It’s barely six songs into the set list and I’m already winded. But this is exactly what I expected from my eighth time seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band live in concert, this time promoting their Magic album.
I always tell my friends and family that if I could afford it, I’d buy tickets for all of them just so they could experience the nearly three hours of rock and roll insanity that ensues each time Springteen and his New Jersey-based posse take the stage.
Ten musicians together. At the same time. Controlled rock and roll chaos that only Bruce Springsteen and, in his words, “the heart-stopping pants-dropping house-rocking earth-shaking booty-quaking Viagra-taking love-making legendary E Street Band” can deliver night after night after night. For nearly three hours.
“Reason to Believe” is only the sixth song into the concert at the Palace of Auburn Hills and I no longer can feel my hands that I’ve unconsciously on purpose numbed through uninterrupted applause and fist pumping. My throat is scratchy and voice is raspy from screaming the lyrics to each song as loud as I can because apparently I want Bruce and the other 18,000 people here to realize that I know every word to every song.
But not even a Springsteen freak, er, fan like me who was checking the concert logs posted on his fan-based Web site—backstreets.com—could have predicted the seventh song in his set list this night: an obscure song and concert rarity that quickly moves me to tears and makes me wish I had saved some of my voice so I could scream even louder.
“Reason to Believe” ends and then, in standard Springsteen fashion, he grunts out the cadence, “One! Two! … One! Two! Three! Four,” and the band rips into an all-too-familiar intro. My heart stops because I realize what Bruce has pulled out of his vault.
Simply put, he plays “Jackson Cage,” the second song on the first disc of The River album.
In January 2000, “Jackson Cage” inexplicably became the anthem, if you will, that has carried me through my life since I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. To me, nothing else describes life with MS better than this song. All you have to do is approach the song as though “Jackson Cage” is a euphemism for MS.
To this day I don’t know what led me to purposely listen to this song. It was a Saturday evening, not too long after I was diagnosed. For some reason I was in the mood for the sternly commanded closing lines of the song:
Well darling can you understand
The way that they can turn a man into a stranger
To waste away down in the Jackson Cage
With lyrics in hand I listened to the song. Really listened. I began sobbing right there. Like I said earlier, all you have to do is approach the song as though “Jackson Cage” is a euphemism for MS.
You can try with all your might
But you’re reminded every night
That you’ve been judged and handed life down in the Jackson Cage
This is so true no matter how optimistic I think I am. When I go to bed and pray at night, my hands burn from the day’s activities, and I truly am reminded every night that I have MS. It’s like that through the entire song.
This is the most perfect song for me when I’m having a rough MS day. It addresses the aggression and anger that comes with living with the disease, while at the same time instilling a call to stand up and fight.
It don’t matter just what you say
Are you tough enough to play the games they play
Or will you just do your time and fade away down in the Jackson Cage
It’s interesting to note that at this concert, when Bruce played my anthem, it actually was my wife, Jennifer, who recognized it was “Jackson Cage” before I did.
But I was the one who had tears rolling down my cheeks, screaming every lyric right with Bruce while silently thanking him for his songs that to this day still help me through, and forever will help me through, some of the toughest days of my life with this disease.
It was only the seventh song of a 23-song set list that lasted nearly three hours. But the concert could have ended there, and I would have felt I more than got my money’s worth.