I have been asked over and over what Springsteen on Broadway is about, what is the format, and is it JUST HIM? The answers are multifaceted.
Springsteen on Broadway is a one-man show, with a guest appearance by his lovely and talented wife Patti Scialfa Springsteen. It is not a concert, but a performance that includes live acoustic versions of Springsteen songs, accompanied by commentary, stories, conversation, philosophies, and testimonies…yes testimonies on the most formative and important parts of Springsteen’s life – childhood and hometown memories, his mom, dad, immediate and extended family, friendships, music, the E Street Band, his wife, his love for our country and the American Dream, politics, religion/spirituality, as well as his outlook on what is most important in life for all of us, the magic of 1+1=3.
“It is the essential equation of love, there is no love without 1+1 equaling 3! It’s the essential equation of art. It’s the essential equation of rock and roll. It’s the reason the universe will never be fully comprehensible. It is the reason ‘Louie Louie’ will never be fully comprehensible, and it is the reason true rock and roll and true rock and roll bands will never die.”
He also says that the first time he heard his wife’s beautiful voice was when she sang “I Know Something About Love” at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ. ‘And she does”, he says upon introducing her to the audience. I might add that he does too.
Springsteen shares his best known, as well as and some less known and new melodies, with the audience, but only once he has set up the song by providing context to his own life – and hence providing context to ours. Perhaps the best way to describe the show is through its roots and how the show started in the East Room of the White House and landed on Broadway.
When President Obama was leaving the White House, he asked Bruce to give a private performance to his staff. “There was something I specifically wanted to do for the staff that had been with me for the entire journey and had gone through a really remarkable but grueling process. So, we get this idea. Maybe we can just do something small and quiet and private — 100 people and maybe Bruce will be willing to come in and just do a quick concert. You show up and we got like about 10 guitars sitting over there on a rack and you got the piano. Patti says to me, ‘Yeah, I don’t really know what he’s going to do.’ ”
Bruce’s memoir “Born to Run” had recently been published, so he decided to take anecdotes from his book and turn them into live storytelling accompanied by acoustic versions of his songs. After the 90-minute performance, the President said, Dude, you, you got to do that for some other people,’ ” Obama said. “I can’t be this greedy where we’re the only ones who get to hear this?”
“Springsteen on Broadway” ran at the Walter Kerr Theatre for 236 performances to rave reviews. The show debuted on Broadway on Oct. 3, 2017, and the premiere was Oct. 12, 2017. The final performance was Dec. 15, 2018. Springsteen won a Special Tony Award for the work, which features biographic interludes between song performances. This show can also be seen on Netflix.
This time around, Bruce surprised us all by reopening Broadway with a 30-show limited run. For the large part of the summer, his was the only show open on Broadway. While the essence of the show is the same overall as the first show, the tone and tenor of it is perhaps even more personal, more conversational, and more current – addressing the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, his recent recording with the E Street Band, and Renegades: Born in the USA podcast with President Obama, as well as his recent arrest – with his self-deprecating humor when referring to having to go to Zoom court and finding comfort (not!) in the United States of America vs. Bruce Springsteen!
The show also features four different songs: “American Skin” a blazing rendition of “Fire”, a fiery duet with his fiery-redheaded wife Patti, and the beautifully poignant “I’ll See you in my Dreams” from his recent album “Letter to You” with the E Street Band.
The St. James Theater was also a bit bigger than the Walter Kerr, but just as intimate, lending itself to the same feeling as being in the living room with the Boss himself as he shared his heart and soul with all of us. He truly is one of the greatest storytellers alive, sharing tales with great detail, delivered with just the right timing, humor, expression, and (tears!) authenticity of emotion.
One of the most poignant moments this time around was in his description of his friends Walter and Raymond Cichon, and Bart Haines, friends and music gods from back in the day down on the Jersey Shore. All three of those friends would go onto Vietnam and would never return. It would have been Walter Cichon’s 75th birthday last week, and his sons were in the audience. “I often wonder who went in my place….because somebody did.”, said Bruce, followed by a particularly rousing version of Born in the USA where no one could ever possibly misunderstand the meaning of that very important song.
For me, the show evoked different emotions, memories, and personal points of reference each time I saw it. It is the most cathartic show I have ever experienced, and one I would see over and over again as it makes me feel closer to my own self, my family, my friends, my own memories, my own values. Taking that journey with the Boss (who also happens to be my personal hero)? Well that is beyond the icing on the cake. The show was recently filmed, so I expect it to come to a streaming platform near you. In the meantime, watch the first run on Netflix. Even if you are not a Springsteen fan, you will appreciate this man’s gifts, the arc of his life and career, and somehow might find something similar to your own.
