This isn’t just about Bruce and me. I used that title as a nod to my grammarian friend Stephanie, who took her red pen to the title of a new documentary, “Springsteen & I” – because technically it is poor grammar. My advice to my dear friend: Roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair. I promise you’ll forget all about grammar after seeing the film.
The film is made up of Springsteen fan-submitted videos recounting what Bruce has meant in their lives, with forty years worth of his performances sprinkled in. It’s funny, joyous, moving, stunning, silly, and in the end, a profound elegy to an artist quite unlike any other in the emotion and devotion he inspires in his longtime fans.
Maybe you aren’t one of them. But there might be another artist out there who moves you the same way Bruce does me. Two of my favorite men, Tim Sieck and Tommy Mischke, recently had a discourse on whose version of the song “52 Vincent Black Lightning” is better, Richard Thompson’s or The Del McCoury Band’s. Tommy declared that when it comes to music, one’s reaction is very, very personal. What touches one person may leave another cold. That’s just the way it is.
But if you’re lucky, music really can change your life. It’s not a cliché. It’s the truth. The Springsteen documentary is all about this: that day, that night you saw or heard something that opened up the world for you. A lot of people who saw the Beatles or Elvis on Ed Sullivan say nothing was ever the same for them after that.
September 26, 1975, ended up being that night for me. What I heard that night 38 years ago changed me in a way I couldn’t put into words. I’m still trying.
Here it is. At age 18, I saw a 26-year old Bruce Springsteen perform live for my first time. He was fresh out of Jersey. Born to Run had been released one month earlier. Few of us on the University of Iowa campus knew who he was. The only reason I did was because a friend who’d been to New York told me it was mandatory and we were going. As a freshman, I asked no questions.
I knew from the very first pull on his guitar, Bruce and his band were something I’d never seen or heard. He was all kinetic energy and passion, a wiry kid in a biker jacket, his curly hair jammed up under a tweed newsboy cap — both soon to be tossed aside as he worked the crowd. He never stopped talking or singing or dancing or playing that guitar. The music was jazzy, soulful, bluesy, funky…and the best rock ‘n’ roll I’d ever heard. This was back in the days of his storytelling. The stories painted pictures as vividly as the songs they introduced. This was the Bruce who asked, “You talkin to me?” which young Bobby DeNiro saw at the Bottom Line in NYC and stole for Taxi Driver. Google it; it’s true. His charisma was mind-boggling. Clarence Clemons was the dominant figure in the stories and on the stage. I’d never seen a little white guy cuddle up that way to a black mountain of a man on stage, kissing him and hanging all over him as they made the best noise I’d ever heard. Watching them showed me there was a lot more of the world I needed to see.
Bruce sang about the kids gathered beneath that giant Exxon sign where their midnight gang assembled…I knew about a midnight gang in search of something, not knowing what. I knew about spirits in the night.
As I watched him and listened to his explosion of horns, guitars, piano, organ, accordion and harmonica, I wanted it all. I wanted to be on the east coast where this sound was born. I wanted to be lifted out of my quiet little Iowa life and live those lyrics I was hearing. I wanted to go meet Eddie across that river. Anything else paled in comparison. I was in awe, speechless, spellbound, forever changed.
A couple years ago, I reconnected with a friend who saw me after the concert that night. She chuckled derisively at me and said, “Remember when you saw Bruce Springsteen and said your life was changed forever?” She said it like that was just so silly.
“I do and it was,” I answered.
What strikes me about it now is that I did know my life was changing. In that moment, I knew it. I’m so glad it was something I experienced and now can hold forever. The best $3.50 I’ll ever spend.
I’ve seen Bruce perform often since then, more times than I’ll admit to you – and the memory of that first night comes back to me each time and makes me cry.
I could go on. But I’ll spare you.
So, this is about a moment when music reached out and grabbed me and never let go. A profound moment – and I want to know if you’ve had one of your own. And if you did, did you know it at the time?
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Anne writes beautifully about that moment here:
I realized as I danced around catching confetti that the young lady a few seats down from me was doing the same thing. I’d noticed her before the show – probably about 14 years old, wearing a McCartney t-shirt, shorts, and Beatle boots, carrying a super cool bag designed from an actual record album and painted with Paul’s face on it. We grinned at each other as we scooped up confetti, and started chatting. Her eyes were shining and then she melted into tears, utterly overwhelmed by how much she loved the show. “It’s life-changing,” she said.
