Bruce Springsteen and Me: A Tale of Love and Woe, Woe, Woe
When I was ten years old, Bruce Springsteen released Born in the U.S.A. and I hated it. I hated every hit that every radio station in New York played day and night on a religious loop like he was the second coming of Christ. I hated all of his corny music videos that clogged up my MTV when MTV actually played music videos. I even hated that red baseball cap that Annie Liebovitz strategically placed in the right back pocket of Bruce’s stone washed jeans to shoot her legendary rump shot for the album cover. But above all, I hated that people referred to him as The Boss.
Why that was, I still don’t know for sure. But like I said, I was ten, so looking back on it, I imagine it most likely had something to do with the fact that at that point in my life, if a band or musician’s name didn’t begin with Led and end with Zeppelin— they sucked!
Of course, many years later, over 30 million copies of Born in the U.S.A. have been distributed all over the world to happy fans, and a handful of critics have even been so bold as to say that it’s quite possibly one of the greatest albums of all time.
However, chronologically speaking, my aversion to a fair portion of Bruce’s music didn’t end there, because a few years later he released Tunnel of Love, which I hated even more than Born in the U.S.A., and once Human Touch came out, I was under the impression that there wasn’t a chance in hell I’d ever succumb to the humiliation of admitting to anyone that I was one of his fans.
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Yes, that’s right, I’m a fan, and I think whatever place Bruce Springsteen has carved out in history for himself is well deserved, because bottom line he’s a brilliant songwriter, musician, and performer.
Of course, I’m aware it may seem odd that I just flip-flopped from hate to honor like I did. But to be honest, my relationship with Bruce’s ever-growing catalog of music has been an iffy, fifty-fifty, love-hate kind of thing for as long as I can remember. So to me, it’s really not that odd at all.
For instance: Atlantic City is hands down one of my favorite songs, but I’d rather be waterboarded than listen to Cadillac Ranch. I love Wrecking Ball, but I hate The Ghost of Tom Joad. I think Born in the U.S.A. is an overproduced nightmare that suffered sonically from a crippling case of 1984, but I also think Born to Run is a smoldering masterpiece of sound that’s arguably one of the best rock albums of the ‘70s.
So in essence, I admire a great deal of Bruce’s material, and I hate a great deal of Bruce’s material. But I never imagined a situation would arise where I would feel the need to write about my lifelong vexation with his music, because: (a) it honestly wasn’t something that gnawed at me enough to write about, (b) the opportunity never presented itself, and (c) he always went his way and I always went mine.
But a few weeks into the month of December 2015, I received a disturbing phone call from my girlfriend, Kathleen. You know the type of call I’m talking about: the one where the person you love asks you to do something you really don’t want to do, and you quickly say yes to avoid a war, but in the end, you’d rather stick an icepick in your eye than do whatever it is they want you to do. Yup, that’s exactly the type of call it was. However, in this scenario, once Kathleen uttered the words bucket list, I knew I was true blue screwed, because it was fairly obvious that there was absolutely no way in hell that I’d be able to back my way out of going to see—yup, you guessed it— Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
“Can you believe it, Baby? The show sold out in thirty-seven seconds! It’s a miracle!” she said. “Oh my god! I’m so excited! I can’t believe it! Oh my God! We’re going to see THE BOSS!”
“Yeah babe, yay,” I said, and I thought, “Holy hell, if this ain’t a sad trombone moment, I don’t know what is. Jesus Christ, I can’t believe this is happening to me. Did she really just call him The Boss? Yuck.”
Well, just so you know, Kathleen gets excited about a chubby blue envelope full of coupons called a Valpak that we get in the mail every month. So, with that in mind, and the fact that she’s a Jersey girl, born and raised, who loves Bruce Springsteen but hadn’t seen him live before, I honestly didn’t have the heart to tell her that I wouldn’t go to the show with her.
Of course, in the days leading up to the show, I tried my best to gently finesse my way out of going, because I honestly felt my ticket would be much more useful to someone who didn’t have an iffy, fifty-fifty, love-hate kind of thing for Bruce Springsteen’s music for as long as they could remember, like say: a full-blown fan who was just dying to go, like Kathleen was. But every time I opened my mouth to suggest a replacement for my ticket, she just made a frowny face, and walked away. So that was it, case closed, I was going no matter what, and when it was time to head out for the show— we went.
Now, the concert that we attended took place at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, on Sunday January 31, 2016 and it was Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s only NJ stop on their River Tour. A tour, in which the main portion of their set is devoted to performing all twenty tracks of The River, to commemorate the thirty-fifth anniversary of it’s release.
So all things considered, the fact that Kathleen was able to secure our tickets online from Ticketmaster for a hundred and seventy-eight dollars all in (for a show of this magnitude) was somewhat phenomenal— because I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that a true, red, white, and blue Bruce Springsteen fan from Jersey would have happily snatched our tickets off eBay the morning of the show, for five or ten times that amount without even batting an eye.
