Last week I took a bus from Port Authority Bus Terminal at 42nd Street to Elizabeth, New Jersey. This may seem an insignificant event to some of you. After all, many people make this or similar journeys every day. But for me it was the first time I had left New York, ventured beyond the city, and set foot on real American soil (or at least asphalt). The reason for this trip, you will be disappointed to learn, was that I needed to pick up some house essentials from IKEA, a truth which I recognize completely dispels any romantic notion of the occasion I may have had. I certainly didn’t expect my first visit to another state to be caused by the urgent need for cheap lamps and coat-hangers. Instead I had always imagined taking a bus down the Jersey shore, hanging in them dusty arcades and chasing the factory girls underneath the boardwalk. But from what I’ve heard a Swedish furniture store is as good a reason as any to visit Elizabeth, and so off I went. It was a huge thrill to take in those Manhattan views as we crossed the Turnpike, and my head suddenly became filled with Springsteen lyrics and Sopranos images.
On Friday morning I achieved a lifelong ambition as New Jersey came to New York, in the form of Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band. Bruce and the boys were appearing on NBC’s Today Show in Rockefeller Plaza, and I had to be there. Hillary had arrived from Italy the previous evening, but I left her in bed to make my way up to Midtown at seven in the morning. From a young age Bruce’s music has influenced my perception of and fascination for American East Coast life perhaps more than any other artist. The characters that colour his earlier albums with their romantic optimism and almost naïve aspirations richly evoke a world where a girl, a car — or maybe just a guitar — are all you need to go out and make it. The band’s heavy influence of ’60s soul bands, it eccentric, jazz-tinged playing, and Bruce’s mysterious allusions at passionate street crime lead me to forever associate that music with a hot and gritty New York City, despite the group’s inexorable links to New Jersey. Now suddenly here I was, feet away from these Jersey boys, the same men (almost) who posed barefoot on the back cover of The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle over three decades ago.
I never expected to one day see the same guys performing outside a Dean & Deluca on daytime television, nor did I ever imagine witnessing a concert before breakfast, but it seemed both were happening right now. Through the crowd I could make out drummer Max Weinberg’s Late Night quiff, and before I knew it Bruce was on stage — the same trademark beat-up Telecaster slung over one shoulder — as the band broke into a perfect rendition of “The Promised Land.” They then performed several tracks from the new album, Magic, including ubiquitous single “Radio Nowhere” and “Livin’ In The Future”, which Bruce introduced with one of his typical rambles:
“There’s a lot of things we love about America. Cheeseburgers, transfats, motorcycles, divorce, and cheating on your spouse. But over the past six years, we’ve had to add another picture. Therapy, medication, counseling, catholicism, HIV tests, anti-depressants, sleeping in barns, and botox. These are things happening today that we never thought possible.”
Between songs Bruce cracked jokes at Today Show host Matt Lauer’s expense, gave hugs to Steven Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren, and even found time to speak his mind on the state of the nation. Springsteen is one of few people left in the entertainment world whose political opinions aren’t greeted with derision. The crowd was then treated to “Night” from Born To Run and an extremely moving “My Hometown.”
An overcast morning had now given way to bright sunshine as Bruce sang repeatedly: “This is your hometown, this is youurrrr hometown…” I’d been in New York just two weeks, but I couldn’t help think and hope and feel that there could be something prophetic in the man’s words.
Dedicated to the memory of Danny Federici, 1950-2008.