Tag Archives: Bruce Springsteen

The Promise: The Making of Bruce Springsteen’s “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” Album

It might have seemed, to the casual observer, that Bruce Springsteen was on Easy Street after the completion of his masterpiece, best-selling album “Born To Run. But Bruce Springsteen was, in fact, a deeply troubled man. And he was pretty much on his own again, trying to find his way back home.

As the HBO documentary “The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town” by Thom Zimny illustrates so beautifully and personally, Bruce was 27 years old and was a superstar. But as he admits in the documentary, he may have been a rock and roll superstar, but he was still haunted by some hardcore ghosts. For one, he was trying to deal with his newfound success and adulation, while at the same time attempting to untangle his own personal and business relationship with manager Mike Appel.

Although he was on the cover of Time and Newsweek with the release of “Born To Run,” Springsteen was still broke, along with every other member of his band. He was at odds with Appel, with whom he had begun a creative split during the making of BTR. In an effort to bring fresh ideas into the mix to try and rescue both BTR and his record contract, Springsteen brought in Jon Landau and Bruce and Jon became fast friends. Appel, enraged over being cut out of his partnership with Springsteen just as the fruit was about to bloom, slapped a lawsuit on Springsteen that barred Bruce from going into the studio with any other manager/producer without the approval of Appel. Talk about locks and chains.

Springsteen also states in the beginning of “The Promise” that he felt he was, in fact, letting down his friends and band mates. In short, he was a man carrying a major league-sized albatross around his neck. Springsteen says these and many other issues led to the inner turmoil which precipitated the writing of countless of songs (nobody knows quite how many were written but an estimate of 80 to 100 would be a safe estimate) during the Darkness recording sessions.

Springsteen says he always writes in an attempt to answer the questions that plague him. On “The Promise,” Springsteen says he was trying to figure out how to come to a reckoning with the “a life of limitations and compromises” or as he also puts it, “the adult world.”

“Well, the dogs on Main Street howl cause they understand,
If I could take this moment into my hand
Mr., I ain’t a boy, no I’m a man
And I believe in the Promised Land”
– “The Promised Land”

“The Promise” is a documentary that picks up where “Wings For Wheels,” the making of “Born To Run” leaves off and it’s helpful to see the latter if you want to understand the former.

“The success with had with “Born To Run” made me ask, well (laughs), what’s that all about,” says Springsteen at the outset of “The Promise.” Springsteen says the success of “Born To Run” also might have meant that he would have to surrounder all that was his very core, the relationships he had with those closest to him. He admits that more than anything else he wanted to be “great!” And he says that he believed it was the obsessive, selfish quest for greatness that led so many other of music’s “greats” down a dead-end road.

“We all thought we had made it, that we had finally achieved greatness and everything was going good”, says E Street band guitarist Little Steven, along with the other members of the band. “We thought we got it made, we’re gonna make it,” says the Big Man Clarence Clemons, Springsteen’s sax player and onstage foil. “And then everything just went….STOP!”

“The Promise” explains that the other major cloud hanging over the future of Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band was the end of Springsteen’s relationship with his manager and good friend Mike Appel. Appel still maintains to this day that he was only trying to protect Bruce Springsteen with his original publishing deal. “You gotta take a stand. How are you getting out of your contracts if you wanna get control,” Appel argues.

Springsteen calls the contracts “not evil, but naive.” “It wasn’t a lawsuit about money,” Springsteen continues, “it was about control. The bottom line was, it was gonna be my ass on the line and I was gonna control where it went and how things went down. If that meant I didn’t go into the studio, then I wasn’t gonna go into the studio.”

Springsteen says they tried to make a living playing live, but eventually things got extremely tough on everyone in the band and the organization financially. But Springsteen says in retrospect it was worth standing his ground against Appel.

“You know,” says Springsteen. “You can lose the rights to your music, you can lose the ability to record, you can lose the ownership of your songs, but you can’t lose “that thing”. That thing that’s in you.”

“Tonight I’ll be on that hill cause I can’t still
I’ll be on that hill withe everything that I’ve got
Where lives are on the line
Where dreams are found and lost”
– “Darkness On The Edge of Town

“Not being able to return to the studio after the “Born To Run” record was truly heartbreaking,” remembers keyboardist Roy Bittan. So banned from the studio, the band rehearsed every single day at Bruce’s house in New Jersey. All day and into all hours of the night.

