“Glory days, yeah they’ll pass you by”
It was not like 1978. But hey, what the hell still is?
On April 9th I went with my lifelong friend Rosey (and his entire family) to see a Bruce Springsteen concert at the New York Islanders home, UBS Arena, a place in which this diehard Rangers fan never would have imagined setting foot. But I soon gratifyingly realized the building’s naming rights were only awarded to Union Bank of Switzerland on a part-time basis; on this night the proper acronym translated to Unbelievable Bruce Springsteen.
45 years prior, in the summer of ’78, Rosey and I were in our youthful prime – our glory days, you might say – as we attended our first-ever Springsteen show at the World’s Most Famous Arena (and my future employer of three decades), Madison Square Garden. Our seats were dreadful, straight behind the stage, and they cost more than I can recall spending on just about anything to that point in my life, $50 bucks, thanks to the brutal scalping tactics of Lori Moskowitz, the little sister of a kid in our class. Lori knew the value of the impossible-to-get jewels she held, and she ruthlessly took us for all that we had. Well: fuck you, Lori Moskowitz, and God bless you, Lori Moskowitz.
What we experienced that night changed our lives, Rosey’s surely even more than mine (more on that later). Following up the recent release of Darkness on the Edge of Town (still my favorite Springsteen album), The Boss truly did prove it all night, and for the first of our many occasions together he demonstrated himself to be nothing short of a Herculean superhuman. When Bruce stood atop the piano joyously pumping a gnarled fist near the end of ‘Thunder Road’ we knew we were in the presence of a Rock God unlike anything we’d ever before witnessed, and by night’s end we were pulling out of there to win: for Springsteen and for us, all of life’s conquests and adventure lay ahead, in a land of hopes and dreams, with endless possibilities.
“Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture, a little of the glory of..”
After near 50 blood-and-sweat-saturated years on the road, not to mention a 2-year pandemic hiatus, the 2023 Springsteen we witnessed was not the God-like Springsteen of 1978; yeah, he’s lost a couple miles-per-hour on his fastball (or, his “speedball,” as he famously called it in our featured song). But rest assured, he’s still eye-poppingly energetic, dynamic, and imposing compared to any mere mortals, let alone for a now 73-year-old rock and roll warrior. His resolute command of the stage, of an audience, or for a dramatic moment remain undeterred and unparalleled. Sure, he may occasionally pull back on a vocal line landing high in his register, or finesse down a trademark howl (most noticeably that night on the brutal climax of ‘Backstreets’), but in reality it doesn’t matter. After this much time of living with them, the songs are really as much ours as they are his, and he’s got 18,000 dedicated and primed back-up singers at all times.
Assuredly, nobody can string together illustrious rock classics like Bruce’s catalog allows, and for this show he dutifully delivered throughout what is still a marathon-length three-hour set – ‘Thunder Road’ / ’Born To Run’ / ’Rosalita’ / ’Glory Days’ / ’Dancing in the Dark’ / ’Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out’ made up a 6-song run of just the encores. There were 27 songs in all, including a rollicking tour debut of ‘Mary’s Place’, roof-raisers and heartstring-tuggers from among 11 different albums (ranging in origin from 1973 to 2022), with enough timeless material left behind to have easily filled another three hours.
Bruce Springsteen’s heart-stopping, pants-dropping (you probably know the rest) E Street Band, too, endures as a marvel of tightness and tenacity. Age notwithstanding, no band could survive were the rhythm section of bass and drums to sag, but fortunately Garry W. Tallent and Max Weinberg, both still mighty at 73 and 71 respectively, have neither figuratively nor literally missed a beat. The august piano flourishes of Professor Roy Bittan (73) continue to be the distinguishing sound of Springsteen compositions; Nils Lofgren (71) can still inject shuddering guitar notes as sharp as his sideburns; Steven Van Zandt (72), the indispensable accomplice and true “most interesting man in the world,” carries on yelping same-mic harmonies to activate Bruce’s high-pitched chortle; and Jake Clemons (a kid at just 43) has grown impressively in his impossible-shoes-to-fill role – in my estimation now advanced from about 40% of his late uncle Clarence’s unfathomable saxophone muscle when he started a decade ago to perhaps 70% at present (the remainder no one could be expected to match).
“So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore”
When Springsteen announced his return to touring (and after the unfortunate sideshow with Ticketmaster died down), I’d actually labored and equivocated significantly over the wisdom of even attending a show. My friend Verner, another long-running fan, was one of several with whom I’d debated; whether to simply retain the memories of Bruce at the peak of his powers, or to leap at the opportunity to see him for – let’s face it – what could be the last go-round. The invitation from Rosey, who critically encountered no such doubts, made it an easy and obvious call. Rosey is, like me, a gigantic fan of Bruce’s music, but in addition he’s at least as much a zealous adherent of the man. Springsteen has been a welcoming beacon of light for Rosey throughout his life, a fulcrum of strength, wisdom and inspiration embracing him in far more than a metaphorical sense. When Bruce’s 2020 album Letter to You arrived, then his first studio recording with the E Street Band in over six years, Rosey unabashedly commented to me that “every (new) song is a gift” while proudly pronouncing without irony that Springsteen has genuinely “affected our lives.” Rosey’s never-wavering conviction to dive headlong into this tour, of course, came as absolutely no surprise; while I had seen Springsteen roughly 20 times before (among my highest for any individual music act ever), Rosey had dwarfed that total, having stood rapt in front of a Springsteen concert stage 94 prior nights. Now, having already spectated appearances over the last couple months in Tampa (the tour opener), Atlanta, Ft. Lauderdale, New York City, and Brooklyn, our concert on Long Island would be, you guessed it, his exact century mark. Together for the 1st, and now for the 100th. And this time we did not sit behind the stage.
“And I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinking about it. But I probably will”
As if I needed it, I prepped aggressively for the concert with E Street Radio on Sirius during the week leading-up, at one point hearing a live 1978 version of Bruce’s apocalyptic father/son exploration ‘Adam Raised a Cain,’ and the sheer intensity of the tune’s opening assault gave me chills and nearly had me driving off the road. Scorching notes, a pounding beat, and Bruce’s feverish delivery providing an emotional whiplash as only a young Springsteen could. The truth is, I badly miss that time. I crave to hear 1978 Bruce playing and slaying these songs. Even more, I want to be with him back in 1978, returned to that glorious Glory Days-past – full of exuberance, recklessness, and that untold future with its endless possibilities. Alas, even a God-like Bruce cannot reverse time. For him, as well as for tramps like us, career-long fans like Rosey and I, much of life’s tale has now been told. At age 73, Springsteen retains the creative will and broad shoulders to support his ever-reliant congregation, though understandably may not be the same heroic exemplar he once was. Yet, he damn sure still seems like someone worthy of seeing 100 times, if not 100 more. To paraphrase the man himself, at this point Bruce ain’t quite a beauty, but hey he’s alright. And that’s alright with me.
Here’s “Glory Days” live. From 2009. Screw it, I’m stealing a few years back.