Six of us went out to Indian Hills, just west of Denver, in the foothills of Colorado back in the summer of 1981. We were a band of sorts (we played instruments and drank a lot) with a manager of sorts (he had money, drank a lot, and didn’t play anything). Not long after we got there, we heard that Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band were playing at Red Rocks, the amphitheater built right into the foothills down in Morrison, and that it was sold out.
I didn’t know a whole lot about him at the time. I had heard some of the E street Shuffle album and dug that; I also had heard he was great in concert. A good friend of mine, Ray, who I trusted in all things musical, and Nick, one of the guitar players who I went to Colorado with, had seem them back in Minnesota (our place of origin) and went on and on about how Bruce and the sax player were up in the balcony during this one song and they played for over five hours. That was an incentive; but when I think back now, I think there was more to it—more than an inkling, more like a calling, a push, a drive, something telling me that this would be something to remember.
Many things could have stopped me: Red Rocks was miles away, I didn’t have a vehicle, and I had no money (except a drinking allowance from the manager). We were up drinking most nights, so it would have been easy to write it off as too much work. I don’t think I honestly made up my mind until I got up the morning of the concert and asked if anybody wanted to go with me. They all declined due to different states of hung-over-ness, lack of interest, or too much common sense, seeing as how the show was sold out and Red Rocks was known for its security measures. But again, I was answering a higher calling—call it “my curious innate musical obsession.”
I got down there with lots of time to spare and just started walking around, scouting things out. I was trying every angle to get in and walking by the different entrances a number of times. Finally, when the show was about to start, in desperation I climbed up one of the cliff sides (the seating is surrounded by huge rocks). It was pretty easy and I was up there fairly well hidden in a cave-like opening when the show started. It had started to rain, so I was one of the few with a natural umbrella when the band came out and started playing. Like I said, I didn’t even know most of the songs at this time, but right off I started getting this choked up feeling—that combination of joy, sorrow, hope, and loss coming from the voice, the words, the sax, the piano, the overall sound—and it started raining a little harder and they did “Who’ll Stop the Rain” by CCR. Then Bruce said they’d have to stop until the rain let up; and at the same time, these two guys in security t-shirts came around the corner and told me to get down from there and escorted me back outside the concert area.
Was that it?
I was tired and hungry, but more determined than ever that I was not going to miss this show. It was like I knew that this was the beginning of something—the inspiration I needed to keep on keeping on. Maybe I’ll quit drinking and really get it together and our band will get this hot and I’ll write that one earth-shattering song and we’ll make it man and play here someday, I thought. Like I said, I was tired and hungry and hung-over. Or maybe I’ll just get in this damn show and bum enough for a beer or two from some hot lady—that’d be all right, too.
Earlier, I had found this beat-up ticket lying on the ground from an old show—Willie Nelson, I think it was. I had tried using it before at a couple entrances (there were entrances all around, on both sides and at the bottom and top of the seating area). These were all general-admission shows, so once I got in I didn’t have to worry about anyone checking me or my ticket out, telling me where to sit or what show I was at. I thought I’d give it one last shot and walked again to the entrance at the top. I strolled up to this young guy and handed him the worn-out, ground-in-dirt, old-as-Willie ticket.
I don’t know to this day why he did what he did—maybe he had noticed me there all day and felt sorry for me, or felt I’d paid my dues, or maybe he knew of and felt the redeeming power of the music played and yet-to-be played that night, or maybe he was just that kind of guy and it was a good day; but he looked at me and said, “Go on” or “Get in there” … or he may have just nodded at me, trying not to get in any trouble himself. All I know is, he made my day to say the least and I walked through—in—on the summer air and then spun around and said, “Love you, man,” which is something I do not say often enough.
As soon as I hit the stairs going down towards the stage, the sun came out. Bruce and the E Street band came out and we began a long, brilliant love affair. My hunger fulfilled, my tired bones awoken by the synergy shooting off the stage and back, back and forth, audience to band, heart to heart, the motion emotion.
