Born to Run (2016)
BORN TO RUN
THE BIG BIG TIME
Born in the USA went nuclear. I knew I had a real runner in the title cut but I didn’t expect the massive wave of response we received. Was it timing? The music? The muscles? I dunno, it’s always a bit of a mystery when something breaks that big. At thirty-four, I decided to ride it out and enjoy it. I’d grown strong and knew how to withstand the spotlight, but over the next few years, I’d be rigorously tested.
Nils Lofgren came aboard and filled a difficult position perfectly. Our paths had first crossed in 1970 at the Fillmore West auditions, then again at the Bottom Line in 1975, where Nils was booked following our stand. One afternoon in the early eighties we’d run into each other at the Sunset Marquis. With an empty afternoon in front of us, we took a drive north along the California coastline and stopped roadside off Highway 1. We climbed to the top of a sand dune looking out over the sparkling Pacific, sat and talked. He’d had a run of misfortune with his record companies; solo work was a tough grind and he imagined someday he wouldn’t mind moonlighting in a great band. (I think he mentioned Bad Company.) This was long before the position in our band came open, but I’d always remembered our afternoon conversation. Nils had been poised for stardom just as we began recording Born to Run, and Jon and I had referenced Nils’s first solo album for our sessions. We strove for its sharpness, cleanness and great drum sound. It became a part of our blueprint for Born to Run. Nils’s early career caught some bad breaks and he never reached the broader audience his talents merited. He was a voracious student, one of the world’s great rock guitarists, with a voice like a rebel choirboy, and his wonderful stage presence took some of the sting out of Steve’s absence and was a perfect addition to the 1985 revamp of the E Street Band.
One crowded evening I stood in front of the stage at the Stone Pony as a young redhead joined the house band, took the mike, then smoked and sassed her way through the Exciters’ “Tell Him.” She had a voice filled with the blues, jazz, country and the great girl groups of the sixties. Patti Scialfa had it all. We met, flirted, had a drink and became bar pals. I’d drop by the Pony, where we’d have a cocktail and a dance. The night would end up with her riding shotgun on my lap as Matt drove us for an after-hours cheeseburger and chat at the Inkwell. Around three a.m. Matt and I dropped her off at her mom’s; a few smiles, a kiss on the cheek, a “See you at the club,” and the night would come to a close.
After Steve left, I decided we needed to raise the bar on our harmony singing. I listened to a few local voices and invited Patti to an “audition” at my home (along with Richie “La Bamba” Rosenberg; oh, the choices one must make). That was followed by an audition rehearsal, while we were preparing for our tour, on the Clair Brothers soundstage in Lititz, Pennsylvania. The band holed up at the local motel, rehearsed in the afternoon and hung out in the evening. I drove around in my 1963 convertible Impala, “Dedication,” a gift from Gary US Bonds for writing and helping produce, with Steve, his comeback hit, “This Little Girl.” The night before we headed home, after a dinner, I had the whole band in the car, the convertible top down and Garry Tallent at the wheel. As we crested a hill Patti and I, sitting in the rear, heads leaning back, drinking in the night sky, heard a collective “oooh” rise from the guys as the blue trail of a shooting star cut the Pennsylvania sky in half. A good omen, all the way around.
Three days before we hit the road, Patti Scialfa joined the E Street Band. As the first woman in the band, she sent shock waves through the troops, broke the boys’ club, and everybody had to adjust, some more than others. Make no mistake, a rock band is a tight-knit, rigid little society with very specific rituals and unspoken rules. It is designed to ward off the world outside, and particularly adult life. The E Street Band carried its own muted misogyny (including my own), a very prevalent quality amongst rock groups of our generation. By 1984, we were a much tempered version of our earlier incarnations, but scratch the surface and the “way of the road” with all its pleasures, prejudices and punishments would slither into view. Patti handled all of this exceedingly gracefully. She neither displaced nor ceded her place to my dedicated and long-standing bandmates.
Through Patti’s addition, I wanted to accomplish two things. One, I wanted to improve our musicality. I wanted dependable, well-sung harmony vocals. Two, I wanted my band to reflect my evolving audience, an audience that was becoming increasingly grown-up and whose lives were about men and women. It was a tricky course to chart, for at the end of the day, a big part of rock music continues to be its value as escapist entertainment. It’s a house of dreams, of illusions, delusions, of role-playing and artist–audience transference. In my line of work, you serve at the behest of your audience’s imagination. That’s a very personal place. Once you’ve left your fingerprints there, crossing that imagination can have grave consequences (disillusionment, or worse . . . loss of record and ticket sales!). But in 1984, I wanted, on my stage, that world of men and women; so, I hoped, would my audience.
June 29, 1984, the Civic Center, St. Paul, Minnesota. We’d spent the afternoon filming “Dancing in the Dark,” our first formal music video. We’d released one video previously, for “Atlantic City,” a beautiful black-and-white short, directed by Arnold Levine, but neither I nor the group appeared in it. I’d always been a little superstitious about filming the band. I believed the magician should not observe his trick too closely; he might forget where his magic lay. But MTV had arrived, was potent, pragmatic and demanded tribute. Suddenly we were in the short-film business and new skills would be needed. Videos happen fast: an afternoon, a day, then it’s in the hands of the director and editor and there’s no going back. It’s a medium that’s more dependent on collaboration than record making, and a lot of money can be burned in a short time. The finished product can only be indirectly controlled by the recording artist. To do it well, you need a team of directors, editors, art directors, stylists, who get what you’re about and can help you translate that to the screen. It had taken me fifteen years to put together a record production team that could do that for me; now I’d have to raise a complete film team in fifteen minutes. Still, the times and ambition demanded it. This collection of songs, accompanied by Bob Clearmountain’s mixes and Annie Leibovitz’s images and cover photo, reached farther for a mass audience than I’d ever done before.
You never completely control the arc of your career. Events, historical and cultural, create an opportunity; a special song falls into your lap and a window for impact, communication, success, the expansion of your musical vision, opens. It may close as quickly, never to return. You don’t get to completely decide when it’s your time. You may have worked unwaveringly, honestly, all the while—consciously or unconsciously—positioning yourself, but you never really know if your “big” moment will come. Then, for the few, it’s there.
The night I counted the band into “Born in the USA,” we kicked one of those windows wide open, a big one. A breeze rife with possibility, danger, success, humiliation, failure, lightly drifts in and rustles your hair. You look at that open window. Should you step closer? Should you look through? Should you lift yourself up and take the measure of the world being revealed? Should you climb through and drop down, feet on unknown terrain? Should you step forward? Those are big choices for the best musicians, and I know great ones who turned them down, tempered them, took another route, made highly influential music and had important careers. The big road isn’t the only road. It’s just the big road.
So here I am, on the big road, and standing in front of me is Brian De Palma, a friend of Jon’s. The director of The Untouchables, Scarface and many other great films, is here to give us a leg up on “Dancing in the Dark.” We had a false start a week or two previous with another director, so Brian’s come to make sure justice is done to what will turn out to be my greatest hit. He introduces me to a pixie-ish, dazzlingly blue-eyed young girl in a freshly minted Born in the USA shirt, deposits her at the front of the stage and says, “At the end of the song, pull her up onstage and dance with her.” He’s the director. So a baby-child Courteney Cox takes her cue, while I white-man boogaloo and daddy-shuffle my way to the number two spot on the Billboard charts. Until Brian told me later he’d chosen her from a casting call in New York City, I thought she was a fan! (A star was born . . . make that two!)
We were held out of the number one spot only by Prince’s “When Doves Cry.” We would make many videos in the future—I’d even come to enjoy them—but none would ever elicit the same knee-slapping guffaws and righteous, rolling laughter from my kids as me doing my Jersey James Brown in “Dancing in the Dark.” (“Dad . . . you look ridiculous!”)
