One day when I got home from school Terry was sitting in our TV chair, his feet on our dog’s back, his eyes glued to a music video on TV. On the screen, there was a man in a white shirt that was unbuttoned halfway down and sleeves rolled up to reveal his biceps. It was Bruce Springsteen “Dancing in the Dark” with Monica from Friends, even though nobody knew it back then.
And Terry certainly didn’t care. He paused the video and waited for to give him my full attention as his often did. He was about to make an Annoucement, and I’d better be ready for it.
I sat down on the sofa and listened to Terry deliver his verdict.
“Man, he’s old,” Terry said. “He must be 35. Look at his hair. I bet that’s a piece.”
“Really?” I said.
“Just look at it,” Terry said.
Then he rewound the tape back to the beginning of the song, and sang along. Except for when he came to the line, “I wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face.”
Terry exchanged “my” to “your.” We both thought it was funny.
Terry’s talk about Bruce being so old baffled me because Mika had never mentioned his age to me, let alone that he’d be wearing a toupee.
And Mika knew everything about Springsteen.
In fact, it was Mika who first told me about him. We spent days and weeks in his room in Rantakylä in Joensuu, listening to Born in the USA, and it was his copy of the wildly popular album that I got to borrow so that I could get it on tape myself.
It was Mika who told me that Bruce Springsteen was The Boss, that pianist Roy Bittan was called “Professor”, drummer Max Weinberg “Mighty Max”, and saxophone player Clarence Clemons “The Big Man.” And that Steven van Zandt, or Little Steven was also “Miami Steve”. And he explained his and Bruce’s friendship to me.
Then I graduated to Darkness on the Edge of Town and The River and Mika explained the nuances of the clever lyrics to me. He also had all the remixes of Springsteen’s hits, which he let me borrow, too.
He was my Boss whisperer.
Well, we busted out of class
Had to get away from those fools
We learned more from a three-minute record, baby
Than we ever learned in school
Tonight I hear the neighborhood drummer sound
I can feel my heart begin to pound
You say you’re tired and you just want to close your eyes
And follow your dreams down
We read about Bruce’s marathon gigs somewhere in the US, but it being 1984 and us being in a provincial small town in Finland, we couldn’t even imagine ever seeing him in concert.
During that one winter, I listened to Born to Run every afternoon for months, often falling asleep with Side B still playing. But I played it every day at home, in our car, in my Walkman.
One evening, as we were driving home from hockey practice, “Night” was blasting off the speakers of our car. We came to a red light, Bruce came to the second verse.
The rat traps filled with soul crusaders
The circuit’s lined and jammed with chromed invaders
And she’s so pretty that you’re lost in the stars
As you jockey your way through the cars
And sit at the light, as it changes to green
With your faith in your machine off you scream into the night
I couldn’t believe it. He was singing about me. To me.
Even though I didn’t have a driver’s license.
* * *
The other day, I bought a magazine in the store, with Springsteen on the cover. That night, as I was reading it, I showed the cover to Wife.
“Besides Botox, what else do you think he’s done,” I said and showed her Bruce’s shiny forehead on the cover.
“He looks good,” she said. “How old is he again?”
“Seventy-four,” I said.
“He looks really good,” she said.
* * *
Almost two months ago, I got a text from Mika.
“Wanna see Bruce in Sweden with me?”
We had talked about Boss’s upcoming tour when it was announced, but I decided that I wasn’t going to pay “big bucks” – that the record company hadn’t paid me – for the show. Not anymore. I had seen him twice – once in Sweden, once in Helsinki – and the magic seemed to be gone.
So I replied, “absolutely.”
Then I heard nothing for another month, so I thought his deal had fallen through until he sent another text: “Still want to go to the Springsteen show?”
“Let’s do it,” I said.
And that’s how we found ourselves taking the train to Gothenburg and staying overnight on a small sailboat in the harbor, falling asleep to the smell of newly printed concert T-shirts.
We spent the day of the show talking about it. What was he going to play? Which of our favourite songs would we hear? I wanted to hear “Night” but I had seen on the Internet that he had only played it twice in the five months the band had been on tour.
“I think there’s a chance,” Mika said.
“I just want to hear Mighty Max kick it off,” I said.
About an hour before the scheduled start time, we had made our way as close to the stage as we could, and waited, me in my new Springsteen T-shirt, Mika in his Southside Johnny T-shirt. Another band he had educated me about decades ago.
At 8.15 pm the band walks onto the stage, Bruce Springsteen as the last person to appear. Mighty Max took a deep breath and got to work.
Mika and I looked at each other and giggled.
Today, Bruce Springsteen is an old man, not simply a thirtysomething who seems ancient from a teenager’s point of view. The energy is there, but he’s not racing around the stage. His bandmates, all of them septuagenarians, move even less during the night.
The forehead is wrinkle-free, but the hands on the guitar strings are wrinkled and crooked. Still, the hands can still make that guitar talk as Bruce guided us through badlands and back to the river, and told us legends of Bobby Jean and ghosts.
And when he got to “Dancing in the Dark” and to the line about wanting to change his clothes, his hair, his face, he screamed it at the top of his lungs. It sounded like he really meant it, even though he winked.
And as the camera panned over the beautiful, young people in the front row, the rest of us in the back could also wave our fists and, for a second, fool ourselves into thinking we were just like them.
For the next 24 hours, as we walked out of the stadium, and back to the boat, and then to breakfast and to the train, and during the five hours on the train, we talked about Bruce and the show, and the band, and the lyrics.