At age 50, I was a Bruce Springsteen concert virgin. I’d been listening to him and loving his music intensely since 1973. In fact, it’s probably safe to say I lived his music. I ALMOST saw him once, but it doesn’t really count. It was the 1988 Amnesty International Concert at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, but he came on last, and after a full day in the hot sun and too much beer, the friend I was with (Hi Rita!) insisted on leaving before it was over so we could beat the traffic. I vividly remember standing by my car and hearing him start to play “Thunder Road” and falling back onto the car and thinking to myself, “WHAT HAVE I DONE???!!!”
Years go by, and I still love Bruce, but for reasons that shall remain mysterious to now, he becomes more of a private pleasure. I move onto other musical interests, and the hundreds of concerts I see just never happen to be him. And then I get XM satellite radio (which actually first led me to love country music). But after country music, I begin to fall back on the E-Street Radio station. I start to feel friendly with Dave Marsh again (I remember those early days at Rolling Stone!). I start hearing Bruce songs that I never heard before and that speak to me now as an adult in a whole new way. And I reconnect with the Bruce tribe in a way I had forgotten existed. It’s actually amazing to realize that there is such a large group of people out there who share similar feelings and hope and dreams. I start to dream of being “the Boss” and putting together a set list for my one-hour DJ session on Channel 20 on XM.
So when I heard he had a new album and a new tour, it was a foregone conclusion that I would go. Nothing—nothing—was going to stop me. I got tickets for Good Friday and Easter Monday at Madison Square Garden. And I became one of the thousands of people who listened to each new song, in album order, as it was released online in advance. I even listened to his South by Southwest keynote speech, which was, honestly, one of the most brilliant speeches I have ever listened to. It’s the story of Rock ‘n’ Roll. It’s the story of finding, facing, and not fearing creative power (“You suck!” “You are awesome!”). It’s the story of the evolution and inspiration of a musical genius who has managed to continue to innovate and remain relevant into “fucking old age.” (My words, not his. But he is 62.) Here is what he did say that I wrote down: When talking about soul music, he called it the “Church of the Earth,” which I thought was brilliant. Now THAT is a church I can belong to, I thought!
And that’s what it felt like when I finally got to see him live. The ecstatic joy of feeling union with the divine through music, rhythm, poetry—powerful words that peel away the differences between us and get to the center of what makes us human and alive and in love.
Friday night I saw him from the floor, among the drunken, dancing, seething mass of Bruce fans. It was fun to watch the people around me. Some danced, some played air guitar. Everyone sang. Most were old, but not all. In fact, a fair share of the crowd was little kids being brought by their parents. Bruce’s mom came on stage at the end for “Dancing in the Dark.” It felt like a show that bridged multiple generations—especially to see Clarence Clemons’ nephew Jake step into the spotlight to take up the great sax tradition of the E-Street Band. And he stepped right up.
Monday night I sat behind the stage and saw, literally, a different side of the show. I could see Bruce turn around from finishing a song and change the set list in real time (which is a little religion of its own—people study those damn things!). Every time Jake Clemons finished a solo, he’d turn back and share his victory with us.
What brings people to church? A chance to celebrate life, mourn death, face the truths we try to ignore the rest of the week, and ultimately, for me, to sing. I did all those things. We were crucified and resurrected. We celebrated and we mourned. (I had thought the “10th Avenue Freeze Out” tribute to Clarence wouldn’t be as good twice, and I was wrong.)
Did he play every song I wanted to hear? Of course not. That would be impossible. There are too many songs. And I’m sure my favorites are not everyone else’s. But what I love—and what makes him relevant as an artist—is that some of his new songs are now my favorites, too. “Rocky Ground.” “Land of Hope and Dreams.” “Death to My Hometown.” “Wrecking Ball.”
I must admit, before I went to any of the concerts there was a little voice that said maybe seeing him twice would be too much. Would I be bored the second night? Halfway through the first concert I began to understand. Somehow, Bruce is able to leave you exhausted (and, as Bruce says, “with your sexual organs stimulated”) and yet wanting more. I guess it’s like sex: Having it once just isn’t enough. You get the craving and you need to, want to, have it again.
Now that I’m not a virgin anymore, I understand. And I’m hooked.
See you next time, Bruce.