Ridiculous or not, we were soon, once again, to be the biggest thing since the last big thing. Our video complete, it was now time for the easy work. Three hours of fire-breathing rock ’n’ roll. Opening night for her first appearance as an E Streeter, Patti was, to say the least, “lightly rehearsed.” We just hadn’t had the time. A mere few hours before the show, a small monitor and a microphone were positioned for her somewhere between Roy and Max. It was a jig rig. Wardrobe? The Born in the USA tour was notable for the sartorial horror sweeping E Street nation. The band has never looked and dressed so bad. I’d grown weary of being a wardrobe Nazi, coordinating the men into what was supposed to look like an effortless, unified front. In ’84, I abandoned everyone to their worst instincts and they came through glowingly. The eighties ruled! C’s Gap Band box cut, Nils’s bandana and satin jockey jacket, Max’s perm, Roy’s Cosby sweaters, and my soon-to-be-iconic bandana and pumped muscles. Looking back on these photos now, I look simply . . . gay. I probably would have fit right in down on Christopher Street in any one of the leather bars. We were all certainly united—united to strike fear into the heart of the nearest hipper-than-thou stylist. It varied from night to night, and some evenings approached tolerable, but all in all, “fashion” mayhem reigned. Most bands are at their most visually iconic when they are sitting on the borderline of caricature (or slightly over it). By 1984, we were working those fields, and I still see teenagers and young men, who couldn’t have even been a glint in Mom and Pop’s eyes in ’84, at my shows in headbands and sleeveless shirts today. They’re cute.
With five minutes to go to St. Paul showtime, Patti knocks on my dressing room door. She enters wearing a pair of jeans and a simple white peasant blouse. “How’s this?” she asks with a smile. I pause; I’ve never had to do this before, critique a woman’s stage gear. I’m a little nervous . . . “Uhhhh,” I’m thinking to myself, “she looks kind of . . . girly. I want a woman in the band, but I don’t want her to look like one!” I notice at my feet my small Samsonite suitcase stuffed with my T-shirts. I kick it open and, smiling, say, “Just pick one of these!”
The show starts and Nils immediately fucks up his first solo. It’s Patti’s and his debut with the band, there are twenty thousand screaming Minnesotans and despite all his experience, he’s caught briefly, a deer in the headlights. He goes red, we laugh it off, he settles in and aces the rest of the evening. It’s a great night. Patti looks terrific (in my T-shirt!) and does beautifully under difficult conditions. Our new edition is battle ready and prepared for what lies ahead.
On the evening of our show in Pittsburgh, I declined the compliment paid me earlier in the day by President Reagan. His attention elicited from me two responses. The first was . . . “Fucker!” The second was, “The president said my name!” Or maybe it was the other way around. The important thing that happened that night was I met Ron Weisen, ex-steelworker and radical union organizer, who’d just opened a food bank for steelworkers laid off by the closing of the mills in the Monongahela Valley. I didn’t grow up in a political household. Beyond asking my mother our party affiliation (“We’re Democrats, they’re for the working people”) I don’t remember a political discussion ever being held. I did grow up a child of the sixties, so social conscience and political interest were bred into my cultural DNA. But it was really the identity questions that became prominent after my success that spurred me to be a voice on the forces that’d impacted my parents’, my sisters’ and my neighbors’ lives. If you’re thirsty, you go where the water is, and by now I knew some of the answers and questions I’d been looking for lay in the political arena.
Dylan had deftly melded the political and personal in a way that added resonance and power to both. I agreed the political is personal and vice versa. My music had been developing in that direction for quite a while, and the confluence of the Reagan presidency with my history, musical direction and meeting people whose boots were on the ground stimulated my interest in integrating all these elements into a cohesive whole. That night in Pittsburgh, I met and talked with Ron, and he filled me in on the tough times people were suffering in the valley. As with the Vietnam vets, we were able to provide some publicity and financial support. Before he left, he mentioned a counterpart in central LA. Once in Los Angeles, I reached George Cole and met poet Luis Rodriguez, both ex-steelworkers in south-central Los Angeles, a little-known major steelmaking corner in Southern California. George and his organization had a food bank and a traveling political theater company. With the help of my assistant manager, Barbara Carr, we slowly began to network with organizations in other towns.
