This story about a rock star begins with a crumb bun. Well, a crumb muffin. I came down to breakfast this morning and there was a crumb muffin on the counter. Reader, I know you, like me, would never take a bite of that muffin, but that one big crumb on top that looked as though it would fall off if given just enough encouragement, how about that? Of course, to save the counter from the messiness of it all, you are duty bound to pluck that crumb and plop it on your tongue.

And with that morsel of remembrance and this week’s New York Times, the journey to Giants Stadium and the last Springsteen concert to be played in its doomed walls begins. The crumb had a hard and mixed sweetness, the taste of so many mornings back when I was growing up in New Jersey, when my weary factory worker dad would celebrate Saturdays by getting up at 7 a.m. instead of 6, and drive to the Newark bakery he favored.

By the time I rose there would be the aroma of coffee, the scent of bacon and the seduction of crumb cake in the kitchen, and we would have our only time alone all week. Country music on the cardboard radio (it’s here in my office as I write), 75 watts of un-recessed lighting above us and dad whistling as he fried the eggs in butter — as deft as a dancer, and as light on his feet as he wasn’t on the scales or in his heart.

Bruce Springsteen plays the last concert ever to be played at the Spectrum Theatre in Philadelphia, just as they did for Giants Stadium last week (both venues are slated for demolition this year). In the New York Times the discerning Jon Pareles wrote reverently of the moment without reviewing the music at all. That’s as it should be, because even those of us who weren’t there know the music was ancillary to the event, though it was probably anthematic and pitch perfect. It had to be all about the words, and therein lies the confluence of memory and one man’s songs and the irony of it all as well.

For the rest of the country, Jersey is a long-running joke about refineries, highway exits, the mob and worse. Conan O’Brien has condensed the whole state into a mockery of a decaying Newark and its failed dreams. (The genial and brilliant Ivy-league educated Mayor Corey Booker is holding his own in presenting the real picture.) New Jersey is synonymous with inarticulateness, with rage, with ugly belching tanks and endless macadam. And yet night after night 75,000 people have packed its largest arena to listen to the poetry of a man who speaks for them with a plain spoken eloquence, to listen to the modern-day equivalent of that other Jersey bard who just happens to be the grandfather of American poetry, Walt Whitman. He’s a superstar who grew out of the same zeitgeist that spawned them and their ambitions. And though we know he’s got the brainpower of any Mensa member and the energy of the CERN Collider, he’s everyman, and that’s what matters.

You make a choice pretty early on in life. Are you going to work hard or not? Some, like my father, don’t get to choose much about what hard work they do. Other lucky ones, like Bruce Springsteen, do. Women have had less choice than men about the locale of their labor or the degree of it, though “high class lady” at one time meant having to work very little, if at all. My guess is the readers of Women’s Voices, regardless of the state in which they were born, literally or figuratively, have pretty much chosen hard work at every step of the way.

That’s why it’s worth noting that “The Boss” played a killer concert on Friday. He celebrated hard-working people and gave voice to the ability to embrace fellowship and letting your hair down as much as he acknowledged the weariness, disappointment and even despair of days when all that awaits you is the effort of getting by.

Whether you grew up in the white-collar world of circular drives and cocktails at five or the hard realities of acres to plow and dinner at four, whether you lived in the realm of a lunch pail packed the night before and beers after the factory’s whistle blew or just an ordinary neighborhood of ranch homes and barbecues on the weekends, whether you’re a fan of his or not, it would be good to stop and note that Bruce Springsteen will receive a Kennedy Center Award this December. With Mel Brooks, Robert De Niro, Dave Brubeck and Grace Ann Bumbry (all from humble roots, by the way), he will be acknowledged as a national treasure. We are a country built on words, and even beleaguered Jersey people know the power of telling a story true.

Hooray for a true American troubadour and for the many moments when our fellow citizens have gathered to hear him tell their stories. A standing ovation for the stories and the teller, and for all of us who dwell in a country that would honor him in such a way.

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  • Allison Young October 26, 2009 at 11:22 pm

    Just read this, and want to thank you! My own Jersey Dad was a lot like yours. He, too, got up early on Saturday mornings so that he could go to the bakery. I’d wake up to a box of donuts on the dining room table. I’ve never, ever had donuts since that were as good as the donuts from that small New Jersey bakery. Cruellers (can’t even find them anywhere — hard on the outside, sweet and moist on the inside), jelly donuts so full the jelly squeezed out the hole in the back when you picked them up. And, yes, squares of crumb cake. Yum.

    When I went to my first Springsteen show at MSG in 1978, over my father’s objections because he didn’t want his 19-year-old daughter navigating the Port Authority Bus Terminal alone — and then missed the last bus home because Bruce played passed midnight, I called my dad. I was a crying, blubbering, terrified mess because I was all alone in the bus terminal. Instead of yelling or lecturing, my dad told me to wait by the entrance and he’d be there as soon as he could. Packed up the dog and made the trip in about 20 minutes. I know he was speeding because even without any cars on the road it’s at least a 40-minute trip. 🙂 Never said I told you so. We stopped at the Tick Tock Diner, and he let me ramble on and on about what an amazing show Bruce put on that night.

    I was able to get to GS #3, and it was as wonderful a Springsteen show as I’ve ever seen. Powerful, joyous and poignant. Rock on, Bruce!

  • David Pressman October 25, 2009 at 3:36 am

    Absolutely beautiful article.

  • Laura Baudo Sillerman: A Jersey Girl and the Poet Springsteen | Top Stories Pittsburgh October 24, 2009 at 12:21 pm

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  • Pam Scola October 16, 2009 at 8:53 pm

    Thank you.

  • Linda Stroh October 16, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    As I watch all the Pioneers here for Homecoming, I am wondering if any know what wonderful writers this place turns out. I’ve never been to NJ – but Bruce in his songs and you today have certainly made it “real” – and sound a bit like the northern Ohio factory city where I grew up (and had cardboard radios too).

  • Willse Elizabeth October 16, 2009 at 11:32 am

    This post made my day. I read it, and have been listening to Springsteen all morning. “Glory Days” and “Mary’s Place” mostly, though heading more towards the ballads now that the caffeine’s kicked in and I’m ready to greet the day.
    I don’t know whether you realized as you were writing, but the scenes you evoke of your father making breakfast– have the same common soul-poetry as a good Springsteen ballad. Beautifully done!

    I can’t pick just one song, or even one category of Bruce songs I love. Because rock, ballads, sweet slowness, he does it all beautifully.

  • Keet October 16, 2009 at 10:23 am


  • Lombardi Chris October 16, 2009 at 9:57 am

    Our publisher asked me to post this lovely comment for Laura:

    Dear Laura,

    I have just now read your beautiful morning essay and am weeping of course. That radio must connect you straight and true to your childhood and that special time alone with the one who taught you how to love and how to survive.

    Our country that has been a meritocracy based on hard work and talent has been described by this poet from Jersey, but you have added to the poetry that makes women’s voices something extraordinary.

    Thank you thank you,


  • Shelley Singer October 16, 2009 at 9:22 am

    I have tears in my eyes for the generous heart and loving, eloquent humility of Laura before The Poet. Wish we could all have been there. Oh, Baby.

  • Beverly Schwartz October 15, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    A beautiful tribute to a guy who deserves a beautiful tribute.