Toward the end of the show, he shares his purpose. “ I always thought I was a typical American, so I fought my whole life and I studied and I played and I worked, ’cause I wanted to hear and I wanted to know the whole American story. I wanted to know my story, and your story. Felt like I needed to understand as much of it as I could in order to understand myself. You know, who was I? And where I came from and what that meant. What did it mean to my family? Where was I going? And where were we going together as a people? And then, and, what did it mean to be an American? And to be a part of that story, in this place, and in this time. I wanted to be able to celebrate and honor its beauty, its power, and I wanted to be able to be a critical voice when I thought that that’s what the times called for. But most of all, more than anything else, I wanted to be able to tell that story well to you. That was my young promise to myself, and this was my young promise to you. From when I was a very young man, I took my fun very seriously, you know. And this is what I pursue as my service, I still believe in it as such. This is what I have presented to you all these years as my long and noisy prayer, as my magic trick. I wanted, I wanted to rock your very soul, and have you bring it home and pass it on, and I wanted it to be sung and altered by you and your folks and your children, should they be interested. I wanted it to be something you could call on when things were good, and uh, and when things were not so good – that it might strengthen, help make sense of your story and your life the way that you strengthen me and help me make sense of my life. You’ve provided me with purpose, with meaning, and with a great, great amount of joy. I hope I’ve done that for you and that I’ve been a good travelling companion.”
Indeed he has been one for me throughout my life, will continue to travel with me on my own life’s journey, and is helping me to find my own 1+1=3/aka magic trick. I know that if you watch, he could help you find yours too.
Right before I hit the road the other day from my family’s vacation home in Lake Placid, NY to travel to Newport, RI for a Georgetown girls’ weekend, my father called to wish me a good trip and at the end of his message, he said “I have one question: who is Bobby Jean?” The previous weekend, he and my mother left Placid to return back home to NYC on the late side, which was worrisome. During dinner before their departure, I shared those highlights from the record-breaking Bruce Springsteen concert #3 at MetLife Stadium from a few days earlier on August 30 that I knew my parents would relate to the most: “Dancing in the Dark”, “Shout”, “Twist and Shout”, and “Jersey Girl”. Before they left, I also handed my father my copy of the “Born in the USA” CD (Apple hasn’t hit the parents’ roadster yet!) for the ride home, hoping that Dad would play it as he did so many times when it first was released in 1984. Music has a way of opening a pandora’s box of memories like nothing else. I seem to remember he asked me that same question then, though I didn’t know the answer at the time, nor did I listen to music the same way then as I do now. Good music – and lyrics – also have a way of standing the test of time, lending itself to different interpretations at different times of one’s life. That one song “Bobby Jean” is a perfect example, and Dad had obviously played the CD multiple times on that ride home and after.
Two years ago was the 30th anniversary of “Born in the USA”. June, 2014 was a pivotal moment in my own life, arriving in Lake Placid, NY and finding myself riding a bike around Mirror Lake again, just as I had done in 1984 while listening to my Sony Walkman with the cassette tape that changed my life, over and over again. This time, I had my I-pod, and a new (but old and refurbished) bike, that cried out for some complementary accessories to keep it (and me) company: a horn, a basket, some flowers, a nameplate (Placid Betty), and…a “Born in the USA” sign on the back. It may seem to be a bit much, but it seemed perfect to me at the time, as it still does now. It was a reminder to me of that time in my life where I was most carefree, when I was still in my youth with so much ahead of me, when I was the closest to home and the closest to my family. I had not yet had my drivers license then, so my bike was not only my way around town (as I spent my summers in Lake Placid both vacationing with my family, as well as figure skating), but it was also my way to feel free and to come and go whenever the spirit moved me. “Born in the USA” was the soundtrack to that period in my life, as well as the birth of my lifelong love for Springsteen’s music, so it seemed very apropos that the 30th anniversary of this seminal album was coinciding with another seminal moment in my life 30 years later.
When “Born in the USA” was released in 1984, I remember it being something that brought my father, brother, and I closer together. It was a summer when my brother and I spent several weeks in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. with my aunt, uncle and cousins. I remember my father and my uncle (and godfather) listening to the album together, as they also had done with certain movies and other more favored genres of music – classical and operatic – so many times together. They had done the same with another rock artist and album – Elton John and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” a few years earlier. What was it about this music and these artists that bonded these “Blood Brothers”? Springsteen’s songs on “Born in the USA” – like much or all of his music – are all about the human experience – and more specifically – the American way of life: childhood, youthful dreams, baseball, Main Street, homes come and gone, the plight of the working man/woman, the backyard and neighborhood streets populated and vanished, the various highways, roads and directions taken over the course of a lifetime, wars fought, won, and lost, the migration out West, milestones missed and achieved, friends made and lost, wanderlust satisfied or dreamt about, opportunities missed and chased, and friends made, lost, and made again. Springsteen’s songs are the stories and touchstones of life and humanity that break all boundaries: biological, religious, political, familial, socio-economic…and so much more. While baseball, hometown roots, the American dream and the work ethic that helped to achieve that dream, were the themes that resonated most with my brother, myself, and father (and my uncle) at the time, it was all of those other things too that touched our hearts and souls then, without even knowing it, as they still do and may do even more-so, now.
