Bruce, The Band, My Blood Brother, and Me

So…for those of you who know me well, you know I often write about the twists and turns of life, and my own personal method of coping. But now isn’t a time to talk about any of that. It’s a time to talk about one of the best nights of my life. I was one of the Dancing In The Dark dancers at the Springsteen show in Baltimore on Friday night, November 20, 2009.
My BFF flew in from out of town for the show and we immediately set our plan in motion. We brainstormed about a sign to hold up in the pit because there was NO QUESTION we were getting in there on the lottery. On the day before the show, we packed up my 3 1/2 year old son (who maintains he does NOT like Bruce Springsteen because I like him TOO much) and we went to Michael’s to get our supplies. We only lost him in the store once, but don’t worry, we found him. When we got home, we set to work to make a clever and eye-catching sign. Not a simple song request sign. A sign with a capital S! A sign that would get us up on that stage. After some thought, we decided to focus our energy on asking Clarence Clemons for a dance. His book had just come out and we thought he deserved some extra attention. Not sure why, but I had really high hopes our faith would be rewarded. As we worked on our sign, and for the rest of the day into the night before the show, I spoke as if our dance was going to be part of Bruce’s setlist. I believed it. I just knew it.

This is what our sign said: “Maryland Girls Need Some Dancing in the Dark with the Big Man.”

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Brilliant, right?

We knew Bruce had been playing DITD nearly every show, so the focus would be on getting ourselves up there with Clarence. On the night of the show, we got into the pit just as we hoped (knew) we would. When DITD began, Bruce and Steve saw the sign, Bruce eventually took it from us, gestured an invitation to come dance and once reality kicked in (still cannot describe the moment when it did), we were miraculously on our way up! Well, maybe not so miraculously. We had a brilliant idea, we put a lot of thought and effort into our plan, and if BFF hadn’t driven the entire pit CRAZY by shaking that sign with its border of bells – yes, bells – to draw attention to us we wouldn’t have gotten up there. Truth is, I may have been the big picture thinker and planner, but I was losing it over how dangerously crowded the pit was that night and she executed the plan when it counted. Rock Star.

BFF got up on stage first, with Bruce’s help. He actually had his arms around her as he lifted her up to her feet. Bruce’s back was to me as I made it up there with the help of my fairy godmother who gave me a leg up from the pit. I grabbed Bruce’s ankle, then his hand to get to my feet – still can’t believe security didn’t come after me the way I clawed my way up there – and then this is what I so eloquently said to him as I looked directly into his eyes… I screamed, SCREAMED in his face, “I MADE THAT SIGN!!!” and then he said, “Go dance girl!” Yep. Smooth, I know.

Sometimes I wish I’d had time to hug Bruce or to say thanks for all the joy and fun and comfort and hope he and the band have given me. Maybe next time. Ha. In the meantime, I’m hoping he knows what he did for me that night, even though he cannot possibly know what he and the band have done for me for the last 35+ yrs. Or come to think of it, maybe he does. Because other musicians did it for him and he’s spoken about that very eloquently over the years. In my mind and heart, Bruce and the band are like members of my extended family because there have been times over the years when I felt very disconnected (thats the best word I can think of to describe the feeling) and Bruce and the band carried me through those times. They’ve also been at the root of some of my most kick-ass times. In fact, Bruce and the band have been one of the most constant sources of both comfort AND joy in my life since I was 15 years old. How do you thank someone for THAT? They are cherished by and irreplaceable to me…all of them. I will never stop missing Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons. They were family.

