I’ve never once referred to Bruce Springsteen as “The Boss” and I was a particularly late-bloomer when it came to appreciating his music. I freely admit to not knowing much about Greetings from Asbury Park or The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, which are his initial studio releases. I also confess that I have pretty much lost track of Bruce Springsteen following the 2004 birth of my daughter Emily. That means that the last official development of relevance in my life from Springsteen is 2002’s The Rising, which recently celebrated its 10th birthday.
So while I’ve taken a listen to Devils & Dust, pondered curiously at The Seeger Sessions, dabbled in Magic, and perhaps enjoyed a take or two from Wrecking Ball, I’ve really kind of moved on. The mere fact that he has created four unique studio “albums” since I last considered myself a serious fan is a testimony to Springsteen’s amazing abilities as an artist and a sad testimony to time flying by and life leaving little wiggle room for all of the pleasures in life.
Thankfully I have brother-in-law Gene to keep me posted on Bruce-related developments.
Well Gene and the excellent Springsteen Radio station on Sirius/XM.
I still keep in touch with Bruce Springsteen. I still have fond admiration and appreciation for his abilities and endurance. The man is 62-years-old and still performing concerts that go well beyond the three-hour mark.
Following the 2002 release of The Rising, Gene and I embarked on a bit of a concert going frenzy (Gene more so than me) in support of the album’s tour. Curiously I opted to not attend any of the shows in Los Angeles, but I did find myself in such locales as Phoenix, San Francisco, Sacramento and East Rutherford, New Jersey.
If someone had blindfolded me before the Phoenix show and then removed the blindfold once inside the arena I would have sworn that I was inside the Staples Center, as the buildings are identical. San Francisco was a blast, as it was my first and only outdoor Springsteen concert. Springsteen and the E Street Band were completely entertaining if not enthralling at each show, and they managed to mix up the set list enough each night to make for a completely unique concert experience. A perfect blend of his new stuff from The Rising mixed with enough old favorites and surprises.
Sacramento was entirely memorable.
First, the amazing race to get to our state capitol was an experience in and of itself, as Gene drove into the night hellbent to get us to a record store in time for the issuing of wristbands so that we might have a shot to be “in the pit” with our general admission tickets. For those of you not in the know, “the pit” is the area right in front of the stage and is populated mostly by devotees who have a serious need to be close to the band.
What Gene didn’t know that night and won’t know until he actually reads this is that I was already starting to develop the serious concert-going phobia that plagues me to this day. What Gene couldn’t possibly know is that on that particular night I was secretly hoping that he would fail miserably in his quest to deliver us to the Promised Land.
But he drove like a maniac. In a good, legal way. We got there with literally minutes to spare and I believe we likely received the final two wristbands of the night. “Awesome,” I said probably very unconvincingly. That night over some beers, pizza and Springsteen music Gene advised that our chances to get a favorable place in line for the pit were just as good as the guy who received the first wristband, but he solemnly admitted that he fully expected us to be in the far outskirts of the general admission area.
I breathed a silent sigh of relief.
The next morning we arrived for the drawing. Groggy-eyed Springsteen fans waited expectedly for the guy to bark out their numbers while I stood there stone-faced, but supportive, and assumed that this would be the one time in my life that my number would actually get called.
And sure enough it was.
Gene assessed the situation and advised that we would be among the first 50 people to walk into the general admission area.
“Dude, we’re going to have our elbows on the stage!” he said gleefully.
I felt some sweat trickle down my back and wanted to be as excited as Gene, but that phobia was and is a strong one. Hard to explain, but it is an odd mixture of feeling bad about blocking the sightline of others and just some general anxiety of being in close proximity to a lot of people. Yep, I’ve got issues.
Concert time arrived and there we were just as Gene predicted, among the first few dozen Springsteen fans outside the door. After waiting 30 minutes the doors opened and cheers rang-out, as hundreds of devotees and one socially inept tall man made their collective way into the arena. It seems like only yesterday that we were sitting on the floor together talking to the people around us. Sitting of course, because the concert had not yet started and when it did we would all be standing, cheering and dancing for the better part of the next three hours. People told stories about how long they had been fans, and one couple in particular told of how they had loved Bruce’s music forever and that their young daughter who was with them in the pit had also grown very fond of the music of Bruce Springsteen.
She would not be fond of me.
House lights blink. The show is about to start. We all get up – elbows on the stage. And then I hear it from the little girl. “Mommy, he’s too tall – I can’t see.” The mom asks if there is any way that we can switch places, and in an amazing display of courage and selfishness on my part I deny the request.
I figured I’d come this far. I might as well go all the way.
So there I stood – elbows on the stage, dang it – and there stood Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. So close. I swore that I made eye contact with Little Steven. I’m pretty sure that Patty winked at me. But nothing prepared me for Bruce Springsteen standing right above me, so close that I could see inside his mouth, taking note of the fact that he needed some dental work.
It was amazing. Transfixed by the performance, I forgot all about the little girl until I snuck a peek and saw her happily atop the shoulders of her daddy. I waved. She didn’t wave back.
Now here’s the truly cool part of the story. Well, at least for me.
