Thanks to Bruce & brucespringsteen.net
(Dear Friends & Fans, a little glimpse from center stage.)
Six Air Force Thunderbirds have just roared overhead at what felt like inches above our backstage area, giving myself and the entire E Street Band a brush cut. With 20 minutes to go, I’m sitting in my trailer trying to decide what boots to wear. I’ve got a nice pair of cowboy boots my feet look really good in, but I’m concerned about their stability. Two days ago we rehearsed in full rain on the field and the stage became as slick as an ice pond. It was almost impossible to stand on. It was so slick I crashed into Mike Colucci, our cameraman, coming off my knee slide, his camera the only thing that kept me from launching out onto the soggy turf. When Jerry the umpire in “Glory Days” did his bit, he came running out, couldn’t stop himself and executed one of the most painfully perfect “man slips on a banana peel” falls I’ve ever seen. This sent Steve, myself and the entire band into one of the biggest stress-induced laughters of our lives that lasted all the way back to our trailers. (A few Advil and Jerry was okay.)
I better go with the combat boots I always carry. The round toes will give me better braking power than the pointy-toed cowboy boots when I hit the deck. I stuff my boots with two innersoles to make them as fitted as possible, zip them up snuggly around my ankles, stomp around in my trailer a bit and feel pretty grounded. Fifteen minutes…oh, by the way, I’m somewhat nervous. It’s not the usual pre-show jitters, not “butterflies,” it’s not wardrobe malfunction anticipation anxiety, I’m talking about five minutes to beach landing, “Right Stuff” “Lord Don’t Let Me Screw the Pooch in Front of 100 Million People” one of the biggest television audiences since dinosaurs first screwed on earth kind of semi-terror. It only lasts for a minute…I check my hair, spray it with something that turns it into concrete and I’m out the door.
I catch sight of Patti smiling. She’s been my rock all week. I put my arm around her and away we go. They take us by golf cart to a holding tunnel right off the field. The problem is there are a thousand people there, tv cameras, media of all kinds and general chaos. Suddenly, hundreds of people rush by us in a column shouting, cheering…our fans! And tonight also our stage builders. These are “the volunteers”. They’ve been here for two weeks on their own dime in a field day after day, putting together and pulling apart pieces of our stage over and over again, theoretically achieving military precision. Now it’s for real. I hope they’ve got it down because as we’re escorted onto the field, lights in the stadium fully up, the banshee wail of 70,000 screaming football fanatics rising in our ears, there’s nothing there. Nothing…no sound, no lights, no instruments, no stage, nothing but brightly lit unwelcoming green turf. Suddenly an army of ants come from all sides of what seems like nowhere. Each rolling a piece of our lifeline, our earth onto the field. The cavalry has arrived. What takes us on a concert day 8 hours to do is done in five minutes. Unbelieveable. Everything in our world is there…we hope. We gather a few feet off the stage, form a circle of hands, I say a few words drowned out by the crowd and it’s smiles all around. I’ve been in a lot of high stakes situations like this, though not exactly like this, with these people before. It’s stressful, but our band is made for it…and it’s about to begin…so happy warriors we bound up onto the stage.
The NFL stage manager gives me the three minute sign…two minutes…one…there’s a guy jumping up and down on sections of the stage to get them to sit evenly on the grass field…30 seconds…they’re still testing all the speakers and equipment…that’s cutting it close! The lights in the stadium go down. The crowd erupts and Max’s drumbeat opens “10th Avenue.” I feel a white light silhouette Clarence and I for a moment. I hear Roy’s piano. I give “C”‘s hand a pat. I’m on the move tossing my guitar in a high arc for Kevin, my guitar tech, to catch and it’s…”ladies and gentlemen, for the next 12 minutes we will be bringing the righteous and mighty power of the E Street Band into your beautiful home. So…step back from the guacamole dip. Put the chicken fingers down! And turn the TV ALL the way up!” Because, of course, there is just ONE thing I’ve got to know: “IS THERE ANYBODY ALIVE OUT THERE?!”
All I know is if you were standing next to me, you would be. I feel like I’ve just taken a syringe of adrenalin straight to the heart. Before we came out, I had two major concerns. One, something might go wrong beyond my control. That completely disappeared before we hit the stage. Tonight our fate is in the hands of many, so no sense for useless worry. Two, I was worried that I would find myself ‘out’ of myself and not in the moment. My old friend Peter Wolf once said ‘the strangest thing you can do on stage is think about what you’re doing.” This is true. To observe oneself from afar while struggling to bring the moment to life is an unpleasant experience. I’ve had it more than once. It’s an existential problem. Unfortunately, right in my wheel house. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be a bad show. It may be a great one. It just means it might take time, something we don’t have much of tonight. When that happens, I do anything to break it. Tear up the set list, call an audible, make a mistake, anything to get “IN.” That’s what you get paid for, TO BE HERE NOW! The power, potential and volume of your present-ness is a basic rock and roll promise. It’s the essential element that holds the attention of your audience, that gives force, shape and authority to the evening’s events. And however you get there on any given night, that’s the road you take. “IS THERE ANYBODY ALIVE IN HERE?!”…there better be.
