Let me get this out of the way: Springsteen is the only Boss I listen to …
At 8:50 this Friday evening when Bruce Springsteen breaks out his harmonica and begins to tell the Baltimore audience about his 1975 opus, “Born To Run” – the album, not the song – some musical magic will enrapture the First Mariner Arena in a way that hasn’t been seen much lately this side of Bono or Mick Jagger taking the stage that Elvis Presley and The Beatles graced in the 1960s and Led Zeppelin and The Who lit up in the 1970s.
This is Springsteen’s first foray into the Baltimore Street institution since 1973, when legend has it that he apparently opened for the band Chicago. In 1977, Bruce rocked the then-shiny-new Towson Center on the “Darkness On The Edge of Town” tour. But over the last 32 years – as long as I’ve been going to concerts — Springsteen has never, ever come near playing Baltimore in any way.
In his heyday, the Capital Centre hosted all of Bruce’s legendary shows and week-long runs from 1978’s success of “The River” and beyond. And then, of course, he wound up playing R.F.K. Stadium and then Fed Ex Field. (Let’s just be glad Peter Angelos didn’t try to screw him on a contract like he did Jimmy Buffett and Van Halen a few summers ago …)
For the initiated Springsteen lover, we in Baltimore will be seeing the second-to-last show of what has been an ongoing decade-long reunion with the fabled E Street Band of all-star musicians, most whom were in the studio with Springsteen in 1975 when he wrote and recorded “Born To Run,” which catapulted him into the mainstream music audience where his music has become legendary to blue collar people around the world.
Many of you know I have a major, major Sprinsgteen fandom issue. By my count, I’ve seen Springsteen 43 times, with and without The E Street Band. And this appears to be the end of a long road with this particular group of musicians, who are now mostly in the 60-plus range and are slowing down.
I’ve seen Bruce play so many times and in so many places that’s it’s hard to recall every one of them.
I’ve seen Bruce on a stunningly gorgeous night under the stars in Madrid, Spain and in a driving rainstorm getting soaked in Zaragoza.
I’ve seen him on college campuses in Austin, Texas and in stadiums in New Jersey and in theatres in Ohio.
My favorite show was at Fed Ex Field on “The Rising” tour when he opened with Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line” on the day when the Man in Black died.
I have never met Bruce Springsteen but I’ve had interviews, handshakes, pictures and great conversations with virtually every member of the E Street Band. I’ll talk about Nils Lofgren a little later in the blog, but I met Clarence Clemons at Hammerjacks 20 years ago. Met Little Steven several times as well as Garry W. Tallent. And at the Super Bowl this year, I would up talking about Europe and the band with the “mighty” Max Weinberg at a cocktail party. (He was a sensational guy!)
It’d be cool to take a picture with Bruce but my real fantasy interview would be spending two hours with Springsteen and just asking him questions about his songs and the world. Other than sitting with Bono or Peter Angelos, it’d be my dream “career topper” scenario.
But this year, I’ve had two amazing experiences with Bruce that I’ve managed to capture on film:
I have a video of me in the orchestra pit in Cleveland last Tuesday night, where I actually touched his foot and captured it on film for posterity. I’m not sharing that one. It’s borderline disgracefully embarrassing. But it was fun as hell!
And here’s a shareable press conference scene from the Super Bowl in Tampa when I got to ask Bruce a question on live TV, which was later captured in his documentary about the making of the NFL Network’s superbadass halftime show documentary. In this video, Bruce calls me a “dummy.” Only Fred G. Sanford could’ve called me a dummy in a more loving fashion!
I make a living opining about sports and have since 1992. But in my former life, I was a music critic for nearly a decade in the 1980s and early 1990s at The Evening Sun and The News American. Bruce Springsteen’s music was unavoidable growing up in Dundalk in the late 1970s and everyone had heard “Hungry Heart” or “Born To Run” at least once a week but I didn’t truly fall for the catalog until the triple live CD was released when I was a music critic on Calvert Street.
Then, with the release of “Tunnel of Love” – still my favorite album in the world – Springsteen won me at the age of 19 (a full 13 years after the release of the seminal “Born To Run”) and has kept me for life.
He does E Street tours. He does solo tours. He’s even known to take a barnstorming jug band all over the world playing folk songs and ripping down the roof. He’s a serial performer. It’s like oxygen for him.
And its sheer passion, energy and the great songs with great words and great melodies and great deeper meaning all strike a chord with me at the age of 41. I’m a complete sucker for Springsteen. Always have been, always will be …
Like I said, he’s he only BOSS I’ve ever listened to … LOL!
So why go through all of this effort and money and travel to spend time on the road with The Boss?
Well, Springsteen has become a live source of inspiration for me not just because of the words in his songs and the energy of his legendary live shows but it’s pretty clear that he loves what he does and he’s never going to stop touring and trying to be great.
His political work – whether you agree or disagree – is pretty admirable. He wants to make the world a better place. He always does charity food bank statements and really tries to give back to the world.
The money has never changed that. The fame has never changed that. The fans and their demands have never changed that.
Oh, and Bruce never, ever plays the same show twice. NEVER.
If you were to ask me what songs he’ll play on Friday night, I can only assure you that he’ll be doing the “Born To Run” album in its entirety about four songs into the show.
The rest? Completely random and up for grabs. Every single night he mixes up setlists so thoroughly that it becomes part of a poker hand between him, his band and the fans who bring signs with song requests that Springsteen honors every single night. (And sometimes, as Nils Lofgren will tell me in the videos below, the band doesn’t even know the songs and fakes it through. It’s part of the challenge and authenticity of being in The E Street Band.)
Here’s Lofgren talking about this aspect of Bruce and the E Street Band:
My fandom of all things Springsteen has led me to a fun friendship with guitarist Nils Lofgren, who I first met in 1987 at Shriver Hall on Johns Hopkins campus when I was a newspaper music critic. I next saw him saunter into the Convention Center in New Orleans on the eve of the Super Bowl in January 2002 and asked him on the show. An hour later, he was telling me European road stories and a friendship was born.
Lofgren, as you may know, had a big band in the 1970s called Grin, and made a life in Silver Spring for many years and is an unabashed Redskins fan (although we forgive him for this mortal sin.)
Because I talk about Springsteen on the show a lot, I thought this would be an appropriate time to write an “all things Bruce” blog on the eve of one of the biggest nights of the year in Baltimore.
You’ll be seeing us around the Arena on Friday night. Perhaps we can even cajole The Boss into a rousing rendition of “Hungry Heart,” where the songs protagonist sang:
“I’ve got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack…”
Below is a fun little scrapbook of my video interviews with Lofgren where we discuss life as a rock star and being in one of the greatest bands in the world and traveling the planet with one of the most enigmatic and private talents of our generation.
I love Bruce. He’s added great color and richness to my life. And I’m really looking forward to a special night in “My Hometown” on Friday night.
Maybe he’ll even play “My Hometown,” who knows?
I’m a major fan.
Our very own Drew Forrester has taken to doing a Top 50 Springsteen song countdown this week. So, I decided to put my “favorite” Bruce songs list together, just for my own sake.
I’ll work on that and maybe post it later, but for now I hope you enjoy this series of videos and interviews and my own little personal “scrapbook” of Bruce memories: