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Springsteen and Every “Idol” Word

“That which I greatly feared has come to pass.”

Classic words from the oldest book of the Bible, Job.

And if you’ve been wandering around here on this fallen world for any length of time, you’ve probably had the occasion to mutter that phrase yourself.

Maybe it was the time you made the most important business presentation of your life, only to discover you did so with your zipper at half-mast.

Maybe it was returning home after a promising first date, only to discover a blob of secret sauce had been hitch hiking on your upper lip since lunch.

Or, if you are Bruce Springsteen, maybe it was the time you “misfired” up a crowd.

‘Hello, Ohio!’ (Psst! Boss, we’re in Michigan)

Red-faced Springsteen describes mistake as ‘every front man’s


Bruce Springsteen performs with The E Street Band.

Um, you’ve got the wrong state, Boss.

Legendary rocker Bruce Springsteen made an onstage geography goof Friday when he bellowed “Hello, Ohio!” to adoring fans at the Auburn Hills Palace — in Michigan.

The “Born in the USA” crooner referred to the neighboring state several times before trusty E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt whispered their actual location into his ear.

What is it that makes this story so relatable?

There isn’t a single one of us who hasn’t had the opportunity to commit a verbal blunder or two.

From the embarrassing slip of the tongue, to a full blown case of foot in mouth disease, we’ve all known what it is like to say something seemingly innocent and innocous only to have people give us the patented “I can’t believe you just said that!” stare.

And believe me, the impact of speech gone awry is only magnified when it happens in front of a group.

I’ll never forget the morning I was asked to do announcements at one of the first churches I served in as a fledgling assistant pastor.

Let’s face it,  announcements are one of the least inspiring parts of any church service. So I wanted to inject as much humor and enthusiasm into the assignment as possible.

There was to be a baby dedication happening later on in the service.

So I said, “As you can see we are going to be dedicating a beautiful baby later on in the service..”

Then I paused.

I should have shut up and sat down.

But nooooo.

For reasons beyond human ability to comprehend, I decided to go off the cuff.

“Well, I don’t know about beautiful. All babies kind of look like Winston Churchill when they are born.”

The collective blank stare from the congregation should have given it away.

I was in big trouble.

“Ah, no big deal”, I thought. “Everyone knows I was just kidding.”


Everyone except the parents, who began the dedication by saying, “We wanted everyone to see just how beautiful our baby really is.”

Ouch. That left a mark.

I learned a valuable lesson that day. A verse in Scripture took on a depth of meaning I had never seen in it before.

My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.  For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. (James 3:1-2)

As the old proverb goes, “Make sure your words are sweet and tender for some day you may have to eat them.”

And as Bruce Springsteen and I have both discovered from personal experience, even little words can have a huge impact on our lives.

Jesus told us the same thing.

A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:35-37)

The words we speak really do matter.

If we do something damaging, in most cases  we can always undo it.

But have you ever noticed that if we say something damaging we can never “unsay” it?

I guess that is why we all need someone like Steven Van Zandt in our lives.

Let’s face it, publicly correcting an internationally known show man like Bruce Springsteen while on stage would be a pretty challenging task.

Van Zandt’s account of the incident is fascinating.

“The first time I was like ‘Did I just hear that?’ The second time I looked at [bassist] Garry [Tallent] and said, ‘Did you hear what I just heard?’ At that point I knew I had to get Bruce’s attention, but I couldn’t get it through the rest of ‘Wrecking Ball.’ There was no time to really have that conversation [laughs hysterically]. I’m like, ‘Please, God, don’t give him a chance to do it again before I get a chance to talk to him.’ Sure enough, he did it a third time and I’m like, ‘That’s it. This crowd is about to rebel. They’re going to attack us!’ I just grabbed him and said, ‘You don’t realize it, but you’re saying Ohio and we’re in Michigan.’ He was like ‘What!?’

He just goes to a place onstage. At certain times he’s down on earth where we can have a conversation and a lot of the times he’s not. It’s a full adrenaline rush where you can’t have a conversation. I looked him right in the eye and he knew I wasn’t just saying something casual. It took him two or three times for him to come down to earth and hear what I was saying. He made a great joke out of it. He said, ‘I’ve been worried my whole life I’m going to do that and I finally did that.’ I guess the last gig was Cleveland. Maybe it was that. He didn’t have the city wrong. In his mind he knew he was in Detroit, but somehow Detroit wound up in Ohio for a minute.”

Fortunately, there was enough of a relationship between Van Zandt and Springsteen that what could have been an embarrassing break down turned into a joke.

And since we are all prone to embarrassing breakdowns from time to time, can I ask you a question?

Do you have a Steven Van Zandt in your life?

Not a professional musician, but someone who is close enough to you to tell you when you’ve said something off the mark?

No doubt it’s hard to receive that kind of correction. It’s much easier to get defensive, rationalize or point out the times that others weren’t exactly silver-tongued orators.

But when we humbly receive correction,

whether on stage,

in a sermon

or even in a privately shared conversation,

we discover that with God’s help, even our tongues can be tamed.

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