Every morning, when I get up and sit down at the living room table with a bowl of cornflakes, Bruce Springsteen is there to greet me with a smile. He smirks at me from a “Born To Run”-poster, that’s been hanging on my wall for over a decade now. I remember the day I got it vividly. It was one of the best days of my life…
It was the spring of 1999. Up until then my coming-of-age had not exactly played out like a John Hughes movie: pimple-faced and socially awkward I didn’t attract any Molly Ringwalds. Instead of living the Ferris Bueller high-life, I was pretty much ignored by my fellow students. I found it hard to fit in with boys my age. What was more, I didn’t want to fit in with the baggy pants wearing jocks who yelled “faggot” at anyone who was physically smaller, had better grades or wouldn’t know how to kick a football if his life depended on it (I fell into all three of those categories). Naturally, I turned into a loner pretty soon.
What has Springsteen got to do with all of this? Well, everything.
It’s hard to describe how much reassurance a simple line like “We bursted out of class/Had to get away from those fools” can give an irritated teenage boy. It made me feel less alone. I did learn more from that three-minute record than I ever learned in school: I learned how to walk the halls with swagger amidst people who despised me and vice versa. No retreat, baby, no surrender.
I had only discovered Springsteen’s music when I was about 14 years old. I got “Born In The U.S.A.” and “Born To Run” first and was hooked straight away. The more I listened, the less I could get enough of all those stories of shattered dreams, guys racing in the streets and girls waiting on the porch for a wild-eyed lover in some huge American car to take them to a better place. Springsteen had a way of turning frustration into energy. He made it seem cool to be an outcast. To my miserable teenage ears his songs were like a voice of reason when nothing else made much sense. I immediately accepted him as The Boss.
Around the same time I fell madly in love with a girl that I’d like to call Mary for the purposes of this article. She was not only the prettiest and most intelligent girl in school, but also one of the few people my age who behaved like a normal, kind human being – and for some reason she showed interest in acne-plagued old me. We started going out on a few dates, and although I never dared to dream that any more could come of it, for the first time in a long time the outside world didn’t just seem to be hostile and repellent.
Then it was announced that Springsteen would get the E Street Band back together, and they’d go on a tour, which would also bring them to Vienna, where I lived.
That was the icing on the cake. It was perfect timing. I collected every piece of information I could get my hands on. In 1999 most people already had access to the internet, but my family wasn’t most people. My dad was convinced that all you really needed to make it into the next century was teletext. Somehow I still managed to piece together the setlist Springsteen and the band were playing on that tour. I put all the songs on a mix-tape and proceeded to blast them through my crappy Walkman headphones 24/7. When the big day – the day the E Street Band came to Vienna – finally arrived, I was more than ready.
My mom drove me to the concert hall at noon. I had dressed up in a white shirt and a waistcoat, Bruce-style – only I wasn’t Bruce and looked like a bit of a dork.
At the venue some fans had already gathered, drinking beer and waiting for the gates to open. As we stood there, a man – I’d like to believe it was Jon Landeau in hindsight – joined us at the fence and asked us not to run, once we were let in.
“This is going to be a three-hours show”, he said. “Let’s make sure we can all enjoy it without anybody getting hurt.”
His words just got us more excited. Three hours! Of course, when the gates did open, we all ran like the devil.
What happened inside later that night, doesn’t really need to be described. Most of you have experienced the power of a Springsteen performance yourselves. It was a mind-blowing show, easily the best gig anyone had ever played anywhere. Just like every time I saw Springsteen afterwards.
I came out of the hall sweaty and happy and felt like a newborn. I spent the last of my hard-saved pocket money on a t-shirt and a poster – the poster – and thought about what to do next. Going home was not an option. I was still too hyped up from what I had just witnessed.
In my euphoria I worked up the courage to call Mary. She was at a party with friends and asked me to join her. I did, and as we finally kissed, I made a solemn promise in my head to let the world know someday that Springsteen saved my life that night.
Hey, give me a break! I was just an excited kid in a waistcoat.
Mary and I would stay together for ten years. It was a huge Springsteen-esque romance (we probably “swore we’d never part” at some point) – but it wasn’t meant to last. When we split up – incidentally weeks after another E Street Band show –, I resorted to Springsteen’s music for comfort again and found it in songs like “Drive All Night” and “One Step Up”.
It’s this quality I admire most in The Boss: He never lets you down. He celebrates with you when you’re winning and picks you up when you’re down. He’s like the best friend that I’ve never met. And that’s why that poster in my living room isn’t coming off any time soon.