Good luck, goodbye, Bobby Jean
Posted on August 4, 2012
As the great writer and poet, Charles Bukowski once said, “poetry is what happens when nothing else can”. I have always thought the same of words. So often in my life I have turned to words in moments when nothing else could bring any absolution. Music, the ultimate form of poetry, is the last point of retreat when the world seems at its most dark. Musicians can often stand between the void of darkness and emptiness in pain and desolation, and the undying light of hope which keeps it at bay. When I was young and the world seemed like a dark place, I found the work of a young musician from New Jersey. I listened to The River, and could relate to the pain which propelled this musician to write what now supported so many people’s lives. Through him I found that light which fuelled my desire to keep fighting when nothing else did. More importantly though, than even the beauty of his sound, the power of his words, or the thunderous work of his band, I found through Bruce Springsteen some of the most special people I have ever met. Through Bruce, I met my best friend. Through Bruce, I met Pere.
Abraham Lincoln once said that “it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years”. The same is true of friendship. I know from absolute experience that time can so often be irrelevant when dictating the course of a relationship. When I met Pere in September 2011, as a fellow fan of Springsteen, I could never have known that we would become so close in such a short period of time. Alas, I could never have known how little time we actually would have together. With the notion of life in the years being worth more than years in the life, I can now say with complete conviction that Pere and I shared amongst the greatest of friendships it is possible to have. In a few hours though it will be the 4th of August, which will mark one month since my dear friend, my brother, Pere, died.
In my time with him I never once considered the possibility that I would lose Pere. Meeting him was the first and greatest example of my faith being rewarded, as the music which brought us together so fervently teaches. I have lived a long life in 18 years, and found it hard at school to find people with whom I shared a true connection. With Pere, I found not only the greatest friend I could ever have asked for, but one of the few people I have met who understood me in a way I don’t even understand myself. He was my advocate, my friend, my brother, and one of the people who believed in me most. He saw in me something worth fighting for and caring about, which was an honour as Pere was a great, great man. He was 24 years my senior, and yet possessed an air of excited optimism more befitting of a man less than half his age. He loved life in a way not many people do, which is perhaps the cruelest irony of his death. Pere was a man who found value and meaning in his life living for, and looking after, other people. The degree of love he held for his family, and which they hold for him, inspired me greatly. It still does. It was one of the many great elements to Pere’s character which made him a hugely significant role-model to me, the students which he inspired, and the family and friends whom he loved.
When news broke of his tragic accident, and I frantically tried to gain an understanding of just what had happened, I found myself on the medium of communication where we first met – twitter – reading the posts of newspapers and people of Catalonia alike, describing the circumstance in which Pere died, and the deep hole he left in the hearts of both Catalonia and its people. A month on and I still can’t quite grasp what a shock it was to learn that my dear friend had been killed, over 1,000 miles away from me, and that never again would I receive an email, a personal message, or phone-call from someone who I spoke with daily for nigh on 10 months. When I wake up each morning that news still hits me as just that – news; bringing with it all the pain of missing someone who should, right now, be writing his own blogpost about our trip to Helsinki.
A few nights ago Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band broke the 4 hour mark, setting a new record, and creating a moment in history. The concert is widely regarded as a highlight of the Wrecking Ball Tour, and will be looked at forever more as a concert for the ages. While the Helsinki Olympic Stadium (Helsingin olympiastadion) was being rocked to its very foundations, and the people there were having an experience of rock music at its absolute best, and as the Springsteen and music world looked on in awe and wonder as the 62 year old rocker and his band smashed the 4 hour mark, I was stuck in my hometown unable to escape the reality that Pere and I were supposed to be there together. We had planned the trip on a wonderful moment of spontaneity, when Helsinki was announced as a bonus date to conclude this European leg of the tour. Speaking to Pere one morning as we so often did, the news broke of the July 31st concert, and as quickly as I could ask him if we should do it, he was in the process of asking me the same thing. With that, we bought our tickets, booked our hotel rooms, and our flights, and planned the Springsteen trip of a lifetime. Our experience was going to be especially unique, as we were going armed with backstage passes, which Pere had won in a competition in April; a competition which led my dear friend all the way to New Jersey itself, to meet his hero, Bruce Springsteen.
Sitting at home that night, when I should have been with Pere, I found comfort in only two things. The memories I have of a friend who meant the world to me, and the love and care of someone who means the world to me. As the night progressed, and the Springsteen world was enthralled in the news from Finland, I was reminded not about how much I had lost – though that figured greatly – but actually how lucky I was (and am) to have known Pere. How lucky I am to be able to go through life saying with absolute pride that Pere was my friend, and that I was a friend to him. Similarly, as I opened a gift from 4,000 miles away and a person who means more to me than I can describe, I realised that my reasons to make life good were as strong, if not stronger, than they ever have been before. After all, I owe it to Pere to use the faith which he helped me acquire and understand for the good of myself, and the people I love. A few hours before the concert started, I said that I hoped the concert stood out as a highlight of the tour. Whilst it was no longer our show, and I wasn’t there, I knew that Pere would be. He was, after all, Bruce’s most loyal fan.
