25 March 2008 by Published in: General musings 17 comments

For those of you who read this blog only for the Civil War content, you will probably want to skip this post, as it has absolutely nothing to do with the Civil War.

I grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs in the 1970’s, so I guess it was inevitable that I would become a fan of Bruce Springsteen and his legendary E Street Band. Perhaps it was the poetry of his lyrics. “I found the key to the universe in the engine of an old parked car,” he proclaimed in his anthem of youth, “Growing Up”. As a teenager, that particular line REALLY resonated with me.

Perhaps it was the gritty character studies that he painted:

The screen door slams
Mary’s dress waves
Like a vision she dances across the porch
As the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely
Hey that’s me and I want you only
Don’t turn me home again
I just can’t face myself alone again
Don’t run back inside
darling you know just what I’m here for
So you’re scared and you’re thinking
That maybe we ain’t that young anymore
Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night
You ain’t a beauty, but hey you’re alright
Oh and that’s alright with me

, as he sang in 1975’s “Thunder Road”. Perhaps it was his political rantings. Maybe it was the raucous and unique Jersey sound, featuring Clarence Clemens and his honking saxophone and Roy Bittan’s bombastic piano riffs. I don’t know what it was, but there was just something about this blue collar Italian guy from New Jersey that resonated with me–the middle class Jewish kid from the suburbs–the first time I ever heard “Born to Run” in 1975. Philadelphia, being the blue collar town that it is, proudly embraced Bruce as one of its own.

I saw my first Springsteen concert in 1978, and if there was any doubt before that, that show took care of that. I was hooked forever. Back in those days, his shows were 4 1/2 hour marathons of sheer frenetic energy and the pure, unbridled joy of rock and roll. It was easy to understand why Jon Landau said of him, “I saw the future of rock and roll and its name is Bruce Springsteen. And on a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was hearing music for the very first time.” Clarence and his magical sax, Bruce and his Fender Stratocaster, Steve Van Zandt and his mandolin, and if there’s a better drummer anywhere in the world than the Mighty Max Weinberg, I don’t know who that is.

Bruce eventually permitted his politics to come into play, and by 1984, he was a passionate advocate for liberal causes. In December 1980, my sophomore year in college, he hit the road after releasing my favorite of his albums, The River. I saw him on December 8, 1980, in another of those four-plus hour marathons, with his joyous version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” as one of the highlights of the show. When we got to the car to drive back to school, we learned that John Lennon had been shot and killed that night, and the joy drained out of us.

After that came Nebraska, a stark, dark, depressing solo album that sood in contrast to the honking joyousness of Born to Run. In 1984 came Born in the USA. Bruce hit the road for a world tour that spanned the globe twice. I saw him twice on that tour, about six weeks apart. In 1988, I saw the band in Cleveland on the Tunnel of Love tour, and that was it for the E Street Band for ten long years. When the band reunited in 1999, we saw them in Cleveland, and we saw them again when they toured in support of The Rising.

Last night, I attended my ninth concert by Bruce and the E Street Band. Gone are the marathons that featured long, rambling stories by Bruce. Gone are the long political rants–there was only one last night, and it was short, introducing “Living in the Future”, one of my favorite songs from Magic. The flickering Bic lighters have been replaced by the eerie glow of thousands of cell phones. The show was 2.5 tight, compact hours featuring 25 taut songs by a band that has never sounded better. The band came out and ripped right into “The Ties that Bind” from The River and didn’t stop rocking. Bruce is nearly 60 now, but he looks and sounds great. Clarence Clemens is frail and unhealthy. There’s a chair on stage for him and he needed help leaving the stage. The rest of the band is still as amazing as ever, although organist Dan Federici is not touring due to being treated for cancer.

The virtuosity of Nils Lofgren’s guitar skills never ceases to amaze me, and they were on full display last night. Nils is a great player in his own right, and he has been a front man with his own band. It amazes me that he’s been willing to be a secondary player all these years. Susan says she believes it’s a case of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts, and I think she’s right.

