Streets of Philadelphia

Full disclosure, here at the start: I’ve never been a big fan of Bruce Springsteen’s. But, I honour him as a significant musical presence in the world. We just have never really clicked… for the most part. But I hope you’ll read on anyway; I am sure it will be worth your time.

One song of Springsteen’s that I love, and know could never have been done better by anyone else, is today’s selection. The song and melody anchor the Jonathan Demme film, Philadelphia. It stars Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, supported by some stellar actors: Mary Steenburgen and Jason Robards (two longtime favourites of mine), and Antonio Banderas. 

I remember seeing the movie not long after its 1993 release and can still recall the societal fear, ignorance and intolerance it depicts so agonizingly well, and how deeply the film affected me at the time — and does whenever I think about it or this song.

Hanks, who plays a man who has contracted the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and has developed acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), has been fired from his job as a lawyer seeks help from Washington’s character, also a lawyer. When they meet, the latter is hesitant about being in Hanks’s character’s presence and looks at his outstretched hand in fear. (Fast forward to today, when we’re only starting to gather in groups after lockdown, and it’s still my sincere hope that the handshake is dead because unlike HIV, the coronavirus is known to be capable of being spread as a result of such contact. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy a good handshake, but it isn’t as effective a sign of respect as a simple bow and is a proven disease sharer. Its time has come.)

Also, today’s song falls into that category of serendipity that I’ve written to you about before. On Friday, I attended an online “coffee chat” hosted by the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS), the national association for public relations and communications professionals. I was a member while working in PR and am now a retired member, and have participated in a few of their activities in recent years. Yesterday’s was a talk by Daniel Tisch, who holds accreditation from and is a Fellow of the Society, the latter a distinction placed upon only a few. He’s also into Springsteen, according to his Twitter profile (@DanTisch, though I quit Twitter some time ago due to my difficulty with its toxicity, and only dip my toes in occasionally from the sidelines, observing a minimal number of accounts and following even fewer).

Tisch and I met at a CPRS national conference in 2013 and have admired him and his work and character ever since. 

In 2018, when Tisch was being brought to Winnipeg, Canada to speak on the future of public relations, a friend and colleague who was still attached to the provincial CPRS board remembered how I had enthusiastically said how I wanted to pick him up at the airport and hang out/help out if Dan ever came to Winnipeg. Wow… not only did I get to do that, but I also toured him around many of our city’s sights and then we spent nearly two hours in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. It was an exciting day for me, and memory of this thrill returned when I later received a personal thank-you card and pair of argyle socks from him in the mail (he is the CEO of Argyle Public Relationships; it’s his thing to do that, and for years I had wondered how I could ever achieve receiving a pair of those!). We’ve engaged online numerous times since and I always get a genuine sense of his appreciation for our friendship.

Hanging out on the alabaster-clad ramps of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, May 16, 2018.

When planning Dan’s city tour, I made a mix CD of songs based on two Springsteen tunes (“Human Touch” and “Streets of Philadelphia”) surrounded by 14 others from my collection that I thought were compatible with them. Incredibly, I forgot to play it while we were driving that first day, and plans changed so that he didn’t need a ride (and supplemental tour) en route to the airport the next day, so the CD went unheard. Oh well. Another souvenir.

The unheard playlist.

I guess what I take from this post is that human connection and honouring are so critical, always. Yesterday on the CPRS call, Dan greeted me heartily and, amidst the many other participants, we had a quick chat about PR issues relating to Winnipeg. Thinking today about the song and movie, I was treated far differently by him than the Hanks character was in the film. I don’t take that for granted.

My late father used to go out of his way to greet and smile at everyone he met in the mall or on the street, and he was a survivor of the hell of World War II. That inspired and still inspires me immensely, and while I don’t always do as he did, I’m trying to be more intentional about it. And I think of him when I do, and feel like I’m somehow adding stitches to help weave a heartier societal fabric. It’s something we can all do, and when Dan does it, there’s such authenticity in it.

When I hear “Streets of Philadelphia,” I feel such a terrible sadness thinking of the shunning of people living with HIV/AIDS; I absolutely cannot listen to it without tears, thinking of the portrayal in the movie and how that acting was and still is a reality for so, so many people who are living with the disease or have lost loved ones to HIV/AIDS… “I heard the voices of friends vanished and gone…” And, I also think of that playlist and my dream-come-true encounter with one of my mentors.

For me, part of the power of the song is the deep emotion in it. Springsteen is a very humane person, so although not a favourite musician of mine, I am completely entranced by his ode to those in suffering, loss, love and grief and how he has presented it in this song.

The other part of the serendipity is that the song played in the car on CarPlay autoplay today when I ventured out for groceries, and it staked its claim as my song of the day when it grabbed at my heart like it always does.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s the official video for the song from Bruce Springsteen’s YouTube channel — it’s a stunning piece that I saw for the first time tonight: 

2 thoughts on “Streets of Philadelphia

  1. I love Bruce Springsteen! We saw him live along with the E Street Band at Bramhall Lane Stadium in Sheffield in the 90s. They were incredible! Streets of Philadelphia is a particularly poignant and moving song and can easily move me to tears. The film is raw! It’s an intrinsic part of being human to want to make contact with other humans. Hand shakes, high fives, hugs, kisses it all part of our make up. The cat even wants to snuggle up when the mood takes her!
    The virus has put paid to all that and now we’re sterile!
    I have to share a classroom with 12 six year olds tomorrow who’s sole purpose in life is to hug and play with each other and touch everything they possibly can!! Good luck me!!
    I also remember hanging out at the alabaster ramps it the Canadian Museum of Human Rights!!
    Thanks for Bruce! Loved it! X


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