That footage of Bruce singing at home, shot by the essential chronologist Barry Rebo, with Bruce in many scenes sans shirt is bound to have women viewers who fantasize about Springsteen in dreamland. But for the band, it may not have been as fun as some scenes make it look. Bruce was writing like a banshee, churning out new ideas and new songs every day. Song after song after song. “My sense of his reaction to this roadblock,” says the mighty drummer Max Weinberg all these years 30 years or more later, is that his desire, that will, that determination to do things his way got even stronger. Maybe his way of working it all out,” says Weinberg, “was writing all those songs.”

“While this was a time of pain because I was trying to sort out what had happened with Mike,” says Springsteen, “there was also a time of refinding myself and freedom. The freedom of finding out where I belonged”

During Springsteen’s narrative we see incredible behind-the-scenes home studio footage of Bruce sporting his Italian-Afro (as he calls it). A half-naked Springsteen is seen working out the words to one of the most several songs on “Darkness on the Edge of Town,”

“And I take her out easy looking for a place where the world is right
And then I go tearing into something in the night.”
– Early Version of “Something In The Night

We even get to see Bruce perform the rarely performed alternate lyrics..

“Well, I picked this girl up hitching, she stuck her head out the window and she screamed
She was looking for a place to die or redeemed”

This reviewers only minor disappointment with “The Promise” is that we’re not treated to enough to this kind of footage, but nobody really knows how much more of it they have. My guess is that this wealth of information contributes to a lack of cogent, linear presentation and that they could only allocate so much time to home practicing and studio recording scenes. At times, it is difficult for the viewer to follow the highs and lows, ups and downs of Bruce’s recording experience.

Springsteen says that because of changes in the music business, the three years that went by in between records may have seemed longer back then than it would now. He says he started to see pieces in the press asking, “Whatever happened to Bruce Springsteen?” And Bruce says that the time stretched out so long, he started wondering that himself. As time continued to pass, the pressure grew and grew. And so did the number of pages in Springsteen’s notebook of songs.

“You didn’t know if you were going to get another chance,” says Springsteen. “So everything I had inside me, I had to get out.”

Good news came in the summer of 1976 with the resolution of the lawsuits between Appel and Springsteen. “I was happy that it was over because I would have fought to the death…because that’s what this was all about.” In the end, amends were made, and the band went back into a professionally equipped studio with Jon Landau and mixer Jimmy Iovine at the helms.

“The Promise” shows a band with renewed vigor as they try to get this project finished. But Landau recounts that it was strange that nobody really had a clear idea of what kind of record they wanted “Darkness” to be. As things evolved, all anybody could agree on was that they wanted a sound that was very basic or as Landau puts it, “coffee black”. While Springsteen wanted Darkness to be very specific in its focus, he also wanted it to be “relentless.”

This long stretch of writing and working on songs in the studio is displayed in wonderful black and white super 8 film shot by Barry Rebo. Of Bruce and Steve at the piano working out “Sherry Darling” and “Talk To Me,” neither of which would made the “Darkness” album. “It’s tragic in a way,” says Little Steven with his usual love and admiration for his old buddy, “because he would have been one of the great composers of all the time.” Thus, the prolific, nonstop song machine named Springsteen. “The Promise” also tells the great story of how Bruce gave away his brilliant song, “Because The Night” to punker Patti Smith, who was also recording with genius engineer Jimmy Iovine in another studio. Springsteen says he didn’t feel comfortable with writing that love song, so he graciously gave it over to Smith, for whom it was her biggest hit ever.

At one point, it was decided that there wasn’t enough saxaphone on “Darkness.” So it was back to work. “It was always like a giant junkyard that were were working in. So if one part wasn’t working, we’d pull another one out of another car and see how that car runs.” And Bruce just continued to write. And write. And write some more. Bruce continued to work on new songs in his growing notebook of what one band member calls the “magical notebook.”

