One sunny mornin’ we’ll rise I know
And I’ll meet you further on up the road
On October 18, 1974, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band played a show at the Capitol Theater in Passaic, NJ. Special thanks to the Internet for helping me to recall the date. Springsteen was not the headliner that night. In fact, the show became famous in Springsteen lore because that was the night that the actual headliner, John Sebastian, saw the Springsteen soundcheck and told promoter John Scher that he had no intention of following that.
None of that had much affect on me one way or the other. The fact is that I was there, with my best friend Larry and future ex-wife Sara, to see the evening’s opening act, Dan Fogelberg. What can I tell you? We liked his first album, and we were excited about seeing him.
In retrospect it’s kind of odd that we didn’t know more about Springsteen because at that point he had two albums out. Of course history will confirm that those first two Columbia albums were not exactly chart-busters and that Springsteen was in danger of being dropped by the label.
NJ is a state that is clearly divided into North Jersey and South Jersey. It’s not a purely geographical thing, because the line falls well north of where it should. It’s a state of mind thing, and all I can tell you is that we weren’t familiar with Springsteen because he was South Jersey, and we were North Jersey. We’d heard of him, vaguely, but that was about it.
Fogelberg played. I remember him being somewhat disappointing. Then came the always dependable John Sebastian. When it was time for Springsteen to come on, we debated leaving. Then Larry reminded me that our friend Max Weinberg, who we’d known and gone to school with since seventh grade, had recently joined the band. We decided to stick around solely to see what Max was up to.
Bruce opened with “Incident On 57th Street” that night. It was just him, Suki Lahav on violin, and Roy Bittan (who had also recently joined the band, replacing David Sancious) on piano. It was dark, with just Springsteen’s face picked out in a narrow spotlight. It was stunning. It changed my life.
Soon enough the entire E Street Band was on the stage, and for all the funny suits and outrageous hats it was immediately apparent that they were the real deal, and that the realest deal of all was the towering sax player Clarence Clemons.
We only got to see four songs that night because Sara decided we should leave and, well you know how these things go.
Since that I night I figure that I’ve seen about 60 Bruce Springsteen shows, the vast majority of them with the E Street Band. Each show was better than any show by any other band that I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen the Beatles, and the Stones countless times.
There is one thing I want to be clear about. There can be no doubt about the fact that Clarence Clemons was the heart and soul of the E Street Band. It’s not up to me of course, but as far as I’m concerned the glorious history of the E Street Band came to an end last Saturday night in Florida. Clarence was also one of the kindest and most gracious people who I’ve ever encountered as I learned when I interviewed him a couple of years ago.
Thank you for the music and for your kindness Big Man. The last thing you ever said to me when we spoke was “Alright homeboy. I’ll see you down the road man.” I look forward to it brother.