Twice now, through no appreciable talent or skill of my own, I’ve been lucky enough to fly to New York City— at not very many moments’ notice — to stalk Bruce Springsteen. I did it last year when he performed on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,” thanks to the success and unprovoked generosity of an old friend who books the musical talent and is inexplicably gracious to inveterate obsessives. On that first trip a buddy and I found ourselves, suddenly and without adequate warning, in a conversation with Bruce Springsteen about children, parenting and the community of siblings, a three-minute galactic improbability that sort of resulted in the birth of my second son. (Long story.)
I did the same last week (fly to New York, not have a son), due to a second lightning strike of luck and babysitting, and found myself once again in the lobby at 30 Rock swarmed by a buzzing mass of Bruce people and happily dazed tourists. As it turned out, one of the swarming people in our ticket line looked a lot like Seth Avett of the Avett Brothers, a band that I’ve stalked a fair amount as well (my Billboard review of “I And Love And You,” and me interviewing them at Bonnaroo in 2010). You know that thing where you stare at somebody like an idiot, trying to see if it’s really that guy, but you can’t tell, and the wifi doesn’t work so you can’t Google image him so you stand there like a hopeless yokel until someone else confirms the identity for you? You do? Great.
The show, of course, was a delirious joy. Springsteen made a babushka joke, which, as a dutiful Slovak, I’m pretty sure was written just for me (thanks, Boss). The ’80s-bandanna/LMFAO sketch was a perfect sequel. There was a bit during a commercial break in which the zipper on Springsteen’s black leather jacket got stuck, and the short version is for three minutes off-air two women struggled to free a fake-panicking Bruce Springsteen from his clothes while Jimmy Fallon impersonated Bruce’s preacher-man persona and the Roots laid down what I think was polka music. I very much enjoyed writing that sentence.
Swarm of the Plaid People. From left: myself, Ben French, Bruce and Jonathan Cohen.
On about a dozen occasions in just under five minutes, it becomes clear that the person talking to me is Bruce Springsteen. This, in case you are wondering, never stops feeling like getting walloped by a large rolling boulder, or shoved into an above-ground pool filled with half-melted ice cubes. You would think that after some time your brain would become used to realizing it’s maintaining eye contact with Actual Bruce Springsteen while simultaneously attempting to convince your hands to stop shaking like that, but curiously this never occurs. The net effect is that every few minutes I realize, for what seems like the first time, that I’m engaged in a real conversation with Bruce Springsteen and it would be best for everybody if I didn’t throw up or try to hug him.
Currently, Bruce Springsteen is talking to my friend Ben and I about parenting. I was introduced as having come to New York City from South Carolina, and Springsteen mentions how he just moved his daughter to Duke, and as someone who has equated Duke with cartoonish supervillainy since the early ’90s, I note that in talking to Bruce Springsteen for 14 seconds we’ve stumbled into the only topic on which I’ve ever really disagreed with him.
Ben (who is executive producer at RollingStone.com) mentions the pocket-sized baby girl his wife delivered two weeks prior, and this redirects the conversation into the kind of small talk you might have at the play gym, about how one day they’re newborns and the next day you’re moving them into a dorm and sweet weeping Jesus I’m talking to Bruce Springsteen about children and family units and how he and Patti — it’s strange the conventional role she plays in this particular narrative — enjoyed and facilitated their kids’ closeness. I should make clear that I’m completely paraphrasing this part, as obviously I have zero recall of the words Bruce Springsteen actually used when he was talking to me — for all I know he could have been reciting detailed schematics of the Starship Enterprise in Farsi — but I got the gist of it, or at least more than I would have thought I could while concentrating on not babbling like a drugged maniac.