One day in April I received a very excited and remarkably surprising message from Pere. He had entered a competition to find Catalonia’s Number 1 Bruce Fan. Starting amongst hundreds of other people, Pere made it to the final, which was broadcast live on TV. I watched the show, and saw the moment Pere guessed “Rosalita” (from a segment of music less than a few seconds long), and won the entire competition. When we spoke after his win, he was truly the happiest person alive. And he deserved it. His prize was one to behold. He was flown with his closest to New Jersey, where he went backstage before the final show in the US, in Newark, and met his hero – Bruce Springsteen. Pere lived his dream, and did so with one of the people who meant most to him, meeting the man who Pere had dedicated so much of his life to the work and mission of.
When Pere got back, he told me about his trip, about meeting Bruce Springsteen; the moment he realised his dream, and he did so in a way which was so incredibly surprising, and touching. Pere was so sincerely happy, but as happy as he was, he was also modest. Modesty was a part of Pere’s character which was quite defining, and Pere’s air of modesty extended to even meeting Bruce Springsteen. It took until after he had died for me to learn that Pere was actually a Professor at a Catalonian University. I had always been aware of just how clever he was. After spending only a few minutes with him, Pere’s level of intelligence was evident. He paid his mortgage in Japanese Yen for reasons of global economics he tried to explain to me, but which to this day I still cannot understand. Whilst he was supremely knowledgeable, Pere was also compassionate. Two traits which often do not go hand in hand. I had known that Pere was a teacher, but he talked about this so casually and again, with such modesty, that it had never occurred to me that he was a Professor, and so was at an academic level higher than most people ever reach. When he got back from New Jersey, Pere told me about his trip with the greatest example of the modesty I just described. He had the best experience any fan could hope for. He lived the ultimate dream. And he deserved it. Pere was also adamant that he wanted me to have the experience which he had had. Pere believed with absolute faith that it would mean as much to Bruce meeting me as it would for me to meet Bruce. Pere’s own words, he concluded that this was because he believed that nothing touched Bruce as much as meeting fans who found in his music the strength which Bruce himself took from the musicians who inspired him to pick up the guitar.
Leaving New Jersey as a new friend of Sean MacGovern, Pere had made plans for he and I to go backstage in Helsinki. Whilst he didn’t say too much, he made it clear that if he could, he would do for me what the competition organisers in Catalonia did for him. I had a feeling that he was working on making my dream come true. Though I will never know the answer to that question, I do have faith, and hope, that one day I will meet Bruce Springsteen, hopefully with the person who means as much to me as Pere did, and that when I do meet Bruce, I will tell him that I am a friend of Pere’s, the man who connects us, and I will thank Bruce for introducing me to him, through the music which we both love so much. And I know that, if one day I do have that moment, Pere will be there with us.
When I have the courage, I re-watch that video, and as tears inevitably sting my eyes, I can’t help but also smile. Nothing makes me happier than seeing Pere enjoying some of the happiest moments of his life. I also smile remembering the day he told me about those moments with Bruce. “He was hugging me like a koala!”. Not many people can say that about Bruce Springsteen. But Pere could. Pere could say a lot of things which many people will never be able to. But he didn’t. Pere made the choice in life to only use his unique and special experiences for the benefit of others, and not by way of competition. He wasn’t the fan who has seen 250 shows and never stops reminding everyone else as such. Pere was the fan who was flown half way around the world, to meet Bruce Springsteen, the E Street Band, & their crew, backstage, to share a moment of extraordinary intimacy when Bruce confirmed with his mother, Adele, that indeed they were having dinner together that Friday. Pere himself ate dinner that evening, Bruce saying to him “it’s on me”. And not many people could say that when Bruce Springsteen walked on stage, May 17th in Barcelona, to over 50,000 people, and shouted “HOLA BARCELONA! HOLA CATALUNYA!” - referring not to Spain, but to Catalonia, effectively as a nation in its own right (as it wants to be) – that that was due to them explaining to the greatest Rock musician in the world the desires of the Catalonian people to be Catalonian. But Pere could. In his 42 years, Pere was more true to himself than most people are in a lifetime. He lived by his mantra. Dream. Believe. Dare. Do.
It was with that philosophy that he convinced within me the faith that I should, and could, follow my dream and see, for the first time in my life, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, in Barcelona. I wasn’t even 18 yet, but he believed in me enough that my confidence grew to the point where I bought my tickets for the shows in May, and, only a couple of months into being 18, I flew by myself to Barcelona. Friends here thought I was mad. After all, I had never travelled abroad alone before, I had never been to Catalonia before. I didn’t speak Catalan, and I had never met in person the fans who I would be meeting. Thank God however Pere convinced me otherwise, because my week in Barcelona constituted the greatest few days of my entire life. Had I not gone, I would have regretted it forever, and I do not know what I would have been doing now since going to Barcelona allowed me to meet the special people I did. Walking off my plane 3 months ago, into the hot Catalonian air, I was greeted by Pere in arrivals with the warm embrace of a brother. This was my first time meeting him properly, and yet I had never felt more at ease.
