“The River” and “Born in the USA”
Not long after that amazing night at the Ripley, (see Part 2 of the story here), Bruce and the band returned to Philly for a string of shows promoting the newly released “Born in the USA” album. I had seen most of the Philly shows on “The River” tour in 1980 – reconnecting with my Bruce friends in the “darkness” (song reference # 4), of the Spectrum parking lot, seeing folks that I only got to see at Bruce shows. In fact, the absolute BEST concert I’ve seen in my life was during “The River” tour, the night after John Lennon was killed. Bruce was in Philly that night, and I was in the 10th row. Before the show started, Bruce came out and explained that during a band meeting, they decided as a group not to cancel the show, because that’s what John would have wanted – for them to keep rocking. From the first note, everyone seated on the floor got up on their seats and no one sat down until the house lights came up during the night’s final song, “Twist and Shout,” a tune The Beatles covered on one of their early albums.
But only four years later, things were to drastically change in the world of Springsteen fans. Released in 1984, “Born in the USA” sold 15 million copies in the U.S. and became one of the best-selling albums of all time. This record and tour really expanded Bruce’s audience, and suddenly all of us long-time, hard-core fans had to not only put up with all the “Johnny-come-latelies”, but their numbers forced The Boss to play outdoor stadiums in America for the first time to accommodate the demand for tickets. However, the initial leg of the tour was booked into arenas. So there I was, in the Spectrum’s Press Box (if you’ve been following along you’ll understand), enjoying the first of the shows I’d see on this tour.
He played six shows during his Philly stand, and I saw them all. All were incredible. But something happened on night four that will illustrate to the non-Bruce maniacs reading this just how unpredictable and astounding his shows are. About halfway through his set, Bruce turned to the band and called an “audible” – a song not on that night’s set list. The song he called for was “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide”, an old ZZ Top tune. This was one of the songs that Bruce had played when he did unannounced guest appearances with a variety of bands at The Stone Pony – an Asbury Park, N.J. club, not far from Bruce’s house. The website http://backstreets.com had been keeping us fans updated with Bruce’s activities during the lull between tours, so I knew that he’d been jumping on stage at the Pony with a variety of bands over the last six months. This particular song he performed with the bands Cats on a Smooth Surface, John Eddie and the Front Street Runners (good friends of mine), and La Bamba and the Hubcaps – but he had never performed or even rehearsed this song with The E Street Band. In fact, as I later found out, Max Weinberg, the drummer, had never even heard it! But as the bootleg tape proves, the band was so tight at that point in their history that their version was a rollicking good time, and slicker than you’d expect.
Back to the story. After the night’s show, Bruce’s Tour Manager George Travis came to bring us backstage for an audience with Springsteen. There were four or five of us in the group who went together – most of us employees of one or another of the Philly radio stations. As we walked down the long hallway backstage at the Spectrum, we passed other dressing rooms as we made our way. Labels on the doors alerted us to who was where: “Band”, “Clarence” (yes, he had his own), “Patti” (being the only girl on the tour, she had her own), and finally “Bruce”.
So me and the DJ’s finally got our time with Bruce. We walked into his dressing room, and the local Columbia Records rep (the late, great Herb Gordon), introduced us to The Boss. Being the “new guy”, I was the last to step-up and shake his hand. He looked me in the eye, did a double take, and his big under-bite grin spread across his face. He had recognized me from the incident at The Ripley a few months prior, and began telling everyone in the room about the girl with the beers that couldn’t decide which one of us was Bruce. I was speechless, embarrassed, overwhelmed. There I was, in a small room, with all of the radio guys that I had been listening to for years, and my idol is not only telling them a story about me – the story had me being misidentified as him. It was another “once-in-a-lifetime” moment with Bruce. I am a lucky guy.
About then, the door to the dressing room opened, and Patti walked in. No knock, no “excuse me” -- she came in as if it was HER dressing room – as if she belonged there, like the “queen of the manor”. I was taken aback. At this point in time Bruce was newly married to actress Julianne Phillips. It was months later that the tabloids began publishing pictures of Bruce and Patti together, inciting speculation about their relationship and the strength of his marriage. As we all know, Bruce divorced Julianne a few years later -- and he and Patti began a public relationship that resulted with them being married in 1991 (and still are to this day), and having three children. And she’s still in the band, too. But I suspected all of this was in the future, just from the way “she walked into the room” (song reference # 5) that night.
Next time: The “Tunnel of Love”?
All Photos by Eric Davis