For Paul V.
No Retreat/No Surrender.
Long before I understood what it means to be alive, I felt isolated on leafy streets. At the bus stop in the morning, I would stand there calmly: observant and quiet: a kid with nothing to prove lest someone want to start some shit. I was afraid of most people. I was afraid of other boys because many of them seemed to have a violence about them. And with girls, I could see myself in their liquid eyes. The vibrations of their utter disinterest rolled up through me like trash trucks moving slow down the road on a snowy morning. I didn’t need to see them to know they were out there. And they didn’t need to see me to not care I was up there, waking up, teenage morning wood.
It becomes diligent business, all this under the radar living we do. After a time, even children become aware that somehow they have been missed. Not by the family, per se, or the few friends that they may have, but by the world at large. I began to wake up to trash trucks and high school buses as a middle school kid and I could hear the first traces of a symphony coming in through the cracked May windows. Summer was coming, my heart was high, and yet, there was a sadness.
A persistent melancholy that appeared out of some Little League miasma some late spring evening long ago and never left. It didn’t sweep me up or drag me down like a current or a tide. Instead, it rode shotgun.
Against a Cola Slurpee wind, I pedaled the Mongoose into the path of an iron horse I never saw coming. And the name of the beast was Bruce Springsteen.
Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band.
I have written about Bruce before. The music. My childhood memories of discovering him. Of meeting him through my own band. Of hearing certain tunes on the radio in 1980 and feeling a light flickering on and off inside of me. Like a Poltergeist. Like a Poltergeist bobbing around on a sea of microwave meatballs down in my kid guts.
What comes now is more of the same, perhaps.
I don’t know.
I don’t really plan these things.
Most of who I am now, at 51 years of age, is all esse. I dabble in the fantasy of everything. I close my eyes in crowds and imagine that I am alone, on a windy prairie, and I am surrounded by rattlesnakes. I like it that way. To be somewhat lost in a wild world appeals to my sense of wanting something I cannot put my finger on. A lifelong penchant for being unfulfilled will lead a lad to drinking. Or writing. Or both, if you play your cards just right.
My nerves are shot but here’s the thing. My machine has flipped and I got a new game/ free of charge/ and I don’t know who to thank for that. Or maybe I did it all myself. Maybe with basic survival comes a bit of rebirth? Maybe with each decade floating neatly away from your animated corpse, there is discovery yet. Age is the great equalizer. Living will kill you before too long. Each backyard bbq is just the opening act for chest pains, man.
We are all on a raft floating down a wide, wide river.
But almost everyone is asleep.
So it comes to me every now and then that I ought to hold a candle up to the things that have mattered to me. Before it’s too late. I don’t want to miss anything, but I have missed almost everything so far. It’s just the way life is. The school bell rings one last time and you don’t really clock the sound. Even if you tried so hard to freeze it in your head, to remember it forever/ even if you record it today on your iPhone on your way down the hall/ 18 years old/ bound for glory/ or bound to die in a car crash/ or bound for a nasty divorce and an Oxycontin addiction/ or bound for a great career in law/ or bound for Penn business school/ or bound for making legendary hoagies in a Delco deli/ or bound for 3 marriages/ or bound for 5 kids/ or bound for cancer and then you’ll beat it and then it will come back and then it will destroy you in the prime of your life/ or bound for 96 years old, smiling at imagined squirrels/ or bound for rock-n-roll stardom/ or YouTube fame/ or bound for a slightly blue existence on the edge of recognition/ never fully seen/ never fully felt/ never fully understood/ never fully aware of what was happening or why.
Down the hall and out the door into an early summer afternoon like a muscle car.
Kids on the edge of adulthood.
Adults walking away and forgetting to look back one last time, forgetting to breathe it all in one last time. I remember laying in my room, listening to ‘Racing in the Street.’ I was about to graduate high school. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. How can anyone ever know such a thing? What kind of torture is that to put a kid through?
