Music: Blinded by the Boss

A journey into the world of the Springsteen addict

Nov 7, 2002 at 2:06 pm
Craig Weiglein

Nils Lofgren and Bruce Springsteen at the Firstar Center (now U.S. Bank Arena) on theE Street Band's last stop in Cincinnati in 2000.

Fanatic: [n] person overenthusiastic about an interest. See also: addict, devotee, diehard, extremist, fiend, fool, freak, maniac, nut, zealot.

This is me: 47-year-old writer, yoga teacher, single mother and wannabe novelist. Reads: James Joyce, Mary Oliver, Carl Hiaasen and Mad Magazine. Listens to: the beat of my own drum, occasional voices in my head. Hobbies: collects strays (two-legged variety), frequently re-paints walls to suit my mood and follows Bruce Springsteen.

Not the kind of following that requires a restraining order — although I briefly entertained the idea during a dream sequence in which he promised to have children with me right after I was released from jail. Actually, this is a relatively new hobby which leaves my nutty Bossaholic friends to argue if I'm even qualified to be writing this article. After all, I've only been to eight shows: they've been to 20 or 70. I don't own any tour merchandise.

They own logo T-shirts, jackets, terrycloth robes, a Little Steven costume complete with silk bandanna, eye patch, hoop earring and parrot, a set of glassware that says "Wake up with Bruce Juice!" and a "69 Chevy with a 396." Not to mention the official "Hungry Heart" transplant.

I have a mere four Bruce Springsteen recordings. They have all 12 plus various compilations, video anthologies, lyric sheets, biographies and numerous contraband photographs. They know concert protocol — every word and when to sing it, when to sit and when to stand. I, on the other hand, frequently receive what-an-idiot snorts from fellow concert-goers when I've shouted the wrong lyrics to "Badlands." Nonetheless, with fist in air, my admiration and adoration for Bruce Springsteen is devotional.

At 18 years old, I certainly identified with the us-against-the-world, boy-loves-girl-only-slightly-more-than-his-car theme of The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle (Bruce's second album) when it was released in 1973. But I was distracted into other musical directions and barely gave it the spin it deserved on my turntable. It wouldn't be until 1981 (give or take a year due to a few misplaced brain cells) during temporary employment with a catering firm (which supplied the backstage of Riverfront Coliseum shows with food and beverage) that I would be introduced to the power of a Bruce Springsteen concert. For three-and-a-half hours, I attended Rock & Roll church. I had heard some of the greatest in concert — The Beatles, Who, Stones, Hendrix — and finally understood Jon Landau's famous quote: "I have seen the future of Rock & Roll, and his name is Bruce Springsteen."

And yes, I met Bruce that night. I'll never forget what he said; I can remember it like it was 20 years ago: "Excuse me, is there any more cheddar cheese?" Sigh. I could hear the Dylan influence in his voice. However, unlike most of the other cocksure, you're-blonde-so-you-must-want-to-screw-me Rock stars who pitched a hissie fit if all brown M&M's were not picked out of the bowl, Bruce was humble, funny and, well, sweet. Perhaps it was this eyes-of-a-poet, well-honed shtick that got the girls.

If that didn't work, those Levi's and tight shirts with the rolled up sleeves sure did. (There can be absolutely no argument that the man has the best ass in Rock & Roll.)

Jump to late spring of 1999. Three of my friends — all suffering from OCBD (Obsessive Compulsive Bruce Disorder) — have included me in a "planning meeting" (more precisely, a pre-planning meeting to plan the planning meeting) to coordinate our schedules for the upcoming "reunion tour" with the E Street Band. With only the one show under my belt and now the proud owner of two Springsteen recordings (having added Darkness on the Edge of Town), I barely made the cut and then only because I was sleeping with one of the trio (you can't beat this currency exchange for sheer value).

I was amazed at the efficiency of their operation: Tour itineraries from Backstreets (the official Springsteen fanzine), the dates tickets were released for each city, many Ticketmaster numbers from around the country on speed-dial, on-line command center and carefully mapped out Cincinnati Ticketmaster locations with speculation as to which locale would be least likely to have Bruce fans (thus shorter lines). I looked at my friends with respect and concern, wondering: "Are all Springsteen fans this ... dedicated?" As the reunion tour came and went, and The Rising tour got under way in 2002, I've met hundreds of people criss-crossing the country who have succinctly answered this question with a faithful "Yes."

If you don't have any OCBD pals who thrive on strategic planning (in true obsessive form they even debriefed the planning meeting), you'll find plenty of generous Bruce buffs on the Backstreets Web site eager to guide you as to the best ways to acquire the primo seats, how to increase your chances of standing close to the stage, tips for last-minute ticket drops and how to sniff out counterfeit tickets.

As I've gotten to know other Springsteen devotees, I'm surprised to see how diverse they are. Contrary to my prior judgment that they were all 40-plus, denim-clad car mechanics who had named their daughters Rosalita or Bobby Jean, the average fan is in the low '30s, well-educated, introspective and empathic. That's why they connect so deeply with Bruce Springsteen's work — they are reflective of each other.

"Bruce Springsteen is the soundtrack of my life," says Maureen, a fellow fan I met during the St. Louis show on Aug. 30. "His music and lyrics have seen me through high school, anxious about what life would bring; the struggle through college when doubts set in; marriage; divorce — wondering if any relationship would ever work out and; a second marriage."

"We even used 'If I Should Fall Behind' as our wedding song," she adds.

Indeed, nearly everyone I talked with has been touched in some profound way by Springsteen's music and lyrics. He has clarified their experience and brought continuity to their lives. My friend Cathy says, "He makes us remember who we were and who we could be." Even CityBeat's editor, John Fox, reminisced that one of his fondest memories was at a Chicago show in 2000 "linked arm-in-arm with my six siblings, singing 'Thunder Road' — I still get misty-eyed when I think about it."

Of course, I've met a number of maniacs whose sole answer to any question is "Brruuuuuuuuuuuuce!," and an equally scary contingency that are force-feeding their children an all Springsteen diet.

"I give Bruce quizzes at the breakfast table," one woman gushed. "They'll have to spell Max Weinberg to get another Pop Tart."

Hmm, those eggs sound a little scrambled.

Since I began my Bruce Springsteen journey, what began as a curiosity has turned to deep respect and reverence. My epiphany was the last concert at Madison Square Garden during the reunion tour, but since then I've returned to older recordings and have listened to his new album, The Rising, a hundred times. What I've discovered is a man who writes about the conflicts of the heart and spirit, the social and economic climate and his own personal struggles in a spare yet evocative language that always puts the listener right into the moment. His ability to find the small detail that tells the whole story is sublime. Like other great storytellers — Steinbeck, Hemingway, Woody Guthrie — he gives us all a voice.

Thanks, Bruce.

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN AND THE E STREET BAND perform at the U.S. Bank Arena on Tuesday.