Bruce Springsteen and Growing Up

Never could I have imagined how much one man’s music could effect my life, yet here I am reflecting on a lifetime of inspiration, born of heartfelt lyrics and stories, of soaring guitars, sumptuous sax and piano solos and drums that reverberated n your gut. It is a look at how those tools brought such joy and love to so many like me. And all that from an unassuming, skinny, scruffy guy with a raspy voice from New Jersey.

Bruce’s music entered my consciousness at the tender age of 14, a mere two years after my father’s long illness had led to his death. To my young ears and wounded heart, it felt like these first two albums were delivered to save me. They represented hope and that was a feeling I hadn’t known growing up.

I was a Delaware kid, from the suburbs north of Wilmington in a town called Claymont, which was nowhere until President Biden. He too grew up there. It was just shy of the Pennsylvania border. Highway I-95 was built in my backyard where woods once stood, forever robbing us of peace and quiet. It wasn’t anyone’s definition of paradise. Our household felt unlike anyone else’s I knew. I have a physically challenged older brother, who loves musical theater, so all I heard on the record player prior to Bruce, were show tunes and classical played by my mom. She was an art teacher, a frazzled single parent after caring for my dad as he faded away. And then there was my feisty and affectionate Russian grandmother, Nadia. Her presence was a godsend. But her reaction to Rock music was itself a broken record… “Vhy do dey schrrreem?” That’s all I ever heard.

Needless to say, Rock n’ Roll was very unpopular in my house, but it stirred my soul in ways I never knew prior to hearing it. I was determined to make it my own, but it made me for friction on the heels of already challenging times.

Before all the heartaches, Atlantic City was where my family headed each summer for a token week-long vacation, while Dad was still able to walk. The carnival atmosphere was intoxicating and magical. A favorite activity was riding rental bikes on the boardwalk, which made a distinctive clacking sound, not unlike that of a train as they rolled across the sun-drenched boardwalk. And yes, the pinball “pleasure machines” were ubiquitous.

I can recall the day I happened to hear Bruce’s first two albums at a friend’s house while playing pool in his den. It instantly felt like I was back at the Jersey shore, carefree and joyful like that ten-year-old kid again. But it was more than mere nostalgia. The music also offered the stuff I craved as a teen; rebellion, escapism, girls, cars, characters, parties, and the promise that there was something bigger and better awaiting. There were also standout tunes like Incident on 57th Street, which to my ears, sounded like it was straight outta West Side Story. This was significant, for it helped make Bruce’s music and lyrics that much more relatable. It wasn’t such a stretch after-all.

When one of us finally landed a driver’s license in 1975, we took advantage of it and bought tickets to Bruce’s show at the Widener College Field House in Chester, PA. The venue was a typical gymnasium with horrible, echoing acoustics. There were two shows in early February. Our show was the first, on the night of the 6th. We eagerly got in line in the freezing cold, waiting with shivering anticipation to enter the hall, but the start time was delayed by at least an hour and a half, and no one explained why. It was years later that I learned from one of the many Bruce books, that his manager, Mike Appel, had 8’ sheets of acoustic foam hung across the entire ceiling like bats in a cave. This helped dampen the gym reverb. Bruce’s attention to such acoustic detail would become legendary in and of itself as the years would pass.

Shortly before the doors were to open, someone realized the foam was within reach of the cig lighters that were held up like beacons at concerts. It was a fathomable horror should one of the panels get lit. The place could have gone up in flames. Countless sheets of foam had to be raised higher, enough to alleviate any possibility of this happening. Now in hindsight, this is a novel memory, and needless to say, the show was well worth the wait. It was an introduction to a journey that would last a lifetime.

This was the tour where Bruce’s violinist Suki Lahav, a young Israeli gal in a flowing white dress, played such gorgeous sounds, it sent chills down your spine. It was all so powerful, so authentic and heartfelt, and it was unlike most bands from that time. In encompassed many genres of music. That night, I was indoctrinated, converted and forever committed to this man and his music.

By mid 1975, I had my version of a freedom machine, a 1972 blue VW Super Beetle. Notably, stuffed in what was called a “hatchback” for this model Bug, by lowering the back seats, was my prized souvenir from that memorable concert, a sheet of the gray acoustic foam that I managed to steal at the end of the concert. By standing on my tallest friend’s shoulders, I just managed to wrap my fingers around the bottom edge. One quick yank, and the calliope, including me, crashed to the ground. That foam served as luxurious bedding for me and my girlfriend Sharon. It was an incarnation of Spirit in the Night and/or Growin’ Up, manifesting in my teenage world. Later, this trusty vehicle would take myself and my best friend Joe out west on an epic, camping journey that set the stage for where I would call home as an adult, and where I’d be seeing a lot more Bruce concerts.

