Arms. Thousands of arms. Upraised, bulging, pounding the air. American flags, undulating. The earth, shaking. The crowd, singing -- every man a rock star, and every woman and child, too.
"All right," sang the crowd. "Oh, yeah," they roared. Then a deafening wave of shouts, rearing up and crashing down into a low insistent wail.
As in Springsteen, who played last night at RFK Stadium to about 54,000 mostly orderly fans, vowing "to inflict massive damage on the entire city."
He must have meant good damage, judging by people's response.
It was a big night for pop music lovers in Washington. In addition to the RFK assemblage, thousands had converged on the Capital Centre for a Tina Turner concert. And a somewhat smaller, but very enthusiastic, crowd at Merriweather Post Pavilion rocked to the music of Crosby, Stills and Nash.
It was 7:42 when Springsteen bounded onto the stage, a huge American flag unfurled behind him and his E Street Band, and began his first number, "Born in the U.S.A.," and 11:15 when he ended one of his last, "Born to Run." The response throughout was deafening.
"Just splendid," said Stan Brown, a 60-year-old, white-haired dentist from Baltimore. "Being here, I feel like I'm living in the future. It's exciting."
"He sings about people who work, and work hard," said another member of the crowd, Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.), who has lately assumed the role of Springsteen's ex-officio interpreter in the nation's capital. "He's the greatest rock 'n' roller since Elvis."
But Rep. Tom Downey (D-N.Y.), seated with the Bradley family in the mezzanine, was not so sure. "I've been a Springsteen fan since this afternoon," he said. "When I found out he was from New Jersey, I was compelled to come, because I've never heard of anybody from New Jersey who was famous or who'd made it."
Happily, Downey could be heard by very few in the crowd -- mainly Bradley, who smiled wanly -- and before long, both legislators were up on their feet, moving to the music with a dignified clapping of hands.
Others were not so restrained. Like the woman who "came, saw and partied naked" -- at least according to her T-shirt. Like Mike Gillman, a University of Maryland student, who hoisted his 230-pound friend, Mike Wagschal, in a show of exuberance while doing his own rendition of "Thunder Road." And like countless thousands who danced in the aisles, or otherwise collided in passionate clinches.
Across the District line at the Capital Centre, Tina Turner roused her own audience with a medley of dance tunes, and picked someone else's hit to end the concert. "He's nearby," she coyly said, "so he might hear us." As the audience began to cheer Turner kicked into a version of Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark."
Maybe Springsteen did hear. During his own rendition of the number, he bounded toward the audience and plucked out a young woman standing in front to sashay her around the stage. Helped off the stage by crowd control staffers, she returned to her seat in a swoon.
"I couldn't believe it was happening," said Stacey Purse, 25, of Fairfax, the impromptu dance partner. "One of the guards looked over at me and said, 'You're the one he wants.' I didn't hear the music. I didn't know I was dancing. I was out of my mind."
Springsteen also took the opportunity, during his introduction to "Hungry Heart," to give a fund-raising plug to the Capital Area Community Food Bank, and to talk about his concern for the treatment of Vietnam veterans and U.S. policy in Central America.
"Go read a history book," he urged his fans. "If you look at where we've come from and where we're going it's pretty scary. Just take a walk from the Lincoln Memorial to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial."
Police reported a total of 21 arrests at RFK, including seven for ticket scalping, three for vending without a license, three for disorderly conduct, and two for drug-related offenses. Two people were arrested out of a crowd of about 200 who late in the evening tried with varying success to crash the concert.
Out at the Capital Centre it was 9:20 when the lights went out and the screaming began. Only a moment later, with a flash of light and a puff of smoke, Tina Turner, decked in a skintight white outfit, strutted on stage.
"Hi, everybody," she said, as nasal and scratchy as ever.
The crowd yelled hello.
"Are you ready for me?" she asked playfully.
The crowd answered affirmatively.
Then, she thrust one of her famous legs into the air, immediately provoking more cheers as she began "Show Some Respect." The crowd of 14,640 was on its feet as soon as the music started, dancing and clapping.
Turner may be one of rock 'n' roll's sexiest antiques, but many at the concert knew her only from her recent album and TV appearances.
To some, Ike might have been Eisenhower.
The audience, which defied any racial or generational stereotypes, offered a narrow spectrum of reasons why they had come.
"She's hot," said Joanne Laughry, 17, of Columbia, Md. "She keeps your attention and keeps you moving."
Phil and Eileen Marletta, a middle-aged couple from Clinton, Md., had differing reasons for being there.
"I like the way she looks," said Phil. "I like the way she sings."
But Eileen cut off her husband's moderate words. "He likes her body," she said. "If he won't tell you, I will."
She added, "I wanted to go to the Springsteen concert."
But for every frustrated Springsteen fan there was an avid Tina follower.
"She has the sexiest mouth a man would ever want to see," said Putney Brown, 17, of Malibu, Calif.
The many binoculars took on a special significance, since it was never clear whether viewers were gaping at her beauty or admiring her durability.
At 8:30 at Merriweather Post Pavilion, when Crosby, Stills and Nash came on singing, "if you can't be with the one you love, honey, love the one you're with," the crowd stood and screamed and mouthed the lyrics with their eyes closed and took out their joints to get high.