While there are so many songs on “Born in the USA” to delve into further as it relates to all of the aforementioned, “Bobby Jean” was and still seems to be the one that stands out the most. Who is “Bobby Jean”, my father wondered. I wondered how to answer this for my father during my long trip from the Adirondack Mountains to Newport. While I knew he was looking for the exact right answer and I had that answer, it made me think more expansively about what would be an even more meaningful and metaphorical way to explain the use of “Bobby Jean”. The use of a gender-ambiguous name is purposeful – to create a character who all of us can relate to, a friend who is in one’s life at a certain time for a reason, a friend who can come in and out of one’s life at various stages and always remain the same, a friend who one can lean on with no questions asked, a friend whose essence remains the same regardless of success or failure, a friend whose shared experiences as a child, adolescent, or adult who always brings things “home” again – in one’s memory or in reality. Springsteen’s songs are stories with many fictional characters including Mary, Janie, Wendy, Sherri, Johnny, Jack – who may be based in reality, who may be fictional, and who may be a hybrid of both, but most importantly who are characters we all can relate to in one way or another. Bobby Jean however, is the one character who seems to resonate the most. Sometimes we may have only one “Bobby Jean”, sometimes we may have a few, or even many. He or she (or it) is that one character who comes in and out of our lives, but who never really ever leaves. While Bruce’s “Bobby Jean” is his longtime friend and guitarist Stevie Van Zandt and also perhaps a metaphor for the depressed self he was saying goodbye to at the time, “Bobby Jean” is also a metaphor for that person(s) or thing(s) in all of our lives that remain a constant, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. I am lucky to have just spent the weekend in Newport with a group of my longtime college “Bobby Jeans”, and to have one specific “Bobby Jean” who knows me inside and out despite our very different life directions. But I am also so lucky to have had that bike in 1984 and again in 2014, as another “Bobby Jean” to remind me of how far I have come, how much farther I have to go, how quickly I can change directions if I lose my way, and how most importantly – I can always find my way home again.
Most of all, I am lucky to have “Bobby Jean” – my family and my friends – to continue to stand by me (and vice versa) – every step – or bike ride around the lake – of the way. Of course Springsteen’s music continues to be the soundtrack, so “Bobby Jean” – and Bruce – are along for the ride – all the way home. My companion for long road trips by myself is always “E Street Radio”. Guess what was the companion for this trip to Newport to see my longtime college girlfriends? That same concert from 1984 at Giants Stadium where my dad sat in the parking lot listening to the sounds of Springsteen while my brother was inside. And guess what was the finale for the song from the previous night at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia – a show that broke the record yet again as Springsteen’s longest in U.S. history? “Bobby Jean”. Not only has this song stood the test of time, but it also made history – with fireworks to boot. Almost eight hours later last weekend (thanks to E Street Radio, and not to Mapquest), I also found my way “home” again to my own “Bobby Jeans”, and Dad? Well, he seemed pleased to know that not only was there indeed a real “Bobby Jean” for Bruce in Stevie, but also now seems more interested in learning more about the real and fictional characters featured in Springsteen’s unparalleled stories, while also exploring who they might be in his own life. “Born to Run” – the album and the book – is also now a must listen and a must-read for him too. Seems like my answer to his question was more than he bargained for, but that’s what good music does to the heart and the soul, thanks to “Bobby Jean”.
Each year, the philanthropic arm of the Grammy organization that helps musicians struggling with addiction known as Musicares, honors a musician as Person of the Year. In 2013, that person was someone who is an extraordinary musician, artist, and songwriter, person and American, whose music and lyrics inspire me each day: Bruce Springsteen. His acceptance speech was extraordinary, expressing the most poetic sentiments about music, with one of those sentiments in the above photo of a tree in Lake Placid, NY. I hope that the photo and words lift you up a bit during this difficult time where we all feel displaced, anxious, scared, and overwhelmed.
Music heals, taking us back to long lost memories with one melody, bringing us to a place of exuberance, motivating us to reach for the stars, stimulating our senses, energizing us to get up and move and to keep moving, lulling us to sleep, calming our minds by helping us to concentrate and/or relax, providing us joy, soothing the soul, and transforming the spirit. Music truly has the power to save lives.
So listen to some music today & make this rainy Monday (at least here in New York City) a musical one. It will help to bring harmony in your home & to your soul. Even the sound of silence can be music to your ears if you just sit still and listen. Who knows, you might even hear something you have never heard before, find a new rhythm, and even create a new soundtrack to your life with unexpected harmony. Wouldn’t that be something?
Take care of you and remember…No Retreat, No Surrender
Photo Credit, Getty Images
If I were to be a paparazzi reporter whose aim is to sell tabloid “news”, these would be possible headlines for the picture seen “round the world (worldwide web is more like it!) in the last 12 hours.
“Do you remember where you were when you saw Brad & Jen hug for the first time?”
“Take that Angelina!”
“And just like that, Megxit knocked off the front page!”
And this morning’s real headlines are as silly & speculative as they get!
From E! “Where were you when you saw Brad & Jennifer hug?”
