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.
We took it all in from the Band Bench, the section of the studio reserved for the folks who’ll make their way to the stage during the musical performances. When you’re on the Band Bench, you sit in the back few rows of the studio, and are brought down prior to the music segment. For Springsteen there were three songs, so the “music segment” was half the show, and when you walk across the hardwood stage it’s about three steps before you find yourself stepping over and around wires and cords and E Street Band equipment and Tom Morello’s guitar tech and a “MythBusters” episode’s worth of duct tape. Once behind the band you have up to 18 inches of maneuvering space and every step is basically another chance to ruin something of Max Weinberg’s.
I ended up on a platform on the right side of the stage, behind Roy Bittan and Soozie Tyrell and next to Seth Avett, who joins Michael Stipe on my personal list of Famous People I’ve Watched A Springsteen Concert Next To (Avett was taller). Seth, being this kind of guy, asked the girls in our party if they were big fans and of course let them go in front of him, which was obviously the model of Southern gentlemanliness but, on the other hand, HELP A BROTHER OUT, SETH, I FLEW FROM SOUTH CAROLINA, AND YOU ARE TALL. As was the case last year I am visible mostly in the shadows on screen, bobbing my head like an insane person, hiding in the back row and, in the case of “Death To My Hometown,” jumping up and down with the fury of a thousand gods, which I am pretty sure alarmed Seth Avett.
“Death To My Hometown” (which grew on me quickly on the album) was insane; on the Band Bench the sound is obviously mostly live and thus imperfect, but I think that only accented the energy; Morello went nuts and the horn section exchanged fist-pounds after. Before “Jack Of All Trades,” a stagehand — and then Bruce himself — instructed us to be still. Before coming back for the roof-blowing 40-year-old “E Street Shuffle,” a producer told the crowd that they may be asked to come down to the studio floor, which sent a ripple of electricity through the air. (As it turns out we couldn’t see the house party from our spot on the scaffolding, which I am not complaining about because that would redraw the definition of First World Problems but AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA OK sorry that helped.)
As was the case last time, after the performance we found ourselves backstage, where the mood was festive bordering on delirious. At least that was the case with the cast, crew and band. For our party the mood was frozen bordering on paralytic. Have you ever found yourself in a slightly cramped hallway with the assemblage of the E Street Band, their families, crews, Jon Landau, Dave Marsh, David Remnick and Brian Williams walking around, to say nothing of a bunch of Roots and Tom Morello? IT IS NOT EASY TO MAINTAIN ONE’S WELL-HONED ICY COOL EXTERIOR. It is also not easy to surreptitiously take photos with one’s iPhone, particularly when one’s iPhone has a flash apparently and one briefly startles Brian Williams and then pretends he was not taking a picture of Brian Williams and then hastily has to tie his shoe that very instant or something but whatever.
Anyway, we got a chance to say hi, shake the man’s hand, thank him for doing the show, which in turn prompted him to thank us for coming WHICH IS INSANE ON ABOUT A MILLION LEVELS but you can’t say that to Bruce Springsteen, because you’re fumbling with your iPhone. Tragically he was whisked away to one of the many hundreds of people he had to say hi to before we could get a picture and ask him one of the many really important questions I had about bootlegs from 1978, but, who knows, maybe next time.