When I settled into my seat at Thursday night’s premiere of the new film, Springsteen and I, I had the uncanny feeling I was sitting among the famous. I overheard a woman seated somewhere behind me identify herself as “Mrs. Philly Elvis,”— wife of the Elvis impersonator Bruce brought onstage during one of his final four shows at Philadelphia’s Spectrum. A few seconds later, someone else said, “MagikRat is here,” and I wondered “THE videotaper who took such excellent footage of that same four-night stand?
Okay, so maybe these folks wouldn’t be famous to your average reader of TMZ and Celebitchy, but to those of us who frequent the Springsteen fan boards, these fans are famous—or infamous—in their own right. Since the subject of Springsteen and I is fans and what makes them tick, it was only fitting that some of the Springsteen obsessed got their chance to shine at the premiere. Held last Thursday night at Manhattan’s Sunshine Cinema, the screening was preceded by a two-hour on-the-premises Sirius radio program co-hosted by Springsteen biographer Dave Marsh and E Street Radio host and producer Jim Rotolo, and followed by a question and answer session with some of the folks featured in the film.
Produced by Ridley Scott, Springsteen and I explores the intense relationship Bruce Springsteen’s fans have with the man and his music. Director Baillie Walsh interspersed homemade videos in which fans explain their Springsteen obsession with concert footage, some of it crowd-sourced, and some of it from Springsteen’s own archives. In November, when filmmakers put out the call for fan testimonials, they received 2,000 submissions. (If you submitted a clip and weren’t included, there’s still hope; Walsh says an outtake reel might make it onto the eventual DVD release.)
Some of the fan testimonials found in Springsteen and I prove quite moving, as in the case of the young female truck driver who describes the impact of listening to “Atlantic City” while driving through the desert, then explains how Bruce’s songs help her to take pride in her job. Another memorable sequence features a couple who have never been able to afford to attend a concert, but who take obvious joy in simply dancing to Bruce’s music in their kitchen. We hear from parents who have schooled their kids in Springsteen’s music from birth onward, from a few of the kids who share their parents’ love of that music, and from Philly Elvis himself who describes his moment onstage with Bruce as the realization of a lifelong dream.
Other fan statements are quite funny; my favorite of these was the interview with a long-suffering man whose significant other drags him to Springsteen concerts around the world. He says he enjoys the travelling, but the concerts “tend to spoil it.” Asked what he would like to say to Bruce, the man replies, “Shorten your concerts.” And some of the film’s humor comes from Bruce himself, as in the segment in which a brokenhearted guy holds up a sign that reads “Hi, Bruce, I just got dumped.” Bruce brings him up onstage for a hug, asks “What happened, Bro?” then tells the audience, “I got dumped plenty of times myself. They’re regretting it now.”
At Thursday night’s preview, the audience contained quite a few of the fans featured in the film, and the crowd’s reactions were definitely part of the fun. At times people cheered when their friends and family members appeared on the big screen. At other times the audience laughed, obviously recognizing some of their own Springsteen obsession in the on-screen testimonials. And sometimes the laughter became uncomfortable, particularly when a fan movingly describes what Bruce’s music and persona mean to him, then bursts into tears, allowing the camera to watch him cry for an astonishingly long stretch of time. While many of us might freely admit to being moved to tears by Bruce’s songs and performances, there is something unsettling about watching as those tears actually fall.
In Springsteen and I, fans admit to losing their virginity during “Thunder Road,” or describe bonding with strangers standing beside them at a show. One young woman recounts her “Courtney Cox moment,” being pulled onstage for “Dancing in the Dark.” As a hard-core fan myself, I found all of this very entertaining and affirming, but I had to wonder if Springsteen and I will speak as loudly to non-fans. Will it provide a valuable public service to the obsessed, helping us to convince our skeptical spouses, children, co-workers and friends that our ticket-buying habits aren’t quite so excessive after all.
For me, the answer to that question is no and yes. As touching and entertaining as the film’s fan testimonials are, I think they will speak most loudly to tramps like us—the already converted. But the footage of Bruce himself is another story. Though some of it is grainy and some of it recycles song clips from official releases, the live footage nonetheless captures the raw energy and excitement of a Springsteen show, as well as the humor and humanity of the man himself. An especially thrilling sequence comes at the end: a montage of “Born to Run” in performance, spliced from different eras of Bruce’s long career, illustrating how the man is still as vital a performer as he was forty years ago.
After the documentary screening, director Walsh and a handful of the fans featured in the film were brought to the stage for a question and answer session moderated by Rotolo and broadcast live at rollingstone.com. Asked whether Bruce has seen the film, Walsh replied in the affirmative, adding, “He really enjoyed it, because it’s a love letter, basically.” Though Walsh himself is more of an admirer than a hard-core fan, and though the original conception behind the film wasn’t his, the task of convincing Bruce to cooperate in the project fell to him. Asked how much control the Springsteen camp had over the final film, Walsh replied “None. Bruce was really, really trusting.”
Following the question and answer session came a “cinema exclusive” showing of highlights from 2012’s London Hard Rock Calling festival concert—infamous for being cut short when Bruce exceeded the city’s 10:30 curfew. Footage of “Thunder Road,” was particularly powerful, giving the impression that even more than usual Bruce was really feeling every word of that song’s lyrics. The sequence also featured “Because the Night,” “Shackled and Drawn,” and “We Are Alive.” When Paul McCartney comes onstage for “I Saw Her Standing There,” and “Twist and Shout,” it’s clear that Bruce is absolutely stoked to be playing with Sir Paul. The sequence includes the moment when the city of London pulled the plug on the show and Bruce accepted it with good grace, appeasing the crowd with a few bars of “Goodnight Irene.”
The Springsteen and I premiere wrapped up with outtakes from the documentary, in which some of the featured fans were given a meet and greet with Bruce, who comes across as down to earth, sincere, and generous as his devotees would hope. “These are all my new best friends,” Bruce tells the camera, adding, with a nod to the guy who complained about his girlfriend’s concert going, “I tried to shorten my show for this man….”
Springsteen and I is now showing in selected cities. For more information, visit www.springsteenandi.com.
April Lindner is a novelist, a poet, and a professor of English at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia. Read more at www.aprillindner.com.