". . . So I said, 'God, my father wants me to be a lawyer,' cause he says lawyers ownthe world - but I don't think they do, yet - and my mother wants me to be an author and write great books. But they don't understand - You see, I got this guitar . . .
"Nothin' happened for a long time. Then all of a sudden I heard thunder . . . and I saw lightnin' . . . and outa this big cloud came three words -
"LET IT ROCK! "
Bruce Springsteen, on stage in Kalamazoo, Mich., Aug. 7, 1978
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN'S face, small-featured and symmetrical from straight on, is heavy-jawed and angular from the side, as if all the planes in his skull were trapezoidal and jutting outward from his mouth. A mug-shot identification would be impossible: Full front, he's Al Pacino; in profile, Sly Stalone. He has the slightly parted teeth of a child with newly tightened braces. Close up, you can see his mementos: a hairline scar, almost a frown line, between his eyebrows; a wider, whitened mark along his jaw; and a curve in his nose that would fit the knuckle of a fist. The beard is gone, but its bluish ghost remains.
Seen from the audience, his gestures evoke as many classic film performances as his vocals recall musicians. He has James Dean's wicked grin and Brando's Kowalski crouch down pat; he is a Scorsese character struggling to escape incoherence.
"Kalamazooooooooo!" he screams, and the images freeze focus in the wide eyes of 3,000 faithful: the serene black giant Clarence Clemons, in scarlet instead of his customary white; Miami Steve Van Zandt, looking like a cross between Bob Welch and Che Guevara in a beret and guerrilla drabs; Max Weinberg in opaque black glasses, and the Boss himself in black T-shirt, cords and a narrow-lapel jacket.
The audience has succumbed before the first number. Their conversion is Pentecostal, primitive, intoxicating. Flaming matches and lighters dot the bleachers like Los Angeles from the air. "Bruuuuuuce," they wail, fists in the air. "Bruuuuuuce!" They have caught fire, and they will keep him burning for wellover three hours, encore after encore.
"The Boss Is Back": the man who, says John Rockwell of the New York Times, delivers "the best live show in rock 'n' roll"; the man Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times calls "a pure rock figure of the . . . Presley-to-Stones magnitude"; the first music superstar to make the covers of Time and Newsweek (simultaneously on Oct. 20, 1975) before Rolling Stone (Aug. 24, 1978).
"Some all-hot half-shot was headin' for the hot spot. . . . "
From "Blinded by the Light."
It would be the perfect still for a war movie. The tail-light-red spot bleeds down onto two back-to-back figures. The gridiron bulk of Clemons braces his huge saxaphone like a bazooka; the crouching Springsteen machine-guns his guitar from the stomach.
"I used to think I was a very difficult person from what I was like on stage, but then I realized that's riduculous. There's no division; it may like heads or tails, but it's the same thing. People's persona or whatever - it's you. It's not like you put on a particular face, it's like you pull up different things from inside at different moments."
Cut to Springsteen silhouetted in a stark white light, fingers stretched toward the sky.Cut to Springsteen, collar turned up Ratso-style, forearm raised against some invisible assailant. Cut to Springsteen atop an amplifier in an animal crouch. "I was a teen-aged werewolf. One night I looked up at the full moon, and hair came out all over my face, and a guitar sprouted outa my hip." Cut to Springsteen imitating Dylan, Jagger, Holly, Waits, all with the actor's natural aplomb.
"Outside the street's on fire in a real death-waltz between what's flesh and what's fantasy . . ."
From [WORD ILLEGIBLE]
Springsteen is waltzing on the line between conductor and instrument; the music is all his, but he has given himself over to the music. It is not just dominant in his conversation, it is pervasive, the hook for any concept.
"I've never understood how some people can just detach themselves from the music. If it's not real" - by which he means cathartic - "I think that in the long run, it won't hang on. I don't see anything wrong with being a 40-year-old rock 'n' roller if you keep it real for yourself."
It's past midnight, and exhaustion has pressed dark thumbprints under his eyes. His wet hair clings to his head, making his eyes seem even larger and darker. He resorts to gestures and body language to augment the vaguer speeches.
Exhaustion can also be a blessing. In its numbness, he can speak with only a trace of pain about the years of legal troubles (in a contest with his former manager Mike Appel) that kept him out of the studio just when he most needed to follow up on the critical and commercial success of "Born To Run."
The lawsuits, and the meticulous nine-month recording session pregnancy of "Darkness on the Edge of Town," his latest album, have left Springsteen deeply in debt. By the end of this tour - which he plans to extend through New Year's with only a brief break in October - he hopes to have brought the debt "under control, like a fire - still burning but under control." He also expects to have dispelled any lingering doubts about "Darkness."
"Tonight I'll be on that hill with everything I've got ,
Lives on the line where dreams are found and lost, ,
I'll be there on time, and I'll pay the cost
For wanting things that can only be found in the darkness on the edge of town."
From "Darkness on the Edge of Town"
"Darkness" is a colder, more demanding album than the sax-hot "Born To Run." "There's a little more isolation in the characters, less people on the record," he says. For a lot of people to get into the album, they needed to come and see the show.
"That's understandable. I almost always like all the songs better live. On a record you really can't get dynamics - you can only get an illusion of dynamics.