The national food bank system was just getting under way and over the coming years and tours, they’d allow us to bring to our audience local sources and workable solutions for battling poverty and hunger and harnessing political action in the places we passed through. These were modest and simple efforts but we were in prime position to accomplish them.
I never had the frontline courage of many of my more committed musical brethren. If anything, over the years, too much has been made of whatever service we’ve provided. But I did look to develop a consistent approach. Something I could follow year in and year out, and find a way to assist the folks who’d been hit hardest by systematic neglect and injustice. These were the families who’d built America and yet whose dreams and children were, generation after generation, considered expendable. Our travels and position would allow us to support, at the grassroots level, activists who dealt, day to day, with the citizens who’d been shuffled to the margins of American life.
White Man’s Paradise (Little Steven vs. Mickey Mouse)
Our first stop in Los Angeles for the USA tour was marked by the visitation of Little Steven Van Zandt and the two of us with our “entourage” being unceremoniously thrown out of Disneyland for refusing to remove our bandanas. It went like this: Steve is the biggest kid I know. For days we’d planned on a trip together to the Magic Kingdom. As we neared it, Steve’s excitement rose to light hysteria (not too great a leap from his daily demeanor). Space Mountain! The Haunted House! The Pirates of the Caribbean! We were going to do it all. I was accompanied by “first fan” Obie Dziedzic, who’d followed us since we were sixteen back on the Shore. Today, her reward would be bestowed upon her. A trip with Steve, Maureen (Steve’s wife) and myself, to, as the sign says, “THE HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH.”
We buy our tickets. Steve, giggling excitedly, can’t wait and enters through the turnstiles first. He proceeds approximately thirty feet inside, where he is stopped, asked to step aside and told that in order to remain in the park, he will need to remove his bandana. This, say the powers that be, is so he will not be misidentified as a gang member, Blood or Crip, and fall victim to a drive-by while hurling his cookies on Space Mountain. Steve’s bandana is neither red nor blue but an indeterminate hue, chosen carefully and precisely to complement the rest of his “look” by the man who invented the male babushka. So the removal of such . . . I wish to enlighten Mickey’s storm troopers . . . is . . . NOT FUCKIN’ GONNA HAPPEN! In solidarity, I, sporting my Born in the USA do-rag, also refuse to remove my head scarf. The main honcho of the several security guards now gathering around us then tells us that he will “overlook” the way the rest of our crowd looks (Steve’s wife! and number one fan Obie!) but we simply cannot be allowed to stay wearing our current headgear.
“WE’RE OUTTA HERE! SCREW YOU, FASCIST MOUSE! WE’RE GOING TO KNOTT’S BERRY FARM!” And we do.
On the way over, I ask Steve how he feels having just been thrown out of “THE HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH” and I draw his notice to the fact that we, obviously, do not deserve that degree of happiness! Steve is now a shouting one-man thesaurus of every conceivable four-letter word and guttural obscenity, all directed at Mickey’s right-wing sartorial hit squad and the cabal that’s keeping an eye on Mr. Disney’s white man’s paradise. Upon reaching Knott’s Berry Farm, before we buy our tickets, we are enlightened by our ticket taker that our bandana-laden skulls are not going to get in here either! FUCK YOU! and all of sunny Southern California.
Silently, morosely, we drive back to Los Angeles and for two solid hours, Steve pours it on. The Constitution! The Bill of Rights! Fucking dress codes! Nazis! “I’m going with this on NATIONAL TELEVISION!” . . . blah, blah, blah. We decide to catch a late dinner at Mirabelle, a lovely restaurant on Sunset Boulevard. As we stand at the bar, the owner, a friend, dressed in a suit, comes up for some convivial chatting. Steve, still going, says, “You don’t have a dress code in here, do you?” He looks at us and answers, “Of course I do. Do you think I’d let you guys in here if I didn’t know you?”