The choices of songs were fascinating. He eschewed his greatest commercial hits–“Hungry Heart” from The River, “Dancing in the Dark” from Born in the USA (the song that first introduced us to Courteney Cox), and, of course, the anthemic “Born in the USA”. I guess he’s sick of those songs. Instead, he played “Incident on 57th Street” and “Rosalita” from The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle, his second album. “Rosalita” was my fraternity’s theme song, so it’s always had a special meaning for me, and it was a joyous, raucous version that had 20,000 on their feet dancing and singing along. They did “Reason to Believe” from Nebraska, a stark and dark song when done solo, but presented last night as a gospel hymn in an interpretation that I had never heard before. He did “Because the Night”, a song he’s never recorded and which he wrote for Patti Smith. He did only one song from Born in the USA, “Glory Days”, which was an encore. To my surprise, they did “She’s the One” from Born to Run and “Adam Raised a Cain” from Darkness on the Edge of Town. He did several from The River, including “Sherry Darling” (which still makes me laugh every time I hear it, all these years later), and he did two from The Rising. Two of the very best from Darkness on the Edge of Town–“Promised Land” and “Badlands”–had the crowd on its feet and singing along.

Notably absent was the great anthem, “Jungleland”, from Born to Run, which spotlights Clarence’s most famous sax solo. The truth is that Clarence just doesn’t look up to it any more, which is sad. Instead, a new song was debuted. It’s called “American Land” and comes from his time working with The Seeger Sessions band. It’s a gleeful Irish jig, featuring Suzie Tyrell’s violin and spirited accordion playing by Roy Bittan and Charles Giordano, who is filling in for Dan Federici on this tour. It was great fun and a fitting conclusion to a night of temporarily recapturing my fleeting youth. I will be 47 years old tomorrow, and it was a joy to celebrate my birthday with the music that has meant so much to my life.

Once again, I come away convinced of the healing power and sheer joy of rock and roll. My life is more complete for it.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Keith Toney
    Tue 25th Mar 2008 at 10:39 am

    Boy am I jealous! For various reasons I haven’t been to live show in years but to echo the power of a Springsteen show, 2 wks ago I ran into a buddy I haven’t seen in over 25 yrs in the grocery store. He peered and asked if we didn’t know each other and from where. I answered for one thing we saw Springsteen at the Fox Theatre in ’78 together. He literally tackled me there in the aisle yelling “Keith, dude, that was still the best night of my life!” Don’t know what his wife thought about that statement, but you know what? Paige was right, it’s still probably the best night of MY life too!
    Regards,
    Keith

  2. Tue 25th Mar 2008 at 11:46 am

    I saw The Boss once in January 1985 on the Born in the USA tour in Greensboro. He played for 4 1/2 hours and other than Paul McCartney in 1992 it was the greatest concert I ever saw.

    “I had a job
    I had a girl
    I had something going mister in this world”

  3. tomrod
    Tue 25th Mar 2008 at 1:11 pm

    Happy Birthday early! I only saw The Boss once in the 70’s but it was memorable. One song to this day stood out from that show and that was Sandy. Makes me feel like a Jersey boy again! Another fun group was “Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul”. Have you ever seen them?

    Tom

  4. Tue 25th Mar 2008 at 1:17 pm

    Tom,

    I have indeed. Little Steven is, of course, Steve Van Zandt of E Street Band and Sopranos fame. Steve left the E Street Band in 1984 to form the Disciples of Soul.

    And thanks for the birthday wishes.

    Eric

  5. tomrod
    Tue 25th Mar 2008 at 3:17 pm

    In a million years I never thought his character on the Sopranos would be one of my favorites. I always wondered if he wore the bandanna because he was follicle-challenged or if that was his real hair on the Sopranos? Disciples of Soul were rockin!

