Born to Run (2016)

BOOK TWO

BORN TO RUN

FORTY-NINE

GOING HOME

The European leg of our tour spun on without a hitch, the seats full, the crowds rapturous. We’d grown comfortable in the expanded environs of the stadiums that had become our workplace. Our anthems were built to fill and communicate in places of this size, so from Timbuktu to New Jersey, crowds dropped one by one to the powerhouse show we’d started developing overseas. Some cities stood out: three shows, centered around the Fourth of July, drew seventy thousand fans a night (with Steve dropping by to sit in) to London’s Wembley Stadium. Our debut in Italy, the motherland, brought us to Milan’s eighty-thousand-seat stadium. We walked down its damp, dim, gladiatorial tunnels with the distant ear-shredding sound of eighty thousand Italians rising, louder and louder, until we broke onto the sunlit field. A cheer rose that sounded like we’d just returned from the Crusades with our vanquished enemies’ heads held high on the necks of our guitars (or perhaps we were just about to be fed to the lions).

Walking amid the thunder toward the ramp leading to stage front, I noticed an entire section of empty seats. Our promoter at my side, I said, “I thought the show was sold out.” He answered, “It is. Those seats are for the people who are going to break in!” Got it. And so they did. We hung huge video screens on the outside of the stadium to satisfy those unable to attend, but that only held them for a little while. Gates were rushed, security was breached and soon all “seats” were full, and then some. I stood in front of the mind-bending hysteria I’d come to realize passes for a normal reaction from an Italian audience as women blew kisses and cried, men cried and blew kisses, and all pledged undying love and beat their hearts with their fists. Some grew faint. We hadn’t even started playing yet! When the band crashed into “Born in the USA,” world’s end seemed near; the stadium shook and swayed as we played for our lives. Marone!

Back in the USA, our show at Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium proved unique. A crowd of sixty thousand Steelers fans got to watch me count off “Born in the USA” while several key members of the E Street Band, Roy and Nils, were cluelessly locked in deadly battle on our backstage Ping-Pong table! My testosterone-drenched “One, two, three, four” and the sound of Max’s crushing snare were met not by Roy’s massive synth riff but by Danny Federici’s tinkling glockenspiel! New records were set in the quarter mile by Nils and Roy as they listened to the most heart-sinking syllables of their lives, the distant stadium-echoing, “Your ass is in a sling and I’m going to burn that fucking Ping-Pong table DOWN!,” incredulous “One, two, three, four” of their front man. I watched sixty thousand faces go from awe to aw-shit as I stood, not too happy, pants metaphorically around my ankles, experiencing one of the greatest weenie-shrinkers of all time. Ping-Pong tables were banned for years. Heads rolled.

Giants Stadium: six sold-out shows to three hundred thousand of our New Jersey faithful brought the tour’s size and significance home. My people. Never the hottest audience on our tours (it’s hard to beat those Europeans!), but damn, they show up and they are my life-giving, loving homies.

In Texas, an infestation of locusts the size of your thumb swooped like World War II dogfighters around and over our heads during the show. On a cool night, they’d been drawn to the warmth of the stage lights and gathered in congregation on every available inch of our bandstand. Nils (a bug-o-phobe) ran skittering to Danny’s organ riser. One went eye-to-eye with me perched on my microphone stand, popped to my hair and, during “My Hometown,” slowly crawled down the neck of my shirt to sit in the center of my back. Thousands littered the stage, to be swept away by long brooms at intermission time. It was biblical.

A short while later we were greeted by snow and thirty-degree temperatures at our show in Denver, Colorado’s Mile High Stadium. The audience, in ski jackets, carrying blankets, came dressed for a winter football game. We cut off the fingers of our gloves to play our guitars through, did what we could to stay warm and froze our asses off. Steam rose in plumes from our shoulders as hot sweat met freezing air. About three-quarters of the way through our three hours, you could feel the cold coming in for the kill, settling in your bones. Once I put my guitar down, my fingers went numb and couldn’t be revived; every syllable I sang left a cloud of visible breath streaming from my lungs. On to sunny, warm Los Angeles!

September 27, 1985, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, site of the 1984 Olympics. Our finale was a four-night wrap party. Hard blue skies and balmy temperatures greeted the band and eighty thousand Los Angelenos. The band peaked amid an atmosphere of end-of-the-road celebration. We were now one of the biggest, if not the biggest, rock attractions in the world and to get there we hadn’t lost sight of what we were about. There were some close shaves, and in the future I’d have to be doubly vigilant about the way my music was used and interpreted, but all in all, we’d come through intact, united and ready to press on.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Julianne and I returned home to our cottage in LA and I felt great . . . for two whole days. On day three, I crashed. What do I do now? Jon visited and mentioned the tour had been very successful . . . economically successful, so successful, in fact, I would need to meet my accountant. My accountant? I’d never met him (or her) . . . ever! Fourteen years into my professional recording career, I’d never met those whose job it was to count my money . . . and watch it. Soon I would shake the hand of a Mr. Gerald Breslauer, who would tell me I had earned a figure that at the time sounded so outrageous I had to ban it from thought. Not that I wasn’t happy; I was—giddy, in fact. But I couldn’t contextualize it in any meaningful way. So I didn’t. My first luxury as a successful rock icon would be the luxury to not think about, to downright ignore, my luxuries (some of them). Worked for me!

The aftermath of the Born in the USA tour was a strange time. It was the peak of something. I would never be here, this high, in the mainstream pop firmament again. It was the end of something. For all intents and purposes, my work with the E Street Band was done (for now). We would tour together once more on my solo record Tunnel of Love, but I would intentionally use the band in such a way as to cloud its former identity. I didn’t know it then but soon we’d be finished for a long while. The tour also was the beginning of something, a final surge to try to determine my life as an adult, a family man, and to escape the road’s seductions and confinements. I longed to finally settle in, in a real home, with a real love. I wanted to lift upon my shoulders the weight and bounty of maturity, then try to carry it with some grace and humility. I’d worked to get married; now, would I have the skills, the ability . . . to be married?