Little Girl, I Want to Marry You
A while earlier: I was thirty-four, far enough out of Catholic school to have shimmied off some of the carnal shame and guilt that came with my Italian/Irish Catholic upbringing. I figured now was the time to take advantage of the sexual perks of superstardom. Generally a serial monogamist, I never looked too hard for company on the road. First, I wasn’t out there to party. I was there to work, and too much fun would get in the way of the hair shirt I insisted on wearing. Secular penance was my joy and raison d’être. Still, all work and no play, etc., etc., etc. Wilt Chamberlain would not have to start looking over his shoulder any time soon but at the beginning of the USA tour I decided to . . . see. So . . . I saw. I generally adhered to a “don’t fuck with the civilians” code when I did, but I had no time for the “professional groupies” either. I did not want to be a notch on someone’s belt. That diminished the field quite a bit. Still, where there’s a will . . . I make no claims on sainthood, a thrill’s a thrill, and I’ve occasionally taken mine where I found them, but . . . I didn’t last long, it just wasn’t worth it! So, with the occasional exceptional evening and company excluded, after each show I returned to my late-night bacchanal of fried chicken, french fries, TV, a book (choosing not Frank’s but Dino’s way), then bed. Let the good times . . . zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz . . .
After my short shot at being Casanova, my psychological/biological clock must have been ticking. I wanted something serious. I wanted to get married. By now, I knew my model came with a sexual catch-22, not quite right for the confines of monogamy but no libertine either. I operated best within a semi-monogamous (is there such a thing?) system, generally holding firm and steady, but occasionally deploying the United States military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. That’s a hard sell.
In Los Angeles I met Julianne Phillips, an actress out of the Pacific Northwest. She was twenty-four, tall, blond, educated, talented, a beautiful and charming young woman. We hit it off and began seeing each other regularly. Six months into our dating, I proposed on my cottage balcony in Laurel Canyon. We were married in Lake Oswego, Oregon, where a scene straight out of a Preston Sturges film unfolded. Our pending betrothal had leaked and the little town exploded. At Julianne’s house, the ten-year-old kid next door climbed on his garage roof with a cardboard box camera and junior-paparazzi’d our wedding party munching hot dogs in the backyard. He sold it to the newspapers for skateboard money and overnight became a local celebrity. Once we took out our marriage license, the press feeding frenzy was on. The local priest got a special dispensation from his bishop to let us marry without the required time to kick the tires. He asked us twenty questions, and we were signed, sealed and delivered to the Catholic church (Al Pacino, The Godfather Part III: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in”).
We got married at midnight, hoodwinking the sea of press. The next day, whirlybirds, jammed with tabloid photographers, filled the sky over our reception brunch. My dad sat smoking at a picnic table, looking as if he’d been lifted by a crane out of his California kitchen and set down unruffled in a field in Lake Oswego. I kept constant company with Mr. Jack Daniel’s and my old man was my only relief, for short of a planet-demolishing apocalypse nothing could ever change his kitchen-table demeanor. As the choppers buzzed overhead, I walked over and took a seat across from him at the brown plank table. He sat, his suit straining his girth, like it’d been sewn on over a rhinoceros; took a long drag on his Camel cigarette; and deadpanned, “Bruce . . . look what you’ve done now.”
Julie and I honeymooned in Hawaii and set up house in my Los Angeles cottage. Things were good; she pursued her career, I pursued my music and we pursued our life together. The only thing eating at me was I knew I’d never made it past a two-or-three-year period in any of my other relationships. Usually, that was when the image of myself, physically and emotionally, would be punctured, and my flaws revealed. I was broken and so sadly punctual, my mom would rag me about it (“Bruce, it’s been two years!”). So now, in the dead of night, my contented sleep would occasionally be disturbed by the dreaded ticking, emanating as from the belly of Hook’s alligator, of my “clock.”
I suppose I should’ve advertised myself as damaged goods but I decided I couldn’t let that knowledge or my fears dictate my actions or negate my feelings. I had to go on faith that I could love someone, this one, and find the resources to make it work. Following our wedding I was struck by a series of severe anxiety attacks I fought my way through with my doctor’s help. I tried to hide them as best I could and that was a mistake. I also had (shades of my pop) paranoid delusions that scared me.
