TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Bruce Springsteen's Storytelling Lessons For Lawyers (And Law Professors)

SpringsteenABA Journal, 'Springsteen on Broadway' Gives Lawyers 3 Storytelling Lessons:

There was a nor’easter last March when I drove down from Vermont to see Bruce Springsteen’s live show on Broadway. The ticket was outrageously expensive. But I had never seen Springsteen live; this was a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to see “the Boss” perform in a small venue. ...

Springsteen’s spare set, and his skill in distilling the complexities of his life into simple stories, would define his performance and inspire me to draw my own storytelling lessons—lessons that can be useful to lawyers.

I was struck by Springsteen’s physicality and by his strength and self-possession. He had performed the same show for many months by then. Night after night he had said these same words over and over, had sung the identical songs. Yet Springsteen was immersed in the moment. As he put it, “People come to see you be completely present. Anytime you’re trying to do that, it takes a lot of energy.”

Springsteen sang and played as if his life depended upon it. Perhaps it did. This was what he had been born to do. His performance was his gift to the audience. And I was riveted. ...

While the performance seemed spontaneous, it was not; it was a meticulously scripted composition. Springsteen even had a teleprompter displaying the text of his monologue in soft light at the back of the theater. But I never noticed. It was as if he was speaking directly to me, with nothing between us. ...

There were only 15 songs on Springsteen’s set list. The story was all about his journey. The journey is a common metaphoric container—it also captured my memories of coming to see him perform. Of course, Springsteen’s artistic journey spanned a lifetime.

The first movement was autobiographical: Springsteen’s early years in South Jersey (four songs). The second movement was his escape out of Jersey: his Homeric professional odyssey across the musical American landscape (four songs) where he finds a complex and redeeming love with Patti Scialfa (two duets). The third movement is marked by his return, including performance of six classic Springsteen songs (two combined), looking back in time and rediscovered with newfound present-tense meanings.

The show was more than merely a collection of songs or of spoken explanations wedded to songs, something much different than the conventional Broadway show or musical. It was performance poetry. As Springsteen observed, his artistic mantra was that adding one and one together had to make three; the whole had to be much more than merely the sum of the parts.

Springsteen’s advice for aspirational rock stars fits for lawyers too: “You will need to depend upon more than your instincts. You will need to develop some craft and creative intelligence that will lead you farther when things get dicey.” ...

I sat in the box after the show scribbling a list of storytelling ideas for lawyers on the back of my program:

  1. Some of Springsteen’s genius is to make the impossibly complex simple, to make presentation of compulsively thought-through and overdetermined material appear spontaneous, effortless and intuitive. Perhaps all story-tellers, including lawyers, are in this particular way part Jersey Boardwalk hustlers too.
  2. Work to be present, and believe fully in your story. Recognize, capture and employ strategic, emotionally transformative images as Springsteen did. Depict characters sympathetically and economically, and use perspective creatively. Keep the plot simple, if possible—employ clear narrative arcs (e.g., a beginning, a middle and an end) and employ purposeful and familiar narrative designs (e.g., Springsteen’s journey).
  3. It is impossible to recapture the past literally. Stories are reinventions—the past transformed by imagination and emotion—and narrative truth turns on verisimilitude (lifelikeness). We reinvent the past to make it come alive, as well as to find truth and meaning in our experiences, whether depicted in story or song. Springsteen on Broadways is a reflection on memory and identity—how stories enable us to inhabit the past and relive it through who we are today—whether we are in a theater or a courtroom.

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This is a very nice write-up Mr. Caron, and gets across critical points to lawyers and law professors, too!.... Furthermore, it's a wonderful tribute to The Boss.

Posted by: Virginia La Torre Jeker, J.D. | Sep 27, 2018 3:30:38 AM

Way to convert personal entertainment into a business expense - write a law article about it.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Sep 27, 2018 4:53:58 AM

Thanks for reminding me of one mark of a true professional, dedication: "Springsteen sang and played as if his life depended upon it." And he did that week after week, performance after performance.

Another mark is that a true professional performs equally well under pressure. I saw that in a men v. women figure skating competition. At the end it came down to Kristi Yamaguchi. If she skated absolutely perfectly, the women would win. If she made one mistake, the men would win. Under all that pressure, she performed to perfection. After each difficult move, you could see the smile break out on her face. She knew she could do it and she did.

That's the kind of lawyer I'd life to have in a difficult battle.

Posted by: Michael W. Perry | Sep 27, 2018 5:21:04 AM