And so they pressed forward with a number of what Max Weinberg calls a “freewheeling” approach, as opposed to a more conservative and stubborn manner in which BTR was recorded. Looking for a live sound, Springsteen ate up precious studio hours hammering out songs as he went along. He refused to allow the band to rehearse many of the tunes. He wanted them real and he wanted them raw. Springsteen also spend hours or days trying to find a certain drum sound and ambiance. And suddenly they looked around, and the boys were stuck again.

After a while, Bruce, Jon, Jimmy and the band needed somebody outside the band. And a not-so-local hero rode into town in the form of Chuck Plotkin came riding into town with a fresh outlook. All band members agree that Plotkin somehow found a way to take the songs they had and give them a theme, meaning and structure. Chuck Plotkin, according to Bruce, is one of the true heroes of the Darkness recording sessions.

“‘Darkness on the Edge of Town” is a meditation,” says Springsteen, “on where your going to stand, it’s a meditation on with who and where your going to stand. These are basic, essential questions that need to be addressed.”

“The obsessive-compulsive part of my personality came through because I found that I could try to drive you crazy….JUST BECAUSE I COULD,” laughs Springsteen. “The band had to find lots of different wants to get out from under my oppressive grip,” he says.

Springsteen and others address the greatness of the song “The Promise.” “It could have gone on the record it we had finished it,” says Springsteen. “It’s about fighting and not winning. But I felt to close to it at the time” So “The Promise” didn’t make it. Along with a lot of other gorgeous, moving songs. But this is a documentary about the album that was made. And that has been with us for more than 30 years and has helped us on our journey as we ask ourselved the same question.

“Darkness On The Edge Of Town” will always be for so many of us our own coming of age album. And in a way it’s Bruce Springsteen’s coming of age album, as well. It’s an album that raises more questions that it answers, but isn’t that how all great art works? This may not be the masterpiece that Born To Run is, but it’s a major victory of Springsteen’s spirit. To continue to believe in the dream and not be unswayed. Played start to finish it is passionate howl issued into that deep, dark night; a man wrestling with the ache the comes from growing into a man.

As the dogs on main streets howl. And howl. And howl

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“Factory 1978” – Bruce Springsteen


In honor of Labor Day weekend 2010 and the forthcoming Darkness Box Set, here’s Bruce Springsteen at the Capitol Center in Landover, Maryland in 1978 during the Darkness On The Edge Of Town Tour.
(It’ll take a few seconds for Bruce to appear on this video, but it’s from the line feed to the monitors inside the arena, so the quality is pretty good.)
Here’s to a healthy, happy and safe holiday weekend.
With love,
John

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Have You Heard The News? Springsteen Darkness Box Set Announced

Its like Chrismas morning in late August for fans of Bruce Springsteen.

After more than a year of delays, rumors, speculation and more delays, details of a Darkness On The Edge Of Town box set have finally been announced today. Springsteen and his record company, Sony, will release in November an enormous 6 CD and DVD collection containing just about everything a Springsteen fan had hoped for.

The Darkness Box Set will include (are you ready for this?): A CD featuring a digitally remastered version of the original album, PLUS two other CDs packed with outtakes from the Darkness sessions. But that’s not all. The package will also include three DVDs; one a full length documentary on the making of the album which will feature never-before-seen footage:

Plus a second DVD of the band then and now featuring various songs performed live between 1976 and 1978 along side with the modern day band performing the album start to finish at an empty Paramount Theater last fall, and a third DVD featuring a full concert from Houston in 1978. Holy Guacamole!

And to add to this embarrassment of riches, we also get pages and pages of Bruce’s notebook that he kept during the making of the album, full of lyrical re-workings, possible album and song titles and other doodling. In short this is a feast of plenty that is sure to delight both the hardcore Springsteen fan and casual fans alike.

It’s a plethora of sound, video, photos and handwriting from the Darkness On The Edge of Tour recording sessions and subsequent tour, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that this news has me, a self-admitted Bruce fanatic, breathless. The set won’t be available until mid-November with a price tag of about $115.00 dollars , but I believe despite the cost this box set will be a huge seller.

For one things the bright marketing folks working for Springsteen are offering the elements of this set in various incarnations. For example, one can just buy the outtakes on vinyl or CD by themselves without the DVDs. And it’s perfectly timed for the Christmas gift buying season.

