In 1979, a couple weeks after the end of the Darkness tour, Steve and I headed west in a 1959 Edsel Citation I had picked up for $400 from Ed “Tookie” Tannon, the benevolent dictator of Honest Ed’s Used Conveyances in Asbury Park.
We drove until we hit the desert and then we slowed down. This was the America of my deepest dreams–stark, beautiful, merciless. I still struggled with how I could bring that spirit to my music. I was worried that I had taken my songs and my band as far as they could go.
One night, the Citation sprung an oil leak. It was just after dinnertime, near Reno, and we pulled into the parking lot of a diner on what had to be this town’s Main Street. After downing about fifteen cheeseburgers and a Coke, we were about to share the Citation’s back seat for the night when I spotted a small poster on the diner door.
“Hey Steve,” I said. “Let’s check this out.”
We walked up the street and paid three bucks apiece to see the Reno Repertory Company’s spring production of Hello, Dolly.
That night changed me forever. Suddenly, I found a voice for the voiceless, a fuel to drive the engine of my musical ambitions. This tattered program from the night in question tells me Denise Delvecchio, a housewife and part-time Tupperware saleslady, portrayed Dolly Levi. If you’d told me she was played by Barbara Streisand herself, I would have believed you. She was sensational.
“Before the Parade Passes By,” “Put On Your Sunday Clothes,” and of course, the legendary title number…this was true American music, full of hope, despair, and dare I say, razzmatazz.
I sat on the hood of that ‘59 Citation well into the cool Nevada night, and I wrote most of my next album.
That record–Bruce Boogaloos Down Broadway–sits in my vault alongside the hip-hop record, the country record, the gospel record, and the Tuvian throat singing album. (Actually, that last one provided the inspiration for many of the songs on Working on a Dream.) At the time, I asked my friend and mentor, Jon Landau, to guide me in the ways of American musical theater. Instead, he handed me a copy of Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. The rest, as they say, is history.
But my mind never strays far from the magic of that one night in Reno (not the one I chronicled on Devils & Dust, the Hello, Dolly one). I can still smell the greasepaint, feel the moldy humidity of a theater that probably should have been torn down three decades prior, and hear the tinkling of an out-of-tune piano as Ms. Delvecchio seized the spotlight for her 11 o’clock number.
Somewhere in the darkness of an endless American night, I still hold out hope that Puerto Rican Jane, the Magic Rat, Wild Billy and the rest will hear the soft swell of a string section and break out into the music of tap and glitter, instead of that other crap I wrote.
Until then, we have tonight. In the words of the great Broadway maestro Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber…
“The Phantom of the Opera is there…Inside your mind…”
August 9, 2017