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24 May 2023updated 25 May 2023 1:48pm

A transcendent singalong with Bruce Springsteen in Rome

Also this week: great journalists remembered, and a duck called Puskás.

By Roger Alton

On a recent windswept night in Rome’s Circus Maximus – once home of the chariot races – Bruce Springsteen delivered a three-hour epic show that transcended any definition of rock music. Above and beyond, all right. And, reassuringly, the average age of the audience wasn’t under 25 by the look of things. They’re all tramps like us, after all. The local press headlined their report “Roma in delirio”, which struck me as something of an understatement. They put the crowd at 60,000: had they doubled that figure it wouldn’t have surprised me.

There’s always been something quasi-religious about a Springsteen concert, from the ecstatic expression on the faces of the thousands of fans who have queued all day to get in the mosh-pit, to the desperate reaching out to touch The Boss’s hands, as well as the almost liturgical chorus and response interplay between Bruce, the band and the crowd. The crowd knows its part now and is as much a performer in the show (almost) as The Boss. From “No Surrender”, to “The Rising”, to “Thunder Road”, to the hypnotic chorus on “Badlands”, the fans know their role to the last note.

Amazingly, due to some magic in the night, Springsteen’s voice appears to have got even stronger as he has got older, something he seems to be endearingly pleased about. This might be his last series of stadium shows: it is a huge undertaking, with umpteen musicians and singers, all impeccable as ever. Maybe he will do some smaller, acoustic tours. In the meantime, if you get a chance, do catch this extraordinary show. It’s the history of rock ’n’ roll: inspirational stuff, honest.

Typewriters past

Memorial services for friends and colleagues these days come thick and fast. You end up feeling tender and sorrowful for the individual, of course you do, but overwhelmingly f***ed off that they are gone.

At the service at the journalists’ church, St Bride’s off Fleet Street, for Donald Trelford, for 18 years the courageous and determined editor of the Observer, the audience was full of some of the most distinguished journalists and broadcasters of the past 50 years: men such as Richard Ingrams, Neal Ascherson and Jeremy Isaacs, who wielded immense influence with what they wrote. But was it also an elegy to a vanishing era? Will we see their like again – men who cared about everything they wrote – in an age when, with the flick of a button, you can transform a piece completely. How many people under the age of 25 or so would buy a newspaper? Not many that I know. I suspect that the recent coronation could easily be the last such event treated to huge print coverage, multiple pages, souvenir supplements and magazines, and reams of commentary.

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[See also: Is this the end of newspapers?]

Spotting the ball

A few weeks earlier we had said goodbye to Eamonn McCabe, the great photographer. He was the first to turn sports photography into art. It never really existed half a century ago. It was always a filler and an afterthought at the back of the paper. Eamonn changed all that: he had an eye for perfection, for a different angle, for a touch of humour that made people smile. He was funny, too. He once wryly described the great sports journalist Hugh McIlvanney as his caption writer.

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Blackpool’s Barmy Army

A chum has written a charming film script about the Atomic Boys, a group of passionate, devoted and very jolly Blackpool supporters in the 1940s and 1950s. They were a sort of forerunner to cricket’s Barmy Army. They wore outlandish clothes (often tangerine, for Blackpool’s colours); they had a duck called Puskás (after the great Hungarian forward), which they took to matches; and they always played cheerful tunes as they marched to games. In the grim, grey ration-book Britain after the Second World War, they did a great deal to lift everybody’s spirits, as really only sport can do.  A great subject for a feel-good film, I’d say.

Born to fall

It wasn’t all fun and games at the Springsteen concert: after a bit of pasta and maybe one too many limoncellos, I took a thumping great fall in the street outside my hotel, doing heaven knows what to my left side. As I limp about slowly and unsteadily, the kindness of strangers is something to behold: “Do you want a hand, sir?” Oh God, I thought, I have climbed the Eiger, won a squash championship and even scored a century, but now I am just a decrepit old bloke tottering along, the object of kindly and sympathetic glances. This is how it ends.

[See also: My footwear choices are a protest against encroaching old age]

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This article appears in the 24 May 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory Crack-Up