I thought maybe I would be a taxidermist.
I thought maybe I would be a game warden.
I thought maybe I could become a western film star, what with my Eastern European average looks and my tendency to put on weight because I like to eat shit foods. I could be the dirty, sweaty gringo who lives in the middle of nowhere with two women, a wife and a daughter, who both cower in my presence until the day Clint Eastwood shows up and asks me for water and then, in the nick of time, understands that I am reaching for a big ol’ motherfucking revolver down behind the well and that I aim to kill him dead. He shoots me between the eyes. I stand there for a moment/ suspended in air/ black blood snake down my cheek/ the wind whistling/ the women covering their mouths in abject horror but also, they are grateful and glad to be free.
They will clean up nicely, the outlaw thinks, as I crumble to the ground.
Or maybe not, I don’t know.
Maybe I would be in a rock-n-roll band.
Maybe I would do something like that. I had no idea how, but it felt right.
Because ‘Racing in the Street’, if it never did anything else at all in this mean old world, what it did do was make me aware that there was a voice on the night breeze. And it was a voice talking to regular people, regular stiffs who had no idea that their lives weren’t bound for poetry someday.
The poetry was now. Happening right now. Right here. Laying in my bed. Rubbing my creepy teenage schlong. Hearing the cop cars burning up Fayette Street in the night as my grandfather snored his beers away in the cold blackness of his air-conditioned room down the hall. The same house my mom had grown up in, there I was. Growing up in it too. With the same people. Still alive. Still struggling to be kind to each other despite the love. Unhinged from the very beginning, I flapped like a scrap of siding as every new wind came along. Pap! Pap! Pap! Muted violence in the night heard blocks away by pretty girls with their windows open and their eyes on the lights of Norristown.
I don’t even know what I’m saying.
But everything that I have known, most of it paled in comparison to Bruce.
And not just Bruce, the guy from Jersey. But Bruce the idea. The notion. Bruce, the ether. Bruce, the cologne. Bruce, the poetry teacher who talks to people in their bedrooms at night. Bruce made out of boardwalk pizza crust. Bruce made out of Philadelphia hoagie wax paper. Bruce standing on a pile of your deepest desires and staring, slack-eyed, into your face and through your face and through all the faces around you as you close your eyes and ignore the arena and the crushing cheers and imagine yourself alone on the prairie surrounded by snakes.
Bruce in 1984. Whispering in the dark. Talking to a teenage kid whose body was boiling with lust and who knew he was invisible. I knew I was blue. I knew I was husky. I knew I could be anything I wanted in life, just as long as I also knew that I could never be that thing for real.
“Hey little girl is your daddy home, did you he go and leave you all alone…”
None of this has ever left me.
I am intertwined with a rock star from a thousand galaxies away.
I get up early this morning because Arle is moving out of the room to a knock on the bedroom door. She limps in the unlit world towards a kid on the other side. She hurt her foot at work. I lay still, say nothing.
After a while I hear a kid voice retching. Someone is sick. Someone is puking in the toilet in the middle of the night. Or early in the morning here as it turns out. Arle returns after a while and climbs into the bed and I can feel her warmth right away. I pretend I am still asleep but I also want her attention so after a minute or so I begin to fake nightmare sounds. And movements. Flicks and shudders. Paranormal shit even. I groan just enough for her to wonder if I am fucking with her or not. I convulse my body one time. Not lingering convulsions that would give away my jive, but just a single bolt of hard movement that could be real. She doesn’t react, which is what I expected and also what I was afraid of.
Arle is more mature than me. Her Bruceness took hold of her a bit later in life than mine did, but not too much later. Yet they were formidable years/ critical ones in the life of the American youth. I was 11 when I discovered Springsteen. I did it on the radio. Arle was 19. She walked into Fenway Park with a single ticket, alone. She had spent her Ramen money on the thing even though she had never really listened to his music much.
