I've had a tortured relationship to Bruce Springsteen since I first heard his music on the radio. I grew up on Long Island where Bruce didn't get much airplay, probably in deference to our own home-grown musical son, the execrable Billy Joel. I'm assuming Bruce was perceived as "Jersey" and - short of Born To Run - I don't remembering hearing him much until Born In The USA, which was HUGE on the radio. I couldn't stand that record because - like many people - I wasn't listening carefully and thought Bruce was praising a country I felt had gone horribly wrong under Ronald Reagan (I also hated the synthesizers). Because Springsteen's music tends to the anthemic, which the radio loves and which was anathema to me in my punk rock days, Bruce was someone whose music I actively avoided.
It wasn't until I moved to New Jersey and heard Darkness On The Edge Of Town at a friend's house that I began to "get it" about Bruce. I went out and bought Darkness and Born To Run and Greetings From Asbury Park and whatever else I could find. I even managed to see him in concert a few times, years ago - to the great ridicule of my Long Island friends, who reminded me, "You said you HATED Bruce Springsteen!" Yes, I did. I was big on extreme emotions, back in the day. But Bruce eventually won me over with his understanding of working-class desperation and striving - and especially with the live show, an amazing display of energy and charisma. His willingness to be political, to come out against George Bush and take a humanistic stance earned my respect.
Because my path nearly crossed Springsteen's several times over the past few years (1. Red Bank record store, The Rising midnight release: Bruce shows up, hangs out - I almost went but didn't because I was too tired. 2. Exploring Asbury Park with my then-girlfriend, we come across a video shoot packing up and are told we missed Springsteen by half an hour. 3. Bruce is interviewed in Asbury by the company I work for - and another engineer is assigned.) I always wondered what I'd say if I ever met him. I don't get star-struck often because I meet famous people all the time at the aforementioned radio gig. But to come face-to-face with Springsteen - the idea freaked me out. I actually tried to prepare myself, come up with something witty to say that wouldn't sound too fawning but let Bruce know I appreciated what he did. Nothing came to me. I should've thought harder: Saturday night I met Bruce Springsteen.
It didn't happen in New Jersey. I was at the World Financial Center for the Nebraska concert, presented as part of the New York Guitar Festival. I'd gone to see Laura Cantrell - who performed Used Cars (downloadable Quicktime movie, 15 MB) and sat with her husband, Jeremy Tepper. Just after Laura was done, Jeremy turns to me and whispers, "Bruce is here."
"He's standing to the side. He's with Patty (Scialfa, his wife)."
"Get out of here. It must be someone who looks like Bruce..."
"Nope. It's him."
I looked off in the direction Jeremy indicated but saw no Bruce-like silhouette. And I couldn't imagine why Bruce would actually drag his wife to this free event on such a cold, miserable night. The last act (Kevin Kinney with Lenny Kaye, performing Reason To Believe) finished up but stayed on the stage, to be joined shortly by all the other performers. Just as I was thinking Dear God save us from the Super Jam! there was a murmuring throughout the place that grew into a roar when the crowd onstage parted and Bruce stepped through, strumming a jumbo acoustic. The audience rose to its feet as Springsteen led his fellow musicians in a stumbling take of Woody Guthrie's Oklahoma Hills (downloadable Quicktime movie, 21 MB). Watch for Laura and Dan Zanes being goaded by Bruce toward a working microphone, after theirs dies, and a little later notice when Laura holds the lyric sheet for him.
After a brief interview with the evening's MC, John Platt (during which Bruce answers the question, "Did we get any of it wrong?" by saying, "A lot of the interpretations of the songs... were wrong. Most of the songs were written... to get woman to pull their pants down." Bruce was leaving the stage when David Spelman - the co-founder and artistic director of the New York Guitar Festival - could be clearly seen imploring him to come back and perform solo. I could see Bruce shake his head "No" several times and I instantly knew why: he wasn't interested in upstaging any of the other performers. He hung around backstage a little, then went up an escalator to a bar upstairs at the World Financial Center.
The concert over, Jeremy, Laura and I headed to the same bar for the after-party. I knew Bruce was in there somewhere but I was intent on getting a beer, so I sidled up to the bar and waited for a complimentary Brooklyn Lager. A beer materialized but I wasn't sure if it was for me or the woman next to me, who turned out to be Patty Scialfa. I tapped her on the shoulder and politely inquired, "Is that your beer - or mine?"
"I think it's yours. I'm drinking wine."
"Thanks. I just didn't want to take your beer. Or Bruce's." Patty laughed. And then - speak of the devil - there I was face-to-face with the Boss. I stuck out my hand, said, "I'm from New Jersey, too."
"Hey! A Jersey boy." Bruce laughed and shook my hand vigorously a few times. I decided to try a joke and added, "Can I get a lift back with you?" Bruce laughed again, as other people began pressing in for a word, an autograph, a picture. I knew I had mere moments to step up to the plate and say something real. Smiling, I said, "Thanks for the courage of your convictions. I appreciate it." Bruce smiled back and said, "Thanks!" Then I patted him on the back and managed to slip my camera to Laura Cantrell, who took the picture you saw earlier (I repaid Laura later by snapping this lovely shot of the Proprietess with Bruce). I didn't get an autograph, however - something about slipping a piece of paper and a Sharpie to Springsteen seemed wrong.
What about you? Ever meet Bruce? Or do you have something you're saving up to say to him? Let me hear it...