From The Cut: “Brad Pitt Grabs Jennifer Aniston’s Wrist, Causing Widespread Emotional Chaos”, going on to say “Brad Pitt & Jennifer Aniston shared A Moment at the SAG Awards. A conspicuously tender moment; a moment instigated by Brad grabbing Jen’s wrist as she walked away from him, as if all his mistakes had just crystallized inside his brain; a moment captured on camera for posterity”
Seriously? Can it get any sillier & speculative about something that is really none of our business anyway?
This is the power of the media. As Harry (still a prince to me) said so well this past weekend, the media is a force. As we all have seen, the media an be a very negative force, but also can be a force for great good.
If I had to craft a headline, this is what mine would be, inspired of course by none other than my personal hero Bruce Springsteen:
“Growin’ Up with Brad & Jen: “Friends” No Matter What”
Photo Credit, Getty Images
One of the Boss’s earliest songs “Growin’ Up” navigates the waters of growing up & challenging the status quo. The first stanza says it best:
“Well I stood stone-like at midnight suspended in my masquerade
And I combed my hair till it was just right and commanded the night brigade
I was open to pain and crossed by the rain and I walked on a crooked crutch
I strode all alone into a fallout zone, came out with my soul untouched
I hid in the clouded wrath of the crowd, when they said “sit down” I stood up
Ooh, ooh, growin’ up”
In all seriousness, Brad Pitt & Jennifer Aniston win the award for suspending the masquerade, for rising above the fray, for the ability to laugh at themselves & the media, for the ability to not take it all seriously & for feeling comfortable & confident enough in themselves last night to just not care, bc congratulating & supporting one another in that moment, along with showing the genuine affection & respect they have for each other is what mattered most, regardless of the flashbulbs. This is what they call authenticity, maturity, and just plain old “growin’ up”.
These 2 have navigated thru the negative & leveraged it well for the positive force that it can be. They have weathered the media storm and the emotional storm so well, that they are mature enough to just be themselves and not engage in the negativity. These photos capture how much they have grown and grown up, that they are “friends” who support one another through thick and through thin, tears and laughter, silliness & gravitas, the lies and the truth….through this thing called life.
I have always admired and respected each of them, not only for their tremendous talents, but also for being so grown up through all of this. Growing up is hard and painful as it is, but doing it through the lens of the media and the opinions of the world? They have come through all of this being friends who support each other no matter what. These pictures show that and impart this lesson more than anything silly speculation that is in reality, none of our business!
All of this said, I do believe that all of the speculation is rooted in the genuine human instinct to want two human beings who seem to be meant to be, to be. I will always root for each of them individually because they have each brought me a great deal of joy over the years through their talents, and because I have in a sense, grown up along with them. If they are meant to be together, so be it. But these photos show that no matter what happens, they will always be “friends” no matter what…a lesson to us all.
Congratulations & Bravo to Brad Pitt & Jennifer Aniston for their well-deserved honors from the Screen Actors Guild, but also for as my hero Springsteen says “suspending the masquerade”, for growin’ up, and for very simply, showing us all what it means to be grown ups about the whole thing.
Celebrating Christmas and the holiday season has so many wonderful traditions that bring us all together and right back to our most innocent and carefree days as a child. Having grown up in New York City, I have been lucky enough to experience global cultural landmarks and touchstones like going to church at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, seeing the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, shopping and seeing the department store windows on 5th Avenue, and going to the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular and the Nutcracker Suite at Lincoln Center. This year, I saw my goddaughter dance in the Nutcracker, immediately bringing tears of joy and the memories of childhood right back to the surface.
I have a few very vivid memories as a very young child at Christmas. One was at my grandparents’ home in Brooklyn and receiving a pair of Mickie and Minnie Mouse bookends which I still have to this day. Another was when I was going to sleep on Christmas Eve and asking my dad if Santa was arriving soon. He said that my aunt had just told him that Santa’s sleigh had left their house in Brooklyn, and that there had just been some noise on the roof of our building (in downtown New York City where we lived until I was 5), so he should be arriving any minute now. I will never ever forget that image/sound conjured in my imagination, still there as if it were yesterday, and so comforting then that it put me right to sleep. As the first-born of my family, my Christmas mornings at that “starter apartment” for my parents are sometimes even more vivid than those at the home my siblings and I know as home together for all of my life, yet of course those are still vivid and very much alive as well.
I also have very vivid memories of my dad reading a very special edition of “A Visit from St. Nicholas”, also known as “A Night Before Christmas” – the extraordinary poem by Clement Clarke Moore that has created the indelible images of St. Nicholas, aka Santa Claus, and captured the momentum of his journey from the North Pole to be in all of our heads – landing atop all of our rooftops and down all our chimneys to give us all what we asked for and to make all of our dreams come true.
The excitement of Christmas Eve for children and for believers in magic, miracles, angels, God, a higher power, and Santa is something that reminds us all of what Christmas means: peace, solidarity, joy to the world, and an everlasting childhood innocence. On that high note, I went to bed last night just like that little girl so many years ago, with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head. I always will have those visions, and hope all of you will too.
