This month, I saw Springsteen perform four times in concert in the span of one week. From the stages of the Izod Center in New Jersey and Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, Bruce Springsteen sang me 99 songs (including "Johnny 99", twice) over the course of just under 12 hours.
I didn't want to write about the experience, because a Springsteen concert is "me time," not work time. And, to tell you the truth, I don't really want to think too much about what deep-seated issues may be driving me to pay hundreds and hundreds of dollars to see a sexagenarian man from New Jersey perform rock 'n' roll songs night after night. But I decided to write about it anyway, for two reasons: (A) If I write this, I'll be able to deduct the tickets off of my taxes and (B) my boss told me, "I want you to write this piece." So, deep-seated, here we come.
Let's first dispense with the obvious reasons: Springsteen puts on a great live show, his concerts are famously long (sill often clocking in at over three hours with no breaks), and he changes the set list every night. It's no secret that a Bruce Springsteen concert is a great time; that's why, at 62 years old, the guy can still sell out multiple nights at football stadiums. But for me, there is something else.
In April of 2000, I saw Springsteen live for the first time, when his Reunion Tour made a stop in St. Louis (where I lived at the time). I went as a lark. Sure, like anyone who was nine years old in 1984, I owned Born in the U.S.A, but I certainly wasn't a "fan." But, boy, what a show! The first song of the evening was "The Ties That Bind." That is now one of my favorite songs off of The River, but at the time I had no clue where it came from. It didn't matter.
I went to that show with my girlfriend at the time, Gina; one of my best friends from high school, Dan; and one of my best friends from college, Jorge. After the show, we were all euphoric. We had never seen anything like it. We had never been so involved in a concert. During "Badlands," Jorge, the first in our group to pick up on the audience participation requirements, nudged and prompted me to join in on the mid-song chant. By the end of the show, we were fist-pumping during "Born to Run" with the best of them. My God, I'll never forget that night.
I'll also never forget the four of us running down the street outside the (then) Kiel Center. Dan picked up Gina, and ran with her down the street piggyback style. Jorge, thinking that looked like fun, jumped on my back. Five steps later, my face hit the pavement. Yes, I'm the guy who had to go to work the morning after a Springsteen concert with his face partially destroyed. You know what? It was worth it. (And, yes, concrete burns on the face are really painful.)
On October 19, 2001, Jorge unexpectedly passed away. (I've briefly written about this before.) Shortly after that Springsteen concert, he had moved away to Chicago. That concert was one of my last memories of him that didn't involve a telephone call. As we remember, late 2001 wasn't exactly one of the happiest time periods to begin with, but Jorge's death sent me into a bit of a depression. It's the first (and still only, thankfully) time that I lost a good friend who was my age.
In August of 2002, I saw my second Springsteen show during The Rising tour. For the first time since Jorge died, I felt raw, unadulterated happiness. It was like heroin. (Or not. I have no idea what heroin feels like.) I needed another fix. The next month, my friend Rob and I drove across the state to Kansas City to see Bruce play at the Kemper Arena. Then I drove to Chicago to see him play there, too. Being at a Bruce Springsteen concert was the first thing that reminded me of Jorge that made me happy.
I'm only half-joking when I say that I moved to New York City, in 2004, because it would make it easier to see to more Springsteen shows.
I've now been to 18 Bruce Springsteen concerts. Not that many when you compare tallies with the diehards who have been fans since the '70s. But I remember each and every one of them. And I go all out at each and every one of them. It's really the only time I don't feel self-conscious about looking ridiculous (and I'm sure I look plenty ridiculous). But, yes, the feeling of euphoria is fleeting. And the only way to get that feeling back is to go again. And again. And again.
Most importantly, I remember who accompanied me to each of those 18 shows. Yes, I'll always have my Springsteen show with Jorge, but after this latest bender, I'll also have my shows with Alex, Maria, Lane and Katey. And now I'm the one nudging and prompting them. If I've learned one thing from all of this, I know that each of those experiences could be the last thing we remember about each other. It's happened before. (And, no, it's not lost on me that Bruce Springsteen is going through his own catharsis after the loss of his longtime saxophonist, Clarence Clemons.)
A lot of people attend multiple Springsteen concerts, and I'm sure they all have their reasons. At a Springsteen show at the Izod Center in 2008, a woman sitting in front of me said, "Seeing Bruce makes me feel young again." Not everyone is trying to recapture the feeling of being with a friend that is now long gone. Perhaps being there reminds them of a better time. Perhaps it does make them feel young.
Whatever the reason happens to be, it's our vice. And if it makes us happy, well, at least it's cheaper than heroin.
Or not. I really have no idea.
Mike Ryan is senior entertainment writer for The Huffington Post. He has written for Wired Magazine, VanityFair.com and GQ.com. He likes Star Wars a lot. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter
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