I’ve seen him eight times since then, all back here in Minnesota (where I came back to the following year, in ’82).
I’ve seen both Born in the USA shows (the first shows of that tour in ’84), theTunnel of Love tour in ’88, the Lucky Town shows without the E Street Band (admittedly, not quite the same), both nights of the union tour in 2000, the Rising tour, the Vote for Change tour in ’04 with REM and Neil Young and John Fogerty, and the latest reunion tour—’08, I believe. Not as many shows as some hardcores, but I was never in a position to travel and spend that kind of money. I usually got the tickets the day of the show from generous scalpers or waited in lines to get a lottery number. I got decent seats sometimes; I sat behind the stage or at the opposite end of the stage other times; and I stood at the front of the stage at Vote for Change.
I’m hooked—dry-mouthed, dancing junkie butterfly stomach, heart-pumping, choked-up, pure-exalted-tears-elated-feeling hooked. Those huge Buddha on high notes on the sax; those pure pious piano arpeggios; those heavenly hellish triple threat guitars; Max’s unbelievable power & resilience—they all get me re-hooked every time and then, those words torn from our lives and sung from somewhere so deep and so true.
Yeah, I’m hooked—hooked on the feeling. Yes, I’ve had to shell out some big money since that first free time, but I always feel an inner freedom, faith, and hope at their shows and you can’t put a price on that. They say the first time’s free and I’ll always remember it fondly—discovering, uncovering, recovering, a shared part of myself and then sharing it with others, which is all part of something bigger than ourselves. Struggling all day, never giving up, then ending up alone, together, basking in the soulful giving light, moving with the stars of that endless Detroit wheels medley Colorado night.
Bruce and Clarence climbed their own imaginary mountain that night and at the top they found their instruments, their destiny, and our futures. I had climbed my own hard rock face, shed tears inside the rain, and came away with a memory to carry on—maybe do something great, maybe just live and remember. A tramp: born to run, born to live another day.
I’m adding this last part as I edit this piece:
Clarence Clemmons died this past fall and I need to say something about that. His death has an added sadness to it because it’s an ending of the E Street Band and that cohesive magical sound. Bruce has the power, presence, and songs to put on a show better than any artist out there; but as I mentioned, when I saw him with the smaller band on the Lucky Town tour, it wasn’t quite the same and it won’t be the same without Clarence. The E Street Band is extremely tight, with amazingly talented players; but they also had what seemed to be a unity of spirit—and Bruce and Clarence had a special bond on stage that made you think of your own special friends; and when he blew his solos, the audience felt the notes as if they were a tangible thing we could breathe in, hold close, and share together. My first choked-up moments came when I heard those notes.
Bruce and the band are planning to tour in 2012 and I’m hoping to be there—and I know it will be great, but there will be an empty spot that can never be replaced.
Mark A. Garcia is a drummer, keyboardist, and a song & story writer who drives vulnerable adults to work and back home again for a living (barely). He resides in Pine City, Minnesota near the Snake River with his wife, Patty; his dog, Yuffie; his cat, Eddie; and other less-tame wildlife. They have two daughters, Jamie and Riva, who live in St. Paul and Minneapolis respectively. Mark has had his music played on local college radio and CD write-ups in local rags; he has performed in venues and bars as a drummer/keyboardist, performed short pieces and plays of his own creation with and without his family, had a couple stories published in Whistling Shade, and has written two eBooks (taking place about thirty years apart), which recall his travels out west, first as a single, hard drinking man in his late twenties and then as a sober-but-still-poor-and-crazy married man in his mid-fifties.
Written with humor and poignancy and recalling some of the politics of the times, what these two e- books also have in common is the spontaneous adventure of being on the road with little money, going where fate or mechanical mishaps take you, and the amazing people/characters you meet when you leave yourself open.
Both eBooks are accompanied by pictures and an original three-song mp3; they can be found at http://www.ootlooc.com. His songs and lyrics are experimental, eclectic, sarcastic, sad and problematically poetic; they can be found at: http://www.onetalkingshoe.com. Email Mark at email@example.com.