One evening, while I sat across from my beautiful wife in an upscale Los Angeles eatery, a conversation formed silently inside my head. There, as we politely chatted by candlelight, hand in hand, a part of me tried to convince myself that she was simply using me to further her career or to get . . . something. Nothing could’ve been farther from the truth. Julianne loved me and didn’t have an exploitive or malicious bone in her body. Inside, I knew that, but I was out where the buses don’t run and couldn’t center myself around the truth.
I was sliding back toward the chasm where rage, fear, distrust, insecurity and a family-patented misogyny made war with my better angels. Once again, it was the fear of having something, allowing someone into my life, someone loving, that was setting off a myriad of bells and whistles and a fierce reaction. Who’d care for me, love me? The real me. The me I knew who resided inside my easygoing façade. I became hypersexual, then nonsexual, suffered multiple anxiety attacks and swung from one side of the graph of funky human behavior to the other, all the while trying to keep a lid on it. I was scared, but I did not want to scare the wits out of my young bride. It was the wrong way to handle it and created a psychological distance at just the moment I was trying to let someone into my life.
Julie was already sleeping one evening as I came to bed. There, in the darkness, the bedside lamp caught a glint of my wedding ring. I’d never taken it off; something inside of me told me I never would, never should. I sat on the edge of the bed, gave it a light tug and watched as it slid off my finger. An ocean of despair swept over me and I felt faint. My pulse leapt and I could feel my heart threatening to push through my chest. I got up, made my way to the bathroom, ran cold water over my face and neck, then, gathering myself, beneath the bathroom’s fluorescent light, I slipped my ring back on. I walked back into the shadows of our bedroom, a room containing all my mysteries and fears, where my lovely wife lay in bed, her body just an outline, a dark, gentle ridge of tousled covers. I placed my hand upon her shoulders, moved my palm over her cheek, breathed in, felt the air return to my lungs, pulled back the sheets, climbed in and went to sleep.
June 1, 1985, Slane Castle, Dublin, Ireland, our first stadium show, ever. Precariously perched in a field fifty miles outside of Dublin were ninety-five thousand people. The largest crowd I’d ever seen. They completely filled a grassy bowl bounded by the Boyne River at our stage’s rear and Slane Castle, perched in front on a high green knoll, in the distance. The crowd closest to the stage, an immediate couple of thousand, were deeply into their Guinness and dangerously swaying from left to right. They were opening up gaping holes amongst themselves as audience members by the dozens fell to the muddy ground, vanishing for unbearable seconds ’til righted once again by their neighbors. Then, once standing, they’d slosh back the other way and the whole interminable, nerve-grinding exercise would be repeated again, ad infinitum. It was a sight way too hairy for my tender eyes. I thought somebody was going to get killed and it’d be my fault.
At stage right, Pete Townshend and a variety of rock luminaries bemusedly watched me break into the big time. At stage left stood my wife; this was our first trip together as a married couple and I felt like I was going to come apart before her eyes. I was singing, I was playing, I was thinking . . . “I can’t stand up here and sing these songs, not these songs, while putting people in a situation where they could be grievously injured.” I kept singing, I kept playing, but I was in a pure rage and simmering panic. Okay, Mr. Big Time . . . how’d you get here?
We broke for intermission. I was seething. Mr. Landau joined me in my trailer during intermission and there, in the middle of the biggest concert of my life, we had a highly charged debate about canceling the entire tour. I could not face what was happening in front of the stage at Slane on a nightly basis. It was irresponsible and violated the protective instinct for my audience I prided myself on. Fans were pouring, red faced, soaked in booze and heat exhaustion, over the front barriers to be taken to the medical tent or to flank the crowd, throw themselves back in and take another crack at it. Our insistence on having seats at our concerts had begun in the early seventies, after I stood, hidden, at the side of the bleachers in a college gymnasium one evening and witnessed the cattle rush to the front of the stage. I didn’t like the way it looked. I’d made my compromises with European local customs over the years, but this was something else.
