“FAITH will be REWARDED”
- Bruce Springsteen
As life progresses I find that increasingly the main source of faith invested in me comes from the same people who support my writing and anticipate my new posts. This blog has always provided a great diversity in terms of content and message. I write about music, and I write about life… Most fundamentally I try to find that moment at which life and music intersect, in such a way which defines their dependence upon one another. That is, our dependence upon music in life, and music’s dependence upon life to be meaningful. It is in music we that find the definition of beauty, it is in music that we seek shelter in our moments of pain, and it is in music that we ultimately find ourselves, and one another. One can tell so much of a man’s character by the music he turns to, at his greatest moments of need. As a fan of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, I consider myself privileged and honoured – in the very true essence of the words – to be apart of what is, unquestionably, the greatest fan community in the world. All too often the sanctity of music is abused by corporations wishing to exploit sound and people to turn over a profit. This is not to negate the presence of truly revolutionary, beautiful, and relevant music within current society, but it is a fact that when the charts are dominated by people who don’t truly represent the essence of – at least what I consider to be – music, it can be hard to remember that, in some sections of society at least, music remains both fundamental to survival, and pivotal in helping give our lives meaning. Furthermore, music gives us the ability to find life’s very spirit itself. As a fan of Bruce and the E Street Band, I find myself apart of one of the greatest examples of people united by a shared love, set of ideals, and morals by which we live. Through the fan community lives are as changed as they are enhanced, in a way which is reflected only by the music which unites us in the first place. Whenever the world seems like a dark place, the Springsteen fan community serves as a prime example that to lose faith would be an immeasurable loss. Second only to the music we love, our fan community takes the music experience from the level of sustaining us, to the level of making our lives more beautiful than they could otherwise possibly be. As Bruce Springsteen himself put it, “The best music, you can seek some shelter in it momentarily, but it’s essentially there to provide you something to face the world with.” So too it is true that the best people, through the greatest of all fan communities, can come together and not only provide mutual support for those who may falter during the hard realities of life, but more essentially can – as a community, and as people with relationships within that community – bring a depth of meaning to life as an eternal entity above and beyond just about anything else.
Four weeks ago I experienced the greatest possible intersection of life and music. The ultimate fulfilment of the dream which sustained me, to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band live in concert, was something which went from being the hope which kept me going, to the reality which reminded me I was alive. The most significant, the most emotional, and the most overwhelming moment of my life came at the point when the notion of faith being rewarded became the truth in my life, and in the lives of the special people around me. That was the moment that the E Street Band ascended to the stage only feet in front of me, followed by the man who held the key to my survival through the hard times, words to the good times, and provided me with the soundtrack to my life. I had always known that experiencing the E Street Band live, in all their power, would be overwhelming. As an 18 year old leaving Scotland only a few days before the concerts, I anticipated a life changing moment, however the experience which came was beyond that which I could ever have possibly even imagined. What I felt was a depth of emotion, connection, and love which – before that moment – had been beyond both my cognitive and emotional comprehension. For the first time in years I felt like I was the person I was meant to be, with the people I was destined to be with, doing what I was born to do. I felt happiness, and I felt a release of pain which for so long had defined me. To say that seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band was a life changing moment would be an understatement. I was reborn. I also was not alone. The music which represents a Band with 40 years behind them, the words which are the soundtrack to the lives of the fans who adore them, and the power which makes them the legendary E Street Band, combined, make for a force greater than anything else. From the moment the band played “Badlands”, the song which opened my first ever concert, 55,000 people jumped together, sang together, smiled together – and many of us cried together. Tears not reflecting unhappiness, rather a realisation that what we were experiencing was real. And my God, was it overwhelming. For weeks now I have tried to find words to represent the nights of May 17th and May 18th, and so far have failed. However, summer’s here, and the time is right…
From the moment in December that I bought my tickets to see the E Street Band in Barcelona, I was intrinsically aware that I needed to be in the pit. With over 50,000 people due to attend, I was committed to spending my first show as close to Bruce, and the band, as I could possibly be. Seeing them meant the world to me. Beyond my hopes for family and friends, it was my greatest dream. I at times lived for that moment, and was certain beyond doubt that I would do whatever it took to be firmly at the front of the thousands of fans, so that the moment that Bruce and the E Street Band took to the stage, I would be there. Originally intending to queue from 5am or thereabouts, upon arriving in Barcelona and meeting my buddy and fellow fan Chris, we established that the pit entry system would be based upon numbered entry and interval-oriented queuing. With that in mind, at 8pm on the Wednesday I acquired the most significant number of my life so far – 207. Technically queuing for 26 hours, the notion of “Faith will be REWARDED” kept us going…
… and so it was. We did it. Taking our places at the mini stage, below where Nils Lofgren and Sister Soozie would play, with a perfect view of where Bruce would sing, and of the Band as a whole, I realised with absolute certainty that the greatest night of my life so far, was going to be even more special than I ever had anticipated. And that was before the band came to the stage. Separated from Chris – who took his spot in the central crowd of the pit – I stood with five people who will have a special place in my heart forever, for it was with them that I would realise my ultimate dream – one which they so passionately shared.
