Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 August 2010 23:33
I’m hijacking my own blog in order to give you a taste of something sweet. Really sweet. If you like rock and roll, rhythm and blues or simply music in general, this is for you.
Last time I was in New York, I was talking to Rich Hanf, a buddy of mine who lives in Hamburg, New Jersey, and he was telling me this crazy story about seeing Bruce Springsteen play on the porch behind a student union building in 1972 or 1973. There were a handful of people watching the show, and after a few songs Rich and his friends took off because they weren’t that into what was happening.
This story rolled off his lips like it was yesterday. I loved it. He captivated me for possibly the most entertaining fifteen minutes of my life. Well….maybe not quite that good……but it was a really fine story.
So I arrived back in Calgary and was sending Bruce a copy of my new book. I wanted to put a paragraph in the accompanying letter about this night he had played this gig behind the building. I couldn’t remember a couple of details so I called Rich. He told me he’d put it in a letter and send it to me.
Voila. This is the letter, unedited and in all its glory. I didn’t change one comma.
I love this thing.
It might have been 1972, but I’m going to say the year was 1973. What a different world…in every way. Musically, groups had to be around for a while and actually hone their skills. They played their instruments, wrote a lot of their own material…and nobody cared about dancing. WABC NY still played music but it was different now…not like the old days when you could listen for an hour and hear The Jefferson Airplane followed by Tom Jones followed by the Beatles (WABeatleC), followed by Dusti Springfield, followed by Sinatra, who was followed by Bob Dylan, who was followed by that horrible singing nun!!! Did I mention Perry Como?
My friends and I were into a group called Genesis. Musically they were brilliant…creating sounds and doing things on stage that nobody had done before. Singer Peter Gabriel had glowing Eyes and bat wings coming out of the nape of his neck, and drummer Phil Collins had a full head of shoulder length hair was maybe the best in R & R. We saw Genesis at Bergen Community College as they toured their “Selling England by the Pound” album. In June of 1972 “YES” had put out “Close to the Edge” and it was March of 1973 that Pink Floyd released Dark Side of the Moon (I saw Dark Side at radio City…sometimes you just get lucky). Progressive music was in full swing.
One day I got a call from a friend who was a student at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck NJ. As I mentioned with Genesis, it was fairly common for Colleges to have concerts…in fact the first time I saw Morrison and the Doors was in November of 1967 at Hunter College in NYC. So my friend asks if I want to join him and the guys to see a show. I ask who’s playing.? He isn’t really sure but says it’s some new folk rock guy from Asbury Park. He is supposed to be ok…kinda mixing a Dylanesque style with some hard rock and a touch of light jazz. Being a far cry from anything even remotely resembling Prog Rock we decided to go but it was clearly because we had nothing else to do.
Our destination was behind the Student Union Building…I mean, it was outside…BEHIND the building…in a small court yard. We got there and the band was already playing. I didn’t get it. A guitar guy with a sax player and accordian? You call those keyboards? Genesis and the Moody Blues were playing Melotrons…not this stuff. His name was Bruce Springsteen…Stein…Stern…something like that…we really didn’t know. We stayed for 3 or 4 songs and left to hit the cafeteria in the student union bldg. We had some coffee and what we called “electric hamburgers” because we had to heat them up in this new machine called a microwave. As we finished and got ready to leave, the singer / guitar player walked in. I guess we could have been friendly and talked to him but we didn’t. I guess we thought we wouldn’t have anything in common with someone that wasn’t playing Prog Rock. You know…what could HE possibly know about music? It’s not like he saw the Doors play Convention Hall in Asbury (I mention that because I was there and heard many years later that it was one of only a few concerts Bruce attended).
God forbid we just be nice, and friendly, and supportive to a guy who even at that early stage had done more than any of us was ever destined to do. Youth…Jesus!!!
So we got up and left and never looked back and never thought about that Bruce guy again…..until 1975 when a certain album came out that changed everything for everyone. BTR
Now it’s 1976 and I am going to school in NYC studying to get an FCC license so I can work in radio. I am standing in Rockefeller Center looking down on some umpaugh players in lederhosen when I spot a girl across the way. She was hot. Next thing I know she is standing right next to me and we start talking. She says that she has tickets to a concert and can’t find anyone to go with her. She asks if I like a guy named Springsteen as he is playing at the Academy of Music on 14th St. I just smile. A week later we hook up and before you know it I am standing in front of “The Big Man” as he is wailing away on Jungleland. I had long since started getting it. In March of 1977 I got my FCC license and was working in NY radio a week later. Through some weird quirk of fate I end up at WNEW am & fm. On the AM side I am Marv Albert’s personal engineer at MSG covering the Knicks, Rangers, Boxing (hanging out with Don King). I was also teaching legendary broadcaster William B. Williams the technical side of broadcasting as the station decided he needed a license after 40 years of broadcasting. Idiots. On the FM side I am the concert engineer working with Scott Muni, Bill Graham, and Carlos Santana back stage at the Bottom Line on 3rd st. (Bruce played there but before I was doing live broadcasts from that venue).