And before you get all “Reality check! Intervention! Kristi is in love with Bruce Springsteen! And the E Street Band!”, I will tell you this: First, I DO love them. Ha. Second, because Bruce and his bandmates are human, I am quite certain that in addition to how wonderful and gifted I know they are in certain ways – which are the ways they allow us to see and hear and experience in the context of their art – they also do all of the obnoxious, offensive, and idiotic things humans – especially human MEN – do. Patti (whom I admire and respect as a musician and Bruce’s wife) and their respective partners and families deal with that, not me. I have my own husband, who has his own amazing gifts, whom I happen to love and adore and who also drives me crazy at times with his own brand of periodic idiocy. The fact of the matter is that the comfort, the respite, the inspiration, the joy, and the fun I experience from listening to Bruce and the band’s music and following them all over kingdom come is easy because there is no baggage attached. I admired when Bruce told his recent biographer, Peter Ames Carlin (2012), thst it makes him feel diminished when fans think he’s perfect. I think it was brave of Bruce to give Carlin access to so many people for interviews, most especially the ones who spoke honestly about his struggles with depression, for example, or less than glowing aspects of his behavior earlier in his career, some of it news to me. I like that Bruce seemed to want it be published without interfering in Carlin’s interpretation and presentation of it. And fine, he’s an asshole sometimes. Aren’t we all. Shocker.

And yet, despite all of that humanness, or actually because of it, and all of the conscious work that flowed from it to become a beautifully messy and imperfect work of art, there is a life-giving message and connection there that is undeniable. Its part of the magic of BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN AND THE E STREET BAND, something you cannot know if you haven’t experienced it. No, I am not in close relationship with them, but I AM in community with them every time I attend one of their shows and that sense of community combined with my love for their music has meant the world to me. Everyone needs to feel part of something bigger than themselves. Seeing a live Springsteen show is the one of the only times I feel like I drift away, when I feel like I become part of a bigger whole, and I don’t know about you, but I need that.

And while I LOVE their live shows, its their music that has an even bigger hold on me. It never fails to soothe my soul, lighten my burden, lift my mood. It helps me see the bigger picture, it makes me more aware of the things I think and feel, and it inspires me to get more deeply in touch with what I believe and want. It’s part of what motivates me to keep trying to be a better and more whole and connected person in my own little part of the wide world, encourages me and comforts me in all areas of my life, and reminds me I’m not alone in feeling like I’m on the outside looking in sometimes. The music and the stories, as Bruce has said, are the place where pessimism and optimism, despair and hope, crash into each other and I LIVE THERE in my head pretty much 24/7.

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So anyway, we DANCED. I didn’t care how I looked or how big my ass was or anything else. It was one of the most purely joyful experiences I’ve ever had. I was dancing with Clarence and my dearest friend up on stage after greeting my hero by screaming in his face. LOL. I even planted a big kiss on Clarence’s cheek while we danced because it just felt right. Maybe I’m crazy but I swear if you would have asked Clarence what I was communicating to him with that kiss, he’d have known deep in his heart I was saying “thank you”. I was fully present and I have never had more fun in my life, EVER. Really, and I catch a lot of shit for this, it was the BEST 90 SECONDS OF MY LIFE. Shortly after that night, I called into Dave Marsh’s show on E Street Radio and rendered Dave speechless with that comment. Anyone who has heard him on the radio knows that is hard to do. And it was funny as all hell.

At one point, I threw a kiss out to the crowd…that was for my husband who was out there in the pit and was crying juicy tears of happiness for me and BFF, cheering us on. When I came down off stage I jumped into his arms and he held me really tight. It was a great moment, him being so happy for me and me being so happy he was there to share it. He’s a fan, but obviously not as dedicated as I am, and to have him be that excited and supportive just made the whole experience that much better. He gets what it all means to me and I’m just really lucky that way. I’m so thankful to him for encouraging me to follow my love for Bruce and the band, and for JOINING me in it so many times.

I am so grateful I got to share that dance with my blood brother (sister), BFF. Our friendship is so integral to my life at this point, and sharing this Springsteen and the E Street Band ride with her for so many years now has been really special and has served as a backdrop as we nurture the seasons of our friendship. Even though we don’t live near one another anymore – she’s been in Madison, Wisconsin for the past several years – we work harder than ever on our friendship because we know it’s precious, and we have a helluva lot of fun too. She’s pretty much my partner in crime and my  life wouldn’t be the same without her.

