I wanna go out tonight
I wanna find out what I got
–Bruce Springsteen, "Badlands"
Los Angeles, Tuesday, July 4th
One of Bruce Springsteen's most popular early songs is called "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)." That he is spending this Independence Day on the shores of the wrong ocean is an irony that escapes no one, including himself. L.A. is not terra incognita, but Springsteen does not yet reign here as he does back east, and perhaps the time is auspicious to change that. Although he has been up all night mixing tapes recorded at his last concert (Saturday night, in Berkeley), he is at the pool soaking up the sun by eleven a.m.
If God had invented a hotel for rock bands, it probably would look like the Sunset Marquis, where Springsteen and the E Street Band are staying. Nestled on a steep side street just below Sunset Strip, the Marquis is a combination summer camp and commune. Its rooms are laid out around the swimming pool and guests on the first floor use the pool terrace as a sort of patio. In the daytime, the poolside is jammed, and at night, it's easy to tell who's home by the lights inside, behind curtained glass doors. Springsteen, the band, their crew and entourage occupy thirty rooms, including all those around the pool.
At noon, producer/manager Jon Landau, Bruce and I disappear into Springsteen's room to play the Berkeley concert mixes. There are two mixes of an eight-minute rendition of "Prove It All Night" that shatters the LP version, and one mix of an unnamed, shorter instrumental, often called "Paradise by the Sea," which opens the second half of his concerts. Even on a small cassette player, it's clear that something considerable is going on.
For years people have been begging Springsteen to make a live album, and "Prove It All Night" shows why. The song is considered the lightest item on Darkness on the Edge of Town, his new album, but onstage it becomes what pianist Roy Bittan, for one, thinks is the most exciting song of the show, featuring a lengthy guitar and keyboard improvisation that sounds like an unholy alliance between the Yardbirds and Bob Dylan. When the introduction gives way to the melody of the song, "Prove It" is transformed from something potentially light and dismissible into an emotional crucible. Hearing it, you may wonder if "Prove It All Night" is a hit single, but you know it's a great song.
"Paradise by the Sea" is its alter ego. Only Springsteen, touring behind a new album, would have come up with this to open the second half of the show: a five-minute instrumental featuring Clarence Clemons' sax and Danny Federici's organ, which simultaneously evokes Duane Eddy and Booker T. and the MGs.
Clemons walks into the room with an unbelievably joyous look on his face, and when the tape ends, he takes Bruce by the arm and shouts, "Everybody into the pool!" The next sound is a series of splashes, and in a few moments they reappear, bathing suits dripping, and listen again, then repeat the performance. Soon, the tiny hotel bedroom is crowded with half a dozen people dripping wet and exuberant.
At 6:30 p.m., Bruce is at KMET-FM to do an on-the-air interview with disc jockey Mary Turner. There are a couple of bottles of champagne, which may be a mistake; Bruce gets loose pretty easily. And in fact, he is a little sloshed as the interview begins, but Turner plays it perfectly, fishing for stories. She gets at least one winner.
"When my folks moved out to California," Bruce begins in response to a question about whether he really knows "a pretty little place in Southern California/Down San Diego way" as he claims in "Rosalita," "my mom decided-see my father and I would fight all the time--and she decided that we should take a trip together. She decided that we should take a trip together. She decided that we should go to Tijuana [he laughs his hoarse laugh, reserved for the truly absurd]. So we got in the car and drove down there, arguing all the way. First I drove and he yelled at me, and then he drove and I yelled at him.
"Anyway, we finally got there, and of course, my old man is the softest-hearted guy in the world. Within fifteen minutes, some guy has sold him some watch that must've run for all of an hour and a half before it stopped. And then some guy comes up and says, 'Hey, would you guys like to have your picture taken on a zebra?'
"Well, we looked at each other--who could believe this, right? Zebras are in Africa. And so we said, 'Well if you've got a zebra, we definitely want to have our picture taken.' So we give him ten bucks and he takes us around this corner, and he's got…he's got a damn donkey with stripes painted on its side. And he pulls out these two hats--one says Pancho, one says Cisco--I swear--and he sits us on the donkey and takes our picture. My mother's still got that picture. But that is all I knew about Southern California at the time I wrote 'Rosalita.'"
This is the easiest I have ever heard Bruce speak of his father. "Adam Raised a Cain," from the new album, may have exorcised a lot of ghosts. In some of the stories Bruce has told onstage about their relationship, however, his father seems like a demon, which of course, he is not.
In fact, Douglas Springsteen has lived a very rough working-class life. For a great deal of Bruce's childhood, his family (he has two sisters, both younger) shared a house with his grandparents while his father worked at an assortment of jobs--in a factory, as a gardener, as a prison guard--never making as much as $10,000 a year. Later he moved the family from New Jersey to northern California, where he is a now a bus driver. Bruce says that the tales of their conflicts are true ("I don't make 'em up"), but that they're meant to be "universal." He is not exactly enthusiastic about discussing the relationship, although in a couple of the songs that did not make it onto Darkness, particularly "The Promise" and "Independence Day," he has chronicled his preoccupation with fathers as thoroughly as did John Steinbeck in East of Eden, the film that inspired "Adam."
Bruce is so loose by now that when an ad for Magic Mountain's roller coaster--the largest in the world--comes on, he discusses great roller coasters he has known, and his desire to see this one. "Ya wanna date?" he asks Turner, in front of who knows how many listeners. She makes the perfect reply: "Only if we sit in the front seat."
After the interview, we head to the car and a beach house in Santa Monica, where there's a promise of food and fireworks. We race straight out Santa Monica Boulevard to the freeway. It's like something out of a Steve McQueen movie (Bullitt). I haven't spent as reckless a moment as this one in years. But Bruce, who isn't driving, is determined to see those fireworks. "C'mon." he says, over and over again. "I don't wanna miss 'em." He's like a little boy, and the car whips along, straight into a traffic jam at the end of the Santa Monica Freeway, where we can see hints of the fireworks--blue, red, gold, green--cascading out over the ocean.
It's a chill night and the party is outside. Band and crew members shiver on the patio, chewing on cold sandwiches (Swiss cheese, ham, turkey, roast beef) and sucking down beer and soda. Bruce quickly decides this won't do. He heads for the gate leading to the beach. "C'mon," he says to one and all. "Let's walk up to the pier. I want a hot dog."
And so we strike out down the beach. The pier is a mile south, far enough so that its lights are only a glow on the horizon. And covering the beach the entire distance are people shooting off their own fireworks, Roman candles and skyrockets. We haven't gone a hundred yards before the scene has become a combat zone. I suggest a strategic retreat to the highway. Bruce gives me a look. "C'mon, what's the worst that can happen? A rocket upside the head?" He giggles with joy and keeps trudging on through the sand.
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