Bruce Springsteen turns 67 … and 30

 

What's New - Nov. 1979 (Springsteen photo by Andrea Laubach)
What’s New – Nov. 1979
(Springsteen photo by Andrea Laubach)

Bruce Springsteen turns 67 today, and he’s celebrating with a new autobiography Born to Run,  to be released Sept. 27. But as we all age along with Bruce, I’m thinking back to a landmark birthday he shared with an arena full of us in 1979. It was Madison Square Garden, Sept. 22, the first night of Springsteen and the E Street Band’s two-night appearance on the bill of the all-star MUSE concerts against nuclear energy. At midnight, as September 23 dawned and Bruce turned 30, he stopped the music to say, “Well, I’m over the fucking hill. I can’t trust myself anymore,”* and then threw a chocolate birthday cake into the seats down front.

Luckily, I was up in the rafters on my own dime, a baby rock critic covering the show for a free Boston music rag called What’s New. It was a wild night. The Boss was in a bit of a mood, and he was exorcising it all on stage. But this show was unforgettable for more than Bruce’s birthday, or the gigantic charity rock show vibe. This was the night Springsteen debuted “The River” from an album that wouldn’t be released for more than a year. He sang this new ballad at a deliberate pace, with immediacy and fierce passion, with no guitar in hand, no barrier, between himself and the audience. The performance was hypnotic and heartbreaking, and watching him, it was as if the thousands of souls around me slipped away; there was only the sweeping, piano-driven melody and the open-ended story of young lovers beset by accidental pregnancy and harsh economic realities.

One part of the song, in particular, grabbed me. It was the moment the narrator slips into a memory of the river as Eden, the lovers “tanned and wet down at the reservoir,” only to dissolve it in the next frame with a vision of the lovers visiting a dry riverbed: “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse …” Did Springsteen become a poet that night, or was my 22-year-old self finally alive to the poetry that was there all along?

With the 2016 River anniversary tour just wrapped up, it seems like the right time to share this clipping from the vault and remember the night that journey started. Happy Birthday, Bruce Springsteen. Long may the river run.

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*He’s quoting a saying we had back in the ’60s and 70s: “Don’t trust anybody over 30”.

(P.S. – I know it looks like the review says “his 11 hour set,” but, sadly, that was a typo. I think it was supposed to say “1 1/2-hour”. And love to my friend Holly Cara Price, who made this adventure happen.)

©Joyce Millman, The Mix Tape, 2016

Here’s “The River” from the movie of those MUSE concerts.

4 thoughts on “Bruce Springsteen turns 67 … and 30

  1. Richard Cobeen September 23, 2016 / 8:13 pm

    If I remember correctly from Dave Marsh’s Born to Run book, which I embarrassingly read numerous times when I was 17, Bruce threw the cake toward Lynn Goldsmith, who was taking photos and Bruce didn’t want her to because they had a relationship but were not on good terms. It was the only negative story Marsh had about Bruce.

    • Joyce Millman September 23, 2016 / 8:16 pm

      Not sure if he threw it at her, but he did haul her up on stage at one point before having her tossed out. But that’s a whole ‘nother story.

      • Richard Cobeen September 24, 2016 / 7:51 am

        It’s been so long since I’ve thought about that story that I mixed up the throwing of the cake and the hauling up on stage. Thanks for posting your review from way back when. I remember how excited we were to see Bruce in the film and hearing “The River.” It was just barely worth sitting through “Barrel of Pain.”

        I do wish Springsteen had thought of a different title for his book. It was kind of cheap when Marsh titled his book Born to Run almost 40 years ago because everyone knew the title even if they didn’t know that much about Springsteen. I don’t think Bruce has that problem now.

      • Joyce Millman September 24, 2016 / 9:39 am

        Laughing over Barrel of Pain.

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