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?