Saturday, June 03, 2006

Glory Days

From left to right: My Uncle John; my friend Big Al, "the button man"; me, Doah Lynd; my friend and Swensen's co-worker, Jim. Parking lot of the Los Angeles Coliseum, 1985.

I'm only days away from seeing Bruce Springsteen in concert. This Monday night I'll be seeing him for the first time at the Greek Theater. The first time in that venue that is. This will actually be my 22nd time seeing Springsteen live. The excitement is building. A familiar feeling is approaching. Often people, including my wife, have asked me, why do you see him so many times? The answer is that I'm trying to capture a feeling again. I'm never disappointed, the feeling always comes. So, if I'm faced with having that wonderful "high" once every three years vs. once every five, the choice is simple, I'll take it as often as possible. I push it further, "Well," I'll ask, "If you could feel something that spectacular only once this week or four times, why not four?"

If you read my profile on this blog and looked under my favorite book titles you'd see Glory Days. Written by Dave Marsh in 1987, it's a sequel to his book Born to Run (1979). I love Glory Days: Bruce Springsteen in the 1980s more because it's about when I was there, living it. Marsh's opening words are among my very favorite pieces of writing. Albeit, he's describing something I was at and he's doing it would such expression, the way I might actually describe it.

It's chapter one and he's talking about the last four shows of the marathon "Born in the USA" tour. I was there at all four of them. I was 16. And, thank God, just able to drive. During my Sophomore year in high school, I trekked out to Los Angeles in my 1966 Mustang on a Friday, Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday respectively.

I'll never forget those two weeks. The first, positioning and planning. The second, attending! I wanted to go to at least opening and closing night so badly. I landed a ticket to the closing night, but then the opening show was cancelled and those tickets became the closing night. Thus, my original closing night tickets were now actually the second to last show. I scrambled and was able to obtain tickets to all the shows except for one. I was obsessing on that one weekday show and, at the last minute, a very good friend came though. I was going to all four! It was a week to remember.

I know this excerpt from the book is very long, but should you care to read it, you'd get an understanding. If you weren't there, you'll understand the great feeling I was after. It's the euphoria brought on by the music, it's the magnetism of the performer himself, it's the comradeship of the band, that particular band, The E Street Band, it's the community and connectedness that is fostered in this particular audience, and it's the escapism of the lyrics. If you were there, it'll bring you back. I took it upon myself to bold a few of the lines that stood out to me, stuff that added to the feeling.

The beginning of the end: Opening night of the Los Angeles shows,
Friday, September 27, 1985.

Here is the opening of the book:

In the heart of a city, darkness gathers and a crowd accumulates--fifty, sixty, eighty thousand and more, pulling up in sports cars and jalopies, wearing custom-cut slacks and Levis on their last legs. They file into the stadium, a cross section of white America, as much like football fans (only younger, more often female) as rock and rollers (but older, better mannered).

This could be any of a half-a-hundred American towns in the summers of 1984 and 1985, but as it happens, the place is the Los Angeles Coliseum and the biggest tour in rock and roll history is just a night or two from its end. In the full moon's light, the Coliseum is beautiful, as an ancient-looking and hallowed as its name. The air is clear and crisp, as befits the end of September anywhere, and it cools sharply as the night seeps in, so that the fans must huddle while milling for seats, snacks, and souvenirs.

The atmosphere crackles. The crowd knows what's it's in for: a four-hour spectacular that is both sheer intoxication and a ritual invocation for the human spirit in the most peculiarly American way. For the first time since Elvis Presley, the king of rock and roll is native-born and, maybe for the first time ever, that crown is worn not lightly but with the full weight of adult awareness. In the crowd almost everybody bounces with anticipation, but there are fewer drunken bleats than you'd expect. Nevertheless, beneath the taped music blaring from the huge stacks of speakers surrounding the stage, a hungry murmur builds.

Backstage, the singer has a few last-minute words with his aides, sneaks a final glance in the mirror, gives his wife a farewell kiss and, for the one hundred sixty-second time in the past eighteen months, steps through the dressing room door ready to rock. In the hallway, his bandmates already await him.

Sunday, September 29, 1985. I always did prefer the look of a Ticketron stub to that of a TicketMaster.

Together they set out for the stage, the singer's motorcycle boots clumping on the concrete. As they move, a few quips and good-luck grins are exchanged with stagehands and buddies, forced jokes working off last-minute nerves. But the band passes only a few individuals on the way, most of whom are hard at work. With each step, the group begins to zero in on each other, converging in a mutal tunnel of concentration.