The anticipation of seeing the E Street Band was overwhelming. As the stadium began to fill, and the sun began to set, my hands began to shake… Thinking back to all the moments where I only had the music of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band – experiences which defined their importance to me – it was an utterly emotional thing to comprehend that within a matter of hours that very man, with his band of 40 years, would be literally only feet before me. That was the first of many moments that tears came to my eyes. We stood pushed against the rail, close enough to the stage that it was within arm’s reach. Little did we know, but that very detail would be key for what was to come. With the light fading, and the stadium filling – so quickly in fact that, and much to the amusement of my Chicagoan friends, a mini human avalanche took place on the steps entering the stadium - the anticipation and fervent excitement manifested itself ever more extremely. It was an emotional overload, and even when the sound technicians and the lighting guys were scuttling around the stage, the crowd went wild. The energy in the stadium, even hours before the concert began, was electrifying.
Over 12 hours before, I had had a rendezvous with a great friend of mine and massive Bruce fan from Chicago, Steph, who had brought along with her three friends all making their European Springsteen pilgrimage. Standing with them – and John, a veteran of live shows – I could see reflected in their eyes the very same emotions which I felt, and which had brought us together in Barcelona to begin with. My tears were the tears of thousands, and their tears were the tears of my own. As the excitement of years waiting for what was now happening turned into a realisation that this was reality, the sun sank lower behind the stadium walls, and the crowd began to intensify. There was a spirit in the night and an atmosphere which echoed the unified love and hope, not to mention anticipation and excitement, of thousands. There was also the ever present sense of something awe-inspiring and life changing to come, that feeling that the moment the E Street Band came to the stage, they would rip the whole fucking place apart. And so it was, that just after 21:45, the E Street Band walked out onto the stage, followed by The Boss himself, and they did just that.
Seeing Nils Lofgren, and Soozie Tyrell, heading in our direction, and Roy Bittan and Garry Tallent heading to their half of the stage, time froze. Mighty Max Weinberg appeared at his drums, and Stevie Van Zandt made his way onto the stage, armed with the smile which he is famous for. The music which had been playing as the crowd waited, stopped, replaced by a cheering louder than even the soundcheck we had heard hours earlier. It was at that moment that Bruce Springsteen took his place on stage with his band, and my dream came true. Half the crowd were screaming uncontrollably, the other half chanting “Bruce, Bruce, Bruce…”. I stood with my jaw dropped, trying to squeeze out my own cheers, despite the massive lump in my throat. As Bruce and the Band quietly acknowledged the crowd, through smiles and the occasional wave, that moment which we had all been waiting for finally came. Bruce shouted, with a smile I have never seen before, “Hola Barcelona! Hola Catalonia! Hola Barcelona! Hola Catalonia! 1, 2, 3…” BADLANDS. The crowd erupted, and simultaneously jumped to the beat of a song which summarised the very sentiments of that which had taken me 1,000 miles to Barcelona, and that which I do believe every fan of the E Street Band believes in. To stand with some of the greatest people I have ever met, before the best band in the world, hearing the following words, live, was not only a dream come true, but it was the greatest moment of my life up until that point.