God Bless us All, God Bless Us Everyone, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good day, night, and the best year ahead in 2020 filled with visions of dancing sugar plums, miracles coming true, and to bringing a little bit of your childhood and all of your childlike wonder with you everywhere you go.
I used to scoff at the concept of the power of positive thinking. Years ago, I was shedding tears in my doctor’s office when another patient heard me. She asked my doctor if she could be in touch w/me, so I said yes. She sent me an email asking if she could include me on her daily gratitude email list, so I said yes. When I started receiving her emails, I did not understand what I was receiving or why this would help me, nor did I comprehend the impact this kind gesture would have on my life.
One day several months later, I started creating & sharing gratitude lists. Whether it was the simple act of making my bed, interacting with a stranger on the street, or just breathing in & out, it started to empower my mindset to shift, which brings me to the power of a story to have a happy ending. Living happily after is not always possible, but it is more possible when you think positive thoughts, share positive experiences, approach things with a positive attitude, act positively & view your life & the world with a glass half full mindset..or in this case…rather than always seeing the crescent, see the whole of the moon. In turn, storytelling that leaves u w/at least a glass half full mindset leaves u w/hope & faith that the very happiest ending is at least possible, albeit not always tied up in a perfect bow.
One TV show in particular captured my attention for the last 5 years. It was filled w/interconnected relationships doomed to fail, testing all the boundaries of humanity w/the worst possible scenarios: infidelity, theft, violence, incest,murder. It was very dark, but riveting for so many reasons: superior cinematography, character development, 1st class writing, innovative structure w/multifaceted perspectives & superb storytelling.
Like all good things though, they must come to an end. Like another great show whose finale ended on a high note yet still not wrapping it in a perfect bow (Sex & the City), “The Affair” finale left me breathless & smiling, shedding tears of joy w/ the 2 protagonists-primarily one finding his authentic self amidst the darkness, playing the role of mom & secret wedding planner to his eldest daughter, generous future father-in-law to his new son in law, kind caregiver to his ex-father-in-law, humble father & husband to the family he hurt so badly, wise sage to his son & stepdaughter & loving husband again & widower to the woman he was always meant to be with.
The glass can really be more than half full, things really do happen for a reason & come full circle, and family & friends are really all that matter-imperfections, foibles, dysfunction and all! Finally, you will always find your way “home” as long as you don’t just see the crescent…but the WHOLE of the moon. This flashmob scene is EVERYTHING, particularly w/grandpa trying to find his mind again & mimic the moves through his dementia. Family and friends are everything and all that matters in the end…this is the whole of the moon…this Thanksgiving and always. Happy Thanksgiving!
Traveling down to the Jersey Shore is always a trip back in time for me….a throwback to my childhood, adolescence & young adulthood summers where chasing beach balls and fireflies, collecting sea shells and sea glass, driving a Dodge Dart, riding my Schwinn down to the beach or into town to the Variety store, lounging on the beach, boogie boarding the waves, running and walking on the boardwalk, and going on rides in Asbury Park were my favorite pastimes. It’s hard to believe that so many years have gone by since those days, but one thing has remained a constant companion: Bruce Springsteen.
The E Street Band was formed & named a stone’s throw away from my grandmother’s home in Spring Lake, NJ – on 10th Avenue & E Street in Belmar. Throughout high school and college, I had a wide variety of musical tastes, but Springsteen (and the E Street Band) has not only always been my favorite musician, but his music is the music that makes me feel most at home, taking me right back to my childhood and my most authentic self every time. It has reinforced the roots that anchor me and nurtured my branches. It has given me the tenacity and courage to get up again after falling and to reach for the stars. It has given me wings to fly and keep flying – through the storms and the sunshine – literally and figuratively.
As my musical tastes have evolved and my more literary and spiritual sides have developed and matured with time, the music and words of Springsteen’s music have not only comforted me through difficult times, but also fueled my spirit to persist and find my own purpose.
I could list so many other ways that Springsteen has influenced and impacted my life – and the lives of so many others. On this day though, I salute a man whose ongoing commitment to his chosen craft and to excellence, his dedication to his family of origin, his own family – his wife and his children, his closest friends, his hometown roots, those in need, and to his fans, as well as whose transformative storytelling and exuberant performances are unparalleled.
My heroes though have common ground in something even bigger: an American, and Godly ideal to a work ethic & a purpose driven life that not only stands the test of time & transcends it, but never surrenders to it. Of all the many, many shows I have been privileged to experience, the recent River tour shows and of course “Springsteen on Broadway” were the most revealing of this man’s promise to himself: to use the time he has been given on this earth with wisdom, gratitude and unyielding fervor. His words at the end of the River album set were the most poignant & transformative of all to me: “The subtext to ‘The River’ was time,” Bruce Springsteen said as the E Street Band played a slow, shimmering vamp. “Time slipping away. And once you enter that adult world, the clock starts ticking and you’ve got a limited amount of time: to do your work, to raise your family, to try and do something good.”
