Here's How Good Failure Can Look

by Mike Davis, Ph.D.
Head of School

I want to share a video that got me thinking about appreciating those moments when people have courage, confidence, and even grace in the face of failure.
 
It involves two of my favorite rock and rollers: Chuck Berry and Bruce Springsteen. In the video shot a few years ago in Germany, Springsteen gives the audience a chance to request a song. Someone asks for Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell."  
 
I’ll bet that not many of our students today know who Chuck Berry is, and that is a shame. The guitar licks he created built rock and roll. Songs like "Johnny B. Goode," "Carol," or "Promised Land," are among a multitude of songs that inspired many a teenager in the 1950s to pick up a guitar. Berry’s songs were covered by bands, like the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead, that eclipsed him in fame and fortune.  For his part, Berry had a controversial past; he did time in prison and faced racial discrimination.  To make more money on his tours, Berry would not travel with a touring band. Rather, he would hire a local band. They would barely rehearse and then hit the stage.  I saw Chuck Berry in concert in the late 1980s at a county fair. He was playing with a back-up band.
 
In 1973, as Springsteen and the E Street Band were just getting started, they played with Berry as his back-up band.  (Wouldn’t that have been amazing to see?) According to legend, Springsteen asked Berry what they were going to play. Berry replied, “Chuck Berry songs boys, what did you think?”
 
But the request for Springsteen to play Berry’s song is instructive. In this clip, watch how a master works through a classic song, attempting again and again, and coaxing the band to come along.  Although he has played this song before, the video shows Springsteen initially struggling to pull the song together in front of a huge audience.  You see him thinking about the lyrics, melody, rhythm and structure, trying to strategize how he and the band are going to get there. You can see Steve van Zandt and other band members cracking up and making faces.  Yet, Springsteen perseveres.
 
In front of thousands of people, Springsteen is not afraid to show how he and his band work. They make it look easy, but the reality is that it came from lots of hard work and the willingness to put it all out there and be courageous in the face of failure.
 
Here’s the clip:
 
 
For a bonus, here is an audio recording of the Boss and the E Street Band playing this song in 1974 with their own unique arrangement.  You can hear the mastery of his musicianship.  He talks for about a minute before beginning the song.
 
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