meeting bruce

But my friend, who was not shy, shouted hey man, there are some raggy real people here to see you, and the singer was amused and he shucked his entourage and wandered over grinning…”


by brian doyle


Thirty years ago when I was young and strong and stupid and silly and shy I went to the most roaringest rock concert there ever was in New York City on a day so hot I noticed a policeman and his horse sweating so much that water fell like rain beneath the belly of the beast.

Another policeman, a friend of mine, confronted several scalpers until he confiscated great seats up front and we ran into the concert hall just as the band launched into an incredibly loud joyous thunderous riff and I remember leaping as I ran and being as happy as I had ever been in my whole life to date.

The concert roared on for nearly five hours, the band taking a break in the middle and opening the second set in the dark with a long jazzy riff first with just the piano player and then the organist and then the bassist and then a guitarist and then the rest of the band all playing madly all still in the dark, music so sweet and crazy that it still makes me weep to remember it, and then more hours of howling shouting chanting music and the lights all on at the end and the crowd seething and singing and the band finally exhaustedly happily shuffling away and the singer waving as he ran down the tunnel behind the stage and that was the end of the show.

Another friend of ours persuaded me to try to get backstage and meet the band which I said was insane crazy no way, so of course an hour later he and I were hidden in a closet in the bowels of the old arena, holding our breaths as the night crew clanked and mopped and whistled, me whispering that this is nuts and illegal and they will find our dead bleached bones in this closet some years from now and my friend saying shut up and listen for when they are done so we can cut downstairs, which soon they were done and we cut downstairs, but the vast black basement of the arena was a trackless wilderness with no lights whatsoever, and we wandered down there for a while amid circus and opera trappings and what sure sounded like rats the size of horses until finally we saw a shaky flashlight coming toward us, which I figured was the police and we were screwed for life and doomed to prison in the Tombs, but my friend assumed a commanding tone and spoke sharply to the astonished night watchman and told him sternly that we were supposed to be backstage, we were late for the party at which our attendance was required, would he be so good as to direct us there, which he did, a sweet puzzled man with a mustache like a deceased caterpillar, and minutes later there we were, crouched by an immense keg of excellent beer, as the tennis star Ilie Nastase walked by with two glorious women on his arms and one of the guitarists wandered by with the cocainest eyes I ever saw and various glitterati and journalistas bubbled and burbled importantly, and after a while the singer emerged and was instantly surrounded, but my friend, who was not shy, shouted hey man, there are some raggy real people here to see you, and the singer was amused and he shucked his entourage and wandered over grinning and we started to talk.

About a minute later a stunning beautiful girl said hey to my friend and my friend turned his complete and utter attention on her, but I kept talking to the singer, and I told him how much his music meant to me, and how it was very cool that his second record was all jazzy and wild after the turgid crammed dylanesque thing of his first record, and he said his third record was about to come out and it would be even wilder and roaringer than the second, those were some of the songs he played tonight, and I said those were pretty good songs but he had way better songs that he hadn’t played that night, really he should play those songs, and I listed those songs helpfully for him, and pointed out how much more excellent they were than some of the songs he had played that night, and he grinned and said he would absolutely totally consider playing the songs I suggested the next night, whereas he and the band were playing all week, got to work the late shift every night this week, is that wild or what, he said in his amused raspy voice, and I wished him luck, and he said thanks, and he said he really had better get to greeting all the people he was supposed to greet, I am kinda on duty here, and he pointed out that the beautiful girl my friend was talking to was his kid sister only age sixteen, which made us laugh, and I thanked him again for his music, which to me was and is the music of hope and summer and resurrection and courage and roaring and joy and grace under duress and the possibility and poetry and prayer of these United States, and while I have not met Bruce Springsteen again in the thirty years since that night, the fact is that was a wonderful night, and I am especially grateful to this day that my dead bleached bones are not in a closet in the bowels of Madison Square Garden, which they almost were.

Originally published:
Issue Fifty-One
January 2008


(photo: unknown)

Brian Doyle is a muddled male mule who has committed eight books rather like a series of venial sins: five collections of essays, nonfiction misadventures about hearts and wine, and a collection of “proems” that the great American poet Pattiann Rogers says darkly will ruin the word poetry for ever and ever. More from Brian Doyle can be found in the Vault of Smoke. (bio/2008)

Brian Doyle was the author of many books, including the sea novel The Plover, which has, no kidding, music printed in it, not to mention Mink River, Martin Marten, The Wet Engine, and more than we can recall.  He won the 2017 John Burroughs Medal for distinguished nature writing for Martin Marten, which was plenty cool and much deserved.  Brian passed away peacefully at his Lake Oswego home on May 27, 2017. 

More, much more, from Brian Doyle can be found in the Vault of Smoke.


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