Joyriding with Bruce Springsteen in the early 1980’s
The first time I saw Bruce Springsteen live was at the Nassau Coliseum at the end of 1980.
He was already on his River tour. When I was at Syracuse a few years earlier, not only was Born to Run played at most parties, but many friends had seen him several times, long fans of Bruce’s earlier albums; I, at least according to old ticket stubs, was more into Orleans and Tower of Power. It was clear from the first few songs–none of which I recall specifically–that Bruce’s performance was premeditated; what seemed to be impromptu was actually rehearsed. So, what? The guy was amazing! Years later, after The Rising’s release to commemorate September 11, I felt validated when Bruce described his shtick to David Letterman as “controlled spontaneity.” The most memorable treat for me that first night at the Nasssau Coliseum, however, was how it was likely one of the last times The Boss ever segued from “Incident on 57th Street” into “Rosalita,” something I’d never see him do again.
Not long after seeing Bruce at the Coliseum, I got tickets to see him at the Meadowlands’ Brendan Byrne Arena. As opposed to our seats at the Coliseum where we were lost somewhere in the shuffle, the Meadowlands tickets were midway up the arena, stage left, about 20 rows beside the stage. I don’t know what he was singing, but everyone in the area was focused on Springsteen but Sternberg. The hottest blonde-haired woman dancing alone on the arena floor just to the side of the stage distracted me. She must have been someone’s girlfriend or mistress to be back there; the functional definition of an unapproachable woman to me, a peon assistant national TV buyer on Black Flag, Chef Boyardee and Preparation H.
Days after the Meadowlands show, I got a call. A friend from Syracuse’s friend, now CAA music division topper Rob Light, scored him two tickets to the grand opening of Clarence Clemons’ Big Man’s West. Rumor had it Bruce would be there. I can’t testify this many years later, but my guess is that I was invited because I had a car. We crashed at our friends’ summer share house in Elberon, the definitive swamps of Jersey, and headed to the show in Red Bank. The temperature got up to 95 that day, we got to the club three hours early shuttled into through the back door. If you can believe it, there was no air-conditioning in Big Man’s West on its opening night. It was pure unadulterated hell. All one could do to stay cool was drink Long Island Ice Teas–one after another after another. It didn’t take long until everyone was feeling pretty good, at least at the bar. It was already an hour past the time we’d heard the show was supposed to begin when Clarence walked in to the bar. He greeted many patrons personally and offered the rest of us a group wave. Total sweetie. After he left the bar, I walked to stretch my legs to see if I could get a scoop as to whether Bruce would be coming on soon. Instead, I couldn’t believe who I thought I saw. “Excuse me. But is there any chance that you were dancing behind the stage at the Meadowlands last week?” “Oh, my God,” she said, “Who are you?” She was by herself–again! I was bombed but we had a pleasant back and forth. She was nice, not shooing me like others might do in that situation. Then, suddenly the lights went off and on came The Boss. He started with, “Round and Round.” We just started dancing, whether together or whatever we were strangers having an uncontrollably spontaneous wild and innocent time. There was no moshing, pushing up, elbowing for better position in this relatively tiny space. It was nirvana in a swelter. Then suddenly, it was too hot.
I regret that in the 37 years since that night, I was only able to preserve the blue saxophone refrigerator stick-on as a token of the Big Man’s West’s grand opening for 20 people. But, if one doesn’t remember Bruce screaming, “Game called onaccounta heat,” after his last song, whatever it was, they weren’t there for his most spontaneous, yet uncontrolled, outburst ever.