Two shows, same city, same venue, 25 years apart. One was my first, the other was my 59th. There have been other shows in between at the same place, but 25 years is a good occasion to pause and look at how it started and where it led.
Scene 1: Idrætsparken, Copenhagen, Denmark, July 25, 1988: I’m 19 years old, newly graduated from the Danish equivalent to high school - not sure what to do with my life next - and in my third year as a Springsteen fan. Tonight is going to be my Bruce Baptism. It will change my life and lead me in a direction that I’m still following to this date.
Scene 2: Parken, Copenhagen, Denmark, May 14, 2013: 44 years old, but who’s counting anymore? In a steady job as a librarian. For 15 years the head of one of the largest Springsteen communities on the internet. A veteran of 58 previous shows. This is just one of four shows this month.
Despite the different names, Idrætsparken (The Sports Park) is the same as Parken (The Park). The 45,000 seat national Danish soccer stadium had its name changed in connection with a reconstruction in the 1990’s. Most people were already calling it Parken, so it made sense to just name it that officially.
Bruce Springsteen did not perform in Denmark on the Born in the USA Tour, so when his Copenhagen show was added late to the Tunnel of Love Express Tour itinerary, it was major news. Finally, the Boss, the biggest star on the planet, would grace our shores with his presence, and I intended to be there. Being the complete novice that I was when it came to rock concerts in general and Bruce Springsteen in particular, I figured if I just started calling the ticket seller as soon as the tickets went on sale, I’d be fine.
I was wrong.
Half the Danish population had had the same idea I did. The other half had lined up in person at the three or four ticket outlets spread around the country. I was among the thousands in both categories who were out of luck..
After a day of deep depression and vowing never to listen to Bruce Springsteen again, a small hope started to flicker in the distance when it was announced that unclaimed tickets for the show would be sold at the end of the week. I had learned my lesson. I got out of bed earlier than any teenager had ever done before and found myself in a queue in downtown Copenhagen hours before the sale started. My strategy paid off. I left the place, ticket in hand, feeling like I’d won a million dollar lottery.
December, 2012. I’m sitting at my powerful desktop computer. In one window I have the ticket site open, in another one I’m looking at a clock that shows the exact time by one tenth of a second. At exactly 10:00:00:00 a.m. I click the “Buy tickets” button, and five minutes later I’m ready to print my tickets for Bruce Springsteen’s show the following May. I’m very pleased, but even if I’d failed, I knew I’d probably have gotten tickets anyway through one of my friends or connections. In fact, I end up not using these GA tickets at all, but choose instead some seats that I get on a different occasion.
July, 1988: The summer of 1988 went unbearably slowly. Every day I checked my ticket in the drawer to make sure it was still there. It said “Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band Tunnel of Love Express”. I loved the sound of that. I thought the day would never come. But finally July 25th arrived. I took the train to the city in the afternoon. I had no concept of what would be a good time to arrive. The ticket bore no indication of where in the stadium I would be located. You could go and sit or stand wherever you fancied. It was all one big General Admission. For no particular reason, I chose to sit in the stands. It was nowhere near the stage, but being close to the stage wasn’t even on my mind. I was overjoyed to be anywhere inside the stadium. Having never been to a rock concert before, I was a little concerned about how my hearing would be affected, so I figured it would be better not to be too close to the huge speakers.
Showtime was still three hours away, so I settled down in my seat and started absorbing the atmosphere. Reading a Bruce Springsteen special newspaper section over someone’s shoulder, I found out that Bruce had made a surprise performance on the main shopping street in Copenhagen two days before. This was the first I’d heard of this famous event that was made even more famous by a tourist with a camcorder.
May 14, 2013, 7 p.m: Having enjoyed a relaxing meal at a restaurant while friends text me live updates from the soundcheck, my wife and I arrive at Parken about an hour before showtime. We quickly find our seats in the lower tier close to the stage. The wait is spent texting friends located in the pit and elsewhere in the stadium and being annoyed by the already rather intoxicated people in the row in front of us. I’m already making unfavorable comparisons to the Swedish fans I had experienced in Stockholm ten days earlier. Nothing beats the Swedes when it comes to Bruce appreciation.
July 25, 1988, 8:15 p.m: The moment Bruce entered the stage to the intro of “Tunnel of Love”, everybody around me was not only on their feet, but standing on their chairs! I had to follow suit in order to be able to see anything. This was the moment I had dreamt of ever since listening to a cassette recording of “The River” three years previously. This was real. This was actually Bruce Springsteen moving around down on that stage. A tiny dot all right, but Bruce Springsteen nonetheless. The big screen next to the stage clearly showed his familiar face with the curly hair and big underbite.
A few weeks previously I had listened to the broadcast of the July 3 show in Stockholm, so I felt well prepared as the first set of the show progressed. In the beginning, roughly the same songs were played as in Stockholm. And yet, it sounded different. It was loud. My concern for my hearing had been justified. Especially the saxophone was ear-splitting. But the loudness was also life-affirming and dangerous in a good way. It was rock ‘n’ roll. Not like the pop music I used to listen to on my cassette player. The sound was as tangible as the punches of the drums and bass on my chest.
As the first set came to a close with a roaring version of “Born in the USA” that made the crowd down on the field surge forward, and then a beautiful song I’d never heard before and that months later I would learn had been a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom”, I knew that this was already the best night of my life.
May, 2013: Being familiar with all the stage workers’ routines and tasks from years of watching them, I know that when I see the camera woman on the right take her position, the show is within a minute of commencing. Tonight is no exception. The band enters the stage to the usual roar of approval from the crowd. Most people in my section stand up. No one climbs up on their chair though, but then again, an usher would probably come running and tell them to get down, just like they tell people to put out their cigarettes (which the intoxicated fans in front of us had already experienced, much to my concealed satisfaction).
