I've written fondly about "The Boss" many times, including a recollection of the first time I saw him live in 1984 with the E Street Band, reviews of several more recent shows in Chicago (1, 2, 3) and elsewhere, album reviews, lists of favorite songs and much more. (If you're viewing this in web format, note the Springsteen label link at top and the [Search Bar] at right.)
I've openly shared that Bruce Springsteen is my all-time favorite musical artist and concert performer (by a vast margin), and while I'm also a great aficionado of theater, film, art, comedy, etc., etc., he's my most beloved entertainer or creator in any genre.
Except for family and friends, the Boss has probably meant more to me than anyone, and the 49 times I've seen him live in concert--mostly with the E Street Band, since 1999, but also without and well before, in Chicago, Milwaukee and far-beyond--have not only provided hours of soul-enriching, life-enhancing entertainment, but been the impetus for numerous road trips that have brought other joys.
Thanks to an appearance Monday afternoon at Books-A-Million at Clark & Adams in Chicago's Loop, I now have, with photographs to prove it.
Though, perhaps apt given the title of Bruce's new autobiography, Born to Run--famously also the name of his watershed 1975 album and its title song--it was an encounter that went by at Usain Bolt speed.
Not that I didn't cherish the opportunity.
Garnering excellent reviews and becoming an instant best seller, the Born to Run book was released on September 27, just four days after Bruce's 67th birthday and less than two weeks after Springsteen completed his latest world tour with the E Street Band, on which I saw him five times (Chicago, Milwaukee, Columbus, Chicago, Washington).
The first two weeks after the book's release found the Boss doing in-store appearances, in his hometown of Freehold, NJ, New York City, Philadelphia, Seattle, L.A., other West Coast stops and back to Boston, but with no Chicago event scheduled.
Amazon, which I quickly started reading with zest and enjoyment, but put aside during the Chicago Cubs' playoff run and have been lax to get back to.
Then somewhat out of nowhere--with the book's promotion now leading to the Dec. 6 release of an audiobook, read by Springsteen himself--last Monday my friend Brad, also a big Boss fan, texted me that Bruce would be doing a Chicago appearance.
From accounts of the earlier book tour events, I knew that--unlike most "book signings"--Bruce wouldn't actually be signing books at the store. Rather, those who wished to attend needed to buy an advanced ticket, entitling one to a signed book and a quick chance to meet the Boss and get a photo taken.
Yes, I already owned the book, but this was a chance to meet my hero, and autographed copies of Born to Run have been selling for about $500 on Ebay so another $38 was a bargain in any regard.
The event was listed on the Books-A-Million Chicago Facebook page--which now has several photos of Bruce with fans--as lasting from Noon to 2pm, but we were alerted that the line to get in would begin at 9am and that Springsteen was known to begin early in other cities.
Brad works downtown but I was heading there from my home in north suburban Skokie, so we decided to meet at the back of the line at 11:00am, figuring our ticket assured us of a meet-and-greet and a signed book by 2:00pm.
Of course, at 11:00am, there was already a line in the alley just north of the store, stretching from Clark to Lasalle, down Lasalle to Adams, back east the whole block to Clark and north to the store entrance.
So Brad and I--who have several common interests in the realms of music, movies and politics--had plenty of time to talk, and even engaged a friendly stranger just in front of us, in what wound up being roughly 3 hours of banter.
Given the length of the line, and the pace with which it moved while still taking 3 hours to reach Bruce--I believe he showed up around Noon--it quickly became clear that there wouldn't be much time to converse with the Boss.
Even far less than the rather brief dialogue I had imagined.
I had read that Books-A-Million, as elsewhere, had provision to collect cards and gifts fans wanted to leave for Bruce--whether he'll actually see or read them is anyone's guess--so I made and wrote a card saying what I really wanted to tell him. (Which, I imagine, approximates what many others might say.)
This took some pressure off, as I knew I wouldn't have the time to say all that I wrote, nor likely the poise to be glib and conversant without peeing down my leg.