I’m on top of the piano (good old boots). I’m down. One…two…three, knee drop in front of the microphone and I’m bending back almost flat on the stage. I close my eyes for a moment and when I open them, I see nothing but blue night sky. No band, no crowd, no stadium. I hear and feel all of it in the form of a great siren like din surrounding me but with my back nearly flat against the stage I see nothing but beautiful night sky with a halo of a thousand stadium suns at its edges. I take several deep breaths and a calm comes over me. I feel myself deeply and happily “IN.”
Since the inception of our band it was our ambition to play for everyone. We’ve achieved a lot but we haven’t achieved that. Our audience remains tribal…that is predominantly white. On occasion, the Inaugural Concert, during a political campaign, touring through Africa in ’88, particularly in Cleveland with President Obama, I looked out and sang “Promised Land” to the audience I intended it for, young people, old people, black, white, brown, cutting across religious and class lines. That’s who I’m singing to today. Today we play for everyone. I pull myself upright with the mike stand back into the world, this world, my world, the one with everybody in it and the stadium, the crowd, my band, my best friends, my wife come rushing into view and it’s “teardrops on the city…”
During “Tenth Avenue” I tell the story of my band…and other things “when the change was made uptown”…. It goes rushing by, then the knee slide. Too much adrenalin, a late drop, too much speed, here I come Mike…BOOM! And I’m onto his camera, the lens implanted into my chest with one leg off the stage. I use his camera to push myself back up and…say it, say it, say it, say it…BLAM! BORN TO RUN…my story…Something bright and hot blows up behind me. I heard there were fireworks. I never saw any. Just the ones going off in my head. I’m out of breath. I try to slow it down. That ain’t gonna happen. I already hear the crowd singing the last eight bars of “Born to Run” oh, oh, oh, oh…then it’s straight into “Working on a Dream”…your story…and mine I hope. Steve is on my right, Patti on my left. I catch a smile and the wonderful choir, The Joyce Garrett Singers, that backed me in Washington during the Inaugural concert is behind us. I turn to see their faces and listen to the sound of their voices…”working on a dream”. Done. Moments later, we’re ripping straight into “Glory Days”…the end of the story. A last party steeped in merry fatalism and some laughs with my old pal, Steve. Jerry the Ump doesn’t fall on his ass tonight. He just throws the yellow penalty flag for the precious 40 seconds we’ve gone overtime…home stretch. Everyone is out front now forming that great line. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch the horns raising their instruments high, my guitar is wheeling around my neck and on the seventh beat, I’m going to Disneyland. I’m already someplace a lot farther and more fun than that. I look around, we’re alive, it’s over, we link arms and take a bow as the stage comes apart beneath our feet. It’s chaos again all the way back to the trailer. A toast…our families, friends, Jon, George, Brendan, Barbara, with Don Mischer, Ricky Kirshner, Glenn Weiss, Charles Coplin, and Dick Ebersol, the great team that put it altogether and the end of a good football game.
The theory of relativity holds. On stage your exhilaration is in direct proportion to the void you’re dancing over. A gig I always looked a little askance at and was a little wary of turned out to have surprising emotional power and resonance for me and my band. It was a high point, a marker of some sort and went up with the biggest shows of our work life. The NFL threw us an anniversary party the likes of which we’d never throw for ourselves (we’re too fussy) with fireworks and everything! In the middle of their football game, they let us hammer out a little part of our story. I love playing long and hard but it was the 35 years in 12 minutes…that was the trick. You start here, you end there, that’s it. That’s the time you’ve got to give it everything you have…12 minutes…give or take a few seconds. The Super Bowl is going to help me sell a few new records, that’s what I wanted because I want people to hear where we are today. It’ll probably put a few extra fannies in the seats and that’s fine. We live high around here and I like to do good business for my record company and concert promoters. But what it’s really about is my band remains one of the mightiest in the land and I want you to know it, we want to show you…because we can.
By 3 am, I am back home, everyone in the house fast asleep and tucked in bed. I am sitting in the yard over an open fire, staring up again into that black night sky, my ears still ringing…”Oh yeah, it’s alright.”
Read Bruce’s Super Bowl Journal with an album of Danny Clinch’s behind-the-scenes photographs of the event.