When I went to see Bruce Springsteen in concert at Notre Dame on September 9, 1978, I knew almost nothing about him. The only song that I had heard was “Born to Run”. I was totally unfamiliar with his albums. But tickets were cheap—$8—so I thought, “Why not?”
Contrary to what is written in the 1979 ND yearbook, he did not start 30 minutes late. He started on time—8:30 PM, which really impressed me. A guy who believes in starting work on time. I was also impressed that he used no warm-up act. That took guts. He and his band hit the stage like a freight train, and they didn’t let up all night long.
Of course, after 34 years, memory becomes a bit spotty. I don’t remember too much about individual songs. I remember the fierce energy of “Rosalita” and “Backstreets”. I remember the sombre mood of “Factory”. And of course, who could forget singing “Born to Run” with a couple thousand of your closest friends?
What I remember clearly is the absolute joy with which Bruce and the E Streeters played. You could see it in their faces. It practically radiated from them. They loved every second of what they were doing, and they never wanted to stop. They fed off the emotion of the audience, and the audience fed off the wonder of their musicianship. Bruce was almost manic—bouncing around stage like a pinball, but always in control of the music. At one point, he climbed a huge stack of amps and crouched there for a few seconds like a tiger ready to pounce. At another point, he leaped into the audience. He stopped a song in mid-note and shouted, “Will the young lady who has her teeth buried in my leg…please…DON’T STOP!” And the audience screamed with laughter!
Of course, I have to include the famous story of “Double Shot of My Baby’s Love”.
There were actually three famous Springsteen concerts at Notre Dame—1976, 1978 and 1981. As I recall from the 1978 show, Bruce told the following story:
At the 1976 show, in the course of that one concert, Bruce and the E Streeters played their entire catalog. But Bruce wanted to keep playing. So he shouted out to the audience, “Anybody got any requests?”
Some guy in the front row yelled, “Do you guys know ‘Double Shot of My Baby’s Love’?”
Now, any other famous musician probably would have said, “Screw you, pal” and gone on to do his own stuff. Instead, Bruce turned to his band and said, “What do you think? You guys want to try it?” So they huddled up onstage, figured out a rudimentary chord progression, and then crashed through the song like a good garage band. And the audience loved it!
Back to the 1978 show. Bruce concluded his story with the famous line, “This is the only place in the known universe where we play this song.” He then added, “So when we heard we were coming back here…We Rehearsed!”
And they swung into “Double Shot”, complete with fairly decent doo-wop choreography. And the Notre Dame audience roared with delight. It was nice to know that Bruce and the boys didn’t take themselves too seriously.
Near the end of the concert, Bruce again stopped a song in mid-note and screamed like a repentant sinner, “I’m just a prisoner…of rock & roll!” When the song ended, he collapsed on stage, flat on his back. Two of his roadies came onstage, wearing doctors’ lab coats. One put a stethoscope in his ears, listened to Bruce’s heartbeat, and shook his head in sorrow. Then the two roadies loaded the limp Bruce onto a stretcher and started to cart him offstage. The audience growled its disapproval. Clarence Clemons grabbed one of the roadies by his coat and dragged the whole lot of them back onstage. Of course, Bruce sprang up from the stretcher, resurrected, and the band thundered into yet another encore. When the show was finally over, the entire band literally had to drag Bruce offstage.
As I left the ACC, I wondered what time it was. I guessed it was a little after 11 PM. When I looked at my watch, however, I was stunned to see that it was almost 1 AM! Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band had put on a 4 hour show! For me, the show had flown by in a heartbeat.
Maybe it was Springsteen’s blue-collar, “give ‘em their money’s worth” work ethic. Maybe it was the ferocious energy of the music and the crowd. Maybe it was Springsteen’s story-telling ability. Maybe it was Clarence Clemon’s saxophone, thundering like the Voice of God Himself. Maybe it was losing myself in the ecstasy of singing “Born to Run” with thousands of other Domers. Whatever the reason, it was the best damn concert I have ever attended. No other experience even comes close. The “90 minutes and done” pop stars of today should learn a lesson from The Boss. Play like there’s no tomorrow.
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