Springsteen’s official web site, http://www.BruceSpringsteen.net is already doing a fine job promoting the set with a brief video clip from the “making of documentary,” as well as an audio clip of one of the outtakes. The Darkness documentary is set to be premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in September, with Springsteen himself scheduled to appear and take part in a question and answer with actor/huge Springsteen fan Edward Norton. Try getting a ticket to that session in Toronto. Here’s a sneak peak of the documentary.

Regardless of how you look at it, unless you hate the guy, this news today is major and long awaited. As many Springsteen fans have commented, this is “the holy grail” that so many have been hoping and praying for, literally for years. As somebody who considers “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” my “coming of age” album, I couldn’t be more excited.

So save your pennies and let the countdown to November 16 begin!

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Lone Wolf

When I lived in Boston it was not at all unusual to bump into rock and roll legend Peter Wolf.

The former late night DJ and the longtime front man of the J. Geils Band lives in Boston and often walks its streets. Whether meandering down the famed, exclusive Newbury Street or perusing additions to his vast music collection in Boston’s few remaining used record stores, the man was, to put it simply, not hard to miss. Dressed always in his ubiquitous black, from head to toe, and never without a chapeau of some sort, the slight and perennially pale Peter Wolf pretty much kept to himself. Pity the poor soul who chanced to approach him. The result was inevitably a disappointingly brief conversation consisting of a few brief words. So people would most usually leave him alone. He may have been the wild man of Borneo on stage or a mad gabber jabber on alternative radio all those years ago (“Wolfa Goofa Mama Toffa” was his nickname), but out in public and away from the spotlight, Peter Wolf is a man of very few words.

It’s really no wonder. The man born Peter W. Blankfield seems tailor-made to keeping his thoughts to himself. His own musical cohorts and influences, Van Morrison and Bob Dylan, both make it a habit to speak in riddles and rhymes when they speak at all. The Chicago and Delta blues men who Wolf holds in the highest of esteem were men who spoke little and let the music do the talking.

Wolf’s history is a fascinating one. Once arrived in Boston in the 1960’s to attend art school, he was scooped up by recently acquired “progressive rock” radio station WBCN. Wolf said in a recent interview on NPR that he was offered half ownership in BCN for just $10,000. But Wolf, at the time was barely eking out an existence and says he barely had ten dollars. What Wolf did have was an incredible musical library, both LPs as well as an incredible variety of his beloved 45’s or singles. And so BCN, hoping to get their hands on all that music, offered him the overnight shift on the air. Wolf was on from Midnight until 7:00 a.m. and in addition to playing his own favorite mix of rock, blues and rhythm and blues, he also played requests. The program was a huge underground sensation and Wolf found a comfortable place behind the microphone where he discovered he had, well, the gift of gab.

But Wolf was not long for that vampire radio shift, which brings many men and women to their knees, and in 1966 Peter Wolf became part of a popular Boston-based band, The Hallucinations. A year later he went to see a performance by the J. Geils Band and quickly joined that group, becoming the hopscotching, fast on his feet, charismatic front man. That band lasted from 1967 to 1983. They played both blues standards and originals and they had a legendary live show, captured on three different live albums, all recorded in Detroit Rock City. Geils, as they were sometimes called, were soon one of the hottest rock bands in the country, playing to packed theaters, auditoriums and arenas from coast to coast and even garnering the coveted cover of Rolling Stone Magazine.

I had a chance to see Wolf at his most outrageous, two times and both in Syracuse, New York. The first time was at the cozy Landmark Theater, where Wolf and the rest of the J. Geils band nearly blew the roof off the place. At one point during the climax of the show, Wolf left the stage and danced and weaved his way up and down the aisles of the theater “high fiving” with his fervent fans. The second time I saw him, he looked like a different man in 1982 when the band was on top with huge hits like “Centerfold” and “Freeze-Frame.” Wolf had shed his long locks of hair and streamlined his stage show. But behind the scenes the band was, unknown to many, ready to implode because of “artistic differences” between Wolf and keyboard player and fellow songwriter, Seth Justman.

