The first concert I ever went to was Bruce Springsteen at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. My cool aunt took me for my 12th birthday. We had great seats, right on the floor, and I remember spending a lot of time planning what I was going to wear in case he pulled me up on stage, which he was known to do. He did not.
But the show was — as any Bruce fan will tell you — phenomenal. Four hours plus encores, and I walked out high on the music, my status as a fan forever solidified.
I knew every lyric. I was only 12, but I sang along to “The River” — “Then I got Mary pregnant, and man, that was all she wrote” — with the solemn reflection of someone who’d been through it, too.
That’s how Bruce makes people feel; it’s part of his gift. All of his fans, no matter who they are or where they grew up, feel like they “got a job working construction for the Johnstown Company, but lately there ain’t been much work on account of the economy …”
They were Born to Run.
More than 1,000 fans started lining up late Sunday night at The Grove, Los Angeles’ favorite outdoor mall, where, the next day, Springsteen would be signing copies of his new book, Born to Run, at Barnes & Noble. Some had driven hours to get here. Many wore concert shirts. There were some families; people brought camping chairs and coolers of food for the long wait. A lot of people had called in sick to work. Roughly two-thirds of the crowd were men.
The excitement was palpable. Fans were told they’d get just 10 to 15 seconds each, enough time to shake The Boss’ hand, and take a picture. But for everyone here, that was enough. Everyone said the same thing: “All I want to tell him is thank you.”
Inside Barnes & Noble, a crowd was waiting to catch a glimpse. Security was tight and they weren’t letting anyone past a certain point without a wristband. I heard someone yell, “BRUCE!” He had arrived. But the rest of us couldn’t see. Later that day, a Facebook friend who’d gone to the signing posted a picture of herself with The Boss. He looked the same but older, tired and worn. I felt a tightening in my chest. “Should someone get him a chair?” I thought. “Bruce needs to rest!” But Bruce never needs to rest. He was smiling in the picture, standing straight up, his arm wrapped around a fan.
Have you ever seen Springsteen live before?
I’ve seen him live about 20 times. I’ve seen him in New York, I’ve seen him in Atlanta, South Carolina.
What’s it like to see him live?
For me it’s like a religious event. The passion he brings, the sense of community he brings — I’m not a religious person, but that’s as close to a spiritual experience that I think I can ever experience.
What do you think of his live shows now that Bruce is getting older?
I worry that he’s getting older and how much longer can he keep this up. The last couple shows he’s done have been his longest shows ever. It shows he has the stamina still and he wants to please the fans.
Have you planned what you’re going to say to him?
I’ve been thinking about it — I’ll probably thank him for being such an important part of my life for the last 30 years.
Born in the USA
What did you have to go through to get here?
You really want to know?
About two hours of agonizing pain to try to get to the end of the line. I have a bad leg and a bad back so it took me a long time to get to the end of the line, so it wasn’t that fun.
How long have you been here?
Got here midnight yesterday.
What is it about Bruce that you connect with?
It’s the music. To me, it has a lot of soul. A lot of his songs — I can relate to. I’m not a big celebrity fan. I met Valerie Bertinelli. It’s nice meeting them, but they’re just human beings. It’s spiritual, uplifting.
Howard and his son Shane
Are you passing the Springsteen tradition onto your son?
Howard: I saw my first Bruce show when I was 14, and when my son turned 14, I took him to his first Bruce show.
What was the album or song that turned you into a fan?
The first song that he played at that show was “Adam Raised a Cain,” and it blew my mind as a 14-year-old kid. But in “Thunder Road” when he sang, “This is a town full of losers and I’m pulling out of here to win” — he had me sold. That was it.
Where did you grow up?
Was it a town full of losers?
[Laughs.] We all were losers and winners at the same time over there.
What’s it going to be like to meet him?
[A full three minutes of silence.]
Shane: Unbelievable. Crazy. Once in a lifetime.
Howard: He seems like a guy you could get to know. My son ditched school, and I ditched work, and here we are.
How many times have you Bruce live?
At last count, it was more than 15.
Can you talk about the connection you feel to him?
His lyrics are very visual — they’re like little movies. It’s very emotional to listen to Springsteen. I’ve cried many times listening.
Is that something that’s rare today in music?
That’s something I don’t see in other artists, that deep connection, in his lyrics. You can see yourself in him and the characters.
He seems to love his fans, coming out for this signing.
He doesn’t have to do this. And we appreciate it. That’s why we’ve been in line for 12 hours.
Are you skipping work today?
Do you remember what it felt like the first time you heard “Born to Run”?
Yeah, I don’t remember any song being like that. It was an epic. You felt like there was a catharsis at the end of it.
What time did you get here?
Four in the morning.
Why do you think Bruce has such a broad appeal?
His live performances — it transforms the experience of listening to his music. You’re never quite the same after attending one of his concerts. Some of the themes he deals with — he’s very honest and open about his life and I think people can relate to those universal themes. He’s sort of like a regular guy, yet a superstar.
What are you going to say when you meet him?
Thank you for all those years of music. I tell you — really — he enriched my life.
How long have you been a fan?
Since the first time I was introduced to him in 1974.
What was it like listening to that first album?
It was unusual for the time. It’s unusual today because the great thing about Bruce is the music is very central — and of course his words are central, too, and that’s what makes him the artist he is. His words and his music.
How many times have you seen him live?
I would say 30. He doesn’t have a voice that’s pretty, but it’s what he says and the people that he has backing him. Once you see him, you understand. Once you see him live, you become Springsteen-ized. Along with 20,000 of your new best friends.
Why does that bond happen?
I don’t know — why is the sky blue?
He speaks to such a specific experience and yet all sorts of different people related to him?
You don’t have to work in a factory to connect to the working life.
How long have you been a Springsteen fan?
Going on 40 years.
Tell me what Bruce means to you?
Bruce meant so much to me over the years. I could look at each successive studio album and go, That record was exactly what I was going through in my own life. And then once you see him live, you feel like every concert you’ve ever seen up to that point was a rip-off.
Are there specific examples of a time in your life that was reflected in one of his albums?
Born to Run. You’re sick of your surroundings, wanted to make your name, wanted to break out, wanted to find what it is you’re supposed to be doing in life, wanting to take your friends with you and your girl and get the hell out of there — I was right there.
Did it make a change in your life?
It was a seminal record in my teenage years. I made a conscious decision to stop worrying about what people thought and do what I wanted to do. Then when Darkness on the Edge of Town came out, my dad had been working in a factory for years, I was just about ready to follow him — it had a huge impact why I didn’t. The obvious distaste and displeasure in that work. And then when Tunnel of Love came out and he was having troubles with his first wife, so was I.
What’s it going to be like to meet him?
This is something extremely special. You don’t get an opportunity to thank your hero every day, if ever.