An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed a lyric to the song "Born to Run." The line is from "Thunder Road." This version has been corrected.
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He's the One
"A car accident," I muttered, barely able to look him in the eye. Then I blurted out, "Your music changed my life!"
Bruce just smiled and signed his name on the giant cast in purple Magic Marker. I coated it with clear nail polish the next morning.
Five weeks later, I paid $15 (nearly double face value) for an 11th-row seat to see Bruce at Princeton's Jadwin Gym. Finally freed from my cast, I stood on a folding chair that night and screamed "Fever!" begging him to sing a rarely performed studio outtake that I loved. He walked to the part of the stage directly in front of my chair, pointed straight at me and launched into "Fever."
As Bruce's popularity ballooned, getting concert tickets got tougher. When I'd strike out at Ticketron, I'd turn to scalpers.
During "The River" tour in 1980, I found a guy through the Village Voice classifieds who was selling a pair of tickets to the first night of a two-night stand at Madison Square Garden for $300. I was to meet Joe -- 6-foot-5 and blond, he said -- with the cash at a bar on 34th Street. I'd never held $300 in my hand and was sure I was going to get mugged on the subway downtown.
Joe was easy to spot. We made the transaction, and he proposed a cheaper deal to get me in the second night. For $30 he sold me a New York Rangers ticket that looked a lot like the Bruce ticket. I had to meet him outside the Garden the night of the show and follow him through a turnstile manned by a buddy in on the scheme. I handed the guy my Rangers ticket and a folded-up $10 bill, and he passed me through. But I had to repeat the drill three or four times more, slipping a $10 bill to one of Joe's co-conspirators at every level of the arena until we reached the top, where I was set loose to spend the show dodging ushers because I had no seat.
The next month, Joe offered me a third-row seat to a Bruce show at the Spectrum in Philadelphia at face value. It was scalper's parlance for asking you out on a date. All I had to do was get to New Jersey, where he had chartered two coach buses to ferry scores of top-dollar customers to the show in Philly. I rode with Joe in his Cadillac. As soon as we settled in our third-row-center seats, so close I thought I'd faint, Joe pulled out a plastic sack and planted his snout in a mound of cocaine. I was horrified, adamant that no substance -- not even a drop of beer -- should fog one second of a Bruce concert.
A brawl broke out in the parking lot afterward. It turned out that Joe had misled several of his customers about the quality of their seats, and they were furious. I made it back to New York. And I never saw Joe, or dealt with scalpers, again.
Asbury Park was an easy bus ride from New York's Port Authority. By day, it was a sad, forsaken seaside town littered with shuttered storefronts and suspect motels. But by night, the bars throbbed with music.
Like Asbury itself, the disc jockeys at the Fast Lane and Stone Pony seemed stuck in a time capsule. They didn't play the Clash or Devo or the Talking Heads, all the rage in New York at the time, but instead broke out Wilson Pickett's "Land of 1,000 Dances," Arthur Conley's "Sweet Soul Music" and Little Richard's "Shout." The bands that headlined Asbury's clubs -- John Eddie and the Front Street Runners, Beaver Brown, Cats on a Smooth Surface -- were as crazy about Bruce as the kids who packed the dance floor, all of them keeping one eye on the front door and hoping that, when midnight struck, Bruce would saunter in and play.