While some knew him as Jonah and others as Mac, we all loved and respected him. And we miss him dearly.

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The E Street Shuffle

The other night, I joined 40,000 people I’d never seen before (along with just a few that I had) to make some noise at Bruce Springsteen’s final Giants Stadium appearance. To be honest, I’ve never been a Bruce fan. His music just isn’t my music. But too many people I call my friends swear that hearing this band live is the greatest, so I figured I had to give them a try.

I was right. Or rather, my friends were right. This concert was, hands down, the most memorable evening of live music I’ve ever experienced. I was, quite simply, blown away by the work these guys did, work which (apparently) they have very willingly done at every concert they’ve given for the past 35 years or so.

Nevertheless, sitting (who am I kidding … standing) still for long periods of time without any responsibility takes me pretty much to one place and one place only. Jonah. Amidst the loudest, most high energy, possibly drunkest crowd I’ve ever found myself in, even while I too enjoyed the electric performance, I kept removing pen and paper from my pocket to jot down thoughts of Jonah which had come to mind. Recorded herewith are a few of them.

November 2006 Think he’d have liked to have been a rock star?

November 2006
Think he’d have liked to have been a rock star?

Thought #1: Jonah didn’t really listen to Bruce Springsteen. Oddly enough, the only tracks on his iTunes were from a CD of mine (odd because I never really listened to him either). But I think Jonah would have loved hearing and watching Bruce in concert. They share some qualities, you know. Besides the obvious (both devilishly good-looking), a few others come to mind, chief among them that these two boys really love music, really love rock music, and really love playing guitar. In fact, about the only place they differ (give or take a few million dollars) is that Jonah seemed to mostly enjoy playing on his own. I’ve been told, however, that once he got to Buffalo, that changed. He didn’t have an E Street Band, but he did have a lot of friends he liked jamming with. I suspect that’s how Bruce got his start too.

Thought #2: In three hours, Bruce hardly stopped playing (he wouldn’t even let a song end before starting another). Jonah slept a lot. I know that doesn’t sound like Springsteen, but once he got going, he kept going. When Jonah was 5, his mom and I witnessed the following. It was 8:00 in the morning; the bus hadn’t yet arrived. Ellen and I were looking around for Jonah, to tell him to put his shoes on, but he was nowhere to be found. After searching the entire house (parental panic mode), I happened to pass by the living room window and noticed that Jonah was, in fact, already outside. He’d crossed the street by himself, and was jumping around a lot, waiting for the school bus. Jonah was ready to go to school. That afternoon, 45 minutes after Jonah had walked in the door, he appeared in front of me, jacket on, lunch box in hand, and said, “I’m ready to go back to Kindergarten now.” And that was Jonah Maccabee. If he was interested, his energy knew no limits.

Thought #3: In a most unlikely confluence of events, as Bruce moved along the edge of the stage to bring himself close to his appreciative audience members, the camera (which was projecting onto the giant screen) followed along, panning back-and-forth between the performer and his fans. At one point, just as it was moving away from Bruce, a woman lifted her white shirt to show him (and 40,000 of us) her breasts. Breasts so white that neither camera nor director seemed to realize we were watching flesh and not fabric. Pure Jonah! I’m not sure if he’d have been the woman, the camera operator, the audience, or just the guy sitting next to his dad-the-rabbi getting a kick out of watching this outrageous event unfold. But aside from the great music of the evening, this would have been his moment.

Thought #4: A young girl with braces held up a hand-lettered sign that read, “13th Birthday Dance???” Sure enough, Bruce brought her onto the stage and danced with her. I think what amazes me more than anything else about Bruce Springsteen is that, after 35 years, he still loves doing this. After 35 years, at no moment during the entire three hours did he look like he was finished, like he’d rather be somewhere else. He was having too good a time. For him, there was nowhere else … except here. He was completely in the moment, and looked utterly delighted to be so. A few days after Jonah died, the following appeared on the “Remembering Jonah” Facebook page:

Jonah was the first person to greet me this summer at Kutz [Camp]. It was my second summer, and I couldn’t wait to get there. As I’m stepping out of the car, I hear somebody say, “Oh boy, Benny, I know this one!” I turn around and it’s Jonah, running towards me, only to serve me with a massive hug, picking me up and swinging me around. He set the mood for my entire summer, and I’ll forever be grateful for that.

I think Jonah Maccabee loved being in the moment. When he was where he wanted to be (NFTY, Kutz, Summit, UB), there was nowhere else that even came to mind. He was fully present, and his friends knew that. They were the beneficiaries of his big, open, loving heart. And nothing delighted him more.

Mac ‘n Bruce “The Lost Tapes”

Mac ‘n Bruce
“The Lost Tapes”

Thought #5: Bruce Springsteen is America’s songleader. I’m told he used to write more sophisticated music (he performed “Kitty’s Back,” a piece from 1973 and unlike anything else I heard that evening) but settled into simpler (tho still hard-driving) melodies that are immediately accessible to the listener. I was astounded by everyone’s singing along with him, and how he’d made that part of his show (even putting words to a new song on the giant screen, so we could join him). I wasn’t present for a lot of Jonah’s music-making (so you folks out there will have to let me know what music he made in public), but my sense of Jonah is that he loved bringing his public along with him. Not only with his music, but with everything he did. His NFTY region (“NAR”) established a Ruach (spirit) Award in Jonah’s memory because of the role he played there throughout high school. Never much for titles, Jonah shunned the electoral spotlight, preferring instead to do his work from amidst the populace. Throughout his NFTY years, he was loved for his generous, outgoing and unrelenting air of kindness and enthusiasm. So many of his contemporaries have related the difference Jonah Maccabee Dreskin made regarding their time in NFTY and at Kutz. With or without a guitar, Jonah was “the Jewish Springsteen” … the Union for Reform Judaism’s songleader.

Thought #6: As I sat there in a row filled with fifty-somethings, my attention kept being pulled to the row of twenty-somethings directly in front of me. Any one of them could have been Jonah … embarrassed to have his dad sitting behind him at the Springsteen concert … or maybe not. But that was only my imagination. Could only have been my imagination. The stadium contained roughly 40,000 people. Not one of them was my Jonah. Few of them knew my Jonah. All of them were having a great time. As should have happened. Me? I fluctuated between missing my son and also having a great time. As should have happened. More and more, I’m taking the pause button off of my life. I’m learning to live with Jonah as a memory. I carry him with me always. I think about what he would have enjoyed, and what he would have detested. I smile often because of that. And just as often, I cry. I don’t know if things will always be this way, and I imagine I’ll be okay any way this goes. Because just as Bruce gave an unforgettably wonderful performance the other night, Jonah Maccabee gave an unforgettably wonderful performance of his own. I’m lucky to have gotten great seats. And every so often, he even brought me onto his stage and danced with me. 🙂

Billy

2 Responses to “The E Street Shuffle”

  • I am touched, and so glad to have had the “Bruce” experience with you. Ben isn't a big Bruce fan either. But I took him last year,and he was amazed by how tight the band was and the amazing show. I didn't expect him to be so taken. I suspect Jonah would have reacted like Ben (the way they did so often when they were young). I'm glad you carried Jonah with you into the concert. He would have been impressed that his dad finally gave in!

    Geri

  • Sandi Lieb-Geiger:

    …and we cry along with you. Thanks for the moment, Billy. – Sandi 🙂

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