“We stood side by side each one fightin’ for the other
We said until we died we’d always be BLOOD BROTHERS”

So grateful, too, that our friend and fellow Bruce ramp tramp, SH, was there with us and caught it all on video! He sent it to us the very next day even though he DROVE ALL NIGHT to get home to New Jersey because he knew we NEEDED IT because we still couldn’t believe it had happened.

Mostly, I wish I could thank Bruce for being so loose and fun and engaged, and for rewarding us for our work on our sign and inviting us up there. I’m so thankful to him for trusting us with that moment. We asked for a dance with Clarence and Bruce gave us that gift, and we went for it. And what a holy-shit-life-is-good moment it was!!! BFF and I rode that high for a long time and we still do whenever we recall it. Not only the thrill, the fun, but also the connection, the inclusion, the trust. That’s one of the many awesomely special things about live Springsteen shows. The trust, the bond between Bruce and his audience. It’s like when he falls backwards into the pit and he knows we will hold him up, carry him along while he continues to sing.

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But anyway, and LAST BUT NOT LEAST, Clarence (and I know he can hear me), thank you so incredibly much for letting us dance with you and for letting me give you that kiss and for continuing to share those sweet sounds from your sax in the midst of it all! I know you were in pain. I honor what you continued to do up there on that stage – as Garry Tallent told me on the night of the tribute/benefit show in your honor, (Norfolk January 2012), “its all we know how to do” – and I know it must not have been easy. I want to thank you for the BEST time and I want you to know that you still had it, Big Man, all the way to the end.

In the fall of 2009, getting on stage with Bruce and the band was not routine, not at all like these days when the crowd KNOWS someone or a group of someones will be pulled up there during DITD at each and every show, or maybe even be given a guitar to strum along with Bruce. It was a long shot, a dream, a wish that came true. So I’m also really grateful for the timing of our dance too. I like to think we helped to start something.

After the tour ended, I chose to believe Bruce (not the rumors of this being the end for the E Street band), who said they were saying goodbye, but ONLY FOR A LITTLE WHILE. Of course, at the time, no one knew we’d be saying goodbye to Clarence forever. I ran to Husband and cried in his arms until I was nearly in a coma when the news came, after a week spent praying for his recovery from a massive stroke in 2011. I’m still comforted by the thought of Bruce sitting by Clarence’s bedside as he transitioned from this world to the next. Blood Brothers. Losing Danny in 2008 to melanoma was hard enough, and in some ways I guess continued to prepare me for accepting the idea that NO ONE is immortal, including the members of this band that means so much to me. Our time is limited.

I had a very hard time trying to imagine what it would be like to see the band on stage without the Big Man, but the music can’t die and I trusted Bruce to move on in a way that would keep it – and Danny and Clarence’s memories – alive for as long as the rest of them live and beyond. And they have moved on in typical Bruce fashion. Not the same, but powerfully familiar and also new. In some ways, the new material is as good as anything they’ve ever done and the recent configuration of the band is great, inspired. Sort of like an E Street Seeger Sessions mix. The addition of Jake Clemons, yes, Clarences’s nephew, has been particularly awesome IMO because he’s a very strong presence and talent on his own – he knocked me out at the Norfolk show I referenced above and I came home hoping that he’d hop on the E Street train – but he also adds a connection to the past that is very comforting somehow. Anyway, I love what Bruce said during the last tour, “if you’re here, and we’re here, then they’re here”. He said he knows they are with us because he can hear them in our voices. YES.

Here’s our dancing video, just in case you missed it.

And here’s Bruce seeing our sign, grabbing it, gesturing to us to come dance.

Note – I wrote an earlier version of this essay in November 2009, right after the show – I can’t believe 5 years have passed already – and I updated it for publication here on the blog.

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