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Bruce Springsteen Raises Cain

Page 5 of 5

It is the first time I have ever heard Springsteen refer to a negative effect of the past three years of litigation and layoff. It's strange he's not more bitter, I suggest. "At the time that that went down," he explains, "I wasn't mentally prepared. I knew nothin' about it. It was all distressing to me. There were some good times, but what it was, was…the loss of control. See, all the characters [on the LPs] and everything is about the attempt to gain control of your life. And here, all this stuff, whether it had a good effect or a bad effect, I realized the one thing it did have was it had a bad effect on my control of myself. Which is why I initially started playing, and why I play. That's what upset me most about it. It was like somebody bein' in a car with the gas pedal to the floor."

(I have only heard him explain his relationship with former manager Mike Appel better on one occasion: "In a way, Mike was as naive as me," he said then. "'You be the Colonel, and I'll be Elvis.' Except he wasn't the Colonel, and I wasn't Elvis.")

There are of course other reasons for the TV commercial: while Springsteen is enormously popular in certain areas, in others he is all but unknown. This is particularly true of the South. And it is especially difficult for people who live in the Northeast and Southwest, where Springsteen already is a star, to grasp his commercial difficulties elsewhere. Anyone who sells out both the Los Angeles Forum and Madison Square Garden (three nights at the latter) ought to be a national star, but for a variety of reasons, Springsteen is still not there yet. Most of this has to do with his lack of acceptance on AM radio--on that side of the dial, he is a virtually invisible quantity: "Born to Run" made it to Number 17, and "Prove It All Night" will be fortunate to go that high, principally because both emphasize electric guitars, which makes them hard rock, not exactly what AM program directors are currently looking for.

In Phoenix, however, all of this can be forgotten. Phoenix was the first town outside of the New York-New Jersey-Philadelphia-Boston region where Springsteen became popular. In the words of Danny Federici. "This is the first place I ever felt like a star." It's hard to believe, driving past these deserted desert streets at 7:30 on a Saturday evening, that the 10,000-seat Veterans Memorial Coliseum is sold out. But when the show is over, I know what Robert Hilburn felt.

It's not just that it's another fantastic show. This is another goddamn event, and it goes farther than the Roxy, with all of the show's intimacy, innocence and vulnerability, but with an added factor of pandemonium. It's the sweetest-tempered crowd I've ever seen, and at the same time, the most maniacal. Bruce dedicates the show to the town in memory of the time "when this was about the only place I could get a job," and the crowd gives it back. During "Prove It All Night," three extremely young girls in the front row hold up a hand-lettered sign written on a bedsheet. Quoting the song, it says, Just One Kiss Will Get These Things For You. And he gets them, during "Rosalita," one after another, as they race up to kiss him, lightly, on the cheek. A fourth darts up, and just…reaches out and touches his hand. And finally, three more race up and bowl him over. ("This little girl, couldn't have been more than fifteen, and she had braces on her teeth," Springsteen exclaims later. "And she had her tongue so far down my throat I nearly choked.")

I've never seen anything like this in such a big hall. Before the encores--which include "Raise Your Hand" and the inevitable "Quarter to Three"--are over, not seven, but seventeen girls have climbed up to kiss him, and there are couples dancing, actually jitterbugging, on the front of the stage. The cameramen are torn between filming Bruce, who is pouring it all out, and simply shooting the crowd, which is pushing him father and farther.

It is a perfect climax to a week of rock & roll unparalleled in my experience. All I know is, it lives up to the grand story Bruce told in the midst of "Growin' Up." The story has become a virtual set-piece by now, but that night he added a special twist. You should get to hear it too. Maybe it fills in some of the cracks, maybe it explains just why Bruce Springsteen pushes people to the edge of frenzy.

It began with a description of his family, house and home, and his perennial battles with his father. "Finally," he says, "my father said to me, 'Bruce, it's time to get serious with your life. This guitar thing is okay as a hobby, but you need something to fall back on. You should be a lawyer'-which I coulda used later on in my career. He says. 'Lawyers, they run the world.' But I didn't think they did--and I still don't.

"My mother, she's more sensitive. She thinks I should be an author and write books. But I wanted to play guitar. So my mother, she's very Italian, she says. 'This is a big thing, you should go see the priest.' So I went to the rectory and knocked on the door. 'Hi, Father Ray, I'm Mr. Springsteen's son. I got this problem. My father thinks I should be a lawyer, and my mother, she wants me to be an author. But I got this guitar.'

"Father Ray says. 'This is too big a deal for me. You gotta talk to God,' who I didn't know too well at the time. 'Tell him about the lawyer and the author,' he says, 'but don't say nothin' about that guitar'.

"Well, I didn't know how to find God, so I went to Clarence's house. He says, 'No sweat. He's just outside of town.' So we drive outside of town, way out on this little dark road.

"I said, 'Clarence, are you sure you know where we're goin'?' He said, 'Sure, I just took a guy out there the other day.' So we come to this little house out in the woods. There's music blasting out and a little hole in the door. I say, 'Clarence sent me,' and they let me in. And there's God behind the drums. On the bass drum, it says: G-O-D. So I said, 'God. I got this problem. My father wants me to be a lawyer and my mother wants me to be an author. But they just don't understand--I got this guitar.'

"God says, 'What they don't understand is that there was supposed to be an Eleventh Commandment. Actually, it's Moses' fault. He was so scared after ten, he said this is enough, and went back down the mountain. You shoulda seen it--great show, the burning bush, thunder, lightning. You see, what those guys didn't understand was that there was an Eleventh Commandment. And all it said was: Let It Rock!'"

This story appeared in the August 24th, 1978 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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