I remember being there. I was high up almost touching the sky. Nothing could bring me down short of a bullet to the brain or some other grand misstep. I’d never been this high. Not to see a show at least. Not to see HIM. It was like an out of body experience. I’m here and I’m somewhere else …
It was a beautiful sunny post-summer Sunday. September 22, 1974 to be exact. Having just finished my senior year at Linden High School, followed by a summer of “workin’ in Daddy’s garage,” then moving into a Rahway apartment with my sister, sliding right into my first semester at F.I.T. as a photography major … it was a welcome respite.
I drove my green 1965 Ford Fairlane 500, which I bought from my brother for $500.00, up the Garden State Parkway. Tunes blasting on my trusty old 8-track. I was bound for Kean College in Union, NJ. Formerly known as Newark State College. No. I wasn’t looking for early admissions. I was on my way to see those “E Street Boys”
I couldn’t tell you who was with me. Those memories have long faded. Could have been my friend Bill Knudsen, he was the keyboard player in “Havalena,” a band I roadied for in high school. Or it could have been my friend Lisa from Rahway. All I know is … there was me and my trusty Pentax 35mm, a few lenses & rolls of Tri-X … anyone or anything else was icing on the proverbial cake.
This show was pre “Born To Run.” Bruce and an early iteration of the E-Street band with Max Weinberg replacing Ernest “Boom” Carter on drums, and Roy Bittan replacing David Sancious playing keys. I had seen the Boom Carter, David Sancious version of the band just a few weeks earlier at the Schafer Festival at Wollman Skating Rink. This band was t-i-g-h-t! There was that jazzy Van Morrison “thing” they had going on, combine that with Bruce’s story telling and theatrics, Clarence’s horn playing, Sancious’ keys and it was just paradise on a warm summer night. Sunday in the park with Bruce … what could be better? Seeing Bruce a few weeks later with what were now the bones of the new rock & roll E Street Band. A little bit of history on a warm summer afternoon!
I had already seen Bruce before with the Boom Carter/Sancious lineup. And in the course of the next several years, between the “Wild & The Innocent,” “Born To Run,” “Darkness,” “The River,” and the muscle bound “Born in the USA” tours I’d see Bruce & the E Streeters 15-20 times more. From venues as intimate as the Red Bank Theatre to stadiums as large as Brendan Byrne Arena & the Philadelphia Spectrum.
Somewhere between “Tunnel of Love” and the “Seeger Sessions” life happened. Maybe I just couldn’t afford the tickets anymore, or the scheduling planets just didn’t align. Who knows. It took my partner Chris to rectify that situation.
(break in the writing)
So here I am. It’s three days later. Well actually it’s some 34 years later than the Kean College show. I’ve just seen Bruce here in Seattle at the Key Arena on Saturday night. Chris bought tickets for the show as a Christmas present to me. Once again … he made me cry. Chris that is. It had been so long. And if I believed in heros, Bruce would be one, as would be my friend Gary Crosslin. I grew up with Bruce, his music, and his beliefs resinating in my head. As he grew in age and maturity, so did his music. He was always larger than life … but very down to earth.
I remember meeting Bruce at the Harbor Inn in Brielle, NJ. Bruce had come to see my friend Gary Crosslin’s band “Jr Smoots & the Disturbers” play. These guys played the best reggae, ska & African covers & originals around … for a “bunch of white boys.” Bruce slipped in during the first set and found a seat. During a break Gary & Bruce were sitting talking & Gary called me over. He said “Bruce this is my good friend Joe Streno. He’s also an amazing photographer.” Bruce stood up & shook my hand … “very pleased to meet you.” But that’s how Bruce was …. down to earth. He always came out to see the local bands & just hang out. Somewhere after that meeting Bruce loaned Gary money for recording time to make demos of his original songs.
For that moment, that’s where I was transported to. A billion memories flooding back and the show hadn’t even started. People. Places. Faces. All in a rapid-fire-blur of light, image and emotions. But here I was. High. High in the air. Section 203 in the Key Arena. Never saw a show here in the 12+ years I’ve lived in Seattle. And from the “sound of it all” I will never return.
I’ve been waiting for this day since Christmas day of ’07. The show all in all was good, a little rusty in places but good over all. There were times it was just a wall of noise rather than a wall of sound. No clarity or separation in guitars or Clarence’s sax. As joyful as the show might have been, I longed for the more animated E Street Band. It was sad to see Clarence relegated to the left corner of the stage. To see this once vibrant man look like at any moment the slightest breeze or misstep and he’d come tumblin’ down. It looked like every step was an effort. Even his playing wasn’t the caliber it use to be. Now most folks in reviews will gloss over this fact. But it was part of what brought me down during the show. I got this morose feeling of finality. Like the end had come and we were all just glossing it over with past memories of glory. No wonder I’ve been depressed for the past few days.
The other thing that had been bugging me was the Seattle crowd. It was like they were dead from he neck down. I’d never seen Bruce chastise an audience from the stage for not singing loud enough or being very energetic. Bruce even cut the show short. He barely came out for an encore, did a song or two and was gone. No epic closing this time around. I felt cheated. Seattle was a strange place to see Bruce … on so many levels!
In the past I’d live for days on the high that was seeing Bruce live. But this time around I felt like I no longer belonged. I know that’s just what I came away with. This feeling of … at 51 yeas old … am I grasping at my past? Is this ALL that I have left. Yeah. Yeah Yeah. I know. Joe …. get over it! It was just a show. Life goes on.
The show was poignant, it was political like I’d never seen Bruce before. For that I’m grateful that someone out there is trying to walk the walk and talk the talk. Trying to be heard above the fray of “talking heads” pushing “talking points,” in the death throws of the Bush administration. More power to you!
But the ghosts, they’re real. They wander in the dimly lit rooms of the haunted house that is my brain. Casting shadows on what is real and what is not, what is joyful and what is not. Maybe one day I’ll be at peace. Hey Smoots …. are you?
Don’t run back inside
darling you know just what I’m here for
So you’re scared and you’re thinking
That maybe we ain’t that young anymore
Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night
You ain’t a beauty, but hey you’re alright
Oh and that’s alright with me
Yes. There are ghosts in the eyes of all the boys (and girls) you sent away dear Bruce. The ghosts haunt and they guide. They show pain and give joy in the light of a new day. Thank you for that kind and gentle sir. Keep the faith and fight the good fight. As I know you will.