Bruce Springsteen, you have done all of that in spades, changing the world – and my world – exponentially, while also showing time a thing or two by not only making our time so much better & more joyful, but also seemingly making time stand still. Here’s to your 70 years of rocking and rolling & to many more. Happy Birthday Bruce. Never retreat & never surrender!
Celebrating my Irish heritage today by remembering my maternal grandparents, James Britt Donovan and Mary McKenna Donovan, and my paternal grandmother Irene Carley Amorosi & Dr. Leo Amorosi (albeit the Italian branch!), as well as honoring my maternal great-grandparents, Dr. John Donovan & Harriett O’Connor Donovan, through the one picture I found of them and taking a trip through my family tree and all its glorious branches. Though I am actually more Irish than Italian, my surname is Italian and actually means love, so it is certainly an equal ingredient to who I am, which today is a being filled with love for my family and pride in my family tree.
That said, my Irish and Italian ingredients create the whole dish of being an American first and foremost. That my friends is what makes us all uniquely American. Celebrating where and who we came from is a journey that helps us to understand and learn our families’ histories-including their triumphs & accomplishments, mistakes & failures, personalities & dynamics. One of my favorite shows is “Finding Your Roots” on PBS, a weekly, hour-long show with Henry Louis Gates and notable individuals that brings them and us on a journey. These individuals are just like the rest of us: human beings thirsty for a deeper connection to their roots and to themselves. This show’s journey reveals things that these people never even knew about their own families, ultimately helping them to uncover a new lens into themselves.
Who we are is a life-long expedition of wondrous discovery and an evolution of the mind, body, and soul perpetuating and honoring family tradition, while also growing new branches and blooming new leaves that create new branches – for even those of us who do not have children, for those whose family includes friends, and most of all for those still searching for or without any family. It’s also an exercise into becoming open to always learning something new and being open to change. Perhaps it’s even to surrendering to any possible existence of shame, and instead transforming shame to gratitude for being given the opportunity of life to make our own uniquely individual impact on the world, while also being part of each, unique collective known as family.
The family tree is one grand force of nature, that on this day and all other days of the year, I cherish by doing my very best to water its branches each day to honor each and every member of my family today and yesterday. I also work to give this tree careful nourishment so that my leaf on it is as green as the ones who came before and green enough for those little blooms in our family today and for those yet to come, so that they are never thirsty for life’s nourishment: the love, life & pride in life through family and growing the family tree one way or another.
My family tree is mainly Irish, with a very healthy and zesty dose of Italian. But even I am curious to learn more and perhaps discover that there might be a still unknown ingredient. But the main dish is American: all-American and Born in the USA, and that is one flavorful dish that makes me and all of us uniquely American. Irish America Magazine and the Irish Examiner newspaper honored my grandfather, Cold War lawyer and negotiator James B. Donovan through wonderful articles, one of which I share here today as a showcase of the personification of the American Dream.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day to my Irish and Italian-American family, and to everyone. Here’s to celebrating your own, unique heritage, and most of all, our shared ideals as Americans who came from anywhere and everywhere to fulfill their own manifestation of the American dream.
The passing of our 41st president, George Herbert Walker Bush, is a solemn occasion, as we have not only lost a great American and a loyal, compassionate, kind, honorable and loving human being, but also a symbol of a bygone era marked by civility, ethics, grace, honor, manners and meticulous attention to detail, such as the handwritten letter.
One of the hallmarks of 41’s style was the art of the written letter, something the younger generations do not appreciate or experience with the gravitas it deserves because email, text message, voice recognition and emoji are quicker and more convenient. Indeed, I am nostalgic. But the loss of this art form is not just the loss of an art but a very human, personal act that touches another heart and makes a much bigger and impactful difference to relationships and to life. Further, the loss of writing a letter and handwriting in general is a much bigger loss: the loss of a part of our brain that can only be activated by the fingers touching a pen or pencil and taking it to paper. Certain thoughts can only be expressed when that simple act happens, and this, my friends, is science. According to a 2014 article published in the New York Times, “Handwriting increases neural activity in certain sections of the brain, sharpens the brain and helps us learn, and forces us to slow down and smell the ink.” Further, according to a study from Indiana University, the simple act of writing unleashes creativity not easily accessed in any other way. Cynics may require more proof than that, but that — and the more positive, longer-term effects I experience when I take the pen to paper rather than my finger to the keyboard — is enough for me.
Like President Bush, my grandfather, Cold War lawyer and diplomatic negotiator James B. Donovan, was a member of the “Greatest Generation” and a Navy commander who devoted much of his life and career to public service. As general counsel of the Office of Strategic Services, he was also a founding father of our the Central Intelligence Agency, where President Bush served as director. When I had my grandfather’s book “Strangers on a Bridge” republished in 2015, there were two notable people who immediately came to mind when asked who might be able to write a testimonial, as well as speak personally to my grandfather’s legacy. One of those two people was President George H.W. Bush; the other, not coincidentally, was someone from the opposite side of the political spectrum — Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg. When I called the Bush Library to confirm the correct address for correspondence, I was taken aback when I was immediately put in touch with his office and was given the address. Though I had connections to the Bush family, I chose to go the formal route rather than asking for a favor to facilitate more immediate attention to my letter. This type of shortcut is also why people text and email: because it’s easier, quicker and more convenient. Unfortunately, I was remiss in following up, because … well … life got in the way, and the deadline passed. So I am not sure if President Bush ever received my letter, but I know in my heart that he would have given my granddad his due, and that I am proud of myself for making the effort and not taking the more expedient route.