Now we are fighting one another in the heart of the night for something indescribable. I want something. Answers. Who’s sick? What’s going on? But I also want the woman beside me to touch me. To react to my pageantry and to move silently between: is he suffering through a terrible nightmare or is he being a fucking douche?
It is a battle of wits and it is very Bruce Springsteen because we are both guided, in our souls, by the unconscious/conscious idea that our lives are very small poems that unfold in real time, poems written by what we tell ourselves. And right now, with her hands smelling like liquid soap after smelling like kid puke and Lysol, Arle is lying in her poem just over there, being a tired woman pushing 40, being a tired mom who still has electrified dreams of art and love and sex and travel even while she deals with a husband who has a lot of mental health shit, plus her own blues and all that.
And I am over here lying in my poem, an activated sleeper now wide awake in the world but unseens by the billions. Unfelt by the billions. Unclocked by the billions and yet being listened to by just one. Just one human being on Earth is hearing me making little short chirping noises as I feign a rapid breath thing, trying to figure out how I could levitate my body up above the bed and over Arle’s body in the dim snowish glow that is illuminating our bedroom. If I could only manage to do that/ to somehow suddenly be inches above Arle’s face and she sees me there and I am floating/ oh fuck yes. My poem would be so intense, so otherworldly and goth and surreal. But I can’t ever operate in that world for as long as I want to. And so I fail bad.
I shiver a little. Try to act feverish in sleep. I let out short barks, like a chihuahua. I shudder again, but this time I slap my palm up against the old barn wood on the headboard. This, I do, in an attempt to make Arle think that I have slammed my skull into the top of the bed. Or that something/ someone has slammed my skull into it. As an attack. Like maybe a ghost attack.
I forget how it all ends. I mean, I give myself away, I think, at some point. She just lays there, her long lean body in a baseball shirt/ no pants, no socks/ and I feel her breathing and ignoring my shenanigans.
I say Psyche.
I say Psyche at some point to let her know that I was messing with her and she says, I know.
As in she knew all along that I was being an idiot. I process all of this for a second or two/ this whole thing has gone down swiftly/ over the course of maybe a minute, minute and a half. I have to let it go. My silliness slips away from me. She isn’t having it now. She held a kids head as they puked. She twisted her ankle at work. It is 5am, she tells me when I ask. The night is gone. We have to get up soon. We have to start everything over again soon.
We have to write more lines of poetry that no one will ever read.
We have to walk out on stages, all fucking day long, to empty theaters, our voices echoing off the far back walls. The sounds of our tiddly-wink dreams ricochetting off the big metal doors to the lobby. Our tight fresh verses reverberating back at us, slitting our throats like paper cuts, like bullets we will never understand.
I ask her who was sick.
Milla, she says softly.
Then we move into one another, and end up smashing.
I wasn’t even Springsteening the moment or anything either. It just went that way. The night, the morning, the fake nightmare/ ghost attack, the understanding, the resolve, the cool muted light from the light snowy dawn approaching.
We are thrust upon the stage of a lifetime. We are, all at once, caught up in the meta. Our lives behind the curtain as good as anything Bruce ever wrote. And he would say as much, I know.
Look at that, will ya?! he would growl, taking a sip of beer. Smiling, giggling raspy like a kid. From a ghost attack to a morning fuck.
All at 5 in the morning!
Serge! You are the man.
Now, Arle, come over here, baby.
This idea that I would try to see my life as poetry, or an indie film, or a Springsteen song, as I live it in true, real time, it is, in essence, something ancient, I guess. Mindfulness has been a concept for a jillion years from what I understand, but I can’t be fucked to go Google its origins. It doesn’t really matter either way I guess. Someone somewhere along the line had similar notions to what I have had over the past few years. Notions that propelled me, repeatedly, towards a deeper pondering of consciousness. Not in the name of some kind of patchouli scented long strange trip, mind you, but rather as a vessel for floating down the river of my days.