Bruce has some schtick that is pretty consistent throughout each show, usually how he introduces the band, or requires “reviving” by a roadie or fellow band member following a particularly raucous portion of the show. “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” was always fun to watch, as Bruce and the now dearly departed Big Man Clarence Clemons would banter back and forth. On The Rising tour Bruce grew fond of running and sliding on his knees at the very front of the stage during the catchy Waitin’ on a Sunny Day tune off the new album. He performed his stunt a few times already when his final slide took him precisely to our little section of the stage. Slide completed, he stood and looked out and everyone raised their arms in a mad grab for the legend that was Bruce Springsteen. He was within our grasp. He was sweating on us and now he was looking down right at us. I had resisted the urge to reach up and grab, but once he looked down I couldn’t help myself. And being the giant that I am, my extended arm easily reached past the adoring, flailing hands and arms of the shorter, perhaps more devoted fans who were clamoring for a touch.
I raised my right arm and assumed the “bro handshake” posture with my hand, and wouldn’t you know it? Bruce Springsteen willingly accepted the invitation, firmly grabbed on to my hand, and gave me the bro handshake that I will always remember. Yes, I have washed the hand since. Amazingly, the folks around us were happy for me and I received pats on the back and a few high-fives.
What a moment.
Gene and I also took in three consecutive nights at Giants Stadium in New Jersey that year. There was no general admission worries for me this time around, but the tight crowds got to be a bit much and Gene happily obliged my request that we move to the very back of the floor area for the final two shows, and with a little room to move around we danced and clapped and sang like we were part of the band. It was a great time, and memories of those adventures will forever be treasured. Thank you Bruce and thank you Gene.
Like I mentioned, I am not the traditional Bruce Springsteen fan. It would seem that tradition comes in two forms when it comes to Springsteen fans. You either liked him from the very beginning (Greetings/Wild, Innocent), or you hooked-up with Bruce in 1984 with his immensely famous Born in the USA album.
I missed out on both openings. I arrived late to the Springsteen party, but at least I showed up.
My buddies Brian and Tom first introduced me to the amazing music and beautiful, often heartbreaking/gut-wrenching lyrics of Bruce Springsteen one summer. Each night we would gather for Mickey’s Big Mouth malt liquor and other mind-altering inducements and listen to interesting music.
There was Pink Floyd and The Eagles, The Doors and Bauhaus.
And there was Bruce Springsteen.
Tom in particular could set the stage for some amazing lyrics that we were about to hear by telling a quick story about how a song had impacted him the first time he’d listened to it. Then he would play the song and it was like his experience was suddenly mine. The River is an amazing double album filled with classics, and Tom walked me through the amazingly painful lyrics of “Stolen Car,” “Independence Day,” and “Point Blank.”
The title track is intense. “Drive all Night” is a killer. I was never the same.
A little later on I had a Jersey girl by my side and she revealed the sunnier, romantic side of Bruce. She got me the live box set as a gift and I listened every day. She once serenaded me with her beautiful rendition of “Thunder Road” while we sat in the car one night. Bruce Springsteen, it seemed had cast an amazing spell on me.
The Darkness on the Edge of Town album is now my co-favorite. I’d obviously missed out the first time around, but now I look at the compilation of greatness, from “Badlands” to the title track and everything in between and I feel inspired. Just the other day I lucked in to “Streets of Fire” on XM and I found myself clenching my jaw a bit to try to sing it like Bruce, with all the tenacity and sweat. What a joy.
The other co-favorite is 1987’s solo effort, Tunnel of Love. Looking at the track list right now I clearly see that it might be stronger than Darkness, as I more closely identify with all of the themes and angst associated with the lyrics. Every song on Tunnel still resonates with me to this day and I recall crying like a baby during a concert when Bruce sang “Walk Like a Man.” Heck, I even took guitar lessons for a year just so I could learn how to play “Valentine’s Day.”
So sentimentally sweet, and so romantic.
I’m drivin’ a big lazy car/rushin’ up the highway in the dark
I got one hand steady on the wheel/and one hand’s tremblin’ over my heart
And it’s pounding baby/like it’s gonna bust right on through
And it ain’t gonna stop/till I’m alone again with you
Ah man, I still love Bruce.
The other night I posted a recent concert video on Facebook where Bruce and the band performed “Drive all Night” during the European leg of the tour promoting Wrecking Ball. It is a stunning performance of a song that still slaps me in the face because of its beauty. It hurts though.
Much of my past is steeped in those old songs that I discovered so late in the game. I shared the link with Brian and Tom and then Tom and I exchanged some messages on the subject. I won’t divulge what we discussed other than to tell you that the pain felt in Tom’s heart is felt in my heart too. We agreed that as difficult as it is to look back we really need to do it sometimes to clearly see where we are currently headed. It’s like a Springsteen GPS.
The road that I took to Bruce Springsteen is a rocky one filled with mystery, heartache, joy and Mickey’s Big Mouth. And while I may not be traveling any further with Bruce as he continues to pave his legacy of greatness with new lyrics and poetry I am happy to know that he is still out there and doing what he does best.
In the meantime I plan to still visit many of the familiar road stops for a smile and a few tears. Perhaps the next time that Tom is in town we can tip a Mickey’s and salute the man who saw us through the pain and perhaps unintentionally added a bit to our misery. But in a good way.