So, I have now written a second letter — this time handwritten — to President Bush and have sent it to the Bush Library as a way to pay my respects and to further memorialize his legacy. I encourage others to do the same, as well as to take the time to continue to hand-write letters — thank-you letters; letters of sympathy, friendship and congratulations; love letters; letters of any and all kinds — as well as to continue to take the pen to paper for any and all kinds of writing. Personal expression in this form matters. You may be surprised by the difference in what is expressed when taking that pen to paper every once in a while, rather than the fingers to the keyboard or thumb to the iPhone. Additionally, not only does it also provide the writer with the opportunity for proper reflection and thought, but it also gives the recipient the same opportunity — as well as the gift of truly personal, authentic and heartfelt expression.
My handwritten letter to President Bush is a love letter to a man whose dignity, kindness, compassion, integrity, faith, commitment, grace, humor, humility, humanity and love have touched my life, the lives of Americans and so many around the world. President George Herbert Walker Bush may no longer be here, but I know in my heart that he has already received my letter. Though I will never get a direct response from him, I know that my grandfather now has another friend and former comrade to keep him company up above, and that is all I need to know. I know I could never hope to emulate the life President Bush lived, but at least hand-writing this letter is a good start. May you rest in peace, Mr. Bush, as your life serves as a role model for all of us for generations to come.
Beth Amorosi lives in New York City and Lake Placid, is president of AMO Communications and is granddaughter of James B. Donovan, a Cold War lawyer, diplomatic negotiator, World War II veteran and author who was a seasonal resident of Lake Placid, is buried in St. Agnes Cemetery in Lake Placid and was played by Tom Hanks in Steven Spielberg’s movie “Bridge of Spies.”
So many beautiful images and powerful symbols embody the spirit of Easter, Passover, and Spring. In fact, Easter and Passover are linked by their symbolism and by their positions in the calendar governed by the sun and the moon. According to Wikipedia, “in most European languages, Easter in English is termed by the words for Passover in those languages, and in the older English versions of the Bible, the term Easter was the term used to translate Passover.” The history behind each and the reasons for observance may be different, but many of the rituals and the meaning for each is essentially the same. We light candles, we fast, we celebrate moveable feasts, we pray, we worship, we sing, we honor tradition, we congregate with our communities, friends, and family, we thank God for eternal life and salvation. We also celebrate purity, rebirth, and new life. Wikipedia does not share the most teachable lesson: that despite the differences in history and even now, we are all children of the same God, and we can learn so much more from each other than our society imposes through religious structure, doctrine, and varying interpretations and beliefs.
For me, one of the most iconic images of Easter is that of President John F. Kennedy and his beautiful family emerging from the Kennedy
Compound in Palm Beach, Florida after attending mass at St. Edward’s Roman Catholic Church, a church where I have prayed and celebrated happy occasions many times, including on Easter Sunday. On that same weekend, my mother had the good fortune of having a very unexpected private “meeting” with the President. Her father, my grandfather James B. Donovan (Cold War lawyer played by Tom Hanks in Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies”), had just returned from his final trip of many trips to Cuba to negotiate with Fidel Castro for the release of the Bay of Pigs prisoners and their families. While his mission was officially on behalf of the Cuban Families Committee, he was also unofficially and very proudly representing and working directly with the President, his brother Robert F. Kennedy behind the scenes on behalf our country.
My grandparents’ best friends from their seasonal residence in Lake Placid, NY had a fine jewelry store in Lake Placid that remains to this day, as well as at Royal Poinciana Plaza in Palm Beach, Fl. The Palm Beach store happened to be right next door to the famed toy store FAO Schwarz. One day before that Easter Sunday, my mother was in the store visiting the Coopers and her best friend, their daughter Carol Cooper, when Mr. Cooper said to my mother, “Do you know who is next door shopping for his children? The President! Do you want to meet him? I can arrange it.” Needless to say, my mother was beside herself. As her father had just returned his final trip to Cuba, it was a meeting that was “negotiated” fairly quickly!
My mother met with the President by herself (and the Secret Service) for 45 minutes, picking out toys with him for Caroline & John. Later that day, he saw her in the crowd waving to him in the open-air convertible from the sidewalks. He spotted my mother amidst the crowd, got out of the car and went over to her to give her a big hug. She said he was the most handsome man she had ever seen (besides my father of course!), and that his outfit was so vivid that she will never forget it: pink pants and a black Lacoste shirt. I have similar memories of his son John as a young man, running into him countless times on the streets of midtown, the Upper East Side, and Soho in Manhattan. Every time I saw him, his beyond Hollywood face stopped me in my tracks, but his down-to-earth demeanor and warm smile drew anyone in.