The rest of what she says is perfect. Here:
Lovely, Kitty. Everyone (and I mean everyone) ridicules my Sting admiration; but his artistry and poetry touch me deeply. When I was pregnant with my oldest child, 28 years ago, I had to go on bed rest near the end. My always thoughtful husband bought me a videotape of Sting's first solo concert in Paris. I had always loved The Police, but this solo “Dream of the Blue Turtles” tour had me weepy,thoughtful,giggly. I have seen him in concert every time he comes anywhere near Boston. I rearranged a trip to Florence a few years ago and saw him at the Verdi Opera house. The sleek young Italian man sitting next to me whispered “bellisimo” after every ballad Sting sung. A moment, indeed.
Thank you, Cheryl. And not EVERYONE ridicules your Sting admiration. I never have because I understand it completely. xo
Like Kitty, Bruce cemented my love of live music. Make no mistake, there is a difference between recorded music and live music and that difference cannot be explained. It has to be experienced. My story is about Jackson Browne. I lived in Colorado in the late 80s and would try to get to the Red Rocks Amphitheater. I don't know how it is now, but then, all the tickets were general admission and if you didn't want to climb the rocks on the back side and listen for free, you bought a ticket and showed up in the middle of the afternoon for a good spot and waited until the show. I had a friend visiting from Iowa and we wanted to see the show. We packed a lunch, grabbed the cribbage board, and headed out for a long afternoon of waiting. When the crew started to do the sound check, there were so many people out that it must have been an unusual sight because someone went off-stage for a while and the next thing that happened was Jackson walked on stage with an acoustic guitar and stepped to the microphone. He made some funny remark about why we were all there so early, and then he started to play. For nearly two hours he played. Songs that would be heard later in the show, songs that never get played in concert, and covers of songs he obviously loved. That was the moment I realized that for musicians, music is not a job. It's like breathing. They don't know how to do anything other than play. That afternoon was better than the show. Maybe better than most shows I've seen since.
Oooo Kitty . . . I so get it. Music reaches in and grabs me and changes me all the time, because I let it. And if your friend thinks the experience is somehow silly or trivial, it just means that she hasn't opened herself up to the deliciousness of allowing music to change her life.
I probably have had at least a dozen of these experiences in the past several decades, one recently, one ongoing. Just after my divorce, my ex-husband left our house. My children and I lived for years without music (except for CDs we'd play in the car to help my son and daughter deal with long trips) for fear of playing the wrong thing and inciting his anger. In the blissful days after the divorce, I discovered YouTube and more specifically, re-discovered Steely Dan. My children watched me come alive as I played every song I could find and danced in my house for the first time. My autistic daughter now associates Steely Dan with life, love and joy. She has memorized the words to every song, and happiness bubbles up from her she hears a song sees Steely Dan in concert, which is as frequently as possible.
And this next one is ongoing. Started mid-February, 2012. My beloved father and best friend, who had been living with us, passed away the previous September. There were many dark months. Devastation over our loss. Ugliness over the estate. A freak October snow storm that brought a six-ton tree crashing down on my father's car and some of our garage. My little family holed up and licked our wounds for months. And then sometime in January, I remembered hearing about The Midnight Rambles, up in Woodstock; the next ones featured Donald Fagen. The night of the super-crowded February Ramble, we gave up our loft seats for standing room downstairs. My heart melted. My son and daughter stared at the stage for three hours, in shock and awe, wide-eyed and grinning hard. Sometime during the show, the woman next to me handed me a tissue. I wasn't even aware that I was sobbing. Donald Fagen looked over the piano and smiled at my children, who were in what I can only describe as some sort of a bliss trance. I think I was grinning, but who the hell knows. The music that night and the artists — Donald Fagen, Amy Helm, Teresa, Larry, Byron . . . everyone — healed us. But for me, it is as much the the whole experience as the music. We try to get back to The Barn as much as possible. The place, the music, the people, the vibe . . . not sure what it is, but we can feel it as soon as we coast down the driveway. Magic. And definitely life-altering. Each and every time.