After a couple of songs, most of the middle-aged crowd are sitting again. For me personally, being the pit pig that I usually am, sitting down during a Bruce show seems as unnatural as eating dinner standing up, so I remain on my feet. There are two business-type guys behind me who are engaged in a conversation while paying no attention to what’s happening on the stage. I’ve already phrased my answer to them if they tell me to sit down: “I’ll sit down when you shut the f*ck up.” But I don’t need it. They couldn’t care less about their view being blocked. Halfway through they show, I notice they are gone.
Within the first five songs I count my first personal premiere. “Loose Ends”. In my 57 previous shows, I’ve never gotten that one. Not a bad start. Except for the sound. The sound is a muddy mess.
July 25, 1988, 10:30 p.m: The show was well into the second set. During the 40 minute intermission, darkness had fallen over Copenhagen and our little world of light inside Parken. The steady beat of “She’s the One” was echoing between the concrete stands while huge stroboscopic lights flashed to the rhythm. All 45,000 of us were now one big organism. I didn’t know a soul around me, and yet it felt like they were my best friends. People who until tonight had never seen each other now grabbed each other’s hands and danced around between the rows of chairs and on top of the chairs.
This was the point where I lost track of time and what was being played when. It all flowed together and became a big blur of sound and light and short glimpses of Bruce - Bruce on his knees screaming his pain, Bruce leaning back on Clarence towering above him, Bruce dripping with sweat - glimpses that right then and there were burned into my memory forever, and changing me as surely and thoroughly as anything had ever done in my 19 years of living.
May 2013, 9 p.m: As I had predicted when he opened the show with “We Take Care of Our Own”, Bruce decides to perform the Born to Run album in full. This will be my third time experiencing that, most recently in Stockholm a few weeks earlier. Many people in my section must not be familiar with or realize the significance of the Born to Run album, because it seems like they lose focus. Some leave their seats to get more beer. When Bruce tries to recreate the 1978-style interlude during “Backstreets”, one of the most intimate things he has ever done, the whole stadium is abuzz with loud murmur that almost drowns out Bruce’s tender whispering, ruining a moment that has been known to make grown men weep, including myself only two shows earlier.
“She’s the One” is also played as part of the Born to Run album. Not many in my section react to it. People are watching like they were in a movie theater or in a pub.
July 25, 1988, sometime after midnight: When I came back to reality I found myself walking down an unknown street in Copenhagen. I needed to find a train station, but I had no map and no idea where I was. Besides, getting home was merely a physical instinct. It didn’t really seem all that important in the elevated state of consciousness I was now inhabiting after what I had just experienced. The sound of “La Bamba” and a stadium full of people singing along was still ringing in my ears, the achingly beautiful acoustic “Born to Run”, the rock ‘n’ roll crescendo of “Light of Day”. They seemed like recollections from another life. It felt like there had been a life before tonight and one that had just hatched now. And then in between the two, a life that in Earth time had lasted only about four hours, but had taken place in a different dimension with a different concept of time and consisting of 45,000 people, a lit stage, and a man in a t-shirt soaked in sweat.
May 14, 2013, 10:30 p.m: It takes a while for Bruce to crack the nut that is the audience at Parken on this night. But he does it. Of course he does. He even manages to surprise me when he breaks the recent pattern and does one more song after “Twist and Shout”. “Raise Your Hand” brings the last skeptics and passive onlookers into the fold. The light is on in the roof-covered stadium. Bruce is on top of the piano ridding himself of his shirt and then taking it the final step by running through the trench between the stage and the pit high-fiving the ecstatic fans. This is rock ‘n’ roll heaven. This is ferocious and dangerous. This is one of those glimpses that I know I will take with me.
A few minutes later, Bruce and the band have left the stage. I exchange a few text messages with friends and connections. We agree it was a solid show if not a top 10 candidate. Semi-rarities like “Light of Day” and “Brilliant Disguise” make it an above-average setlist if a bit too many songs from Born in the USA during the encores. Then my wife and I head out of the stadium. Despite walking among thousands of other people, we soon find the street that will take us to the train station and home. I have to get up early to go to work the next morning. And in two days the next show awaits.
July 25, 2013: It’s been 25 years. July 25, 1988, still stands as a highwater mark of my life. There have been others since, of course. But although I lost all sense of direction trying to get home that night and had to call my dad to come and get me, the show gave me a new direction in life and a new outlook on just about everything. I knew that Bruce Springsteen was now more than just good music to me. He was a guiding light and a means of finding purpose and content in my existence. I wanted to communicate what I experienced that night, and I wanted to re-experience it.
And communicating and re-experiencing it is what I’ve been trying to do ever since. Thus, although no one had even heard about the internet back in 1988, Greasy Lake is a direct result of that night 25 years ago. And seeing Bruce 59 times since has been my feeble attempt to take myself back to how I felt standing on my chair among 45,000 of my best friends singing along to “Twist and Shout” on a beautiful Copenhagen summer night. Sometimes I’ve been close. Other times not so much. And still other times I’ve felt what seemed even better. But never quite the same. And that’s probably the way it should be. Not to mention, it would be impossible. Times are different now. More individualism in society. Less inclination for strangers to morph into that one big soul. Bruce is different. He’s no longer that 38-year-old desperate man playing four-hour shows, because he couldn’t face his real life off stage. And I’m different. Halfway through my life. Mostly content. And a little harder to impress.
But just a little. The next show I saw, two days later, in Herning, was the best one ever. Some things never change.