At the end of my three-night Bruce Springsteen concert odyssey, I am sated and elated … and a lot stupider than I was before I started on this ground-hog day like live-gig marathon.
I should wonder how The Boss feels – he’s the one who did the equivalent of three long-distance hauls in four days, and despite copious amounts of sweat (which wet the T-shirt nicely, none of the girls complained…) he looked like he could go on for another couple of hours. And he’s 17 years older than me…
Part of my stupid-head is just plain tiredness. I managed to meet a couple of pressing deadlines over the past days, in between battling traffic to get to the venue at the other side of the world (from behind the lentil curtain to behind the boerewors curtain, to be exact – but that will only make sense to you if you live in Cape Town), then standing in lines and staking out positions, and then screaming and jiving for three-plus hours in the auditoriam each night. Ah, the happy ear-blast – it was BIG, it was LOUD! The post-Bruce ringing in my ears only just subsided each day in time to be clear for the next sonic assault. I think doing it repeatedly has done something to my brain.
Do I sound like I am complaining? I am categorically not. It’s just … what do I do now, after four straight days of Bruce? I’ve got this hollow empty feeling. I put another CD on – or better still, pull out the old vinyls, for their warmth, you know? – and it feels a little better. But only just.
I’ve never been a groupie. I’m not a joiner, I don’t go in for mass therapy sessions. I don’t like crowds. But if the spirit moves you … I feel like I understand Renton’s urgent rant at the beginning of Trainspotting, with one difference: instead of heroin, I say, Just do Bruce.
His fans know this. Their devotion was a revelation.
I mean the real fans, not just the ones who rushed out to buy tickets as soon as they came online and looked forward to the concerts with some excitement. I mean the ones who camped out from six o’clock every morning in the blazing sunlight, and made sure they were there for the roll call every three hours, and wore their numbers inked proudly on the back of their hands, so that, when they – only the first 350 of them, mind you – got their coveted Golden Circle entry bands, they could line up in strict numerical order and enter the stadium before anyone else to claim their hard-earned spots right up against the stage, within touching distance of the man they had come to see.
Not all of them were locals. Many had come from far and wide, some because that is what they do, others because they were lured here by the novelty – and the double bubble happiness – of seeing both The Boss and Cape Town for the first time.
Linette came all the way from Sweden, with her son. She has been to every Scandinavian Springsteen concert ever. And we had all ‘met’ her the night before, when Bruce pulled her on stage during ‘Dancing in the Dark’ and she stumbled in her excitement and fell hard on the giant floor monitor speakers. Our sympathy vied with our envy. She recovered quickly, pulled herself up and went to jive with saxophonist Jake Clemons (Clarence Clemons’ nephew). “I was number 10!” she told me proudly the next night, waving the number inked on her hand. On this, the third and last of the Cape Town gigs, she was badly sunburned from spending another day in the Golden Circle line. “I got high numbers on all three days,” she said, “but that one was the best day.” When I asked her if she was sore after her fall the night before she gave me a look that said, “I should feel pain? In the midst of this Euphoria?” What she actually said was, “I will hold that moment in my heart, always. So, so close to my heart.”
There was a German fan who couldn’t wait to hold up his cardboard sign for Bruce to read. It said, “We found your balls!” (A reference to the fact that, on night two, Bruce told the adoring crowd that he had had his first swim in Cape Town. “It’s COLD,” he said. (Duh.) “It’s so damn cold, I haven’t seen my balls in a day-and-a-half!”)
Alberto and Beatrice came in from Alicante in Spain. They were the kind of people you want to hang around with in a Golden Circle (and we did) because they were so infectiously joyful, high on being there and just keen to dance and celebrate. They knew what they were doing – it was Alberto’s 123rd Bruce Springsteen concert. That’s right – one-hundred-and-twenty-third! His wife Beatrice was on number 63 – he already had a couple of gigs under his belt when they met.
They have a three-year-old son, who stayed home with family in Spain. His name? Bruce. Alberto pulled out his iPhone and showed me pictures of his boy, and his motorbike. It’s called Thunder. (As in, Thunder Road). It has lightning bolts and all kinds of other Springsteen related insignia on it – I couldn’t quite follow it all through the excitement in Alberto’s telling.
But I think the fan that touched me the most was Elan, from Israel. I was chatting to him on the numbered chairs outside the stadium, before they let through all the arm-banded chosen ones to claim their space by the stage. I told him Bruce had saved my life (see last post) and he one-upped me. “Me too,” he said. “Me too. There was a time when I was so depressed, I was going to kill myself. But then I just thought, how could I live without his music?”
(Yes I realise there’s an existential Gordian knot of a contradiction in there, but it’s the thought that counts.)
How Elan undid me was like this: “So how did you feel,” he asked me, “when you finally got to see Bruce after all this time?”
I started on an analysis of the first and second night’s concerts, how they differed in vibe, the set list, what we thought he might play that night because he hadn’t on the others. “But how did you feel?” he insisted.
“I don’t know.” I said. “His energy is amazing. And he is so generous with the crowds. And…”
He cut me short, impatient. “How. Did. You. FEEL?”
Oh. Okay. I finally got it. And while I tried to find the words he put the last lick on his rollup and left to smoke it elsewhere. I had disapointed him. I was too logical, Too distant. Too careful.
Why could I not just answer him from the heart?
Because it felt deeply personal. And surprisingly intimate.
It was a revelation. It was everything it had promised to be, and much, much more.
It left me deeply satisfied. And simultaneously ravenous.
Live Bruce Springsteen is a little bit like a drug. Once you’ve had a taste of it, you need another fix.
I think I understand those die-hard fans, who travel all over the world, who notch-up the Springsteen concerts they’ve seen, reciting roll-calls of places and years – Barcelona, Milan, Amsterdam, Berlin, Dublin, Helsinki, New York, L.A., Boston, D.C. … The friendships forged in queues, the camaraderie of the Golden Circle seekers, the mix of grim determination and eager anticipation, knowing what you are about to see but knowing also that it will be different, is always different, every time. Bruce makes sure of that.
It’s hard to explain the very personal connection people have to his music. The way thousands of people can gather en masse and yet still feel that he is talking to them alone.
I should have told Elan that seeing Bruce Springsteen live changed me. If I had a Bucket List, and a reason to use it, following Bruce around a world tour would be on it.
I’ll keep you posted on that one.