A Night Out on Flamingo Lane

Apr 2, 2012 by

 

Up on bankers hill the party’s going strong
Down here below we’re shackled and drawn

Bruce Springsteen is not too keen on the happenings in America today both politically and socially.  Being the rock star that he is, he pens all his frustrations through lyrics to songs. 

My outlet is a weekly political debate with my mother over the phone.  Bruce’s outlet comes in the form of a pretty damn good record.  I believe this how the world is supposed to work.

*******

We got our own roads to ride and chances we gotta take
We stood side by side each one fightin’ for the other
We said until we died we’d always be blood brothers

To avoid a return trip to the long beer line, my brother and I decided it was best to order two rounds at once of the 24 ounce Bud Light drafts.  Double fisted with 48 ounces of beer, we took a seat at a table in a corner bar, inside the Greensboro Coliseum.  The mounted televisions were displaying an early round NIT game, which we ignored; on the other side of the bar was a large glass window that overlooked the coliseum floor.  In the distance, Bruce Springsteen’s road crew was busy setting up gear on the stage.  Sound check was set to begin.

We talked, drank our beers, and talked some more.  As excited as we were, the anticipation for the show soon faded as we caught up.  I told him about the book I recently began reading, The Art of Fielding.  The protagonist in the novel, a shortstop, has an approach to fielding reminiscent of how my brother once did.  As I spoke about the book, I was taken back, rolling grounders to him in our back yard for hours upon hours; a clear vision of my brother, a scrawny dark haired eight year old kid in matching green Adidas shirt and shorts, anticipating my next throw.  The brim of his Dodgers baseball cap tilted low, shielding his eyes from the sun, as he scoops up the ball with his glove rifling a perfect throw back to me.  Those days seemed like a lifetime ago.

My brother leaned back on the bar stool, taking a sip of his beer as he began recalling his days on the diamond.  The stories he told with heightened enthusiasm were not about wins and losses, but the peculiar little moments within the game that you wouldn’t ever know about being a spectator in the bleachers.  The conversation continued on:  we exchanged thoughts on the NCAA tournament, the Red Sox, the Republican primary, Bruce’s recent release Wrecking Ball, and everything else two brothers could get off their chests about sports, music and politics.  Without any preconceived notion, we tabled topics about career and family.

We needed this night more than either of us had realized.  I longed for sound check to go on for hours.

We were in line for another round of beers when we first heard the cheers, followed shortly by what sounded like the crowd booing, but we both knew what they were really saying.  It was 8:15, the house lights disappeared and rays of lights shot out from the stage framing the silhouettes of the band as they took their positions.

******

Your mother calls you by your true name,
You remember the faces, the places, the names

On March 31, 1992, my mother dropped me off at Coconut Records.  My intention was to purchase the Use Your Illusion records by Guns N’ Roses.  Mom stayed in the car as I rushed into the store headed to the “G” rock section cd bin.  The doors had not completely closed before I was diverted from my original planned course.  I ventured over to the new releases display at the front of the store and found that G N R weren’t the only ones releasing two albums on the same day.      

The Boss released Lucky Town and Human Touch.  This was the first time the Boss recorded an album without the E Street Band and the first two I ever purchased.  Lucky Town and Human Touch are the two records typically shunned by hardcore fans, but for whatever reason, those two records became my gateway drug.

I walked out of the store with four new CD’s from two artists.  My mother couldn’t have cared less that I went over budget; she just noticed a huge smile on her teenage sons face.  My mother had no interest in my rock music; however, her love of music is on par with any music geek I know.  I think that she saw a little of herself in me when it came to this particular passion.  Like only a mother can do, she fed off her son’s enthusiasm as we talked about Guns N’ Roses, and a guy from New Jersey.   The drive home was a good one.

Bruce Springsteen shortly thereafter became a musical passion that exists to this day.  It is somewhat amusing to look back and see that Bruce hung around as Axl became a distant memory.

Somewhere in the mid-nineties, my brother became a fan and has not cared to listen to anything else since.

