Tonight, about 20 hours from the time I post this (or 8 p.m. for those of you not inclined to do the math), I’ll be having as much fun as I’ve had so far this year.
I’ll be watching Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performing live in Cleveland.
That in and of itself would be enough to have me ecstatic, but making it even better is that I’ll be watching it with a friend, The Drake. Making that even better is that The Drake, despite being a huge Springsteen fan, has never seen him live.
His life is about to change.
I know that sounds dramatic, but really, nothing musically can compare to the feeling of being at a Springsteen show. I know people who have wept just from watching DVDs of his concerts (OK, so I’m in that group, too, but really, I know of others). I know people who were marginal fans at best prior to the show, but after seeing him on stage, they became swept up in the mania (albeit not nearly to the extent of me or my nerdy friends).
This will mark my eighth Springsteen concert, and I can tell you details about each one, how each individual show meant something special to me, whether it was the music, the message or the company. And all have been great, even the first one I saw, back in 1992 when he was with the “other band,” made up of non-E Streeters as he toured in support of Lucky Town and Human Touch.
Springsteen was originally supposed to play that show in November, so a friend and I hit Lexington early to catch Bram Stoker’s Dracula and then spend some time at Fayette Mall before heading to Rupp Arena. While there, we ran into David Rogers, who told us that the concert was canceled because Bruce was sick. We didn’t believe him, even though David is not known to be prone to fits of fancy. We headed to my car, where we tuned into WKQQ, and when the DJ broke the news, we were crushed.
Fortunately, Springsteen rescheduled, and this time it was in mid-December on my grandfather’s birthday. My grandfather was long gone from the ravages of Alzheimer’s by then, so with a somewhat clear conscience, I headed back to Lexington for Springsteen’s final stop before Christmas. He played “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” and if memory serves, he and the band put on Santa hats and elf caps, parading through part of the audience as we all went nuts. (The evening’s highlight, though, was watching Chad Rice play air guitar for every song, pausing only for “Born to Run,” when he instead whipped out the air saxophone.)
Almost a decade passed before getting the chance to see the real thing, though: Springsteen with the E Street Band, which is clearly the best band in American history. So, in spring of 2000, I ventured up to Cincinnati, still on crutches from a surgically repaired ACL, and saw what was, to that point, the best concert ever. The band was in its full glory, and I finally got to see Mighty Max Weinberg setting the pace with his amazing drumming.
Somewhere toward the end of the show, Springsteen unveiled a new song, and though I couldn’t quite catch all the words, I could make out it was something about “this train” and “hope and dreams.”
I knew I loved it.
Before long, I learned the song was “Land of Hope and Dreams,” and it has earned its place as my second favorite Bruce song of all time, behind only “Thunder Road,” which will forever be known as Best Song Ever Written.
In particular, this part of “Land of Hope and Dreams” kills me:
I will provide for you
And I’ll stand by your side
You’ll need a good companion for
This part of the ride
Leave behind your sorrows
Let this day be the last
Tomorrow there’ll be sunshine
And all this darkness past
Big wheels roll through fields
Where sunlight streams
Meet me in a land of hope and dreams
I’m not sure there’s ever been a better description of friendship ever written.
And friendship was on full display in mid-November 2002 when Springsteen and the E Streeters visited Rupp Arena for The Rising Tour. We stood in the cold starting at about 7 a.m., all in the name of getting the best possible locations in the general admission floor area. A check-in sheet was established, allowing us to cavort through the city for 1-2 hours at a time before heading back to Rupp to get in line.
During our visits out and about, new friendships were forged and old friendships were strengthened, aided by the fact that we met and/or saw Little Steve, Clarence and Max. We told stories, we sang songs, we acted out Bugs Bunny cartoons. At one point, Cory, being interviewed by WLEX, belted out the lyrics to “Born to Run,” as we cheered him on.
By the time the show started, we had already had the best possible day. Or so we thought. The opening strains to “The Rising” had us (in the third row, mind you) in tears, our hands raised to the rock gospel we were about to receive.
Springsteen did not disappoint.
We soon elbowed our way to the front row, getting close enough that Clarence Clemmons gave a shaker to one member of our group. We danced liked mad men to “Mary’s Place,” aided by the fact that then-UK basketball coach Tubby Smith was right beside us. Cory and I can honestly say we cut a rug with Tubby Smith at a Springsteen concert.
When the band launched into “No Surrender,” another great song about friendship, there were more “bro hugs” being thrown around than at a 10-year fraternity reunion, only with far less latent homosexuality. No, this group of guys (and the couple of girls) truly loved each other, maybe not forever, but at least for that moment.
And thanks to the music of Bruce Springsteen, we have that moment forever.