other true crime documentary episodics. he hadn’t seen the staircase; i recommended he check it out.
there was another director at carnegie with whom casey and i were entirely enamoured: mladen kiselov. a bulgarian, he spoke with a thick accent, and in spite of his facility with english, seemed constantly at war with the language--no words could express the depth of his intent. his favorite exclamatory phrase was, <quote-08>my god! it could be!<quote-08>
when a production closed at carnegie, the students and faculty of both the performance and design departments would gather to critique everyone’s work. comments were more often than not self-congratulatory in tone. once, after another stunningly banal modernization of shakespeare--measure for measure, i believe it was--the compliments became particularly insufferable. mladen interrupted. but were you moved? he challenged us. who can tell me of a moment during the play when they were moved? when nobody said anything, he shrugged, satisfied. <quote-09>ok, that’s all<quote-09>, he said.
then there was his critique of a grad playwright after his show had closed: it’s not that you’re a bad writer, <quote-10>it’s that you’re a bad person<quote-10>.
casey and i worked with jed again our senior year on a farcical comedy, complete with garish makeup, grotesque facial prosthetics, impossibly fast costume changes, and an endless stream of physical and vocal hi-jinx. i remember passing mladen in the hallway weeks later: you know boys, so much theatre is (pouty, poor-me face with slumped shoulders and infantile vocalizations), but, my god, this was (barrage of comic book onomatopoeia with accompanying zany physicalizations). we need more of this, no?
we needed more of mladen is what we needed. he retired in ‘08, moved back to bulgaria, and passed away a few years later. casey and i frequently reminisce about him and jed. jed’s still in pittsburgh. <quote-11>i should give him a call<quote-11>.
speaking of good calls, we took my parents and grandmother to see greta gerwig’s little women over the holiday. good movie for the webbers, sarah and i thought. we were right; everyone enjoyed it--a wonderful holiday film as well.
while i’d have no problem enumerating for mladen the numerous moments throughout the film that moved me, there was one in particular that came to mind when responding to a comment you made on my previous letter, murph. the high-spirited jo, zestfully portrayed by saoirse ronan, struggles to describe to her mother the contents of her heart.
i just, i just feel, i just feel like... women, they have minds and they have souls as well as just hearts; and they’ve got ambition, and they’ve got talent, as well as just beauty; and i’m so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for, i’m so sick of it; but i’m... i’m so lonely.
jo wants for that which too often defines and diminishes her sex. gerwig insists we hold her politics and her personality at the same time, inviting us to accept the same contradictions within ourselves. it’s a beautiful moment.