After the two concerts in Barcelona, I had the weekend with Pere. I stayed with him, in his home, and on the Saturday he showed me Barcelona. The next morning, before my flight home, he showed me his hometown of Terrassa. We were so close, and not once did it ever feel like I hadn’t known him all my life. We spoke without pause for our whole time together. From the moment after the show on the Friday night – when I heard “Racing In The Street” and was as happy as I had ever felt – we spoke for hours about Bruce, about Pere’s family, about life, and everything in-between. When he showed me the Catalonia he was so proud of, he did so which such enthusiasm in a way that I knew he was as happy about spending time with me as I was about spending time with him. We ate lunch together, and had dinner on the beach with his Italian friend Mara and her brother. Driving home that night we talked more, and we spoke about my Dad. I explained to him how much emotion I felt at Bruce’s concerts, especially during “We Are Alive”. That had been the closest I had felt to my Dad since he died all those years ago. Pere looked at me in the eyes, smiled gently, and patted me on the knee, acknowledging everything I felt in one moment. Looking back now, that moment in his car heading home was as significant as the moment at the concert which prompted our discussion about my Dad in the first place.
Whilst we didn’t have much time together in Barcelona that Saturday, we vowed that we would make some real time to see it properly again together. Pere was a very proud man of Catalonia, and loved Barcelona equally. He had every reason to love it so much. Barcelona, like the rest of Catalonia, is stunning. Pere took me up to Bruce’s hotel that morning, only once we knew he had left, so I could see just where the man that is Bruce Springsteen stayed. Perhaps the most significant aspect of that hotel was the view of Barcelona beneath it, one which took my breath away – much to Pere’s delight. Spending our day together, we got home that evening and chatted some more. We were both very excited about Helsinki, and I knew speaking to him that Helsinki would mark the first of many great experiences together. The next morning Pere showed me Terrassa. This trip was much quieter than our day in Barcelona, but I enjoyed it even more than the day before. Though it was tainted by the sadness of having to go “home” that afternoon. Pere showed me where he grew up; his school, his family home, his workplace, and the monastery which was so much apart of his formative years. The school was idyllic, and exactly where I would have imagined a man like Pere to have attended. That morning while we were there, the school was hosting some sort of fundraiser, and as Pere and I walked around admiring the school – Pere telling me about his time there, including playing The River from a hand held radio whilst up a lamppost – he seemed so at peace.
Before I regrettably had to get my flight home, Pere took me to the monastery which I had so looked forward to visiting. Whilst not religious, Pere was deeply spiritual. Though that spirit was more deeply rooted in the music he loved, rather than his Catholic upbringing. Poignantly named The Churches of Sant Pere, my friend Pere took a photo of me there which I will treasure forever.
Posting this photo the Friday after Pere died, I simply wrote:
Right now my dear friend, and brother, Pere, is being honoured in his hometown of Terrassa. He was, to the heartbreak of me, his friends, and family, killed on Wednesday in a motorcycle accident. Pere’s ceremony is taking place in The churches of Sant Pere, Terrassa. He took this photo of me in that very place, unbeknownst to me, in May. I am standing beneath a monument to Sant Pere. Pere was named after him. Love to you, my blood brother.
The few days after Pere was killed, I listened to one of his favourite Bruce songs, over and over. “Bobby Jean”. The song brought out a lot of emotion in me, as I miss Pere desperately. I will never be able to put into words just how much he meant to me, and I wish I had told him that more often. Though I have faith that, like in the photograph above, right now, today, and forevermore I will have him watching over my shoulder. And if he is there right now, all I want him to know is the love I hold for my brother will be there forever, and that I thank him, so much, for being everything to me when I needed it most.
L’amor a tu, el meu millor amic. Gràcies per ser el meu amic. Gràcies per tenir cura de mi. Amb vostè sempre.
The last conversation I ever had with Pere concluded not like all the rest. “Every action has its reaction”. Pere and I never said “goodbye” to one another. Rather we would, at the end of a conversation, say “keep in touch”. Because that’s what our friendship was; it never ended, and it never ceased to be at any moment. There was no room for “goodbyes”, as we would be looking forward to the next time we would speak. After Pere was killed, it dawned on me how poignant his last words to me were. We had been talking about the notion of karma, and with his words of “every action has its reaction”, I now see that the reaction to Pere’s death was an outpouring of love from across the world.
When writing my article on Barcelona, Pere helped me translate what Bruce said in his speech during “My City Of Ruins”; “Ës una història sobre el que perdem i el que queda per sempre” - It’s a story about what we lose and what we keep forever. That is what my relationship with my friend, and brother, Pere, has become. It truly is a story about what we lose, but what we keep forever. Pere will be apart of me forever, and I just know that one day, when I die, I will have the greatest man in the world waiting to greet me in The Land of Hope and Dreams. Until then, I will never stop missing him with everything in my heart. But with that, I also think of the other thing Bruce said that night; “Si vosaltres esteu aquí i nosaltres estem aquí, llavors ells estan aquí també”. If you’re here, and we’re here – they’re here.
Keep in touch, pal.