In 1981 I walked through the turnstiles of the Providence Civic Center to experience my first Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band concert. I was a sophomore at East Providence High school and I was turned on to Springsteen’s music by a cute blonde who I was trying to impress, so I engrossed myself in the Springsteen catalogue and I learned the essentials. I liked Springsteen’s music but I liked the cute blonde more and she loved Bruce, so I did too.
Three hours and forty five minutes later I walked out of the Civic Center having experienced something that I knew could never be replicated. The energy, the sound, the crowd singing in unison, the pure charisma of Springsteen and his incredibly tight band had absolutely converted me. There was no laser or light show, no smoke or pyrotechnics, no stage props…just the band and their music and it was more than enough. I still liked the cute blonde but now I was addicted to the “Boss” as well. I had experienced some sort of conversion, I had witnessed a rock and roll revival and I wanted more. I went to plenty of concerts in the 1980’s and I saw great shows by The Police, The Clash, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Van Halen and U2, but nothing, I mean nothing, compared to the Springsteen experience. So that cute little blonde and I started a ritual. If the E Street Band was in the Northeast, we would be there. It never got old; in fact it just kept getting better.
As I started to mature and pay attention to the lyrics I began to realize that I was listening to Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan rolled into one. Springsteen was the rock and roll conscience of his generation, a troubadour of the middle class and a socially conscious rocker that could get you to dance and think at the same time. He was engaging me in ways that I didn’t think I could be engaged and he was doing it with a soul-rock-folk combination that was unlike anything I had ever heard. He was a poet with a Fender Esquire and no matter how much fame and money he earned, his themes remained constant through the years; every human life has dignity, hard work is a virtue that is not always rewarded, family and faith are the foundations of our lives, and most importantly, no matter how bad it gets, there is always hope. His songs unapologetically question our country and its institutions and at the same time express a deep love and appreciation for it as the “Land of Hope and Dreams”.
Springsteen songs echoed from the small bedrooms of my family’s Cape Cod house in East Providence and my father, whose life played out like a Springsteen song, told my sister and me to come talk to him when Springsteen had sold out arenas and record stores for thirty years like Sinatra had. He had dismissed “The Boss” as a flash in the pan, that would fade like so many before him, but when my father died in 2008 we found, among the CDs in his car, an eclectic jazz – folk recording titled Live in Dublin: Bruce Springsteen and the Sessions Band. It was right next to Sinatra: The Capitol Years.
Last Monday night that cute little blonde, who is now my wife, and I walked into the TD Bank Garden in Boston for what was our tenth Springsteen show together. He and his E Street soul mates have a little less hair and a little more mid section and sadly there was a big empty space where the great Clarence Clemons shared the stage and blew his sax with his friend for over forty years, but the energy and sound was just like I remembered it in 1981. He was the rock and roll preacher and his congregation was hanging on his every chord and every word. It was a magical three hours of joy and angst, anger and hope, reflection and celebration…..it was Springsteen live, an American treasure, and all these years later there is still nothing quite like it.