I’m 43 years old and, yes, I believe in “Magic” … and “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” “The Rising” and “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle.”
Hi, my name is Stuart and I’m a Bruce-aholic.
Bruce Springsteen’s newest record, “Magic," is set for release on Oct. 2. Like the days leading up to other Springsteen albums, the anticipation is a slow build, analogous to a kid sitting in class in early June, counting down the days until summer break.
I remember my first taste of Bruce juice. It was 1981 and I was a freshman at Cal State Northridge, vegging out after class in the student union music center where you could choose a record — yes, we’re going back to the days of vinyl — and listen to it in sound-proof booths.
Familiar with the legend of “Born to Run” but not having listened to it in its entirety until then, the music captured me in a way no song or album ever had to that point. Growing up in New York, I was a fan of Billy Joel — that’s the law if you’re raised on Long Island — but Joel’s songs never grabbed me the way Springsteen’s did.
From the opening harmonica of “Thunder Road” to the closing primal scream of “Jungleland,” “Born to Run” left me virtually speechless. It was a masterpiece on first listen and remains Springsteen’s greatest work.
The joy of the live show
But Springsteen, the maker of albums, and Springsteen the concert performer are two entirely different creatures. The music at a Springsteen show doesn’t just come alive, it encompasses you in the way a train would affect your balance if you were standing on the edge of the platform and it passed at 150 mph. It leaves you barely holding on, as you feel the rush of energy move through you on every note, on every lyric sung.
My first show came during the 1984 “Born in the USA” tour, but that’s a somewhat sad story in the fact that I could’ve attended one of “The River” shows three years earlier. In one of those decisions that you regret as soon as you’ve made it, I passed on a ticket because I had English homework that night.
So I’m forced to wait an excruciating three years — after collecting all the bootlegs, buying the albums, reading the Time and Newsweek cover stories, making friends who had been to the ’78 Roxy show and the famed Winterland set in San Francisco — and it’s finally Oct. 25, 1984. I have no idea what time my daughter was born, but I still remember everything about that day. The drive on the Santa Monica Freeway to the Los Angeles Sports Arena, finding a parking spot, checking out the T-shirts, getting to our seats, and waiting … and waiting some more for the show to start. And then, when the venue went completely dark at 8:13 and, above the screaming, all you heard was Springsteen counting down, about to burst into the title track, and it sent me a place I hadn’t been before.
From that point on I was hooked. Springsteen played seven nights in L.A., and I went to all seven shows. On the second leg of that tour, he played the cavernous Los Angeles Coliseum and I was front row, dead center. By that point, the album, tour and even his own persona had taken on industrial-strength proportions.
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A staggering seven singles were released from “Born in the USA,” including “Dancing in the Dark” (yes, that’s Courtney Cox dancing with him in the video), “I’m on Fire” and concert fave “Glory Days.”
His energy on stage had no bounds. He’d play a 90-minute first set, an hourlong second set and then three encores, closing out around midnight. The set list changed every night but you could be assured of the staples, songs that had more resonance that others, that, as Springsteen liked to say, “made you glad you‘re alive”: “Thunder Road,” “Badlands,” “The Promised Land,” “Rosalita” and the traditional closer, the “Detroit Medley.”
Change is good
When Springsteen hits the road for the upcoming “Magic” tour, I certainly don’t expect to hear those same songs in concert that I heard over 20 years ago. That’s OK as I’ve been to over 100 shows and I’ve pretty much heard everything. He’s added a lot to the canon since those days — and grown up as a musician and family man. He once said he’d never be able to write songs about being a father, but he has, and, whether he’s liked it or not, has taken on the role of Everyman, commenting on the American experience.
Look no further than Sept. 11, when he watched the Twin Towers fall from across the Hudson River. From that he came up with “The Rising,” in which he delivered the album’s powerful message of agony, sorrow, redemption and joy.
While Springsteen will forever be connected with the E Street Band, their association in the last 20 years or so has been tenuous at best. From 1973’s “Greetings at Asbury Park, N.J.” to “Tunnel of Love” in 1987, he and the band were inseparable, but Springsteen has taken a more solo route since then, offering up material that seemed better suited for an acoustic guitar than a full-band treatment. Understandable? Absolutely. He deserves to present his material in any way he seems fit.
Slideshow: The magic of Bruce Springsteen But that’s what makes both the upcoming “Magic” album and tour such a joy. It’s the Big Man (and, at 65, a much older Clarence Clemons) back on sax again, Professor Roy Bittan tinkling the piano, Little Steven Van Zandt (aka Silvio Dante from “The Sopranos”) strumming guitar and sharing a mic during “Two Hearts,” and all the other E Streeters returning to deliver the goods again. Back in the day, we used to take the band’s contributions for granted. Now, longtime fans treasure every show, every song.
Back in the ’80s and ’90s, traveling around the country to see a Springsteen show was always de rigueur, never even given second thought. Jersey shows, Philly shows, maybe a stop in Texas, or Boston, or D.C., or even somewhere in the heartland was something that wasn’t discussed so much as implied. Of course, these days — with jobs, families, bills to pay — road trips are a bit tougher, though certainly not impossible.
At 58 years old, it’s hard difficult to say how much longer Springsteen will be able to play these marathon concerts. And though he said a “farewell tour” now or later is out of the question, one needn’t be a mathematician to figure out that, with the band getting older as well, there will be fewer and fewer tours to come.
So, to repeat what the late, great American songwriter Warren Zevon said when asked what advise he would give just before he passed away a few years back, he said, simply, “Enjoy every sandwich.”
Relish in the revelry of “Cadillac Ranch,” in the quiet pleasures of “If I Should Fall Behind,” in the communal nature of “10th Avenue Freezeout.”
And know that more magic is on the way.
Stuart Levine is an assistant managing editor at Variety. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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