I worked at a rather large local college radio station I remember foolishly going backstage after the show. “Oh Jesus,” I remember thinking in the middle of the clumsy introductions, “what in God’s name am I doing here.” Wolf politely shook our hands staring blindly into the distance, barely even there. He seemed ten million miles away. And I felt bad for his discomfort.

With the band no longer a going concern, Wolf was left to retreat into the blackness of the Boston night, showing up here and there at bars and occasionally joining in to jam. I remember seeing him take the stage many nights in Boston with his pal Bruce Springsteen, but he never seemed comfortable in the guest spot, especially at larger gigs. He used to rule that city and now he seemed a drifter and a stranger in a strange land. Wolf eventually teamed up with some local musicians and made a series of solo records, none of which seemed to click until he finally found his way on 2002’s excellent solo album, “Sleepless.” It was ranked on Rolling Stone Magazines, “500 Greatest Albums Of All Time.” Meanwhile, with rumors all the time of a J. Geils reunion, Wolf stayed silent on that subject, instead seeming comfortable to perform with his own group of new musicians and living off royalties.

During the 1990’s and into the new Millennium, Wolf continues to be seen around town. I would often be surprised when I got to a show early, only to see Wolf already seated, by himself, and waiting for the show to begin. I began to feel bad for him. Was this a chosen land of exile or did it reveal some deep loneliness. Nobody knew but Wolf and he wasn’t talkin’.

One night I went to see Bob Dylan and Merle Haggard at the Orpheum Theater in Boston. I bought a ticket from some guy about ten minutes before the show and it was in the very last row of the theater. During the opening acts, I was scouting an empty seat closer to the stage and out of the corner of my eye I spied one next to the soundboard. I asked a very attractive young lady if the empty seat was taken, she said no and invited me to sit down. It wasn’t until after I had taken off my coat that I realized that I was two seats away from Peter Wolf and the attractive young woman was his date.

During intermission, I introduced myself to this woman and to Peter Wolf and he greeted me with a thin smile and handshake. I had just happened to have finished reading a book about rock and roll called “Mansion On The Hill,” in which he was quoted extensively. So I asked Wolf about his impressions of that book. Speaking softly he told me he thought it was “just okay.” Conversation over? Not quite. Wolf actually surprised me by asking me what I thought about it. I told him I believed the author was too critical of Springsteen’s manager Jon Landau, who Wolf knew from days long ago in Boston. Wolf responded saying he thought it was too critical of a lot of people, including his friend Bruce. Then he got up and went backstage alone, ostensibly to say hello to Dylan, leaving me to have the most pleasant conversation with his knockout beautiful date.

I stayed and watched Dylan’s entire set sitting next to Wolf, looking over occasionally to see a man deep into the music. I left the theater, with the nice buzz that comes after a great show. But I was also happy to see that Wolf was not alone on this particular night.

After all, one can’t remain a lone wolf forever.

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Backgammon, Bootlegs and Best Friends

In 1978, I was 17 and newly arrived at Syracuse University. SI can still remember how nervous I was that first day, as my Dad and I drove up the long driveway to Mount Olympus. That’s where my dorm was – Flint Hall. I didn’t know a soul in Syracuse. But I was fortunate to meet a guy in those first days who became my best friend in the world. His name was Kevin and from the time we first met, we were inseparable.

Kevin had it all and was everything a guy could ever hope for in a friend. He was incredibly kind and polite; he was deeply considerate, sensitive and sometimes shy. But what was most important was that we loved the same things. Kevin and I loved the same music, the same books, the same movies. And Kevin was from New Jersey, that mystical place in my mind from whence hailed my rock and roll idol Bruce Springsteen. Kevin also shared the same passion for Springsteen and he taught me all I needed to know. From then on it was Kev and Kel (me) and we made quite a team.

Except for when we were in classes, or on certain weekends when Kev would drive to visit a girl he liked who was going to school in Springfield, Massachusetts, we were always together. Whether we were going to see a film on campus, or spending some time being recruited by the fraternities that we secretly swore to never join, Kevin and Kel were pretty much one. We go to all the frats and drink their beer and eat their pizza while we secretely vowed to never join one. We’d go to “floor parties” in the dorms, where we met other great friends. Guys who lived on my floor like Mike and Eric, not to mention the girls who lived on the upper floors of Flint and all over Day Hall.