"It's so compressed. You can only fit so much on a disc," holding his thumb and finger two inches apart, "and over the radio they compress it more," nearly closing the gap. "I'm still learning how to make the kind of records I wanna hear. 'Born To Run' has a more exotic sound than 'Darkness'; we made it very dense. If someone was making a 'well-recorded' album, they'd say this album doesn't have any highs or lows - but that's what gave it part of its personality."
The struggle to break with Appel and his company, Laurel Canyon, was bitter and divisive, but the bruises are fading. "Look, I'm 28 years old. I did three albums before I got own publishing rights. The Stones, all those people, Dylan - well, I don't know about Dylan, he's pretty smart - they all waited longer than that.
"There were just two things that really bothered me," he says, the lines in his face growing tight. "My songs - they weren't mine. I wrote 'em, and they weren't mine.
"The other thing was, we were like the guys in the trenches, we were getting shot at and (Appel) was sitting in headquarters."
However, even Arpel's strongest critics don't believe he intended to sabotage Springsteen's career. Robert Sptiz, a fee-lance music critic and former executive vice president of Appel's Laurel Canyon Music, who delivered some of the most damaging (to Appel) testimony in the case, says Appel always believed he was acting "in Bruce's best interest."
"Have a little faith, there's magic in the night."
From "Thunder Road"
The same themes - cars, loves, the obliteration of man-made boundaries by the darkness - recur throughout Springsteen's writing. The night has been his domain ever since he moved from Freehold, 15 miles inland, and the constant bickering of his blue-collar family, to Asbury Park at age 18. Fascinated by the parade of characters in the faded resort town, he wrote about the waitresses and the prostitutes, the loners, the dopers, the frayed old men. He described the blocks on the west side lined with custom auto shops and the costume-jewelery carnival lights washing out into the ocean. He made his garish little paradise tangible to the restless adolescents in New Jersey and California and Tennessee and Arizona. In what he once called the aurora of Ashbury Park sputtered and burned the gypsy dreams of his generation.
". . . Sit at the light
as it changes to green
with your faith in your machine
off you scream into the night.
And you're in love with all the
wonder it brings
and every muscle in your body sings
as the highway ignites.
You work nine to five
and somehow you survive
till the night."
In the heat of the high speed races, some of his friends saw even death as an escape; Springsteen saw his ticket in the music. "The cars only interested me as vehicles for writing my songs," he says now. "The night - that was the open moment.
"[Escape] was the idea of rock 'n' roll in the beginning. Like Chuck Berry says, 'Up in the mornin' and out to school,' radadatadada . . . he's talking about school, but it's certainly not the emotion you experience sitting in class. It's more like 'ring, ring goes the bell.'
"Or like Dylan - 'stuck insida Mobile with the Memphis blues again.' Obviously he's talking about something (specific), but yet the song is a release. It's an expression. If you feel said, and you cry, you let it out; if you feel happy, you laugh, you let it out. It's in the expression of those things that you transcend them . . . And it's in expressing the humdrum, daily existence that you break out. It's like . . . but let's rock! 'Up in the mornin' and out to school' - but let's rock! Or get to work late - but let's rock!
"The dogs on main street howl
'cause they understand
If I could take one moment into my hands ,
Mister, I ain't a boy, no, I'm a man ,
And I believes in the promised land."
From "The Prominent Land"
Maybe there is no destination - just the jorney.
"I don't know what gets you there; it's such a personal thing. I don't know if you ever get there - I don't know anyone who has. It's in the trips, or whatever. It's not a question of whether you get there or whether you don't; it's the old 'life is in the living' thing.There's a lot of value in following a particular ideal."
So the music takes Springsteen - into the air, onto the piano, down flat on the floor and, in one of his trademark numbers, out into the audience on "Spirit in the Night." Some of it is deliberately theatrical - "Next to the music, the movies have been the (most) important source of inspiration for me" - but most is unconscious.
"There's only a certain amount of control you can exert once you get on stage. What's happening out there in the audience and what's happening here with me is what gives each show its own personality. It's different every night because you're never in exactly in the same place. It depends on how I'm feelin' physically and . . . metally.
"It doesn't change the songs, but it shades them. Some songs will be friendlier . . . or more distant. But I enjoy both sides. Even with when I'm really struggling, sweatin' it out even then to get it out is a big, big thrill.
"I used to think I did it for myself - which is true, I definitely do - but at the same time . . . some nights you're sick, or you're not feelin' as good as you should, or you have anxieties about goin' on - which you do - and some kids comes up before the show and says, 'Hey man, I been waitin' for you to come here for a year .' And I think, 'Holy smokes, this guy's been waitin' a year - I gotta go out and play!" And that bolsters you up inside."
"Prove it all night, prove it all night ,
And I'll prove it all night for you."
From "Prove It All Night"
The "fans" are not the only ones Springsteen plays square with. In Kalamazoo, for instance, where the smallish ice hockey stadium was only half-filled, Springsteen had been guaranteed a minimum sum from the box office receipts; but "this guy didn't make any money off me tonight - he lost it." So Springsteen changed the contract and returned some of the money to the promoter.
"So it's one for the books" he shrugs, doing a Brando. "You can't be a jerk about it."
All lyrics quoted by Bruce Springteen. "Blinded by the light," C1972, Laurel Canyon Music, Ltd; "Nights," "Thunder Road" and "Jungleland," C1973, Laurel Canyon Music, Ltd; "Darkness at the Edge of Town" and "The Pomised Land," C1978, Bruce Springsteen.