From Darkness to The Promised Land

Time passed in 1976. Graduation was in June, and big plans were made in study hall prior to the big day. I had to get outta that town. It was a deathtrap; a suicide rap and I chose Colorado for college and skiing. By now, besides Bruce’s music, skiing and photography had become my obsessions. With my 8 track carefully custom mounted in the glovebox, my trusty VW gassed up, I was a free spirited seventeen year old. Nothing could stop me. Certainly not my mother. And Bruce came along for the ride like a trusty friend. But as time passed, that first concert began to feel like an eternity ago, like some sort of teenage wet dream that would never be relived again.

In 1978, I was now two years outta high school, living in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, attending college, and skiing in Vail and Aspen, much to my amazement. Life had dramatically improved on so many levels. Then one day, the clouds parted and the gods delivered Bruce back to the promised land. He was finally returning in the flesh, this time to a place called Red Rocks Amphitheater, in Denver. It’s a unique, amazing venue looking like something out of an old western set. We’re talking towering, cathedral scale red rock walls, and wide rows of bench seating, great for dancing. It was a mere three hour drive to this true rock venue. I convinced a few of my soon-to-be luckiest Western friends to join me. They were accustomed to listening to guys like Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, and I just couldn’t relate. I was an east coast fish outta water, and I’m sure they noticed, but they agreed to come along. By this time, I was already a concert aficionado, so we arrived early, and managed to land great seats in the third row. The wait began but it was a beautiful place to hang out, to take in the scenery and to anticipate the magic in the night, that was to come.

As a budding pro photographer, I decided to risk confiscation and bring my camera. So there we sat, baking in the sun, whiling away the hours. Now imagine my shock when I happened to peer through the telephoto lens, and spot a dark-haired, handsome young dude who happened to be leaning against a flat on the right side of the stage, and suddenly realize it was Bruce, the man himself. I recall it took me a moment, as I couldn’t believe my eyes. He was no longer scruffy faced, but I knew that face well. He was clean cut, polished, mature, and even just standing there, he possessed that cool swagger to his stance. How was it that no one else noticed? There were probably fifty people lounging around in the bright Colorado light, and no one spotted him but me.

He was just taking it all in, gazing up at the amazing rock setting like a tourist. He too was experiencing the place for the first time. My mind was churning. So what now? There was only one thing to do, it was obvious, but it required chutzpah. I casually got up, slung the camera over my shoulder, and nonchalantly strolled to the front of the stage. My heart started racing. And what’s more, I was wearing “the shirt”, the cherished emblem of my youth, my slate gray, yellow silkscreened flag of honor… my Greetings from Asbury Park T-shirt. This was bought by an older friend’s brother at The Main Point in Bryn Mawr, PA, a favorite Bruce venue. The shirt was significant in my mind. I figured he’d know I was a longtime fan with that shirt, and based on his twinkling, smiling reaction, he actually did.

Bruce gave me an affirming, warm smile, nodding as if to say, ‘hey old friend, how ya doin’?’ I was star-struck, and of course he’s had that effect on me for almost 50 years now. Nowadays, I know it was with good reason. Bruce was a legend to me, even back in 1978. I managed to summon the courage to raise the camera, and snap a couple photos, then sheepishly lowered the camera and realized I was staring like a goofy groupie. I had to somehow gracefully break the spell before others realized at whom I was gawking. I didn’t want a crowd to ruin his peaceful moment so I smiled back with as much coolness as I could muster, turned and walked conspicuously back to my seat. I recall being barely able to contain my excitement to my friends, repeating giddily, “That’s him! That’s Bruce!”. ‘Huh? Really?’ They were baffled. Why would a rockstar be hanging around the stage midday? It was one of those moments etched in my mind that I cherish to this day. Bruce has always kept it real.

The show started on time, like the proverbial bolt of lightning. My friends who hadn’t known Bruce’s music, were immediately thrilled and absorbed. By the time he belted out Streets of Fire, the second song, they were enraptured. I remember I looked to my left, and their jaws gaped like converts. It was the power of rock n’ roll in its purest, most impeccable delivery. Every note was intensely and passionately delivered. I felt so proud for I knew all this was coming. This was the era when Bruce unleashed his confidence in his talents, into a show that was crisp, raw, immediate and so powerful. The passion hit you in your gut. He belted out those songs like there would be no tomorrow. He still does this to this day of course, but there’s no denying the power of a rocker like Bruce, finally playing after all the false starts, now in his prime. This was the Darkness tour.

