Obie Bziebzic's been a fan since she was 14 and Bruce Springsteen was earning his Master's degree playing the old rock masters in Jersey bar bands. In a way, she and Bruce grew up and out together, so it's fitting that Obie emulates her Boss' aura of mystery. She even refuses to grant interviews. Now in her late 20s, the woman everybody knows simply as Obie is the ultimate Springsteen fan, living the ultimate Springsteen fantasy as a member of the family.
It's written in Springsteen's performance contract that two "front row center" tickets must be reserved at every show for Obie's pleasure. At the Cpaital Centre on Tuesday night, a bandana-clad Obie came out to cliam her seat five minutes before showtime. Her army surplus jacket was bedecked with Springsteen buttons and "The Pass" that parts the waters between common fandom and family. At intermission, Obie hustled backstage, just like the band. When she misses a show -- which is not often -- the Springsteen camp gives the seat to a pair of fans in the seats farthest away from the stage.
In the mass of true believers, Obie may well be the first true Bruce Springsteen fan. From the very beginning, her faith has been constant. Obie's also the head of the Bruce Springsteen Fan Club and handles all its correspondence. "I do everything out of love," is all she will say. Here are some of the things Obie does for love (and the regular paycheck that Springsteen insisted she start accepting several years ago):
She cooks Bruce's meals a lot when the band is on the road.
She takes care of Bruce's house (she's listed in the credits on "The River" with the notation "Homework").
She's a bit of the earth mother, the one whom the other hard-core fans (who follow Springsteen all over the country) gather around for special bits of news. If Rona Barrett were a rock 'n' roll gossip, she'd kill for Obie.
"Without her, Bruce'd be nothing," laughs one of Obie's friends, another hard-core Springsteen fan. She pulls out a party invitation from Obie that's signed "the girl who washes Bruce's underwear." The friend leans forward and whispers, "of course, everyone knows he only wears underwear when he goes to the doctor or when he's trying on pants in a store." Put that one in your trivia files, fans.
"Brrooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo- ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo- ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooce!!!" It's the rock mantra of the '80s, and Springsteen fans are like no others in rock 'n' roll. Their mania is exultant and celebratory; the arena is the Promised Land and the show is a camp-meeting with a fervent gospel of hope and unity preached defiantly against hard times. The fans are everyday people who know all the lyrics by heart, right down to Bruce's body English, and who let him be the heart at the center of their collective passion.
There's a transcendent moment at the beginning of "Hungry Heart," when the entire audience sings the first verse while Springsteen holds out his microphone; for a long moment, the audience is Springsteen. It's a moment that leaves one thunderstruck, but it is indicative of the unique bonding Springsteen has achieved. In rock 'n' roll history, there's never been anything like it. The fact that it can occur in a 20,000-seat hall is close to a miracle.
Some are willing to go far to show their faith. A half-dozen fans followed him around for every show of a recent 35-date European tour. Stateside, there's no dearth of hard-core fans, including Dore Epstein, a 22-year-old hot-dog vendor from Philadelphia who was catching her 32nd show of this particular tour. Since some of those shows have taken her as far as Ann Arbor, Mich., she admits that "right now, I'm unemployed."
On Tuesday, Epstein was sitting in the front row with Denny DiGinto, a 27-year-old Philadelphia mechanic, a virtual rookie who has caught only a dozen shows on this tour. Actually, they were saving Dave Dennenberg's seat. Dennenberg's the real hero because he spent 6 1/2 days -- that's days, not hours -- in the ticket line. Even though there was no guarantee there would be front-row seats. At one suburban mall ticket office, Dennenberg got close to the 30 or so people who joined him for the Springsteen ticket vigil. Except for one- or two-hour-long breaks a day for food and hygiene, the "Group" spent the week "just talking, playing cassettes. And it was finals week, so a lot of people did a lot of studying." However, Dennenberg says that "next time, I'd rather pay $150 for the ticket like everybody else does."
Two young girls in the front row did, in fact, pay $200 apiece for their tickets. They wanted to remain anonymous. "If our parents ever found out, they'd ground us for a year." A local employe of CBS Records, Springsteen's label, admitted he drove to Philadelphia and waited in line for tickets to the Boss' six Spectrum shows because "the label can only buy so many tickets. It's my job to be here, but it's also fun."
And there was Jayne Fazio, 25, a free-lance photographer out of New York who's been following Bruce since 1975. Since she carries a huge stack of mounted photographs of the Boss and the Bossmen at work and at play, Fazio is surrounded by other fans who want to gaze at the images that will spark to life momentarily on stage.
"He's got this one in his living room," she beams, holding up a color shot of Springsteen and sax player Clarence Clemons in a fairly typical hug. Someone asks how much the photos are, how many she's sold to the Boss himself. Fazio recoils in shock. "They're not for sale, and I could never sell him a picture," she shudders, casting off the word "sell" as if it were made of scarlet letters. As she has done all along the tour, Fazio got her ticket to Tuesday's show by putting an ad in Rolling Stone; she paid $90 for it, but she doesn't seem to mind. After all, she's got a lock of Bruce's hair in the tiny locket around her neck. It hangs close to her heart.