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Light the Fuse: My 5-year Boss-aversary

Boss Night I: April 15, 2009

Los Angeles Sports Arena

Total Albums owned to date: 1 (Greatest Hits 1995)

Total Boss Playlists on iPod: 0

As recently as five years ago, Bruce Springsteen would have been no higher than third on my list of favorite performers, and while that’s still pretty high, he would have been a great distance behind Tom Petty and U2, and probably further below Metallica, AC/DC, and G’n’R. I was a child of the 80s, so my point of entry for The Boss was Born in the U.S.A., as it was for literally nations full of people. I distinctly remember the title track playing at my request over and over in my house, but even then I couldn’t name one other song on the album. I was seven, and that was the mode I was in. I remember the Live 1975/85 album sitting on the floor in our living room, but I don’t remember even once looking back at the song titles. It seemed a redundant purchase at the time. I mean, we had BITUSA, what else was there to know?

So I showed up at a parking lot adjacent to the venue to meet married friends of mine, and the tailgating got pretty intense. He warned about serious consequences if we were late to the show and were to miss “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” I’d never even heard it. Never even heard of it. So we were all about ten sheets to the wind as we entered the crusty old arena.

Anyway, we’re in our seats, drinks in hand, and soon the band takes the stage. We’re in the middle level, in the back corner of the arena from the stage. Pretty good seats. Next thing you know, there he is. And the first thing I realize, is that even from this far away, and even though I know he’s 5’9” (exactly my height), somehow he looks huge. He counts it off and suddenly “Badlands” is playing, and the whole place is going berserk inside of five notes. The image of all three levels of the arena jumping instantly and in unison was burned into my margarita-soaked conscious that night, and that song’s aura has grown to occupy a space in my mind’s Mt. Bossmore, mainly through witnessing it live all these years. Then came my friend’s request, “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” I don’t remember how I felt when I first heard it. Then came a string of songs I really didn’t know about. There was no Tom Morello on this version of “Tom Joad” and I’m pretty sure I used it as a chance to refuel on Margaritas.

I’m back in time for “I’m Goin’ Down” which I feel vaguely certain was on BITUSA. We are nine songs in, and there are two thoughts running through my mind. I have no idea how long the Boss plays for, but I was warned by my friends that Boss shows are not simply Greatest Hits recitals. “The Boss plays what the Boss wants” is how I believe he put it. So I’m somewhat prepared to not hear “Born in the U.S.A.,” but there’s no lying, I am secretly dying to hear it. I mean, how does an average fan like myself go to a Springsteen show and not expect/hope to hear the song that defined my childhood decade?

The Boss has already taken signs from the crowd, and he’s even climbed into the stands for a stretch. Standard, cliché rock star stuff. And all I can think is how it works. Totally. Without cynicism, he’s genuinely excited to be performing, and these people love him.

We get to “The Wrestler,” and then the main set closes with “Born to Run,” and thank God I saw the HBO reunion special so that I understand that it had a much more sacred spot in the canon than just the opening song on “Greatest Hits.” The encore starts, and after “Tenth Avenue,” a song I only know from the Super Bowl halftime performance a few years earlier, there comes a string of songs I don’t really know: “American Land,” and “Land of Hope and Dreams.” That leads into “Rosalita,” and as Bruce and the band blow it out for the final charge, you can feel the audience rise up for its final stand as well. Overall, I’d say the crowd was ecstatic about the song choice, and it did kick ass. A few spectacular guitar spins, and the deal was sealed. The place went nuts, and we trudged out into the evening dark.

I walked out strongly considering going to the show the next night, but decided the finances just weren’t there. So where did I stand? I definitely felt like I’d made a connection, and my new Boss iPod playlist reflected it. “Badlands” would go on to kick off numerous drives, but this was at best a Catholic baptism, with the baby lightly dipped in the water. The full on, wear the robes and immerse yourself full body in the river moment hadn’t happened, and I didn’t get the sense that it would. It was a great night. Bruce was the genuine article. I could cross this off the bucket list. I can honestly say that I had no idea what was coming next. Years later, it would be ironic, because as I look at the set list, now, I’d be ecstatic to see that show. I can remember actually listing songs that I’d like to hear him play in an upcoming show and then looking up this show’s set list and being stunned to realize I’d heard them. (You can include “Johnny 99,” “The Promised Land,” and “Spirit in the Night” on that list.)

Regardless of what I knew at the time though, a fuse had been lit…..
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