I’ve seen a lot of shows over the years, and none have disappointed, but there was something about this one that seared into my memory bank, a feeling that still makes me verchlempt. It was profound. It was rock history, and I was there.

Wrecking Ball And The Pit

More recently, well ten years ago now, I finally got into The Pit. This time it was in Portland, Oregon and I lucked out. My friend Randy, a Colorado buddy, convinced me in a number of coaching calls, the Pit was worth the effort. He was so right. I landed in the center, third mortal back from the stage. Bruce surfed over me in a crush of excitement, and I helped hoist him back onto the stage with steadfast loyal support. That was a crazy, honorable experience. It’s noteworthy to compare this show to the early ones, for the energy and passion was still there. It was just delivered in a 60 year old version. But to be that close to the man and his band, was nothing short of phenomenal. As others have often stated, it was like a religious experience. I’ll never forget it and will definitely try for The Pit at least once more, before I die.

Neon Lights On Broadway

And then there was the Broadway show. That same friend Randy, now a Bostonian, called me with an idea. How could we not? It was a great trip, starting in Boston, with a drive to Manhattan together that became another fabulous memory.

One of the things I’ve always loved about Bruce’s shows are the stories he’d tell between songs. The older I get, the more I appreciate the art of storytelling, and Bruce is masterful.

Ticket prices calmed down after he extended the run and we jumped at the chance. We checked into the nearby Sheraton and decided to meander down to the theater and check out the scene before his usual arrival around six p.m. We weren’t going to stay, but found ourselves enjoying the folks there.

Even a downpour didn’t thwart our enthusiasm. Luckily, more like fatefully, I had brought “the shirt”. It was stuffed in my pocket in the off chance I could get it autographed.

I must admit, seeing Bruce in person, out of context, is jarring. I guess because he’s become a legend, seeing him on the street like that, was surreal.

So, when he emerged from the SUV onto the sidewalk, I was in awe. He kindly took time signing people’s stuff. I was by the stage door so it was anyone’s guess if I’d get an autograph, and he was about to exit, when he spotted my flag of honor… my forty year old faded, pitted shirt, the one I wore at Red Rocks in ’78, waving above the fan’s heads in front of me. Bruce suddenly stops, looks up and says in that familiar rasp, “Watcha got there?”. I’m stunned to have his attention, and I blurt out, “I’ve been holding onto this a long time Bruce!” He motions to hand it over, holds it up like he’s just found a long-lost treasure, shakes his head and utters simply, “Wow”.

He stares at it like it has teleported him to another time and place. There’s a long pregnant pause, making the moment even more surreal. Then he starts looking for something to place it on to sign it. I offer my back, he shakes his head no, but the guy near him with the Darkness album hands it to him. He lovingly stretches the shirt out over the album, begins to sign his name on the shoulder, and officially places my artifact into rock n’ roll history. I thank him for making my day, he smiles a warm acknowledgment, waves us all goodbye and darts through the stage door.
I’m now on cloud nine. I suddenly feel this strange sense of completeness I never imagined. It was like a special part of my life story, following this American troubadour, had suddenly come full circle.

My only regret is in not mentioning that day at Red Rocks, of me in my shirt, of both of us in our youth. Bruce has done thousands of concerts, but maybe, just maybe, he’d have recalled the moment.

The Broadway show was so affirming, so illuminating… a look behind the scenes of the stories and songs that served us all so well. Afterwards, Randy and I reflected on it all. The Broadway show was conveying what we the fans were all feeling, along with Bruce. Like a shared cross-country drive, we were all reflecting on our lives, how we got here, what it’s all meant, and how sharing the journey made it that much sweeter.

As I write this, Bruce has just announced he’s hitting the road again in 2023. It’s much welcomed good news. Long live The Boss, and the East Street Band. And thanks Bruce… for the memories.

Keith Brofsky
June 2022

Keith Brofsky is a professional photographer working and living in Seattle, WA.
Thanks to Keith for sharing his wonderful Bruce Springsteen journey with the rest of us.
Cheers, Lawrence Kirsch

ps If you have a Bruce story of your own that you would like to share with the Springsteen fan community,
please email with any concert photos (that you personally took), and or personal memorabilia to this email address and I will try to post a new story every week:

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