Bruce Springsteen Raises Cain

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At the end of every show, before the first encore. Bruce stands tall at the microphone and makes a little speech. "I want to thank all of you for supporting the band for the past three years," he concludes and then plays "Born to Run." I wondered why.

"That's what it's about," he said. "Everything counts. Every person, every individual in the crowd counts--to me. I see it both ways. There is a crowd reaction. But then I also think very, every personally, one to one with the kids. 'Cause you put out the effort and then if it doesn't come through it's a…it's a breakdown. What I always feel is that I don't like to let people that have supported me down. I don't like to let myself down. Whatever the situation, as impossible as it is, I like to try to…I don't wanna try to get by."

And so it was no surprise that waking up this morning, I found that all hell had broken loose. Only 250 seats for the Roxy show were available for public sale, which meant that a great many of those who had waited up weren't going to get in. And Bruce was not just upset about this: he was angry. It was a betrayal, however well intentioned, and the fact that another 120 tickets would go to fans through radio-station giveaways did not mollify him. People had been fruitlessly inconvenienced by him. It did not matter that at most similar small-club gigs, the proportion of public to industry is reversed. This was his show, and it should have been done properly.

Friday, July 7th

Whatever bad blood had erupted from the overnight Roxy fiasco is gone. In its place, one begins to get a sense of Springsteen's impact on L.A. Polaroids snap at the billboard modifications up the Strip, and the band seems prepared for a big night. At six p.m. there's media first: Springsteen is interviewed on KABC, the first time he has ever been on TV in any way, shape or form. It's a good interview--"It's probably the only thing that I live for. When I was a kid, I didn't know nothin' about nothin' until rock & roll got into my house. To me, it was the only thing that was every true, it was the only thing that never let me down. And no matter who was out there, ten people or 10,000 people, there's a lot to live up to.… What happens is, there's a lotta trappings, there's a lotta things that are there to tempt you, sort of. It's just meaningless. And I just try to…I play Buddy Holly every night before I go on, that keeps me honest."

But even more striking are the filmed performances of "Prove It All Night" and "Rosalita" that accompany the interview. Even on this small screen, Springsteen is a visual natural, mugging like a seven-year-old and leaping like the rocker of someone's dreams; I know why so many film directors, seeing him for the first time, have virtually drooled in anticipation.

After the Forum the Roxy seems cramped. The broadcast is set for nine, but it's quarter past by the time the band takes the stage. The place is packed--even the balcony box above Roy Bittan's piano looks like it is holding twice the customers it was intended for. And while there are celebrities here--Cher and Kiss' Gene Simmons, Jackson Browne, Irving Azoff and Glenn Frey, Karla Bonoff, Busey, Tom Waits--it is mostly a crowd of kids and young adults.

The crowd rustles as Bruce steps to the mike, but he holds up his hand. "I want to apologize to everybody," he says, "for what happened with the tickets to this show. It was my fault, and I'm really sorry. I wasn't tryin' to make this no private party--I don't play no parties anymore. Except my own." I think that Mrs. Springsteen, sitting in the back, must be very proud to have such a son. And he steps to the mike and sings: "Wel-a-well-a little things you say and do…" It's "Rave On" and the joint explodes. Garry Tallent, who loves this music as much as anyone I have ever met, is singing the choruses, his face shining. "I've always wanted to sing Buddy Holly onstage," he tells me later in his quiet way.

But "Rave On" is only the ignition. Having decided to play a special show, Springsteen goes out of his way. He dances on the tabletops, and the crowd leaps to grab him. He adds "Candy's Room," one of the Darkness songs he never performs, and halfway through the first set, he introduces a "new song that I wrote right after I finished Darkness. It's called 'Point Blank,' and it's about being trapped." And he tells a story of a friend of his who has to work two jobs, as does her husband, to make ends meet, and "they're" still trying to take the couple's house away. And when he sings, it's very real, living up to that title: "Point blank, right between the eyes/They got you, point blank/Right between them pretty lies that they tell.… No one survives untouched/No one survives untouched/No one survives."

Near the end of the first set, he tells this story: "Last summer, I went driving out in the desert near Reno---We just flew to Phoenix and rented a car and drove around. And in the desert we came upon a house that this old Indian had built of stuff scavenged from the desert. And on his house there was a sign: This is The Land of Peace, Love Justice and No Mercy. And at the bottom of the sign there was an arrow pointing down this old dirt road. And it said: Thunder Road." This gets the biggest hand of the evening.

The second half is, if anything, harder to believe. It begins, after the usual twenty-minute intermission, with Bruce stepping to the mike and saying: "All right all of you bootleggers out there in radioland. Roll them tapes!" And he comes on with a performance that deserves to be preserved: when a guitar has to be sent backstage for repairs, he calls a brief conference, and the band suddenly steps forward and sings, of all things, "Heartbreak Hotel," with Bruce as the very incarnation of his hero. There's an encore performance of "Independence Day," another of those songs that didn't makeDarkness, this one the most moving ballad version of the "Adam Raised a Cain" story I have ever heard. During "Quarter to Three," three hours into the set, Bruce climbs to the balcony and sings a chorus there before he leaps ten feet down to the piano, by some miracle uninjured. The houselights go up, and the kids are on their feet, chanting-no one is going home. And even when the announcement comes that the band has left the building, no one moves. "Br-u-ce, Bru-ce" the chant goes on and on, and suddenly the curtain is raised, and there they are (Max Weinberg fresh from the shower). They roll into "Twist and Shout" and finally, nearly four hours after it all began, the show is over.

Los Angeles Times rock critic Robert Hilburn is at a loss for words. "How do I come back and review this show," he says despairingly, "after I just said that the Forum was one of the best events ever in Los Angeles? Who's gonna believe me?" Maybe, I can only suggest, that is everybody else's problem.

Phoenix, Saturday, July 8th

My favorite comment on last night's show came from Max Weinberg on this morning's flight. "You know, I was thinking in the middle of the show that when I was twelve years old. This is exactly what I wanted to be doing."

Later, I ask Springsteen why he had apologized. "It just seemed like the only thing to do," he says. "I couldn't imagine not. There was a little naiveté in thinking that the kids are gonna come and when somebody tells them that there's no more tickets, they're gonna go home. They're not. All I know is, it should've been done better."

Still, I suggest, he could have gotten away without an apology. "I couldn't have gotten away with it," he says, throwing me a look. "That's all I try to do---live so I can sleep at night. That's my main concern."

It's going to be a task tonight. It was 109 degrees when we got off the plane and into this oven, and a film crew has shown up to shoot tonight's performance for a TV commercial. They'll be at the sound check, and they'll also have cameras--and additional lights--at the show.

Springsteen seems more open and eager to promote Darkness than any of his other albums. Despite the massive amounts of ink he has attracted, he has never been a particularly accessible interview, and he has never, ever appeared on TV. I wonder why the change.

"I always had a certain kinda thing about all those things--like the TV ad or this ad or that ad. But I realized shortly after this album came out that things had changed a lot since Bron to Run. I just stopped taking it as seriously, and I realized that I worked a year--a year of my life--on somethin' and I wasn't aggressively tryin' to get it out there to people. I was super aggressive in my approach toward the record and toward makin' it happen--you know, nonrelenting. And then when it came out, I went, 'Oh, I don't wanna push it.'

"It's just facing up to certain realities. It was ridiculous to cut off your nose to spite your face. What it was, was I was so blown away by what happened last time. I initially thought of doing no ads. Just put it out, literally just put it out."

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