Instead of the raft in the middle of all the other rafts, most of them occupied by single sleeping human beings, the Walkman at night, back when I was a zitty horndog amateur western movie star laying in my bed, it was an entirely different, and better, way to float downstream, towards whatever ending awaited me.
Understanding that Bruce Springsteen was singing, pretty clearly from Born to Run forward, that our own lives are absolute magnificence in all of their tragic heartbreaking splendor, it didn’t come to me easily at first. But it did come. Night after night. Cassette after cassette.
Tougher Than the Rest.
The Fever from a bootleg from Plastic Fantastic in Ardmore. .
Backstreets from Live 1975-85.
These weren’t just songs. These weren’t just words and music swirled up for radio. I mean, they were that, obviously, and they found their audience because they were good at being that. But they were also something more. Something that is rare, I think. Something transcendent, something, dare I say, magical. For in each of the goose-bump moments I began to experience alone in my bottom bunk, from the time I was 11 or 12 and onward, I was being introduced to a much more complex and worthy way of living my life.
Bruce, in his own indirect way, via the song, via the show and the standards to which he held himself, or at least appeared to hold himself to a teenager in the Philly suburbs before the internet. Before the world was cracked open and the yolk of mystery ran out all over the goddamn streets like dead dog’s blood. Before we knew too much, we never knew enough. And down in that hunger, down in that intense desire to understand how something so illuminating could possibly exist, my burning need to press my face hard into the tiny intricate liner notes of my Sam Goody cassette copy of Born in the USA and to feel the cool paper give way to a closeness, to a momentary connection with not just the man himself/ the rock-n-roll star I knew I would never meet/ but also to the magnificence of the realization that I wasn’t just listening to good music anymore.
This was bigger than that.
More monumentally profound, even when other people didn’t get it to the point of making fun of his voice or whatever. Fuck those people. I cut off their heads with swords when I sleep.
Because it was Bruce who showed me, never telling me/ forever showing me (remember that!) that my single mom crying in the car in the mall parking lot because she was so tired from life was directly connected to my baseball coach smoking Kools and never talking about Vietnam (I found out long after) which was directly connected to me and my friends playing baseball with dirty shit gear on broken glass basketball courts which was directly connected to the lonesome anger in my English teacher’s eyes/ the vision of my drunken father who had disappeared one night and never returned/ the girl on the school bus whose basic movements even made me feel like weeping or hurting someone to show her I exist/ the first stage I ever played on, no one in the crowd, a promoter paying us with a case of Budweiser/ the people on the sidewalk when I was up on the El/ the people in their living rooms when I was walking home from the park at dusk/ the lust in my groin/ the empathy in my chest/ the disbelief in my brain/ and the fear running down my skin like summer rain, a kid so scared of life and yet so sure that it was all meant to be so promising, so intended for me somehow.
Somewhere along the way, I stopped my moves and allowed myself to stand and contemplate my own unnoticed reflection. There, in the faces and the names of the stars of the narratives Bruce wrote, I plucked a life force spider thread stretching from the distant sweaty epiphany nights that he and his band became famous for. They were nights I had yet to experience in person, but somewhere out in the middle of all of that, a heavy-set kid from Conshohocken/ a living breathing unhandsome, average child known as Serge Bielanko found himself standing in the gales of a choice.
You can see your life like this, Bruce said to me, or you can forgetabout it and move on, kid. See your life like everyone else. Spend your time longing for the very poetry you were born surrounded by.
The night was so dark. The mosquitos were tapping at the screen. I heard a motorcycle tear up Fayette Street. I heard my own mom laughing at the TV through the downstairs window screens. I pushed play on the Walkman.
I reached out my finger to the night floating by outside.
Bruce stepped out of the darkness on our front porch roof, moved his finger towards mine.
I heard a different woman laughing up the street behind the tap room.
It sounded like she was drunk.
It sounded like all space and time.
Me and Bruce touched fingers and it was just like ET.