“But there’s one thing I know for sure girl
I don’t give a damn
For the same old played out scenes
I don’t give a damn
For just the in betweens
Honey, I want the heart, I want the soul
I want control right now
talk about a dream
Try to make it real
you wake up in the night
With a fear so real
Spend your life waiting
for a moment that just don’t come
Well, don’t waste your time waiting”
As the song progressed into the chorus, over 50,000 people sang together “BADLANDS, YOU GOTTA LIVE IT EVERY DAY…” , another moment which gives me goosebumps just to think about. Strum after strum, line after line, cheer after cheer, the Band whipped the crowd into a frenzy. As “Badlands” intensified, so too did the crowd, with lines such as “Poor man wanna be rich / rich man wanna be king / And a king ain’t satisfied / till he rules everything” resonating deeply, whilst being met by rapturous applause with singing to match, with it’s underlying tone of truth inspiring such an emotive response from the crowd. Interspersed with the chant, “Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh Oh”, synonymous with the song which opens “Darkness On The Edge Of Town”, the opening few minutes of the concert set the tone for the rest of the evening. And personally, when Bruce sang with all the power in his voice, matched by the thunder of his band;
“For the ones who had a notion,
a notion deep inside
That it ain’t no sin
to be glad you’re alive
I wanna find one face
that ain’t looking through me
I wanna find one place,
I wanna spit in the face of these badlands”
I realised that I was one of those people who had a notion deep inside, that really it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive, and that the faces that ain’t looking through me were the ones of the people on the stage before me, and the friends who stood with me. ”Badlands” truly marked the beginning of my emotional reconstruction, my spiritual enlightenment, and the best night of my life up until that day.
Below is a video taken at the moment I described, by a fellow concert goer who was on my side of the stage but right at the back of the pit. I know having watched that video many, many times that there are a few moments when I can spot what I know to be my arm. My friends and I were literally just below Nils, on the barrier by the mini stage (literally, at the front) – where Bruce visited later in the show. The video also shows the first moment that we made eye contact with one of the Band. Nils can be seen jumping to his right, and looking right down at where I was standing during the first song (1min 42). I remember that distinctly, and still get goosebumps. It re-affirmed the notion that it was real, contrary to what every fibre in my body could accept. With that one jump by the 60 year old rocker, the opening song by the 40 year old Band, and the awe-inspiring vocals of our 62 year old Boss, began the night which changed everything.
Flowing into “We Take Care of Our Own”, something else occurred to me.
“Where’s the eyes, the eyes with the will to see
Where’s the hearts, that run over with mercy
Where’s the love that has not forsaken me
Where’s the work that set my hands, my soul free
Where’s the spirit to reign, reign over me
Where’s the promise, from sea to shining sea
Where’s the promise, from sea to shining sea”
I realised that the eyes with the will to see, the hearts that run over with mercy, the love that has not forsaken me, the spirit, to reign, reign over me, and the promise, from sea to shining sea, were here, in Barcelona, on the stage in front of me, and in the hearts of those around me.
As the night progressed, so too did the emotions, the excitement, and the realisation that what was happening was reality. Something I had always heard of but obviously never experienced before my first show was just the level of energy in a stadium with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. It was unbelievable. I had been told by fans before me that during my first show I would be stood in a state of shock and awe, and that was entirely true.
Being overwhelmed was an emotion which was defining the first time I saw the E Street Band, that night. I was in a perpetual state of either tears, or being on the verge of them. I wasn’t unhappy -
completely the opposite. Emotionally overwhelmed, but happy. More happy than I had ever been before. There were moments of reflection, which were marked by tears of sorrow – but quickly replaced by those of hope and love. Introducing “My City of Ruins”, Bruce spoke for a few moments, and whilst I didn’t understand what he was saying in Catalan, I could feel the power of his words. Translated by my close friend Pere, Bruce’s words are as follows: ”Hola Barcelona. Hola Catalunya. Com esteu? Com esteu? Bé. Aquesta cançó és una història d’holes i adéus, del viure i del morir. Ës una història sobre el que perdem i el que queda per sempre” – [Hi Barcelona. Hi Catalunya. How you doing? How you doing? Fine. That song is a story about 'hellos' and 'good-byes', about living and dying. It's a story about what we lose and what we keep forever]. If I were to choose one sentence to summarise what it is that I felt that night, I would say “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. As Bruce finished roll-call, he spoke again. ”Trobeu algú a faltar? Trobeu algú a faltar? Si vosaltres esteu aquí i nosaltres estem aquí, llavors ells estan aquí també. Puc sentir-los en les vostres veus!” – [Are we missing anybody? Are we missing anybody, now? If you're here, and we're here - they're here. I can hear them in your voices!". This was met by an explosion of emotion, an intensity of love and devotion for the Big Man Clarence Clemons, and for Danny Federici, and also, for those who we love ourselves, who have died. One of the many things which separates Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, from the majority of other Bands, is the level to which they can, and do, take crowds emotionally. On May 17th, and for the first time in my life, I knew what it meant to have the power of music brought down on me. And it felt good.
