In 2000 I was 29, in a relationship with a guy I loved that we can describe as “complicated” aka He’s Just Not That into You, simple as that. In winter 1999 we were officially breaking up, and a Bruce bud of mine called me to ask to go overseas with him to see Bruce at the Madison Square Garden, he had just announced the closure of the Reunion Tour with a final set of 10 shows. So I was there, brokenhearted, with a chance to go to America for the first time AND see Bruce and the E Street Band… what do you think?
We could not afford to stay for three weeks, so we settled for a fortnight, seeing the total of the last six shows. We shared the room with another friend, and we bought the tickets online. There was a slight problem with the last two nights, but we managed to have upper upper UPPER level, not very cool but we were just happy to be inside, you know what I mean. For the other 4 shows we had very good sections, and so off to the United States for 15 days!
That was one of the most beautiful holidays of my life, we were (relatively) young, free, wandering all day long in New York City and in the evening Bruce and the Band… life doesn’t get better than that!
We saw everything we could, the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building, Ellis Island looking for traces of our ancestors (my great-grandmother’s brother came to America at the beginning of the last Century to start a life here) and the Twin Towers, we ate hot dogs at Coney Island and ice cream on the Brooklyn Bridge, we bought vynils at the Greenwich Village and cds at Broadway’s Tower Records, we spent an afternoon queueing up because Little Steven was signing cd copies, we chased icons of Bruce’s youth and references: the Cafè Wha?, the Bottom Line, the 57th Street in Midtown (looking for an incident and/or an ambulance, ah ah).
It was a hot, intense, wonderful summer, and we enjoyed it plenty. We had two days off shows, so we rented a car and travelled to New Jersey, spending hours in Asbury Park were the Amusement Palace was still standing, looking for Bruce landmarks and references everywhere we could: Belmar, Atlantic City, Long Branch, Freehold,
Out hotel was in the Flatiron District, so at the end of each show we went to have pizza and birra at Sbarro, or we stopped for a coffee and a macadama cookie in one the Deli of the area, slowly walking home, talking about the show and what have happened onstage. To see six (or for the lucky ones, ten) shows in a row is spectacular, first because basically Bruce unwraps all sorts of rarities and goodies just not to repeat himself, and second because you don’t have the logistics issues that currently ensue when you see six shows in a row but traveling: planes, buses, hotels, check ins, check outs, other planes, car sharing and so on.
Just on the first night we listened to Incident on 57th street and Something in the night, then Meeting across the river and Jungleland, Loose ends, Back in your arms, Racing, The promise, The ties that bind, again Jungleland, and many many other songs. Bruce and the Band were in full swing shape, it was the end of the tour so they have grew accustomed to play with close-knit harmony, and the E Street was, well, the Band: Danny and Roy, Garry and Max, Steve and Nils, Patti, Bruce and Clarence. Soozie played once or twice, I remember her in Lost in the flood, but mainly the Band had no sways, and they delivered hardcore rock’n’roll everynight.
For me, well, it was rock’n’roll heaven, it was living one of those cassettes we used to put together for the car radio in our youth. You took some bootlegs and picked all the songs you preferred, the result a happy glorious mix of an impossible set list: and those songs beyond imagination (for a european fan) were played evening after evening just in front of me, I was not comprehending in full what was happening, but boy was I happy!
For the last two nights, as I said, we were in a far-away section of the stage. Even from overseas we heard the stories of the Men in black. Bruce had become quite fed up with the same faces in the front rows night after night after night, more interested in showing up to say I’m in first row than in the concert itself, always chatting aloud and unpolitely abandoning the seats during the ballads to go and pick up beers Therefore Bruce decided to hand up the tickets of the first two rows to the people in the far sections of the building. Staff members (always wearing mainly black, thus originating the name Men in black among the fans) an hour or so before the show wandered in the third level, looking for fans in pair (they handed up two tickets, it was easier), and sending them happily ever after down in the front FRONT field. Legend said that there was a girl who had been approached while the male was buying the beers, and since she suspected foul tickets she refused the exchange with the Man in Black, imagine the horror of her boyfriend when he came back!
We decided to try our luck on the last night: we entered very early, and we positioned ourselves in our seats in the third level. My friend after a while wanted to go out and have a beer, but I was looking down at the first two rows, they were still empty so it meant the tickets had not been handed yet. It passed almost an hour, it was seven o’clock and the show started at 7.30. We had to go to the bathroom and eat, we did not know what to do, I was standing eating my nails and considering it could have been a good day to start smoking. Then a voice behind me said Excuse me? I turned around to see a young woman (woman! IN BLACK! SHE’S WEARING BLACK! oh my GOD!) who asked me very politely: Are you interested in exchanging your tickets? My friend just stood up speechless, I just managed to say: Yes, thank you. She handed us the two front rows tickets, and she tied our access wristbands; when I saw the tickets I said sincerely: We are not worthy!, and she laughed and said you are the wortiest! then we said like a gazillions thanks and off she went to bless some other people. Me and my friend looked at each other and hugged so close to actually hurt. Then we picked up our bags and hurried to the elevators, but we were so upset we were not able to find the exit from our section, we managed to sweep the entire third floor without being able to find anything. We actually ended up meeting again our personal Woman in Black who laughed seeing us so distressed and told us where to go. A valet at the stairs looked at our tickets and marveled at how far we have managed to go: You are on the third level! you have to go down! YES! WE KNOW THAT!
In my mind I was already seeing Bruce entering the stage and performing the unperformable, I don’t know, The Wish maybe?, while I was still trapped in an elevator. Finally we arrived down, in our seats, and what can I say? I was so happy that still now, 15 years later, I think at that moment and smile.
I know you understand me: it was Bruce magic, just another gift from the man, the perfect end of a perfect journey. Life can be so good sometimes!