January 20, 2021: From Amanda Gorman to Bruce Springsteen

In his weekly column at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Tony Norman reflects on Biden’s inauguration day. Here is a taste:

Much has been made of the final lines of Ms. Gorman’s poem delivered with what we pray isn’t a futile hope given how polarized we are: “The new dawn blooms as we free it./ For there is always light,/ if only we’re brave enough to see it./ If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

It was a stunning five-minute performance. You could almost hear the applause coming from every other house up and down our American streets. It was the proof we needed that there was no longer the automatic expectation of drooling idiocy at a political event and that room has once again been made for the presence of grace and beauty.

Not every speech or segment delivered on Wednesday was as impactful, but Ms. Gorman did establish a bar that many will seek to surpass at future inaugurations, if only as a point of professional pride. Her speech, like Mr. Biden’s, was the opposite in tone of the infamous “American Carnage” inaugural address. Both served as welcome antidotes to the overwhelming stupidity and vulgarity of political discourse in the age of Trump.

By the time Bruce Springsteen stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for a solo acoustic performance later that evening, I was already convinced that our culture was emerging from the toxic winter fine and dandy.

Mr. Springsteen broke into a fierce, but abbreviated rendition of “Land of Hope and Dreams” that leaned heavily on its Woody Guthrie influences and Gospel images to express American optimism in the face of the task at hand: “I will provide for you/ And I’ll stand by your side/ You’ll need a good companion/ For this part of the ride/ Leave behind your sorrows/ Let this day be the last/ Tomorrow there’ll be sunshine/ and all this darkness past.”

But it is the chorus, sung through clenched teeth that never fails to break my heart because of the way it captures our uniquely American contradictions: “Big wheels roll through fields/ Where sunlight streams/ Meet me in the land of hope and dreams/ This train carries saints and sinners/ This train carries losers and winners/ This train carries whores and gamblers/ This train carries lost souls/ I said, this train dreams will not be thwarted/ This train faith will be rewarded/ This train hear the steel wheels singin’/ This train bells of freedom ringin.’”

Read the entire piece here.