One day the chief engineer asks if I would work New Years Eve. There is a Southside Johnny Concert live from the Capitol Theater in Passaic NJ. The initial act is WNEW FM Disc Jockey Vin Scelsa as his alter ego…The Bayone Bear. He is followed by rock-a-billy singer Robert Gordon and then of course Southside Johnny. He didn’t have to ask me twice. It was a great show and rumors that Bruce would appear persisted. Bruce showing up would be a big deal indeed as this was the era when he was changing managers and was not really allowed to play anywhere as he was tied up with court battles. At just around midnight Bruce comes walking in…alone. Southside finishes up with Sam Cooke’s “havin a party” and the Capitol starts to empty out. Bruce takes the stage and those who are left…maybe half the theater, go CRAZY. People are running out in the street yelling for people to come back inside as Bruce is here!!!
Those of us working are actually on the stage behind Bruce. Southside is there..the Jukes are there. Bruce starts playing selections from BTR and his new record DOTEOT. He is playing…but not just playing…he is grinding out every note…working every bit of the song as hard as he could. It is slower than the album…harder, more raw, intense, an open wound with salt thrown in. The notes had life to them, his voice…those words…were real, live, spiritual. I was…indeed…we all were in church…real church…many of us for the very first time really. This was spirit…this was what God was. I had never heard or seen anything like it. This transcended rock & roll…transcended music itself. He played 3 or 4 numbers and slowly…like he played slowly…left the stage…not walking…but shuffling as though there was not enough energy left in him to walk. He was just behind the stage curtain…no longer seen by the screaming fans when he started to shake his head…no, no, no…..he dropped to his knees still shaking…no, no,no…he got up, turned around and as he stood only feet from me I felt it. “IT”…that illusive thing that comes from the heavens. Standing there I felt an energy…a vibration…yes…an actual, physical vibration that seemingly entered him from the universe and exited through his chest. I have known this only one more time in my life. This was the universe itself working itself through a man that was totally in tune with it. It hit me like a shot of electricity as I felt it burrow into my own chest. I’m certain everyone else present felt it as well. Bruce slowly re-took the stage. People were screaming as nobody knew how else to express what they were feeling. The opening notes…raw, an exposed nerve, full out…nothing left to lose…”Backstreets”…again…grinding out every note…slow…feeling…the break…”Hiding on the Backstreets”…sung hard…the voice no longer his own…lost in his own vibrations…gutteral, raw, singing from a place of truth, loss, pain…no answers other than to keep moving forward. Screaming…everyone screaming…YES…there is hope…somehow, somewhere…there is hope. If Robert Johnson had lost his soul in a meeting with the Devil down at the Crossroads then Bruce Springsteen had found his in a meeting with the Universe…with Destiny… on the stage of the Capitol Theater in a dingy town in New Jersey. As some screamed until they were hoarse, others stood in stunned silence. That was me. I stood there shaken to the core…feeling as if I had just seen the essence of life fulfilled before my very eyes. If energy can’t be created or destroyed…I had just seen that energy…the energy of the universe itself.
Maybe it was 6 months later. Bruce had put his legal problems behind him and was back at the Capitol. This time it was the Darkness on the Edge of Town tour. I was once again the engineer for WNEW-FM. As I stood next to Bruce in a room with just him, and Vin Scelsa, Bruce put his arm around me and asked…”How am I doin”? I told him… “not too bad”. Moments later legendary DJ Scott Muni ()The Professor) took the stage to introduce him. I would later see “Scottso” head held in hand lamenting his introdustrion of Bruce…”22 seconds…too long…too long”. It hardly mattered how long or short his intro was as nobody heard it. The screams were that loud.
2 years ago Bruce and the E-Street band played the Super bowl. I stood there alone in my room watching him on TV. The brilliance of Bruce Springsteen had not been lost on me. This man…after all these years…still in touch with the universe. This man…who can take a life and sum it up in one sentence… “you got to learn to live with what you can’t rise above”… this man who started off the 9-11 concert by singing “My City in Ruins” ….and as he sang Rise Up the choir behind him sang Rise Up…and they lifted their arms towards the heavens and for one small second there it was again…HOPE. This man …has never lost sight of that and always leaves all of us with the message…a message of hope.
So as I stood there in front of my old RCA Colortrak tv…and watched as Bruce stood there back to back with “The Big Man” …as I watched the cover of BTR come alive I couldn’t help but remember that night so long ago…a night when this man played behind a student union building somewhere in NJ to maybe 25 of us…and now as he played live before 100 million people he was the biggest and best the world had to offer. As I stood there with my arms held high my tears fell freely…shamelessly. I thought of my friend Jonsey…the WFMU DJ as I knew his tears were flowing freely as well. I laughed through my tears. What Bruce Springsteen meant to the world that night, he has meant to NJ since the beginning. If anyone was looking for salvation on that Super Sunday…they found it…and there was never a better time or reason for the world to sing “Mr, I an’t a boy, no I’m a man…and I believe in the promised land”.
Hey Bruce…if you ever see this…Thanks for everything
Rich Hanf Hamburg NJ
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