Greasy Lake, , by: Rocco Pendola
On Saturday, May 27th, the year 2000, I experienced another life-changing event similar to the events that occurred in my life between landing in Dallas and finding myself in San Francisco. The unplanned, totally unexpected way that I found myself sitting in The MGM Grand Garden Arena on that night is what makes the whole thing even more special. About two months prior to the evening in focus, my girlfriend and I were visiting her parents in suburban Fresno, California. The NHL playoffs were about to get underway so Judy and I decided to hop on the phone and place a call to Ticketmaster to see if we could score some seats for a San Jose Sharks playoff game. We dialed in numerous times during the ten o clock hour when tickets were to go on sale only to receive repeated busy signals. Finally, the line rang and Ticketmaster's automated ticket ordering system picked up the phone. As the computer rambled, it noted, "Sharks playoff tickets are sold out," and proceeded to list other events that were available for purchase. I listened half-heartedly until the tinny voice instructed me to, "press four for Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band at MGM Grand in Las Vegas." It was as if I was seconds away from cumming, I stood still and felt chills unable to speak for a moment "Bruce is touring, huh," I had no idea. I was a fan of The Boss since Born in The USA, a big fan, but I was obviously not a diehard yet since I did not know anything about Springsteen's reunion tour with The E Street Band. After overcoming my natural hesitance to be spontaneous, my girlfriend coaxed me into pressing four and we snatched up two tickets for the show; we got some of the last seats in what would become a full house within seconds of our order. At this point, little did I know that in less than sixty days, I would go from being a big fan to a diehard fan of Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band.
I became a fan of Springsteen like most people my age did. I was about nine or ten years old and, by no accident, Born in The USA turned me on to Bruce. Just as small-minded, short- attention-span adults like Ronald Reagan thought Born in The USA was a patriotic chant giving thanks to the fact that one was "Born in The USA," I did as well. My unawareness as a little kid has since faded, but the ignorance of many others has not gone away deep into adulthood as Born in The USA continues to be played at 4th of July fireworks celebrations across the nation and it recently showed up on a spare September 11th tribute CD. Go figure. Anyhow, as I began to listen to Springsteen's music from the 70's and other less widely popular tracks, the music and more so his incredibly thoughtful lyrics hooked me. As I slowly exited my teenage years in the early 90's and entered my twenties in the middle of the decade, I was a fan of everything Bruce had ever done listening to his stuff repeatedly, but without the existence of a together and touring E Street Band, I was not keeping my ears and eyes open for the opportunity to experience one of his reportedly exhilarating three hour concerts. Because of this, the Reunion Tour sneaking up on me was a surprise in that it was happening, but the fact that I missed any of its hype was not much of a shock.
Leading up to the concert, I prepared myself to be stunned. When people speak of a Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band performance, they liken it to a spiritual awakening, similar to the way Canadians view attendance at hockey games. Springsteen sums up his concerts in a way that justifies the spiritual tag. He says that a rock and roll show should be "part political rally, part dance party, and part religious revival all rolled into one." Springsteen also speaks of he and his audience needing something from one another and how he and the band strive to supply the energy needed for the connection each and every night they hit the stage. In essence, Bruce and the band refuse to stop short of surpassing that bar, a bar set up by this communion of passionate people-Bruce, the band, the concert attendees-which standardizes a level of intensity measured in sheer energy and effort as well as length of show and emotional response to said show. I knew the concert would be something else, but I did not know that it would have the power to transform me from a big fan to a diehard fan.
As we sat waiting for the eight o clock show to begin, Judy confused the capacity crowd's constant mooing of "Bruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuce" with the type of "boos" used in entertainment venues to express displeasure. There was no displeasure, just a build-up of months of anxiety the faithful had rumbling around inside of them. As for me, I was still unsure of what to expect.Was the hype that surrounded what I was about to see justifiable or would I be let down? I know now as I write this on July 6, 2002 what this nervousness is all about; I am currently anticipating the imminent announcement of tour and ticket on-sale dates for another Springsteen and The E Street Band tour set to kick off in August in support of his new album, "The Rising," the first studio effort of new material with the band since 1984. The fact of the matter is that the second Bruce left the stage on that evening in May I began dreaming and obsessing over when the next tour might begin. The display of raw intensity and genuine camaraderie that I saw and felt from high atop that arena that night is almost indescribable. Part of the reason why I have trouble verbalizing what I witnessed is that I was not in a normal state while watching the show. I was not drunk or high; I was just in awe. For the whole show, I sat on the edge of my seat leaning forward staring at the action on the stage unable to actively participate in the party that was going on around me. I was enjoying myself, no doubt. I was just having an out-of-body experience, blown away by the fact that the pre-show hype did nothing to prepare me for the unexpected power brought forth by what in all reality is an exhibition worthy of larger than life status.
When Springsteen takes the stage, and without a single lapse as long as he is on it, his eyes, his face, and his body language tells much of the story. This man is doing something he not only loves to do; he is doing something that has real meaning to him. As described earlier, Canadian hockey players play hockey from childhood sharing the goal of all of their friends to make the sport their living someday. Upon achievement of this goal, the roots of that small town in places like Ontario and Manitoba where a star was born are not severed, they actually grow stronger. A sense of good fortune reins, not a sense of entitlement or lack of effort. The intensity actually grows, as to maintain a level of excellence that a whole country can be proud of. I believe that a similar set of ideals holds true for Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen started with nothing, fighting and scrapping to make headway with his music as a youngster. Just as his music has progressed from songs speaking of getting out of a bad place to searching for "that place where we really want to go" to music that celebrates the long sought after ability to overcome and rise above trouble while opening one's mind to the world that is finally out there for the taking, Springsteen has lived the life his music describes in chronological fashion. From a seemingly never-ending search for redemption to finally finding redemption, Springsteen has always stayed true to his starting place in Asbury Park, New Jersey as well as to his fans who have always played this special game of give and take with The Boss-Bruce gets something out of giving his fans music with meaning, while they certainly get something in return. As with all worthy and meaningful connections between artist and fanatic, each singular person at different times of their respective lives defines that "something" differently.
Over the last few years, I have come to value things of substance and significance over transparent, "here one day, gone the next" quick fixes. This explains why I now prefer hockey to football, city to suburb, biking to driving, and Vancouver to Las Vegas. It also explains why I prefer Springsteen to any writer you can name. To understand Springsteen's own transformation as told through his written words is to understand the evolution of your own existence, at least on some level. Bruce's music never fails to relate. Listen to the words of earlier songs like Born to Run and Darkness On The Edge of Town then concentrate on his latest efforts in examples like Land Of Hope and Dreams and Lonesome Day, Springsteen eloquently outlines a process that we all go through-one that I described from a personal standpoint earlier in this book-a process of growing up, transcending from cluelessness, a state of poking in the dark, to true adulthood where one realizes that he does not know it all, but that is okay because he is still learning. To truly experience the positive and liberating hold Springsteen can have on the human psyche, you must be lucky enough to attend one of his concerts. I have only been to one, and like a middle age man scoring some ass on the wrong side of town, I will go back. I have to go back. I need to go back. Springsteen has something he needs to give me, and I have something he needs to get from me. There is still time for another connection that we all need to make together.
Writer''s note: Please note that this essay is part of a larger work, Ramblings From Rocco: Hockey, Radio, Life, and Our Urban Environment, which is available through my Website at www.roccopendola.net.