One of the most emotional moments of the concert for me came at only the seventh song. Bruce and the Band played "Out In The Street" - the first song I had ever heard. At that moment I felt the beginnings of the release of many years of struggle. Hearing the song for the first time only shortly after I lost my Dad, I was taken back to that moment and reminded of just how much I had leant and relied upon Bruce Springsteen for getting through the hardest years of my life. When I first heard "Out In The Street", I realised that I would never be alone again. That was a promise I invested a lot of faith into, as I knew that - for lack of anyone else - I'd always have the Band to see me through hard times, and so it was that on the night of May 17th I was not alone. I was with some of the greatest people I had ever met, doing the greatest thing of my life up until that point. As the song began, marked by a high-five from Steph who knew of the significance of that song for me, I welled up - again - as I felt the emotions streaming out of my body, being enhanced and replaced by the power and love of the Band who saved me. A Band who were literally feet in front of me. Captured here is the moment Bruce visited the mini-stage right before us.
Up until this part of the show, to say that the excitement of the reality of which we were apart was overwhelming would be an understatement. A few times Bruce had toyed with us, stepping down from the upper stage, moving closer to the crowd. There had been moments when he had headed in our direction, but so far he hadn’t been close enough that we could have the “magic” moment. The anticipation of seeing him, close enough to actually touch him, was uncontrollable. That was, until during “Talk To Me”, Bruce Springsteen came close enough to my friends and I that we touched his guitar. Feeling the neck of one of Bruce’s signature guitars, with him literally inches before me, was absolutely, unquestionably, the most exciting moment I had experienced up until then. I could feel the surge of thousands of fans behind me, everyone pushing their way closer to The Boss. It was a truly special feeling, having Bruce before us with his guitar in our hands. A moment I will never forget, and one which most certainly will never stop making me smile. Watching the video below, I can’t help but feel completely excited. I mean come on – I TOUCHED HIS GUITAR!
One of the songs which I looked forward to hearing live most was “Waitin’ On a Sunny Day”. Whilst not a song I feel a massive emotional connection to personally, within the context of a concert Bruce and the Band playing that song involve the crowd in a way which is more vocal than perhaps at any other time. That is what I looked forward to. The excitement, hope, and happiness of tens of thousands raining down upon the stadium is a truly magical moment. It’s a given that the Band will play “Sunny Day”, and sure enough at song 16 (of 29), they did. The surge of happiness was matched only by that of the crowd, as everyone stood and sang together, with Bruce running around the stage with the energy of a man less than half his age, and a dignified air of optimism which so defines that song. Once again, he paid a visit to our section of the stage… And just look at what happened.
One beautiful moment of the evening was when, closing “The Promised Land”, the stage went dark and the Band played “The River”. The title track of the first album which I ever heard, there was a beautiful moment when the spotlight shined upon Stevie with his guitar, and Bruce started to play his haunting and heartbreaking harmonica intro. I had, for a moment as the stage darkened, thought that maybe, just maybe, the Band would play my all time favourite and most personal song, “Racing In The Street”. Alas, when they instead played “The River”, I was grateful because I knew not many songs could have lived up to what I felt was coming at that moment. However, not only did “The River” make up for the lack of “Racing”, but it took the concert to a new level in its own right. Perhaps most significant was the knowledge that one of the very special people I was with was experiencing in her world what I knew I’d be experiencing in mine if Bruce had played “Racing In The Street”, and that in itself made that moment something which will have a place in my heart forever.
Since getting home from Barcelona, I have been inundated with people telling me about what a special setlist I got for my first show. Perhaps the best example of just how special the setlist was is “Prove It All Night”, with the ’78 Intro. The moment Roy’s piano started, and the crowd worked out just how special this moment was, a cloak of that sense one gets of history-in-the-making descended upon the crowd. Only the second time played in this format since 1978, one could not escape the sense of how special the night had become. For some people that moment was even more special than others… Steph let out a scream which I do believe is captured on a few of the videos; a great physical manifestation of the excitement we were all feeling inside. This was only the second time that “Prove It” had been played with the prolonged intro of 1978, and man – was it special.
At well over 3 hours, the concert never ceased to be anything but extraordinary and the most positive and exciting thing I could ever have possibly imagined, and beyond. Many highlights though there were, some of the moments which will stay with me eternally are the times at which Bruce reminded me of what it was that had brought me to his music in the first place. Finding him at the hardest moment of my life, I developed a relationship with his music which at times left me relying completely upon his words and the sound of his Band. Where my friends would perhaps receive emotional advice, leadership, and strength from their Fathers, I received such life important learnings from Bruce Springsteen; whilst never once relinquishing the love which I have for my Dad. With that in mind, perhaps the most special element of Thursday’s concert was the connection I felt with my Dad. Most emotionally during “We Are Alive”. I hadn’t felt as close to my Dad since before he died, as I did when Bruce came to the front of the stage and started to sing that song. It’s moments like that which defined the evening as being so unimaginably spectacular, life changing, and rejuvenating. When reflecting upon that moment I have to say, there is truly something more than human about what the E Street Band does. Night after night, people travel sometimes even thousands of miles, to be healed, to to be loved, and to have fun. They go to the E Street Band, and now I truly understand why.