Keep in mind this was the first and only stadium show I’d ever performed or attended. I had nothing but this night to judge my decisions upon. Jon wisely counseled we postpone our decision until we had at least a few more concerts to judge by. (We’d already committed to, and sold out, the entire tour.) He was frightened also, and said if it was a recurring situation, he’d honor my feelings; we’d cancel and take the heat. It never happened again. The crowd settled during the second half of the Slane show and I observed there was a sketchy but ritual orderliness to what appeared from the stage to be pure chaos. The crowd protected one another. If you fell, the nearest person to your left or right reached down, grabbed an arm and pulled you upright. It wasn’t pretty (or, to my eye, safe), but it worked. The other ninety-three thousand gatherers were clueless about the soul-searching minidrama being played out right before their eyes. To them, it was just a beautiful day with a rocking band. In the end, Slane joined a rising number of our other performances to attain “legendary” status and, despite my distraction, turned out to be a solid show. On the streets of Dublin, it is often mentioned to me. If you were there, you were there. I was certainly there.
At our second stadium show, it was all sunshine and smiles. The band, already growing more confident in the bigger venues, played spiritedly, and a safe, festive atmosphere prevailed. Question dismissed. We could play stadiums, but I never forgot my experience at Slane. Short note: When a crowd of that size gathers, particularly a young crowd, danger is always in the air. It’s simply a matter of the math. An unexpected mishap, a little hysteria, and the day can shift hard and very quickly. Over the years, we’ve been careful and lucky at our stadium concerts. Some very well-intentioned and serious-hearted musicians, who carry a deep commitment to their fans, haven’t been as fortunate. Today’s stadium concerts are thoroughly organized but still, in those numbers, the potential for danger always lurks.
Headaches and Headlines
We traveled on. The tour became complicated by several issues. Since my marriage, I’d suddenly become tabloid news fodder. In a Scandinavian newspaper, the day after we checked out of our local digs, I was shown a picture of Julie’s and my bed. We weren’t in it. It was just a picture of a freshly made bed. It was new, unsettling and a pain in the ass. Photographers were everywhere.
In Gothenburg, Sweden, things got broke. We were either confined in our hotel or followed by a pack of paparazzi wherever we went. This was not what I’d signed up for. I was a private person and not comfortable with my personal life in the spotlight. What I wanted most, when I didn’t have a hundred thousand eyes on me, was all eyes off me. In the second half of the twentieth century, in the public arena, this was not a deal you could cut. Fuggeddaboutit! So you took your blessings and accepted the fact that this nuisance was the price you’d paid for . . . getting everything you ever wanted! In ’84, beneath the white-hot spotlight, during the whitest-hot moment of my career, this sanity-inducing knowledge was not yet in my possession . . . so.
A shiny, new, black Takamine acoustic guitar was whizzing within inches of the thinning hair on my trusted amigo Jon Landau’s pate. As it skimmed over his few remaining hairs, he startled but remained impressively calm. Then the atonal twang of rock ’n’ roll bells ringing, the splintering crack of dead midnight in the house of a thousand guitars, filled the backstage halls as my Takamine burst into a million pieces on the wall of my Gothenburg dressing room. Unless you’re Pete Townshend, I do not generally counsel or condone the demolishing of perfectly good musical instruments. I would go so far as to say wrecking the righteous tools of Mr. Gibson, Mr. Fender or any other craftsman of fine guitars is near sacrilege. But when a healthy insanity calls, you do what you must. I’d had it just about up to here with the whole merry-go-round I’d just jumped on. Plus, I had no way of knowing if this was going to be my life, my whole life, everywhere I’d go, day after day, country after country, bed after bed, in a Groundhog Day of stultifying, inane attention, brought on by my own sacred ambitions crossed by the normal human longing for life and love. Would there eventually be one thousand pictures of freshly made beds my wife and I had slept in, printed, published and preyed on? There would not. But at that moment, on that day, who could guess?
Mr. Landau, who’d simply been trying to bring a little perspective to my predicament, quietly moved back from his friend, the guitar smasher, and out into the hall. There he joined many others, who at that moment were glad they did not have his job.
After my guitar Armageddon, we went out and proceeded to literally destroy the Ullevi stadium. The jumping up and down and synchronized twisting of so many gonzo Swedes during “Twist and Shout” cracked its concrete foundation. That’ll teach ’em.