Memories of Bruce

by Michael Channing

For her birthday last year, my fiancee Connie got to cross an item off her bucket list. We drove from South Carolina to Kansas City, each of us catching a few hours sleep in the back of the van, to sit behind the stage at a Bruce Springsteen concert. This was Connie's dream since she was a little girl and mine since she told me about it a couple months previously. These are my strongest memories of the show.

The Celebrity Appeal

As the band took the stage, Connie pointed and screamed, "It's Bruce Springsteen!" And I yelled, "Holy shit, it's Silvio from The Sopranos!" and then, "Holy shit again, it's that guy from Conan O'Brien!" We were both equally impressed.

So were the women in the front row. Whenever Bruce came near, they near came. The sight of that 63 year old dude sent spasms of ecstasy quivering through them. The wrapped their arms around his legs as he gyrated. One lady smacked his ass in time with the music, and another, at least once, grabbed the Boss's package.

Everyone worked themselves into a froth, shouting "Bruuuuuuce!" and leaping about like horny monkeys. The ladies may have been unabashedly gushing, but even the guys had to admit to a bit of a fame boner.

But no one was more excited than the dude next to us.

That Crazy Guy on Drugs

He was most definitely tripping on something. You could watch reality wax and wane in his eyes. I imagine his inner monologue sound a little something like this:

"Holy shit, there's Bruce Springsteen! What's he doing here? I hope he plays my favorite song. Oh my god he is. He's playing 'Fire' just for me. I should point and yell at him. Hey, where did all these people come from? I wonder if somebody'll let me make a phone call. I'll ask this tall guy next to me with the pony tail. Damn, he doesn't have a cell phone. He probably lost it. I should help him find it. It's not on the floor. And it's not under the bench. Holy shit, there's Bruce Springsteen! I hope he plays 'Fire.'"

At one point he had a melt down and knelt on the floor mumbling into his hands. I'm not sure if he was apologizing to Bruce for not rocking out and pointing enough, or if he was demanding that his johnson explain itself.

What a Band

Silvio and the Conan guy and all the rest put on an amazing show. While Bruce sweated and gyrated and ran multiple times through the crowd, the band were locked into his every motion. They waited for his cues, stopping and starting at a moment's notice, holding a crescendo while the Boss decided what to play next, then launching into a song they hadn't planned on performing that night. Bruce pieced together his set list with requests from the audience. They held up song titles written on poster paper (or in one memorable instance, on a size double-F bra), and Bruce would wade through his adoring fans, pick a song he felt like singing, then bring it back to the band. So they had to be ready to play any song in the Springsteen four-decade-spanning catalog. And damn could they play. The guitar player not known for killing FBI informants played the solo for "Prove It All Night" while spinning like a dervish for a full minute. During "Death to My Hometown" the entire band, backup singers and horn players and bell shakers, all marched around the stage while the guy from Conan pounded the life out of his drums.

But my favorite band member to watch was Clarence Clemons' nephew. Clarence had just died the previous year. On the night he died, Connie and I were at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, where the Springsteen legend was born. Connie drew a heart on the sidewalk where an impromptu shrine had been created, and I added a pebble I had carried in my pocket from Walden Pond. At the concert, Clarence's nephew fulfilled his uncle's saxophone duties. Every time he finished one of Clarence's solos, especially the one from "Born to Run," he would fork the rock-and-roll "devil fingers" to the rafters and exult in the sheer joy of carrying his uncle's legacy. It was beautiful.

Impromptu Clarence Clemmons shrine outside the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersy

The Boss

As you can already tell, Bruce is a master showman. He kicked off the concert with "Kansas City." And when you start a show singing about the town you happen to be in, you own the crowd. He had a small stage in the middle of the audience, and he ran out there several times, high-fiving everyone he passed. Once, in the middle of an instrumental break, he crowd surfed back to the main stage. For a moment, it looked like the crowd was going to drop him and he would have to finish the song from the floor, but everyone managed to hoist him up in time. That was a 63 year old man doing what teenagers are often forbidden to do because of the injury risk.

He played enough tracks from the new album to satisfy himself, plenty of hits to please the mainstream majority, and a few rarities to surprise the hardcore fanatics. He dedicated a couple of songs to his home state of New Jersey, which had recently been drowned by Hurricane Sandy. I'd never heard "My City of Ruins" or "The Rising," but I can hear them now and see an ocean of hands pointing skyward in a mass prayer for the survivors. He took requests, signed an autograph in mid-song, and played a soulful guitar solo with his back to the audience. Connie and I sat behind the stage, which was a much better vantage point than you might think. We got to witness Bruce mashing his face into a water-filled sponge between songs to cool down. He played for three hours. We gave out before he did. And did I mention he was sixty-freaking-three? Most men his age are hiking up their pants and preparing to settle down to a life of bird feeding and fist shaking. Bruce Springsteen was peeling off his shirt and getting felt up by women one-third his age.

And the Boss

Connie was the reason I was there, the reason I helped drive halfway across the country and slept huddled in a freezing van like a member of the low-budget A-Team. I wanted her to be happy. So I went to Kansas City to see Bruce. The universe itself conspired to put all three of us together in the same city on the same day, Connie's birthday. The stars aligned. Destinies converged. And Connie danced and pointed and cavorted like a squealing school girl.

Just kidding. She silently filmed and photographed the entire concert. Because very soon it would stop being her birthday, the stars and planets would decouple, and Bruce would move on to sing in and about some other town. In an effort to capture and hold that fleeting moment, she stuffed as much as possible into an SD card. I'm doing the same thing here, but I'm looking back through the gauze of three months. So my memory, I'm sure, has shifted. I'm choosing to remember how Connie smiled when Bruce took the stage. How we held each other and swayed during "Dancing in the Dark." How Bruce saw us dancing, brought us on stage, let met sing one of my own songs, and gave me a guitar. These are the memories that made the whole trip worth it.

I Wish I had that Drive

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