This is the first story from the book For You, Original Stories and Photograph’s by Bruce Springsteen’s Legendary Fans. Originally published in 2007, it was chosen to lead off this “love letter” to Bruce because it accurately and more importantly emotionally sets the tone for the rest of the book. It is posted here in its entirety for you. Enjoy.
It was early 1973. I was on my way out the door, my hand reaching for the radio’s off button, when “Madman drummers bummers and Indians in the summer…” boomed out of my top-of-the-line Radio Shack Nova 9 speakers.
What? Who is that? My FM station had been feeding me a steady diet of Jackson Browne, Eagles and Elton John. It sure wasn’t any of them. The DJ never did say who it was. And I was going out the door. But that moment marked the beginning of my journey. I can hear those five minutes and two seconds just as clearly today as I did then. I still have those speakers. I wonder sometimes if anything that important will ever come out of them again.
After that brief initial introduction, the following years were spent forming a bond to the man and his music that without knowing him, I wouldn’t have thought possible. When I first heard about this book, I wondered what I could possibly say that anyone would be interested in. I don’t have an amazing story that will make me the envy of Bruce fans worldwide. All I’ve ever had is this guy that lived just up the New Jersey Turnpike from me writing songs about my life. I knew Crazy Janie and Wild Billy. Greasy Lake was right down the street. I chased the factory girls underneath the boardwalk and I slept in that old abandoned beach house getting wasted in the heat.
I’ve spent the last 33 years catching every area show and some not-so-local shows. I didn’t have the luxury of following him around the country catching all the shows. I was busy raising future fans.
During the Born in the U.S.A. tour my son begged me to take him to a show. It was against my better judgment; he had school and couldn’t sit still for three minutes. He was six. But I stuffed cotton in his ears and away we went. Our seats were lower level, but for a six-year-old, they might as well have been on the moon. As the show started he was standing on his seat bobbing back and forth trying to catch a glimpse of whatever he could. It wasn’t long before all the people around us were pointing at this little kid trying to see.
Then something happened. The two people in front of him made a space between them and tapped the people in front of them to do the same. That continued down the rows until he had a clear sightline to the stage. People were actually looking back during the show to make sure he could see. He fell asleep during the first break and I couldn’t get him up again, but that night he too began his journey.
Like most of you out there, it only took one live show and I was hooked for life. On his own, Bruce had built a connection between us. My Chevy was a 70 with a 396, and racing in the street was what we did around here. Bruce would tell stories about his father and their strained relationship: My entire teenage life was spent living the same strain. I’d stay out all night if I had to, just to avoid the never-ending battles and keep my dad from seeing my hair.
I can remember my dad moving this old tube radio around the house trying to tune in an AM station from Delaware. That thing would whistle and static and every once in a while a twangy banjo and a singer who sounded like he was holding his nose would break through the noise. I hated that twang just about as much as he hated my hair.
Now my mom on the other hand would turn on Bandstand with Dick Clark every afternoon. I guess that was my introduction to rock ‘n’ roll. When we finally got our first record player I can remember begging my mom for the 69 cents to buy the latest 45. I wore the grooves off those things, but not without a visit or more a night from my father yelling to “turn down that goddamned music.”
There was nothing we could agree on and whether we avoided each other or I avoided him, there was a great distance between us for many years. There was a whole world of new things I needed to see and do. I didn’t realize then that he didn’t have any objections to me spreading my wings; he just wanted me back in one piece. As the years went by and he realized I was going to make it okay, the gap between us shrunk. We never once discussed the tension between us. No one said sorry and no one placed blame. I would still do things he didn’t agree with, but he just looked at me and shook his head. Not in disgust, but with an “I-don’t-agree-but-I-trust-you” attitude.
In 1978 Bruce played the Capitol Theater. The entire concert was broadcast live on the local FM station and of course I recorded the whole thing. It was the first time I heard Independence Day. “Papa, now I know the things you wanted that you could not say, I swear I never meant to take those things away.” No words up to that point or this one have ever touched me so deeply. I realized on my own that my father only wanted the best for me. It never once occurred to me that I may have taken something away from him.
That same year my father and I took a long trip together. I took my car and did most of the driving. I had the Capitol concert on eight-track and for the better part of 18 hours that’s what came out of the speakers. He never once complained when I cranked it up and never asked to hear anything else. He just sat there wide-awake watching the mile markers whiz by. I don’t know if I brainwashed him or what, but after I said something to him about a song on the tape he looked at me and said, “He really does make some beautiful music.” I’ll never know if he ever got the point of Independence Day, but from that point on, we were able to share our views on music. I made him a Springsteen tape that he actually listened to.
Many years later I watched my life replayed for me. Remember that six-year-old who fell asleep at the Springsteen concert? I got to watch him grow up as a die-hard Bruce fan and then take it on to another level. It was scary how much of me I could see in him.
His grandmother gave him an acoustic guitar when he was about eight. He got discouraged because his hand was too small to fit around the neck. When he was about 12, I bought a used electric guitar and amp from a friend. It only took a few lessons and next thing we knew there was actually music coming from his room. Of course the next step for any 12-year-old guitar player who knew three notes was to form a band. I wouldn’t have traded the next 10 years for anything in the world. Anyone who ever thought of being in a band eventually ended up in my basement putting their own personal touch on the noise that was knocking the plaster off the walls.
The two constants in the band were my son, who was determined to make real music come out of that guitar, and the drummer, who had been taking lessons since he was old enough to sit in one place. The bass slot was filled by a friend of theirs whose sole qualification was that he had heard music before. And when they asked their future singer if he could sing, he said, “I don’t know, I think I can.” The short version of the story is that over the next ten years the noise became music and the music became magic.
Their local-hero status was unprecedented. They were a kick-ass bar band before they could even drive and I hauled them over half the state to every party, beef and beer bar, and fundraiser there was. My son, who was so shy he couldn’t stand in front of the class and do a book report, was on stage holding a guitar like a warrior leading the band to the battle of Murder Inc.
The band was far beyond good, I knew it, they knew it and everyone who ever heard them knew it. They reached a dead end here. I didn’t even see it coming. They told me they planned to move to south Florida and in less than two months they were packed and on their way. I never thought far enough ahead to realize there was another line from that very same song that I was going to have to come to terms with: “All men must make their way come Independence Day.” I was all in favor of that: Young men making their way out in the real world. Yep, I thought, it was a great idea. Right up till the minute he pulled out of the driveway. He was gone for two years and I missed him terribly. I missed them all.
They ended up doing pretty much the same thing they were doing here on a slightly larger scale. For two years they tore up the Miami/Lauderdale bar scene. The eating, sleeping and playing together eventually took their toll and the band broke up. He’s back in NJ now and even though his Independence Day was different than mine, I guess in some ways it felt the same.
I’ve lived the passion and heartfelt delivery of every word in that song and for some time after my father died I just couldn’t bring myself to listen to those final lines. To my son, just in case you ever thought it, you never took anything away. “I caught your very first tear on my fingertip.” You’ve brought me what’s best about life every day since then.
There are hundreds of little things I could tell about how Bruce has affected my life. He touched part of my father’s life, most of mine and all of my son’s. He helped me become a man, a husband and a father, yet this is someone I only know through his songs and stories. I often wondered what I would say if I did meet him. If I tried to tell him how much he has meant to both me and my family, I would just sound like a babbling idiot. The best I could ever do is just say thank you and he’d never even have a clue as to what that really meant.
Minotola, New Jersey