And the one thing that we both loved to do in those quieter hours after finishing with studies was to play backgammon.

I remember we played mostly in Kevin’s room (his room being “cooler” than mine that freshman year) and we played all the time! We were both about equally good (or perhaps equally bad) but we just loved to play. We played to beat the band and the band of course was Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band.

Of course we had to have a soundtrack on those halcyon evenings, and Bruce and the boys delivered on that. We had all of Springsteen’s regular releases and his bootlegs too. We’d listen to them over and over wearing out the grooves in the vinyl. He had an old fashioned turntable and stereo that he and his Dad had rigged up and it always sounded great. And when it came to bootlegs he had his favorite and I had mine.
His was a show from the Paramount Theater in Passaic:

Many Springsteen fanatics, like myself believe this to be his greatest recorded show of all time. But for me, well, I had another favorite that I found down on Marshall Street in the grimy, dusty used record store. It was know by just one word, but it was a thing of beauty and joy forever. It was “Winterland.”

And so there we were. The world could be coming to an end but it wouldn’t bother us. Kevin and I had our backgammon, our Bruce and our friendship. We’d sit and play game after game and talk. We’d talk about the girls we liked and some who liked us. We’d talk about our classes and goofy professors. We’d talk about our pasts, presents and we’d talk about our futures. Kevin swore that one day he would own his own Taco stand in San Diego (while he hardly owns a Taco stand, he currently lives just outside San Diego…how prophetic!).

Life was good. The wicked ways of the world hadn’t had their chance to turn us back. We were young, and free and having a hell of a time.

And the first snowflake hadn’t even fallen.

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Human Rights Now! Tour – Chimes Of Freedom

Yesterday I wrote a long post about my encounter with Bruce Springsteen and the Human Rights Now! tour as it stopped in Philadelphia. I got an incredible amount of positive feedback to my humble story and I thank every person who contacted me to tell me how it touched them. I was my pleasure to write.

Today, as something a little different, I thought I’d let you sit back and enjoy the amazingly inspirational song that was such a big part of that tour, Bob Dylan’s, “Chimes of Freedom.”

May it inspire you as it inspired me.

For all time!

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Bruce Springsteen And Me On The Streets of Philadelphia

September 19, 1988. A warm autumn day and cool night that I will never forget. It was my first real close encounter with Bruce Springsteen. And it all took place during the Human Rights Now! tour stop in the city of Philadelphia.

I was working for a radio station just outside Boston and it was a big enough radio station to secure me press credentials for the Human Rights Now – Amnesty International tour stop in the city of brotherly love, about eight hour train ride from Boston.

I have relatives who live outside Philadelphia with whom I spent an evening. The next morning I took commuter train downtown and found my way to the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Phlly. That would be the location of an early afternoon Amnesty International press conference and with nothing else to do, I made sure to get there nice and early.

In fact, I was one of just a few folks on the second floor lobby of an over-sized ballroom when I arrived around 10:00 a.m. Indeed it was quite fortuitous that I was there so early, as I would end up with a seat in the front row in that big old ballroom, which by the time the press conference began would be packed to the rafters. But not quite yet.

I had been looking forward to this day in September for quite some time, not only because it would be the occasion of a monumental, historic concert, but perhaps even more importantly because I was a card-carrying member of Amnesty International. Meaning that I believed fervently in their mission and had pledged to do what I could to advance their cause.

I was also excited because I has passes to the pre-concert press conference. And there was an extremely slim chance that I might be able to ask, Bruce Springsteen, my favorite Rock and Roll musician a question at the press conference.

Once arrived I was offered a cold, refreshing glass of orange juice and I showed the kind Amnesty International hosts the credentials from my radio station. They checked off my name and gave me a bevy of press passes, stickers and lanyards, as well as a concert ticket for that night and some reading material in the form of a huge pamphlet about Amnesty International and the Human Rights Now!

A brief time later, they opened the doors to the ballroom where the press conference would take place. There was an long table at one end of the ballroom where the Amnesty International organizers and concert performers would “meet the press.” The only slight problem problem was that nobody had placed name tags on this monster of a table, so I had to guess where to possibly get a chance to ask Bruce a question. Not an easy task considering the length of the table, but as you’ll see, luck was on my side.