Almost 10,000 people, most of whom seemed to be in their late teens and early twenties, turned out for the concert, which was opened by the Band.
Five teen-agers from Rockville got tickets a couple of weeks ago. Thinking over the night's musical options, Erik Rubinson, 17, said Crosby, Stills and Nash are better to listen to than Springsteen. "They're calmer and they can sing, and Bruce can't," he said. "They have a nice, easy, smooth sound, and it says something. Even though we're like the next generation, we can still relate to the music."
"Yeah," said Jon Hammer, 14. "They're mellow."
Thom and Paula Schafer were of the old school. They sat on a blanket and sold T-shirts (children and adult sizes) that they had tie-dyed themselves.
"More than anything, this music just brings back a flood of memories about the peace movement," said Paula, 28.
Said Thom: "I was on the fringes, the lunatic fringes, of the peace movement . . ..
"I heard Crosby, Stills and Nash at Woodstock, and I guess I'm curious to see if they've changed."
"I like the lyrics because they have meaning. A lot of the new lyrics have no meaning," said Andy Stoller, 18, of Bethesda. "Another thing about Crosby, Stills and Nash is, it's the first thing that I was exposed to. My guitar teacher played it for me."
"An important element to a concert is grooving . . . See, those people over there are grooving," said Sean Tracey, 19, of Oakton, pointing to a lanky youth in a psychedelic T-shirt.
"He's got the long hair and he's dancing. Well, you don't have to have long hair, but it works better. I used to have long hair, but then I got a job."
There was a healthy contingent at RFK from Springsteen's home state. And Marilyn Dennies, 47 -- "I'm not a teen-ager but I love him" -- came all the way from Salt Lake City, where she is a nurse at the University of Utah Hospital. She said she learned about the concert last Sunday, moved heaven and earth to change her work schedule to be there, promised two patients in the rehabilitation ward that she'd try to get them Springsteen's autograph.
"One is a paraplegic and one's a quad, and they were both hurt in an auto accident," Dennies said. "They begged me and pleaded with me and I promised them I'd do what I could."
Dennies said she paid a scalper $170 for her seat on the stadium floor, leaping at the chance to see her beloved Bruce.
It was hard to tell the scalpers from the scalpees before the concert.
As skulking packs of entrepreneurs hawked tickets for six times their face value outside RFK Stadium, police officers of the D.C. Vending Enforcement Unit tried to collect their scalps.
"What can I say? You got to play by the rules," said one victim, a young man sitting in the back of a police van, his hands cuffed behind him. "But I'm not the main man. I'm just a soldier."
Bound for a night in the D.C. central cellblock -- a fate Bruce Springsteen would have no trouble setting to music -- he had been arrested on suspicion of "soliciting," which carries a fine of $50 to $300. Police reported making three arrests by the time the stadium opened its gates at 5:30 p.m.
"I can't even tell you the last time I went to a rock concert," said Officer J. Rentz, 34, who worked the area -- casually undercover in shorts, sports shirt and walkie-talkie -- from a Honda Civic with Maryland plates. "When I want to listen to Mr. Springsteen, I can hear him on the radio."
Among the ardent fans were countless Springsteen look-alikes -- young men with red bandannas knotted under scraggly chins.
"I think he's the last rock 'n' roll singer," said one of them, a college student from Milan named Luigi Mettica. "He's a man who tells something true to the people -- emotions, hopes, pain. Everyone can see himself in Springsteen."
Mettica, 23, said his favorite Springsteen tune is "Born in the U.S.A.," known in Italy as "Nato Negli U.S.A."
A similarly attired fan from Valencia, Spain, 24-year-old Enrique Navarro, said the singer is nearly as beloved in his country as he is in America.
Early in the evening, the stadium parking lots became a vast picnic ground where Springsteen celebrants -- many of them in groups of eight, the maximum number of tickets that could be bought at once -- downed beers and danced to the blarings of car stereos. Mike Sparks of Vienna, Va., added to the festivities by setting off a barrage of Jumping Jack firecrackers.
"My mom is mad at me 'cause I didn't get her a ticket," Sparks said. "She's probably bumming out at work right now."
Several parking spaces down, Mark Conroy, Coors in hand, jumped to the pulse of "Thunder Road," thundering out of his haggard-looking 1970 Oldsmobile. "Bruce is my idol. You can put that down, I don't care," said the University of Virginia finance major. "I'm going to go crazy. I sure feel sorry for Section 133."
"He's not all glamor like a typical performer," said his friend Laurie Cook, who is prelaw at the University of Maryland.
"We believe in Bruce and Bruce believes in us," added a third in the group, U-Va. international relations major Tom Cumber.
Perhaps the most loyal Springsteen fans, if ever that distinction is officially recognized, were eight pilgrims from New Brunswick, N.J. -- "just 20 minutes from where Bruce lives," according to loyalist Pete Appignani, 28, not to be confused with his younger first cousin, whose name is also Pete Appignani.
"We're both named after our grandfather -- it's just an Italian custom," said Pete No. 1, who has attended 10 Springsteen concerts so far. "The reason I'm here is that Bruce is simply the greatest."
Pete No. 2, asked his favorite Springsteen lyric, came up with a line from "Rosalita" that seemed to fit the occasion:
"Some day we'll look back on this and it'll all seem funny."