The iconic photo of John Jr. as a child with his sister Caroline is timeless, even though we all know it was the President’s last Easter. Just like that picture, the story of my mother meeting the President transcends time as a cherished memory and as a reminder that we are all here for such a short time and that we are all one here on this earth, regardless of whether it’s Easter, Passover or Ramadan that we celebrate. We are all children of God and are all headed to the same place after life here on this Earth, so bridging our differences to meet on the common ground of humanity that we all share is paramount on this Easter Sunday and always.
It’s always fun to talk about movies, especially during Oscar/awards season. Like most, I have my own personal favorites list, the classics that are on most everyone’s lists, and then a few outliers that I just adore and will always watch if I find it on TV (yes, the joy of finding a movie by happenstance rather than streaming it on demand is still one of my favorite things!) One of those outlier movies is In Her Shoes with Cameron Diaz, Shirley MacLaine, Mark Feuerstein, and Toni Collette. One particularly poignant scene is when Mark’s character tells Toni’s that there are three things that keep him happy, intact or in a nutshell – are his very favorite things. I believe they were the law, great food, and the Sixers. A great subject to think about: What are some of your favorite movies and things?
I have so many, so I am not sure I can condense the list to just three right now. They include music (especially live music) and Bruce Springsteen (yes, he is a subject unto himself) at the top of the list, reading and writing, media, history and philosophy, psychology and sociology, the mountains, the ocean and the beach, sports – especially figure skating and the Olympics (summer and winter), art, travel, photography, design and decor, film, books – especially memoirs and biographies, words and stories, maps, compasses, all thing nautical, marine life, penguins, elephants and sea turtles, family and friends, politics, business and innovation, spirituality and religion, inspirational people and speakers, and in the craft and power of storytelling.
I might also add archaeology, science and technology, magic, astronomy, astrology, exploration, heroes and heroines, role models, legacies, and family heritage as subjects that I love exploring, discovering, and learning more about. Natural phenomenons such as the Aurora Borealis, when the stars visibly litter the sky, when the sky becomes purple before it snows, when the sun glistens on the ocean, when the breeze rustles the leaves, when the first spring bud blooms, and triumphant stories of the human spirit – from overcoming unimaginable obstacles to winning gold on and off the field, to yes – landing in the front of the pit for any concert, but especially Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
One of my very favorite things is when things happen serendipitously, and for a reason. A few years ago, I had the pleasure of working with a member of a very historic, musical family who has given us all some of our very favorite things including raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens and the beautiful sound of music. Carla von Trapp Hunter and her cousin Shela von Trapp Fletcher have founded Celebrity Legacy a speaking agency and media house, where I am now officially a speaker for hire. If you or anyone you know is interested in learning about a variety of subjects as they relate to my grandfather James B. Donovan’s legacy, the movie Bridge of Spies and his book Strangers on a Bridge, please let me know or visit https://www.celebritylegacy.com/speaking-agency.html
In the meantime, I hope everyone is enjoying the long weekend celebrating our U.S. Presidents, watching the Winter Olympics, maybe watching one of your favorite movies, picking from my list below, and engaging in some of your favorite things. I look forward to exchanging more on this topic, maybe eventually even adding “These are a Few of My Favorite Things; Tell Me Yours” to my current roster of topics which includes:
BETH MOVIE LIST
Ordinary People, Almost Famous, Dead Poets Society, The Sound of Music, Trading Places, Jaws, Silver Linings Playbook, Die Hard, The King’s Speech, Bridge of Spies, The Help, ET, A Little Romance, Racing with the Moon, Seems Like Old Times, Foul Play, Erin Brockovich, Pretty Woman, Something’s Gotta Give, Wedding Crashers, Basic Instinct, Silence of the Lambs, Witness, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Regarding Henry, In Her Shoes, Wizard of Oz, Saving Helen, Bridesmaids, Crazy Stupid Love, Wall Street, Walk the Line, My Cousin Vinny, Joy, Hacksaw Ridge, Saving Private Ryan, Thelma and Louise, Catch Me if You Can, Gran Torino, Steel Magnolias, Disclosure, Unfaithful, In the Line of Fire, Kramer vs. Kramer, Tootsie, Ice Castles, Copycat, Goodfellas, The Blind Side, Taxi Driver, Love Actually, Sleepless in Seattle, Father of the Bride, Jerry Maguire, Legends of the Fall, Legally Blonde, Moneyball, Mermaids; Moonstruck, Working Girl, A Few Good Men, American Beauty, Roman Holiday, The Client, Miracle, Home Alone, Breakfast at Tiffany, Gone With the Wind, A Time to Kill, It’s Complicated, On Golden Pond, The Social Network, About Last Night, Sixteen Candles, St. Elmo’s Fire, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, War Games, She’s the One, Devil Wears Prada, Blind, Wonder; Anything with Bruce Willis, Kevin Costner, Robert DeNiro, Ashley Judd, Kate Hudson, Goldie Hawn and my very favorite Diane Lane