I was leery of the show before it began. I’d heard all of the acts from the Vote For Change tour would perform for last night’s finale which meant it would cut into Bruce time. It made me grumpy enough for Joe to tell me to relax and shut up about it, or maybe he was talking about something else. I don’t know. I wasn’t listening.
“Let’s check out the seats first,” I said, weighing whether to grab some food in the MCI Center or see where we were going to sit. The seats were good if not a little off-kilter, to the side, a scoonch behind the stage. Joe’s social anxiety was in third gear, his eyebrows involuntarily going higher and higher, as we walked through the frenzied crowd looking for something to eat. We settled on pizza for Joe and a burger for me. And a big tumbler of beer for each of us.
We sat through John Mellencamp, the evening’s first act, while we ate and drank. When it was time for Bonnie Raitt to come on stage, I beat a hasty retreat outside for a smoke, dragging Joe with me. I’d been giving him playful locker room punches on the arm or leg all night, each one met with a look of surprise followed by Joe poutily rubbing the recently tapped appendage. We did this outside while we looked at the paltry counter-protest across the street; twelve people strong – one with a banner featuring a picture of Saddam and the blonde Dixie Chick, and another, Springsteen: Saddam-Aid 2004, sloppily painted on a white sheet.
We sat down in time for a set by R.E.M. I loved it; Joe was more dismissive. Bruce came out to play on Man On The Moon with the band. The stage circled again for a hip-hop act that had the two kids in front of us on their feet, their dad planted in his chair next to them.
We had another beer then it was time for James Taylor who was later joined by the Dixie Chicks. We suffered through Pearl Jam and an endless Dave Mathews set. Stage reset. Time for Bruce.
He came out with the band, solo spot on him as he played the Star Spangled Banner on a twelve-string while his trusty Fender was slung over his shoulder, ready for the real start of the show. He launched into Born In The U.S.A., a song mistakenly appropriated by the Reagan administration until Bruce had to publicly explain that it wasn’t an American rally song.
Badlands followed, a song I’ve seen him do more than fifty times, one that never disappoints. He thanked the crowd and started No Surrender and I held my heart until he got to the line, We swore blood brothers against the wind, now I’m ready to grow young again., one of the many lines that have grown with me, its meaning changing with my own tides.
I wiped some sweat with a few tears away from my cheek. John Fogerty joined Bruce on two songs. Next up, Michael Stipe came out to do Because The Night, all the while doing his spazz dance around Bruce. With a complete gospelfied version of Mary’s Place, he led the crowd into Born To Run, for me the most romantic song ever written. I sang each word along with my seventeen thousand other friends until we all came to that sublime moment, my moment in that song that catches me by the throat every time I hear it:
Together Wendy we'll live with the sadness
I'll love you with all the madness in my soul
Someday girl I don't know when
we're gonna get to that place
Where we really want to go
and we'll walk in the sun
But till then tramps like us
baby we were born to run.
Only in my version, there’s no “Wendy” or “girl.” It’s just me and my baby, and that’s exactly how I sang it.