Then came The Long Wait. It seemed like days, but it was probably three or four hours. During this time I had an opportunity to read the material I was given three of four times over, get to know a very nice young lady who was seated to my left. She was very sweet. Eventually it was time for the press conference to begin and I was shocked when I looked behind me to see the room filled to capacity, but also were more still and television cameras than I had ever seen in once place before. It reminded me of Sting’s line, “Too many cameras and not enough food.” I felt like the whole world would be watching. Imagine this and multiply it by fifty.

Finally all the Amnesty organizers and performers filed into the room single file to bits of applause. Bring up the rear of the parade were Peter Gabriel, Sting and Bruce.

You can imagine my delight and Bruce proceeded to sit directly in front of me, with Sting and Peter Gabriel to his immediate left. Now I had been to my share of Bruce Springsteen concerts in my life and once of twice I had been fairly close to the stage, but this was the closest I had ever been to the man, Bruce Springsteen. If you’re a fan and never been up close and personal, I can only say it is a surreal feeling. However, I tried to remain cool, especially since I was on assignment as a journalist and I did my best to listen and not stare at Mr. Springsteen, who looked like he was still shaking the cobwebs out just five feet away. You think it’s easy? Try it sometime.

But seriously the press conference was both very informational and inspiring; each person at the table introduced themselves and talked about why they were involved. There were tragic stories of Human Rights abuses around the world as well as heroic stories of those individuals who had dedicated their lives to expose and eradicate these kinds of abuses. There were videos shown. And everybody at this long table formally signed a Declaration of Human Rights, in show of their solidarity to this cause.

Then it was time for questions from reporters. I really hoped to ask Bruce a question and now that I was so close, my odds had improved three fold. I had three good ones prepared, just in case somebody else beat me and asked one of my questions before I could. The tension mounted.

I was about to raise my hand, grab a nearby microphone and with hundreds of people watching, listening and taking notes (not to mention all those cameras) ask my personal hero a question. I had no idea whether I would sound like Daffy Duck or Minnie Mouse when I opened my mouth, or if I would lose my nerve completely. But I had the advantage of being in the front row. (Tip to young reporters: Try to always sit in the front seat.) So up went my arm and I was called on and handed a microphone. I had to say my name and where I was from and address the question to a particular person. So with slightly shaking voice I said:

“Bruce, you’ve played some incredibly emotionally moving concerts over the years. Looking back, how do these Human Rights Now shows compare to all of those others over the years?”

Bruce looked at me, gave me a brief obligatory answer, then paused a bit, shifting in his seat. And then he really got into a more sustained answer, giving examples of some of the really incredible moments on the tour to date and saying that on several occasions he was moved to tears during performances. I could be wrong but I think he intuitively knew that I was hoping for a good long answer, not just a short three word response, and he delivered. What a guy.

The rest of the press conference was a blur, except I remember going up to Bruce Springsteen when it was over. Bruce was gathering up some papers and I asked him if he would sign my Declaration of Human Rights pocket book, which he did, and then I shook his hand thanking him for his music. Bruce looked up, signed a few more autographs, and softly said, “I gotta get outta here.” And then did.

As I tell everyone who I tell this story to the concert that night at the now demolished JFK stadium in Philly was icing on the cake. It was a gigantic place and as the crowd trickled in I knew it was going to be a night to remember.

When he hit the stage Bruce Springsteen was absolutely on fire, but that was no real surprise to anyone.

Bruce and the band delivered what one critic called, “a scorching set of music,” with Springsteen pulling the song “Jungleland” out of his hat, after a long absence from his sets. Max later said that he wishes he had a picture of Clarence’s face when Bruce called for that song. Sting took a verse of “The River,” with David Sancious on keyboards, a mini-reunion of sorts. Nobody could have know that night in JFK stadium that these Human Rights Now! shows would be the last shows Bruce Springsteen and The E Streeters would play for more than a decade.

And at the end of the concert, the headlining musicians performed an rendition of “Get Up, Stand Up.”

And we did. We got up, straggled home exhausted but inspired, and many of us that were there that night, myself included, continue to fight for Human Rights for everyone, now!

I hope that having heard this story, you will too.

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