I recently had my 30th anniversary. No, not for my marriage–coming up on 14 years for that, thank you very much. I’m talking about the anniversary of my first concert. Do you remember your first concert? The excitement, the curiosity, the thrill?
Of course, if your first concert was in the ’80s like mine was, the amount you paid for the ticket wouldn’t even buy a T-shirt these days. You saw bands whose musical legacies are still influential, such as U2, REM, Guns N’ Roses, The Police or obscure individuals like Michael Jackson or Madonna.
Anyway, the band I saw was already considered classic rock in the ’80s and were old by the standards I applied as a teenager. Yet, I could not have made a better choice for my rock ‘n’ roll initiation.
“I got tickets for the Springsteen show.”
“What? I thought they were sold out?”
“They released a batch of tickets. My father took me, and I was able to get four. You want one?”
“Well, how much?”
A week later, I was in the brown seats of the 500 level of Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium of what would have been right field if the Phillies were playing. Three-plus hours later, I walked out of the stadium a changed person. The Springsteen concert legend of long, passionate, energetic shows was true. On that August night, I became a fan of all things Springsteen and E Street Band. The music has been ever-present in my life in both big moments and small.
Prior to the concert, my Springsteen knowledge was limited to the classics that got a lot of radio time and “Born in the USA”—which I turned up every time it came on only to have my father come in my room. “You mind turning down the radio?” he would say. It wasn’t a request.
My self-imposed education on all things Bruce—Who was he? Where did his passion come from?—commenced the day after the concert. I needed more. It started with my older brother’s 8-track of Born to Run. By the fall of 1985 when I was in 10th grade, I was listening to it constantly. I’d lie in bed, put on my big fuzzy headphones and listen to every chord, instrument and syllable. As the last sounds of “Jungleland” faded out, I did the same. My dreams were full of escape and triumph.
I read books and magazine articles about Bruce. I listened to interviews both old and new. I learned of his working class roots, his challenges with his parents and his salvation through music. While I was fascinated with all I learned, it was through the music that I felt most connected to Bruce.
I snatched up the other Bruce records and bootlegs too. I played them over and over till I had each word memorized. It was a challenging task in the world before Google and with few liner notes, but I wanted to know. If I had studied for the SATs with as much passion, I could have raised my score a couple hundred points. In the songs, I heard of dreams pursued, a need to escape and compassion for those struggling.
That fall, I wore my souvenir concert T-shirt to school. It was an unspoken tradition at my high school to wear the concert shirt the next day in school to show you had gone. I was convinced my new musical knowledge and experience would make me cool. Like Bruce, I was the shy, quiet type. However, instead of picking up a guitar as a way to deal with my shyness like Bruce did, I memorized lyrics. With so much of my attention focused on Bruce and the band, I felt like an extension of them. And who wouldn’t want to feel part of The E Street Band? After all, they didn’t just play music together. They were a brotherhood.
We stood side by side, each one fightin’ for the other
We said until we died we’d always be blood brothers
While listening to those lyrics brought me hours of joy, they never made me cool. A few months after the concert, I was working in a grocery store and saw a cute girl there. I threw off a line from the song “Sandy.” She wasn’t impressed. She wouldn’t be the last.
In 2000, I sat in a friend’s car and heard “My City of Ruins” for the first time. It was rousing and touching, and I needed to hear it again. When Bruce chose to play it at the 9/11 benefit concert, I wasn’t surprised. It was part of my thoughts as I looked down Fifth Avenue and saw the second tower fall. Could a song and a moment fit together so perfectly?
While my love of Springsteen never did make me cool, it did finally help me get the girl. It was a blind date, and I sat across the table from a shy woman in a restaurant who spoke of Springsteen. She had a poster of him in her room when she grew up and loved his music. I sat back and listened. After she was done, I added, “I like him too.” Fourteen months later, we were married. The first song we danced to at our wedding—”If I Should Fall Behind”—was Bruce’s.
We’ve seen Bruce and the E Street Band a number of times since, including 2003. That “we” was my wife, myself and a bun in the oven.
Who knew a 15-year-old’s thrill would last a lifetime? Thanks, Bruce. Thanks, E Street Band.