In fact, while Kathleen and I were holding hands and baby-stepping our way along with the rest of the not-so-in-crowd who were also on their way into the Prudential Center to see New Jersey’s favorite son, that was all I could think about, because it would have been easy money.
However, once we made it inside, and all the way up to the top floor of the building where our seats were, the thought of bamboozling someone into purchasing our tickets quickly dissolved, because our seats were so bad they were laughable, and anything more than what we paid for our tickets would have been a travesty of justice. But hey, sitting in the last row, middle left, at the top of the Prudential Center for a concert wasn’t really that bad, because we could see the stage just fine.
So visibility was somewhat high, but intimacy with Bruce and the band was quite low, and whenever I go to a show, I generally like small venues, because the music just seems more real to me for some reason, and less like the band is laying back in the pocket, letting whatever backing tracks their chief sound engineer is using to beef up their sound do all the work for them.
Of course, I’m sorry if I just destroyed whatever pretense some of you may have when it comes to stadium concerts being a totally authentic experience, whereby the band performs without the help of a crackerjack team of hardworking sound engineers who’s job depends on making whoever they’re working for sound fucking awesome. But it’s the 21st century baby, and technology rules the day. So, if you were unaware that the guys and gals who work the backline at concerts have just as much to do with how fucking awesome a band sounds coming through a gazillion jigawatt PA system as the band does, well, now you know.
But regardless of that tidbit of information that I just passed along, before I go into my true and honest assessment of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s three hour, thirty-three song marathon performance that I witnessed, I feel it’s necessary to take a moment to say that whoever worked the backline that night killed it, because the sound and clarity of each instrument on that stage for every single song was clear as a bell fucking awesome. So, hats off to you guys, wherever you are.
Now, remember when I said that intimacy with Bruce and the band was quite low? Well, that’s not entirely true, because when the lights came down a smidge in our section, and they opened up with Meet Me In The City, about twenty seconds into the song I felt really weird inside, almost claustrophobic, and as much as I hate to admit this, above all, it felt like Bruce was singing to me. I mean, I wasn’t dancing in the dark with a stiffy, but I did look at Kathleen with a big smile, and think, “Holy fucking shit, they sound amazing! Is this it? Is this going to be the greatest concert I’ve ever been to in my entire life?”
Well, sadly, for me, it wasn’t. But that’s ok; it doesn’t mean the show was a total let down, or bad at all by any means. In fact, it was a great show and I enjoyed it. Bruce sounded great, the E Street Band sounded great, and the overall energy of their performance was over the top.
Especially Max Weinberg. I mean shit, the guy’s sixty-four, and in rock drummer years that’s like a thousand. So considering that Bruce and the band played thirty-three-songs in three hours flat, he gets my vote as MVP for the night, because at any age that’s like being forced into an Iron Man competition.
Also, after seeing Little Steven Van Zandt play and sing his ass off for three hours straight, I feel it’s necessary to mention that I truly left the show wondering if he indeed holds the title of: World’s Most Underrated Rock ‘n’ Roll Rhythm Guitar Player of All Time; because he’s solid, no bells and whistles, just solid, song after song after song, deep in the pocket—solid.
Nils Lofgren? Well, what can I say, he played like Nils Lofgren always plays, with that goofy cramped right hand of his plucking away at guitar stings like he’s privy to some alien language from outer space that no one else on this planet knows except him. But hey, he’s a living legend, and he held up his side of the stage that night like the consummate mercenary guitar player that got him the job with the E Street Band in the first place, so goofy right hand aside—he killed it!
Patti Scialfa, back up vocals, and acoustic guitar—killed it!
Gary Tallent on bass— killed it!
Roy Bitten on piano, keyboards, and accordion—killed it!
Non-official band members, especially Jake Clemons—killed it!
Well, c’mon man, of course, he killed it! He’s Bruce Fucking Springsteen! And regardless of how much I hate songs like: Cadillac Ranch, Human Touch, Dancing in the Dark, etc. etc., he’s accomplished more in his lifetime as a musician than I’ll ever accomplish in my lifetime as a writer. So, as far as I’m concerned, the only opinion that truly holds any weight over his massive body of work is his.
But as a closing note, I will say this: even though Bruce Springsteen and I will most likely have an iffy, fifty-fifty, love-hate kind of thing going on until the day I die, every song I heard that night that I’ve truly hated in the past, sounded pretty damn good live.
So, who knows? Perhaps there’s hope for us yet.
The Set List:
Meet Me in the City
The Ties That Bind
Out in the Street
Crush on You
You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
I Wanna Marry You (with Here She Comes intro)
I’m a Rocker
The Price You Pay
Drive All Night
Wreck on the Highway
Working on the Highway
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Shout (The Isley Brothers cover)