The sun has dimmed now, sunk beneath the stadium's rim, eclipsing the crowd, which looked so colorful--all reds, whites, and blues--just half an hour before. From above, the audience seems a single primitive organism, waiting to be fused into a single shape and voice and purpose.

Monday, September 30, 1985. Can you make-out the price there? It's $17.50 and a service fee of only $1.75. Oh, the good ol' days!

The three-story stage has been set up beneath the Coliseum's giant arch, which looms above the stage in the twilight. When they reach it, the band members look at one another, draw a collective deep breath, and descend, their way lit by flashlights held by the crew. They clamber quickly down the concrete stairs, past broad sections of empty seats. They're led blind into the hungry murmur, which builds a bit as those on the fringes of the crowd spot their movement. The house lights go black and the murmur raises its pitch and volume, becomes a scream.

The musicians stride to their places, spread out across the broad stage. Behind them hangs a fifty-foot flag, flat without a flutter, at once an icon of the most deeply fixed symbolism and a blank slate on which the evening's meaning will be inscribed. You could write almost anything here, and for the past eighteen months, everybody from the President of the United States on down as tried. But right now, all that's clear is the ambiguity of the image and the intensity of the figures that it dwarfs.

The singer glances left, right, and behind, nods his head. Mumbling a greeting into the howling face of the mob, he signals his readiness and raises his guitar before him like a sword. An instant later, white hot light smacks him in the face as he snaps off the cadence--"One two, one-two-three-four." Synthesizers and drums rumble into life.

This ticket says Thursday, September 26, but it was honored on the last night of the whole tour which was Wednesday, October 2, 1985.

For a moment he stands, legs splayed, swinging his guitar like a weapon. Then, taking a stride to the microphone and gripping it with his right fist, he begins his tale at the beginning. It starts with a sound sharp and cruel as the first slap on a baby's fanny. The noise that explodes from his mouth could be called a scream or a bellow, but it's really just a bawl:

Born down in a dead man's town
First kick I took was when I hit the ground
You end up like a dog that's been beat too much
Till you spend half your life just coverin' up

In a sense, Bruce Springsteen has spent half his lifetime uncovering those lines, cutting to the core of himself, and in the process unleashing the mighty energy that unites his audience until, by the end of the night, that shapeless mass becomes 80,000 separate but united faces. The power he has accumulated stems straight from the intensity of his conviction that such a feat is possible, and from the incredible assertion of will required to bring it about. It's exactly what has made him, less suddenly than it would seem, the first white American to approach the mystique and popularity of Elvis Presley. It's what presidents and paupers fight over. It's the essence of this story.Springsteen center stage at the Coliseum, Garry Tallent left on bass, Nils Lofgren right on guitar, and Professor Roy Bittan in the background on piano.
Photo by Gary Godfrey.

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Blogger Jon Hall said...

Thank you Doah, for your invitation to that magical night at the Greek. That ticket was a most surprising, and very generous gift (and thanks to your mom!).

To be honest, my expectations for the concert weren't that high. I was just excited to get to go to another concert, and looking forward to hanging out with Doah.

The lights went out, Springsteen lit it up, and absolutely blew me away. The music was sensational. Incredible. But it was more than that. Springsteen is a master story-teller with music. I left wanting more.

Doah didn't know it at the time, but when he invited me to the Greek to see Springsteen on Monday night, I too had been at the Coliseum in 1985 to see Springsteen. It was the only other time I've seen him in concert. Another good friend of mine, Scott—who reminds me a lot of Doah—had invited me. I wasn't a big Springsteen fan, but it sounded fun. It was a great concert, more for the sheer excitement of the event than of the music (for me, anyway). We had nose-bleed seats, but Scott managed to rush the field and made it to the stage. I was too slow, and a rather large crowd control dude shoved me back. I spent the remaining 3 hours or so in my nose-bleed seat, but still, it was a blast.

Doah tells me that Springsteen played 36 songs that night. I only remember that it went on forever. Once out, we were still amped, and headed to the Westside for a middle-of-the-night meal. I made it home by sunrise, just in time to head to school. I was trashed all day.

Thank you Doah, for your kind invitation on Monday. What great conversation you and I had. The dogs at Pinks were awesome, though I paid a dear price the rest of the night and the next day (pass the Pepto-bismol please). It took 21 years, but I am now a true Springsteen fan, and a true fan of yours.

10:59 PM  
Blogger Azbrucefan said...

WOW Doah! What an incredible read. You captured the essence, the excitement, the FEELING of WHY we do what we do. Why we travel the TRY over and over again to recapture that high that you cannot get anywhere else. To be able to share that with others is priceless. Thanks so much for sharing this blog and I am so looking forward to sharing the "high" with you soon!

3:53 PM  

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