Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Magic in the Night, 35 Years Burning Down the Road: Remembering My First Springsteen Concert

(Note: This was originally published on the 30th anniversary, July 17, 2014; updated only to fix some links and stats)

It was the summer of 1984.

I was 15 and heading into my junior year of high school. Although I had a close circle of good friends--some of whom I still maintain--I was never part of the in-crowd, a jock, popular with girls or even involved in any school groups, such as student government, theater, Mathletes or chess club.

I wasn't an unhappy kid, but back then--as now--I frequently filled in the blanks with rock 'n roll.

I had already become a pretty heavy fan of The Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks, Led Zeppelin and David Bowie, but also around that time relished several (quasi-)heavy metal acts such as Ozzy Osbourne, The Scorpions, Def Leppard, Rush, Triumph, Sammy Hagar and AC/DC. (My tastes haven't changed all that much, though I've long since embraced artists like R.E.M., The Ramones, Husker Dü and Metallica, who I wasn't hip or adventurous enough to care about at the time. In fairness, none were played on radio stations I listened to.)

Other than babysitting a couple times, I hadn't ever worked prior to that summer, but my Aunt Mickey, who was a longtime secretary in a large downtown law firm, helped me get a job in the firm's mailroom. This largely entailed serving as an on-foot messenger, delivering packages throughout the downtown Chicago area from the office at 208 S. LaSalle.

Along with indoctrinating me to the Loop's streets--from a geography perspective; I was only 15--the job was fantastic for expanding my experiences well-beyond white, Jewish, teenage suburbia.

I worked with men, not boys; mostly African-Americans who made skin color, age, social strata and much more forever immaterial in terms of comfort, camaraderie and assumption.

That summer was wonderful for Cubs fans, many whom had never before witnessed a winning team. I was taken by my boss--Wallace Winburn was his name, if I remember correctly--to a couple games, with some lawyer-donated seats in the first row behind the Cubs' dugout. I especially recall being at a game where the Cubs beat the Mets and Dwight Gooden (which I mentioned in this Wrigley Field 100th Anniversary post).

But in terms of singular events that summer, one stands out above all others.

On the first leg of his Born in the U.S.A. tour, Bruce Springsteen came to the Rosemont Horizon on July 15, 17 and 18, 1984.

I was already a big Boss fan--since The River album in 1980, from which I scoured backwards and forwards, buying Born in the U.S.A. (on cassette) upon its release in early June '84--but had been too young to attend any previous concerts of his.

And though I had already gone to some concerts the year before with friends, and even Rush at the same venue just a few weeks prior, no one else I knew was into the Boss and I, of course, was too young to drive, let alone own a car.

Tickets had long since gone on sale and sold out, but I really wanted to see Bruce.  

I can't recall why the Sunday night show on July 15 wasn't the one I targeted--now I would attend all three--but for whatever reason I focused on the second of Springsteen's 3-night stand, on Tuesday, July 17.

So one day at lunch--it may have even been the Monday before the Tuesday night show--I walked to a hotel on north Wabash Avenue called the Oxford House, which had a ticket broker office inside.

I paid $35 for a single ticket that had a face value of $15. My folks weren't thrilled about this, but I was spending money I had earned.

On the 17th, I worked downtown, but upon getting home that evening my mom and dad drove me to Rosemont. (Then called the Rosemont Horizon, the venue is now dubbed Allstate Arena.)

And after the show--which lasted nearly 4 hours, past midnight or close to it--they picked me up. I think they even took me to the nearby McDonald's afterwards.

Touring with the E Street Band--with Nils Lofgren having taken over for Steven Van Zandt--Bruce
was every bit as good as I could have hoped.

And more.

This isn't my jersey, as I don't know what became of it,
but I had one just like it.
You can see the setlist from that night here, but the only songs I explicitly remember being played are "Born in the U.S.A." (which opened the show), "Jungleland" (which I knew but didn't instantly recognize, hence why it's stuck in my memory) and a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Street Fighting Man."

But however much my memory may have eroded, I instantly knew that I was seeing someone absolutely incredible and unique.

And, to me, a hero.

Perhaps even a god. 

I've now seen over 800 concerts in my life--by at least 350 different artists--many of which I've found fantastic.

Yet since July 17, 1984--and reiterated 49 more times, including the following summer but mostly within these past 20 years--there has been one truth:
In terms of live rock 'n roll performers--or really, those of any ilk, IMHO--there is Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and then there is everyone else.
Who knows how much that night changed my life?

My Bruce Springsteen concert log, as of July 17, 2019. Click to enlarge.
Perhaps I still would've become as much of a Springsteen fanatic, and seen him just as often once the internet made tickets easier to buy, tours easier to track (leading to numerous Thunder Road trips) and concerts easier to get to. (See graphic nearby for my current list of Springsteen shows attended; click to enlarge it.)

It's possible that my tendency to turn to art--including not only rock music but eventually a much broader spectrum of entertainment and culture--rather than alcohol, drugs, self-pity or depression during times of loneliness and adversity was already begotten by the time I got to the Horizon, or more holistically, developed long thereafter.

And perhaps it wasn't just that evening that made me comfortable going to concerts, many other events and even around the world all by myself, although it helped that the adults next to me were nothing but nice.

Likely it was as much the mailroom job itself that helped me acclimate to people and surroundings different from what I was accustomed, or perhaps not always perceived as "perfectly safe."

But for numerous reasons, I'm obviously glad I went to that Springsteen show on July 17, 1984, and happy that my parents helped get me there.

For whatever sentimentality, nostalgia, rite of passage pathos or pseudo psychology this recollection is dripping with, the truth is it was Springsteen's performance itself--quite possibly, with Michael Jordan's Bulls debut still months away, the best I had ever seen anyone do anything--that mattered most.

Let's hope I never forget I was there, but even if I should, my initial Springsteen concert experience and what it's meant to my life, will remain part of me.

To paraphase a famous lyric from "Thunder Road":

Show a little faith, there's still magic in that night.

Thanks, Bruce. Thanks, Mom and Dad. Thanks, Aunt Mickey, who like my father is no longer with us. Thanks, mailroom colleagues at Altheimer & Gray in the summer of 1984. Thanks, ticket broker long since gone from a hotel that no longer exists. Thanks, fellow Springsteen fans, who treated a kid with kindness and made a solo concertgoer feel forever part of a "tramps like us" community.

Thanks for that night and the 35 years since.

Thank you for reading this; I hope you have a similar story. 

And wherever you may be, Rosie come out tonight:

(This video is from a show a week after the one I attended, at which "Rosalita" was also played)

Thanks for reading. Since initially writing this remembrance, in 2014, I had the opportunity to briefly meet Bruce in November 2016 on his book tour. You can read about that experience here.

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