My husband and I both grew up at the Jersey Shore, both on barrier islands. I in Ocean City (Exit 25) and he in Chadwick Beach (Exit 82). It’s not much of a surprise, then, that we ended up living in Alameda, an Island City off the coast of Oakland. The need to be surrounded by water is just in our DNA.
A strong desire to live near the beach isn’t the only genetic imprinting that happens when one grows up at The Jersey Shore. There are other predispositions: abiding love for soft pretzels, boardwalks, and soft serve; memories of horseshoe crabs (in decline now due to pollution), jellyfish, and sand crabs; and perhaps the most deeply rooted of all, an almost reverent devotion to the music of Bruce Springsteen.
At the risk of sounding blasphemous, I didn’t become a complete devotee until I was in my 20s. It was 1995 and my then-boyfriend and I packed up our yellow Ryder truck and set out from the dead-end street near his parents’ home on our move to San Francisco. Fittingly, Thunder Road played as our wheels took us slowly away from the place we’d known all our lives. Following The Boss’s command: We were getting out while we were young.
Every song of every Springsteen album served as the soundtrack to our first road trip together. Despite my growing allegiance to our Patron Saint, it occurred to me that I still had never seen Bruce Springsteen in concert. I hadn’t been permitted to go to concerts as a teen. It was only after I was well into my college experience and miles away from the disapproving eyes of my religious parents, that I finally understood the power of live music. Even then, I had only been to a handful of shows ( The Cure, Natalie Merchant, Toad the Wet Sprocket, and The Lemonheads).
So when my then-boyfriend got us tickets to see Springsteen on the Ghost of Tom Joad Tour, I was a little nervous. Would this be a relationship-breaker, I wondered? What if I wasn’t as committed as my boyfriend, a guy who owned every album ever produced—as well as numerous bootlegs—and had never * passed up a chance to see Springsteen live?
We saw him at the Berkeley Community Theatre. It was an intimate acoustic show. Appropriately enough, the assembled followers packed into the cozy venue with reverence. Nothing like the high-energy, full band, three-hour extravaganza one had come to expect from a Springsteen show. At least, from what I’d been told to expect anyway.
Once the house lights dimmed and he began to play, I just sat there in stunned silence. Bruce’s musicianship is unparalleled, and his way of weaving stories in and around his songs is mesmerizing. I was hooked. The conversion was complete.
Since then, we’ve seen him more times than I can count. My husband even saw him in France once (I didn’t go because I was in my seventh month of pregnancy). He just happened to have to go to a conference in Germany a few days before the show. Coincidental? More like strategic.
Over the years, the music of The Boss has continued to be the soundtrack of our lives. I rocked our first child, a daughter, while singing, Living Proof.
Well now on a summer night in a dusky room
Come a little piece of the Lord’s undying light
Crying like [she] swallowed the fiery moon
In [her] mother’s arms it was all the beauty I could take
Like the missing words to some prayer that I could never make
In a world so hard and dirty so fouled and confused
Searching for a little bit of God’s mercy
I found living proof
By the time that same girl was three, she knew all of the words to Johnny Bye Bye (kind of adorable. It’s worth a listen).
Before we had kids, my husband and I went camping a lot. Once our daughter was a toddler, we revived that part of our lives. And every time we would be on the road, headed to a campsite, my husband would reach over and put his hand on my stomach while singing, “reach my hands across your belly and feel another one kicking inside…” whenever Long Time Comin’ would play. In the months, then years, when we were trying to have another baby, it always made me smile. And then after our son was born, the lyrics “Well there’s just a spark of a campfire left burnin’ two kids in a sleeping bag beside” made me feel contented whenever I heard that song because it had been a long time coming…our family. Now that we’ve got our hands full with three (11, 7, and 3), whenever we hear “another one kicking inside” we just look at each other with wide, terrified eyes.
The last time I saw Springsteen was three years ago, two months after the birth of our last child. It was November 30th 2012; our oldest was then 8 years old. When we told her we were going to see Bruce Springsteen she asked if she could go, too. At first, my husband and I weren’t sure it was such a good idea. I mean, we don’t ever actually have seats when we see Springsteen. We buy GA (General Admission) only; we stand in line for hours the morning of the show in the hope of earning a coveted spot in “the pit”. We stand up—and love every freaking minute of it—for the entire length of a Springsteen show, which easily comes in at double that of most other acts touring these days. And it was a school night.
But…it was Springsteen! Didn’t she sing “…and the runway rushed up at him, as he felt the wheels touch down” (from Shut Out the Light) every single time she’d flown on an airplane until she was five? School night be damned. After all, for a kid whose parents were born in New Jersey, going to a Springsteen show was kind of her birthright.
That first show was pretty magical. We went along with two of our other friends, equally devoted followers. A few hours before the show, we got our wristbands. We had made it into the pit! While it’s impossible to give a rundown of every moment of the show, I can say that for this to have been our daughter’s first concert experience….she could not have been more spoiled. First, we were in a great position on the floor at the back part of the pit by the catwalk. Bruce comes out on the catwalk a lot. Each time, my husband would lift up our daughter, trying to get her close enough to make a connection.
Finally on Raise Your Hand, he came by us and just stopped, bowed his head and held his arm over the crowd, like he was praying over us. My husband was holding our daughter up right below him and she just reached up her hand and gave him a high-five! I couldn’t believe it! I didn’t get a picture because it all happened so fast, but someone my husband knows happened to snap the aftermath of that moment (it’s at the top of this post) and we now have it hanging in our foyer.
By the time we got home, it was very late. We were all tired, emotionally spent, but also euphoric. The show had been epic. Great beyond every other great Springsteen show we’d been to. And it had been our daughter’s first concert ever. No smoke-filled, sticky floored, college dive bar for her. We tried to tell her it would all be downhill from here. I mean, she had been to the very top of the mountain.
Last month (March 13, 2016) we got another chance to see Bruce live. I couldn’t imagine not going, but because of my schoolwork (I was in graduate student at the time) I couldn’t imagine a way to go and still get my work done. So we asked our son (then 7 years old) if he’d like to go in my place. We figured it was only fair since our daughter had already had the Springsteen Experience.
Let’s just say…his unenthusiastic answer didn’t express, what we felt, was an appropriate level of 1) gratitude and, 2) excitement. We could imagine nothing worse than for my husband to be there for only 15 minutes before our son began complaining about being hot/cold/tired/hungry. To see Springsteen live requires a level of dedication that allows one to ignore petty discomforts like needing to pee or having to sit down. We promised to take him to a Warriors game instead.
So…at just eleven years old, our girl was going to her second Springsteen show!
We prepared her ahead of time. “Now, don’t get your hopes up,” we said. “We might not even get in the pit,” my husband warned. We felt it was important to calibrate her expectations toward reason. Lightning doesn’t usually strike twice, after all.
During Sherry Darling, our daughter (then tall enough to make her way unaided) wove her way through the crowd to get closer to the stage. Bruce made his way toward her. And this time, she didn’t need to reach up and steal a high-five. This time, Bruce looked her right in the eye, reached out for her hand, and held onto it while they both sung a verse. Unfortunately, there’s no YouTube footage or photographic evidence this time…and you know what, it doesn’t even matter. He’s left his imprint on our daughter (and most of our family—sorry, Son) for life.
Though there is one huge downside to our daughter having such epic experiences at her first two concerts: Every other experience is bound to suffer by comparison.
And that’s what happens when you’ve been spoiled by Springsteen.