In just four days, I will be in Moncton, New Brunswick, attending a Bruce Springsteen concert. I’ve been planning to see The Boss in concert since … at least 1986, I guess. I kept thinking the opportunity would arise someday, even after I moved back to St. John’s in 1992 where we don’t get a huge number of big-name acts passing through. There were years when I wasn’t keeping up with Springsteen’s new releases, considering myself more a fan of his older work, but I still thought, “Someday I’ll see him in concert.”
A couple of years ago I had a wake-up moment when I realized, “Old rock stars don’t last forever.” (In fact, nobody does, something I should already have realized with the loss of Rich Mullins, who was neither old nor a rock star but WAS someone I’d always intended to see in concert, right up until his untimely death). Carpe that diem, folks. At the time I had this realization, a friend of mine was going to Moncton, where they have a fairly big concert venue at Magnetic Hill that has attracted some very big acts. I think my friend was going to see the Rolling Stones, for whom I would not open the front window if they were playing on my lawn, but it did make me reflect on the whole concert thing again. I said to Jason, “I just want you to know that the next time Springsteen is touring, I think I’m going to go to wherever the nearest concert is, even if I have to fly to Toronto or New York, because I really want to see him before I die. Or more to the point, before he dies.” After all, he’d already lost first Danny Federici and then Clarence Clemons out of the iconic E-Street Band lineup. Time was running out.
On the other hand, maybe I shouldn’t have worried too much about The Boss getting old. Yes, this picture is from this summer’s tour and yes, he’s 62.
And yes, it’s a little phallic. But mostly it’s very, very impressive. I’m 46 and I’d like to be able to do that pose. And more to point, I’d like to be able to get back up afterwards without injuring myself.
I became a Springsteen fan in college, when everyone was listening to “Born in the USA” and all the other big hits from that album. Thanks to a friend who knew his music, I got a tour through his older records like Nebraska and The River, and I fell in love with his songwriting — with the way his songs reflected his social conscience and a deep and thoughtful spirituality and an awareness of the messy complexity of human relationships. At college my friend Linda and I used to drive around listening to Springsteen songs on cassette in her car and endlessly analyzing his lyrics.
My favourite Springsteen album is Tunnel of Love, which I don’t think is particularly highly regarded by the hardcore fans but, as with so much music, is important to me because it’s so tightly tied into the time of my life at which I heard it. I will always remember the first time I listened to that album all the way through, walking around the campus of Kingsway College, where I taught at the time, wearing my headphones plugged into my Sony Walkman (don’t laugh, kids). It was a Saturday night and I was on campus patrol duty so I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything but worse than that, even if I had been free, I’d have been unhappy. Most of the cool younger teachers and several of the cool older students who were my friends were at a party at the house of one of those cool young teachers to which I had not been invited and I walked around campus for what seemed like hours patrolling for illicit activity but really lost in my own world of loneliness and self-pity and the incredible heartbreaking music flooding my headphones. “Brilliant Disguise” is the one big hit everyone knows from that album, although my favourite is one called “A Cautious Man.” That whole album (which coincided with the breakdown of Springsteen’s short-lived first marriage) is about what those two songs are about: the gamble we take when we try to love someone and how sometimes it doesn’t work out, even with our best intentions, because we are flawed and messed-up and broken people, and even though I was a long way away yet from my own first (and last) marriage, it was a message that touched me deeply.
Fast forward several years and, as I said, I haven’t followed Springsteen’s later work as closely as I used to his earlier stuff but I’d always rank him as one of my favourite singers and songwriters. So when the rumour came out that he might, just might, be coming to Moncton this summer — well, it was destined to be. I actually had a hotel room booked before the concert was confirmed, as hotels in Moncton were selling out pretty fast for that weekend. Jason, who is not a big Springsteen fan but enjoys a live concert by almost anyone, agreed to come with me. And now, after all the anticipation, it’s about to happen. On Sunday while I’m at the concert I’ll update the blog with some of my favourite Springsteen songs, and next week you’ll get an update on how it went.