As the setlist closed, before the encore, I was overjoyed to hear Bruce play perhaps his most famous intro to a song with a harmonica. The warm start of “Thunder Road”, the intro of which echoes the sentiments of the song. A new beginning, life, freedom, the realisation of dreams, and the presence of love, and escape. Key elements of the song itself, Bruce manages to emulate the lyrical beauty of his song with the harmonic sound of his harmonica, before the Band joins in and magic happens. Together, with over 50,000 people, I sang “The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves…”. As my eyes began to tear up for what seemed like the millionth time that night, I realised that I was experiencing the best life had to offer. It dawned upon me that what my friends and I were experiencing was that which we had always dreamt about. As the crowd sang and the music played, looking up at the Band, and around at the crowd, I got the overwhelming sense that this was life at its best. Over 50,000 people together singing a song written 37 years ago – each and every one of them believing in the message of the song, and standing together showing love and solidarity. “It’s a town full of losers, we’re pullin’ out of here to win”.
As the encore came to be, another dream was realised. As Bruce screamed “Barcelona, are you ready? Are you ready? Are you ready? Are you ready? Are you ready? Are you ready? 1, 2, 3, 4″ BORN IN THE U.S.A. Massive goosebumps. This was a pure rock moment. I had seen endless clips from the Born In The U.S.A. world tour, where crowds rocked so hard stadiums shook, and now I was actually experiencing that power – and it was awesome. The Band was playing so hard, so loud, that I could literally feel the music coursing through my body. As the crowd sang the anthemic chorus of “Born in the U.S.A…” broken up by Bruce’s lyrics which were as angry and raw as they were 28 years ago, it was completely apparent that this was the coolest rocking moment of the night up until that moment. Pure power, pure rock ‘n’ roll. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at their loudest, and amplifying their best – a level of musicianship and talent which had sustained a show of over 3 hours. I was witnessing the greatest band in the world, with the greatest people in the world.
Almost seamlessly flowing into Bruce’s most famous song, and definitively one of his greatest, “Born to Run”, the crowd continued to sing, the smiles continued to grow, and the power grew even greater. Over 50,000 people taken to a level which transcends the constraints of life, living together in the moment with nothing but a desire to fight, to love, and to have fun. The sax solo which Clarence left was played by his nephew Jake, and a poignant and beautiful moment came when, at the end of the sax solo, Jake raised his saxophone to the sky. The presence of Clarence’s spirit had been alive all night, but no greater than at that moment.
The fun never seemed to end. “Bobby Jean” was then played, flowing into “Dancing In The Dark”. This was an encore to behold! And we were there! The crowd was alive, as we all sang and danced together, with the E Street Band. I ask myself the question – does life get any better? And truthfully, my answer to that question is – no. It was unspeakably fun, and whilst the night had confronted issues of dreams versus realities, love and loss, life and the eternal after it, for the last few songs before the finale, fun was on the agenda. I don’t think anybody does it quite like the E Street Band.
Finally, as one of the two greatest nights of our lives came to a close, we joined with Bruce and his Band in paying tribute to the BIGGEST man you’ve ever seen, the late and beloved Clarence Clemons. “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”, “When the change was made uptown / And the Big Man joined the band”, marked the end of the near 30 song set, and what was the beginning of a new life. As the video montage of Clarence was played, and the crowd sang and cheered for him, I felt within a sense of acceptance for all the bad times I had experienced. For I realised, that without them I would never have been the 18 year old who would travel over 2,000 miles return for a Band who brought me together with the best people I had ever met – people I will hold close to my heart forever. Standing with the E Street Band, under their guidance, surrounded by some of the most special people I had met, and the love of thousands, living and breathing the spirit of Clarence & Danny, and all the people we love who are now beyond this world, the sense of acceptance was then superseded by one of thanks for having the E Street Band in my life, and even more so for bringing me together with people who will be apart of my life forever.
Leaving the stadium that night, I didn’t expect that anything could be more special than what I had just experienced. I had no idea about what was to come the next night, something which was even more special than the first – and believe me, that in itself says something.
- In tribute to Clarence Clemons -