So, yeah. I’m obsessed. I began following Bruce Springsteen as a schoolboy coming of age in mid-1970s Omaha. A few seconds after graduation, I loaded up my Mercury Bobcat (creamsicle orange paint, white vinyl top) and headed east. Crossing the Jersey state line, I popped in the cassette tape I had been saving for that moment and sang al’ong with Bruce about “barefoot girls sitting on the hood of a Dodge, drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain.”
Nearly four decades later, there I was, taking off work early to stand for hours in line with 900 other fanatics for the chance to win a spot near the stage for Springsteen’s show at the XL Center in Hartford. We all had tickets already and could have easily just shown up for the 7:30 showtime. Instead, we began queuing up with our green numbered wristbands (I had no. 522) five hours before, hoping our number would land in the 340 fans chosen for a place in “the Pit.”
After hours of waiting, the numbers were drawn — and my neighbors and I in the 500s line had all lost out. After a brief moment of deflation, though, nobody got angry. Instead, we all cheered the group who were filing into the arena for their coveted spots near the stage. The rest of us had the sense that, up close or not, we were each in for something special tonight.
And not just tonight. Beginning with a show that one of my dad’s coworkers brought me to at Madison Square Garden in 1978, I’ve been to 10 or so Springsteen concerts in the decades since. But that’s nothing compared to many in the largely middle-aged crowd. One guy behind me told me he was closing in on his 50th performance.
What is it about Springsteen? Sure, he and his bandmates are accomplished musicians; watching him, Nils Lofgren and “Miami” Steve Van Zandt trade guitar riffs last week proved that. And sure, the stories Bruce tells in his songs — about heartache, longing and those rare times of blissful abandon — reach deeper than most.
But it was the look on Springsteen’s face at the Hartford show that answered my question. At age 66, Springsteen has experienced more success than all but a few of his generation’s rapidly dwindling roster of megastars. His concerts sell out in seconds, he’s earned multiple millions, and so many of his fans know his songs by heart that they threaten to drown out the Boss’s voice.
Still, there he was, trotting along on a catwalk deep into the crowd of us Pit wannabes, belting out “Hungry Heart” during a concert that would last well over three hours. As he passed just a few feet from me, he paused and reached out to the outstretched hands, pausing frequently to look — really look — into the eyes of kids, women and men along the way.
And in his eyes, I could see not vanity or preciousness or a hurry to get back to the safety of the stage. Instead, I saw a kind of proud gratitude, as if he were again amazed that so many had come out to the show. And when he turned around to lower himself into the outstretched hands to surf back to his bandmates, he had no doubt. The fans would have his back.•
Jeffrey Good, @jgoodstories