    Tom

  6. Tue 25th Mar 2008 at 3:28 pm

    Tom,

    The do-rag covers up serious scarring on his head. When a teen, Steve was involved in a serious car wreck that tore off a portion of his scalp and left him without hair on that spot.

    That was a major rug that he wore on The Sopranos.

    Eric

  7. Tue 25th Mar 2008 at 5:19 pm

    Happy Birthday my friend. I hope that I can still be a cool rocker like you when I reach your age someday. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Have a great one. You deserve it.

  8. Tue 25th Mar 2008 at 5:47 pm

    Thanks, Michael. Much obliged. And who knows, maybe you will be. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Eric

  9. Dave Powell
    Tue 25th Mar 2008 at 8:10 pm

    The River was the soundtrack to much of my college career.

    Sounds like a great night.

    Nebraska will always be my favorite album, nowever – guess it’s the dark side that appeals…

    Dave Powell

  10. Brad Snyder
    Tue 25th Mar 2008 at 9:17 pm

    Eric,

    I concur with your review, having also been at the show last night. Most artists of Bruce’s stature would play it safe and just play their “greatest hits.” What makes a Bruce concert so interesting is that he is constantly changing up his set list not only from tour to tour but also from concert to concert. Who would have thought that he would play both “Rosalita” and “Incident on 57th Street” last night. He has also been playing “Kittys Back” and “Thunder Crack” on this tour as well. Eric, are you a Southside Johnny fan too?

    Brad

  11. Tue 25th Mar 2008 at 9:19 pm

    Brad,

    I am. I’ve seen him live a couple of times, but it’s been a LONG time since the last time.

    Eric

  12. Steve Basic
    Wed 26th Mar 2008 at 1:16 am

    Eric,

    It really is interesting to see the set list from each concert, which is published here in one of the local NJ newspapers. So many songs to choose from, and it changes from show to show. “The Ties That Bind” and “Adam Raised a Cane” are two of my faves, and have yet to see them performed live.

    Last time I saw Bruce was the day after J.D. was married. Drove straight to Giants Stadium from Western PA, and my double whammy that night was hearing “Downbound Train”, and “Ramrod”. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Weekend I will never forget, as J.D. got married, and also the last concert I went to with both of my sisters. Mary K. got the tickets and just remember her having a good time, even with the extreme hangover I had from the reception the night before. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Hard to believe it was 5 years ago.

    Happy Birthday to you and J.D. Hope you both have a great day!

    Steve

  13. Steve Basic
    Wed 26th Mar 2008 at 1:26 am

    Just to add… Danny Federici showed up at the Cincy concert prior to the show Eric attended and did play keyboards on a few songs that evening.

    Steve

  14. Wed 26th Mar 2008 at 10:40 am

    Thanks, Steve. And what a great memory to carry with you of Mary K.

    Eric

  15. Sean Dail
    Wed 26th Mar 2008 at 3:21 pm

    Happy Birthday, Eric. What a way to celebrate.

    I’ve got tix to see Bruce in Charlotte and Greensboro at the end of April. They will be my 16th and 17th Springsteen shows, so of course I know exactly what you’re talking about.

    Sean

  16. John Lloyd
    Wed 02nd Apr 2008 at 8:25 pm

    Happy Birthday Eric!
    I was reading some of your Gettsyburg book reviews when I came across this blog. Your work is very impressive! Good for you. I am glad to see you are doing well.

    Your passion for the Boss brought back many memories. Sometimes I forget that its still OK to rock and roll, you know? Lest we get too darn old too damn quick. Thanks for the sharing your experiences.

    “4th of July, Asbury Park” [Sandy],
    “Spirit in the Night”,
    “Bobby Jean”…
    Those were some tunes that mattered, no?

    Think I’ll stand right up now and let ’em shoot through me…

    Night Night Eric,
    Johnny Lloyd

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