I kind of wanted to ask Bruce something I had long wondered about whether two of his songs on 1978's Darkness on the Edge of Town album--"Racing in the Street" and the title cut--are overtly meant as an intertwined pair, with the same characters invoked in both, as something of a continuing narrative. (It seems possible, but I've never heard confirmation of this theory.)
So I essentially settled on wanting to say something along the lines of:
"The Cubs won the World Series and I get to meet my hero [and you won the Presidential Medal of Honor] in the same month. It's been a pretty damn good month, the election notwithstanding."(Bruce was vocally anti-Trump and appreared with Hillary at a rally the night before Election Day.)
Yet while I had years, months, weeks, days and even hours to plan things out, when the line finally approached the Boss, it was clear that there was almost no time for conversation.
To its credit, the Books-A-Million store organized everything very well, including taking people's coats before they approached Springsteen, and having several staff members to take cameras from each guest and shoot photos (even knowing to use the iPhone's burst mode).
So I had dropped off my card, was wearing my Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band baseball cap and "Show a little faith there's magic in the night" (from "Thunder Road") t-shirt, had my iPhone ready for the designated photographers and had traded digital cameras with Brad, as we were hoping to take a few more pix of each other with the Boss.
I approached my idol, shook his hand, put my arm around him, muttered, "This is a real honor" (probably twice), posed for a photo, said "Thank you for everything," shook his hand again and moved on.
If Bruce Springsteen said anything to me in return, I honestly can't tell you what it was.
But that's OK.
I met the Boss and wound up with a satisfactory photo, and actually several more than I expected (though all basically the same).
It was really, really damn cool, something I'll never forget and forever be glad I did. I now have an autographed copy of Born to Run, and my regard for Bruce Springsteen was only elevated.
But as I soon was asked by friends Dave and Paolo if meeting Bruce was better than the Cubs winning the World Series, and if it was the "greatest day of my life," I will convey--clear-eyed, honestly and with no lack of sentimental apprecation--the answer to both questions is definitively "No."
Certainly, "meeting the Boss" was a thrill, but let's be honest, I didn't really meet the Boss. It's not like I hung out with him at a bar after his motorcycle broke down (never trust one built by Billy Joel, I guess).
This was more of a blur with a couple of mumbles and the pressing of an iPhone shutter button.
So just in terms of encounters with heroes, I can't say this matched the time I bumped into Muhammad Ali in Las Vegas. This doesn't make for a story like the time a then-married Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin came into the Kinko's I worked at in Tarzana, CA to get passport photos taken. Or, though I wasn't there, when Frank Thomas happened to show up at the Champaign, IL bar where my best friend Jordan happened to be on my birthday (circa 1995).
Even in terms of book signings, ones accompanied by enjoyable speeches--by Elvis Costello, and my favorite author, Harlan Coben, just 2 months ago--or a bit more interaction (Wayne Gretzky, Cal Ripken Jr., George Carlin, Roger Ebert, Pete Townshend) have offered more in the way of acute and/or or active gratification.
I'll never forget interacting a bit with Buddy Guy and Paul Westerberg after shows, and once saw Jeff Tweedy of Wilco perform in a living room.
In seeking autographs at stage doors, I have "met" Billy Crystal, Hugh Jackman, Antonio Banderas, Chita Rivera, George Hearn (who coolly recorded this for my sister's birthday) and will always relish Denzel Washington telling everyone just to line up down 44th Street before he signed everything and joshed with me upon fumbling to take a photo. (He's probably the coolest celeb I've ever encountered, though I've also met many sports legends at card shows, including the delightful, now-deceased Tony Gwynn.)
Meeting Bruce, as I did, was not as enriching or fulfilling as seeing one of his phenomenal 3-to-4 hour concerts, nor would I say it tops my beloved Cubs finally winning the World Series or my having attended three of the Series games.
I don't know a means for measurement, but this was not "better" than other sensational concerts, brilliant theatrical performances, life-changing travel experiences or wonderful personal interactions and events.
I've had several blessed moments in my life--including just over the past few months--and this was just one more of them.
Though I guess I can forthrightly say...
It was the best meeting with the Boss I've ever had.