For two people made of the same DNA, it’s amazing how different our perspectives can be on most anything.  Outside of the realm of sports, we agree on little.  We do have this music though.  The different reasons we gravitated to become huge fans of Bruce Springsteen are of little importance to us.  It’s not crucial for us to know what Bruce means to the other or what path we took on our road to fandom.  All I know is that when Bruce and the E-Street Band are in town, we will be there together.  

******

Because the night belongs to us

I’m not a good source for a show review.  I miss too many details because I am typically intoxicated and tend to get lost in my own space.  I am sure Mr. and Mrs. Superfan can school me about the tours of the late 70’s, possessing insider knowledge that only members of the band should know, but I am fine without that luxury.  My experience attending shows began in 1999 and I have bootlegs that transport me to a different time and place.  So I won’t even attempt to write a standard review of the show.  I will leave that up to a more qualified reviewer.  I will say that the songs off Wrecking Ball adapt well in a live setting, at least compared to anything off of Working on a Dream or Magic

What I can say about this show, or really any of the ones I attended prior, is that you leave with a good buzz feeling like you just heard the best motivational speech of your lifetime.  You starve for a road trip to Asbury Park to attend a late night show at the Stone Pony.  Just need to head North on I95 you tell yourself.  That thought fades before you exit the parking lot.  You settle on playing Darkness when you arrive home. 

The Boss was positioned front and center.  Behind him, the stage was littered with the familiar faces I have grown accustomed to seeing every two years for the past decade.  There were also a slew of new faced, most notably a brass section and some soulful backup singers.  I believe my brother and I counted 18 musicians right before the band launched into a raucous version of We Take Care of our Own.

The two highlights for me came in the latter half of the show.  First, from out of nowhere came the unreleased gem,  Because the Night.  Nils Lofgren absolutely killed the solo on that one.  I wish Bruce would feature his talent more.  We were also treated to a rare Rosalita (Come out tonight), with the Greensboro crowd gallantly singing along.  Those two songs were well worth the price admission.

******

When the change was made uptown
And the big man joined the band

Maybe it was the last show, or the show before that, when I first noticed a weary Clarence Clemons.  He resembled an aging all-star slugger, body deteriorating, spirit hanging on by a thread, the flashes of his brilliance far and few between.  On their last stop through town promoting Working on a Dream, Clarence’s eyes were told the tale of a man wishing to be someplace else.  The years had caught up.  

Clarence passed away last year.  The man who gave me chills when I first heard his saxophone playing throughout the album Born to Run was now gone.  This would be the first E Street tour without the big man.  Bruce did his best this night in Greensboro to pay his respects along with the audience.  As Bruce led the tribute to his friend during the song My City of Ruins, and again later on Tenth Avenue Freeze Out to close the show, I felt indifferent.  I wanted something that shed a light on the contribution he had made to the band’s overall sound, he is the iconic one, he made the band sound big, the man that graced the Born to Run cover, all I wished for this night was one last Jungleland for my own personal closure.  Why Bruce chose My City of Ruins to honor him felt strange but, then again, what do I know.  Maybe Bruce isn’t ready for Jungleland to be played right now, or ever. 

Over the week following the show, I must have played Jungleland at least two dozen times.  I guess I didn’t want Clarence’s portion of the song to ever really end.  I now had my closure.

******

It was out at the crossroads head down round Willow bank
Seen a Buick with Ohio plates behind the wheel was Frank
Well I chased him through those county roads till a sign said Canadian border 5 miles from here
I pulled over the side of the highway and watched his taillights disappear

The lyrics above are from the song Highway Patrolman off the album Nebraska.  The song tells the story of two brothers, Joe and Franky.  Bruce wrote the song from the viewpoint of Joe, the highway patrolman.  One night, Joe is called about an attack on a boy in a local bar that implies a possible murder.  The witnesses point to Franky as the attacker, who has fled.  Joe chases Franky throughout the state of Michigan.  As they approach the Canadian border, Joe pulls over and Franky continues on.  The implication is that Joe has discontinued the chase to let his brother freely pass into Canada allowing him to escape

Each time I listen to this song I ask myself, if I were put in Joe’s situation would the outcome be any different if it were Mike instead of Franky.  The answer is always the same and it never differs from the way Bruce wrote it.

 

 

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