You don’t understand my feelings about Bruce Springsteen; that’s okay: I don’t, either.
My childhood was spent in New Jersey and during the 80’s. My best friend Jay Dorfman’s mother attended Freehold High at the same time as Bruce; my music teacher Amadeo Ciminisi had a framed picture of the time Bruce jumped onto the stage to jam with his bar band. My friend and bandmate Matt Tahaney and I drove down the shore on Sunday to see the Stone Pony: there was no band playing, and we were too young to get in, anyway. That wasn’t the point.
The night after I graduated from high school, Jeff Shulberg and I skipped all the parties (not that we were invited) to see Bruce at the Brendan Byrne Arena. The highway-facing side of the building was covered with a sign stretching the length of the facade, with 20-foot high letters: WELCOME HOME, BRUCE. The sign had been up for all eleven nights he sold out, and it could have stayed there all summer and he would have sold out every show.
(Jeff and I spent our pre-show parking lot time brainstorming how to steal the sign.)
This was the 90’s, and Bruce had gotten divorced and fired the E Street Band; he had also put out two records at the same time like Guns ‘n Roses, Lucky Town and Human Touch and there’s a reason you haven’t heard of them. Like all double albums except London Calling and Exile, what could have been one great album was instead two unsteady and forgettable records. Plus, this was during the initial years of CD bloat, so both albums had 14 or 15 songs on them; I didn’t buy them.
And his new band was a mess. The guitarist was a rocker dude, but he had chubby thighs stuffed into his rocker trousers and a massive bouffant that shimmied and swayed when he did his rocker moves. The drummer was the dreadlocked guy who played with the B-52’s in the Love Shack video. Roy Bittan was still in the band because Bruce owns him, just like Bobby owns Jeff Chimenti.
I don’t remember if we had tickets or scalped them in the lot, but our seats were two rows from the roof of the arena, and straight back; Bruce still managed to make eye contact with both of us and sing at least one verse of Bobby Jean to us.
The man can work a room.
At the time, Bruce was doing two sets (just like the Dead, but with more fining musicians for missing cues) and a long encore, but not this show: Steve van Zandt (whom most know as Little Steven, but will always be Miami Steve to those of us from New Jersey) came out to thunder and raised arms and flicked lighters at the end of the first set, and Bruce called an audible and kept the band playing through the break: it was like he couldn’t stop himself.
Somewhere along the way, Max Weinberg slipped behind the drums–he wasn’t announced or anything and we all just kinda realized he was there after a few songs–and the arena lifted up its petticoats and did the frug, and the horn section came on and the song was Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, which has this lyric:
Change was made of town;
And the Big Man joined the band.
And there he was: our black shining prince. Twelve feet tall and just as wide with bare arms like waterfalls of muscle; I know there was jewelry involved, but I cannot confirm denim. He needed his sunglasses to protect him from the shine coming off his saxophone.
The woman next to me was grown, at least from my 18-year-old perspective, and heavy. Her hair was light and cut short, and we had been cordial the entire show, but not more than that.
When Clarence Clemons walked on that stage, that woman and I hugged like refugees reunited after the war.
So maybe when I see people talking shit about Bruce on Twitter, I overreact.