Bruce, you’re 70? How did this happen? When I first got to know you, you were in your 30’s and I was a teenager. My own 30’s are but a distant memory. And you, you are 70. That means, in a blink of an eye, I too will be 70. I don’t even want to think about where you will be… I mean, you did say you'd live forever, right? On the backstreets until the end.
Seriously, there is no denying it, you and I ain’t that young anymore. It’s quite likely that our best times together are behind us. I can’t expect you to move me the way you did 20 years ago, and you can’t expect me to devote myself so completely to you and your music the way I used to. And yet, that last album of yours – Western Stars – wasn’t half-bad. I’m a little embarrassed to tell you this, but my expectations for that album weren’t all that high. I mean, you had been sitting on it for years. Would you do that with something you were really excited about? So, I figured, if you are not excited about it, why should I be?
Well, no matter how you feel about it yourself, I think it’s brilliant. Maybe because, once again, that guy you are writing about… is me. The guy whose greatest achievements are long past, but who’s telling himself, day after day, year after year, that you could do it again, any time, if only…. If I could just… if things were just a little different. Something about that album hit home with me. It did what art is supposed to: it gave me new insight in myself, and with insight comes the motivation and inspiration to maybe do something about whatever it is that needs fixing or improving.
Of course, Western Stars wasn’t the first time one of your albums did that to me. When I finally “got” the Darkness album (I hate to say it, but it took me a while), it became my go-to album for whenever I needed a boost. Human Touch (don’t believe those who say it’s terrible… it’s not) got me through a horrible heartbreak. And Tunnel of Love… man, where do I begin? If love came with an instruction book, this would be it.
You know, I love just about all your albums, but we both know that your strongest impact comes from your stage performance. Just an example: turn back time to 2012, a huge stadium in Gothenburg, Sweden. I wrote about that concert in what I consider one of my best pieces of writing. You probably didn’t read it though. Anyway, you played “Lost in the Flood”, “Saint in the City”, “Frankie” – perhaps my favorite song – and one I was sure I would never hear you sing with me there. And Clarence’s spirit hovered over us as Jake played the “Jungleland” solo for the first time. But it was so much more than individual songs or moments. Something happened that night. 60,000 people knew it. You must have felt it too. I’m not sure what it was, but I can still summon it just by closing my eyes and thinking back.
That night was extraordinary even for you. But I don’t want you to think that only extraordinary nights like that will do it. I have never left disappointed after seeing you live. More often than I can count, I leave with a feeling of having witnessed something that can’t possibly be topped. Remember that night in Copenhagen in 1999 when it rained so hard all night, we thought we’d never get dry again, but you still took us all the way? Or when your “Man in Black” upgraded me to the first row at a Joad Tour show in Germany? Or when I almost blacked-out way back in 1992 due to the heat inside the arena? Not to mention my very first show, more than 30 years ago, that just left me completely and utterly shell-shocked? I’d never, ever experienced the all-consuming, mind-blowing force of nature that was you. It felt like I was in a daze for months, and it changed me forever.
I could go on listing memories of all those times we were together at everything from windy soccer fields in obscure European cities, to world-famous arenas like Madison Square Garden, not to mention our latest encounter at the Walter Kerr Theater on Broadway. But it’s not just the concerts that I think back on, on this day. So many of the milestones of my life are somehow connected to you. One of the things that you do is that you bring people together. Even hopeless introverts like me are filled with an undeniable urge to connect to other people who “get it”. Hell, after seeing that first show back in 1988, I put a pen pal ad in Backstreets (this was before the internet, of course), because I needed… something… someone. It led to a number of friends that I wrote to for years, some of whom I’m in touch with to this day, a disastrous long-distance love affair (hence the aforementioned heartbreak), exciting travels, visits from far away, and altogether, many life lessons that I don’t know how I would have gotten otherwise.
Soon, more people that I met on the road while following you – on “fan busses” moving down the Autobahn to your next show, in ticket lines, in groups of fellow crazy stalkers outside your hotel (yeah, I used to be one of them) – were added to my growing list of Bruce friends. My twenties were spent hanging out with a few of them, watching shaky bootleg videos till 6 in the morning, talking about your music, about whether you’d ever reunite the E Street Band, about how you were the best guitarist in the world, and about life in general.
To make a long story short, because this shouldn’t be so much about me as about you, and us, the internet only accelerated all of this, culminating in the creation of this website, which again led to so many new friends, more travels, more get-togethers, more shows… and, not to mention, meeting my wife. This just to say that, man, you were there for all of it. It was all you, whether you know it or not. I actually did try to tell you, on those few occasions that we ran into each other on the street… all right, when I caught you outside your hotel after having waited for five hours… but it never came out as anything other than a shy, quiet “Thank you”. I hope you could still see it in my eyes, all the things I wanted to say to you. But I was no different from all the other wide-eyed fans that you met on those occasions, so I forgive you if your memory of me is vague.
So, you’re turning 70. I turned 50 a few months ago. Both are a little scary and surreal. But you know what? It’s not like we wasted all that time that has passed, did we? It’s been a hell of a ride, as you would probably phrase it - for the most part, at least. And even if the highs aren’t as high as they were when we were 20, they are still pretty damn high.
I hear you are thinking of recording a new rock album with the E Street Band and touring next year. If you do that, I promise I will be there and give you all that my middle aged, overweight body can offer. I don’t expect you to do any knee-slides or hang upside down from the microphone stand, but we can still jump up and down a little and pretend we are still young, right? Deal?
Happy Birthday, Bruce!