Then he turned and flew away, off my roof, into the impenetrable sky, off into the weak light sauce above the Acme, disappearing into nothingness above the Casmar Cafe.
The tickets for Philly and State College/ for all the shows this tour, are so out of reach that I don’t even think about them. Me and Arle struggled with it all, too. How could this happen? we wondered to each other. How could Bruce shut so many of us out and then act like it was just another day in paradise?
Over time, I forget that the tour is happening. The nights begin and I peek at the set lists and they are powerful, inspiring, deeper than lost seas. But they sting to stare at and they make me question things I never wanted to question.
Authenticity in the face of commerce is a thin, thin line.
Each time I think about Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band playing a show down the road from my house soon, and me and Arle not being there because we simply can’t afford to be in the room, it fucks me up bad.
Who should I be in that situation? I want to be the bigger man. I want to accept the poetry of the hard moment, the stark harsh stick-whipping that comes with being a big Bruce fan in a post-Covid one-off arena tour economy. I want to somehow revel in my loss. In our loss as a couple. What we cannot have, it will make us stronger. That is how we roll.
But I have trouble with all of it. Like so many lifelong fans, there are more questions than answers. I read that Backstreets, the cult classic magazine that has been a chronicler of all things E Street for decades is announcing it will close shop very soon. I cannot explain how that devastates me. I understand, of course, that things come and go. That everything is ephemeral and that a magazine based on the music and story of a 73-year-old rock/roll legend is likely running out of steam on its own. Yet, why now, I wonder? Is it in response to what has happened with this tour, with these super expensive tickets and this Ticketmaster bullshit?
Or is it not? Is it something else? Something more?
I remember so vividly: the Plymouth Meeting Mall. Me with my chump change from my after-school job at Philadelphia Country Club. I washed dirty irons and drivers for rich people, parked golf carts, picked up balls on the driving range. All my pay, I used for cassettes and music magazines. The cool of the AC kissing my skin as I came in from the parking lot. The long walk to the escalator and then the long ride down to the first level if there was some dumbass couple holding hands in front of me. Or an old lady taking up the whole space.
Me rushing to the bookstore then, once I hit the floor. The sound of the fountains. The gushing like crowds. Like live album beginnings.
And then the anticipation. Please let it be there. Please, please, please let the new Backstreets be on the magazine shelves!
And if it wasn’t, my heart would snap in half and I would have to go get a Chick-Fil-A and a chocolate shake to cope. It was too much for me, in a way. The beginning of a lifetime of anxiety problems.
But fuck me, if that magazine was there.
The effervescence, the fireworks popping off in my face. The natural giddiness. The cover in my hands. Unable to even focus, I would flip it open and glimpse at the contents, at the ads for Pink Cadillac shirts I desperately wanted but could never afford, my hands shaking.
Now, I look back on those days and I remember the happiness. I will miss the magazine. But I am so glad it happened. Somewhere in all of this, I want to be mad. To feel ripped off somehow. But between you and me: I just can’t. You know why? Because despite the money, despite the modernist saga of Ticketmaster and Verified Fan pricing and the omnishambles that came down between Bruce and his fans over the past few months, the gift I’m talking about today, the one I got sent to me from Asbury Park when I was just a kid, it didn’t cost me shit.
It was free. The price of a Walkman, maybe. Or the cost of Darkness on cassette. It was easy to come by, but I could have missed it. And my life would have been immeasurably different if I had. The stars in my tired sky have all been rock/rollers. And writers. Creatives, poets, people who could have gone one direction in life, but instead hung that hard left into art. And poverty, maybe. Or immense wealth if they timed everything perfectly. Dreamers. Word slingers. People who saw the grandiose in the everyday. People whose eyes noticed what everyone else was ignoring.
Men and women who understood, in the pit of their guts, that life was now.
And that the rich were poor and the poor were rich.
That kids screaming on the street was the sound of life and death all at once.
People who might tell you, in the alley lights behind the bar, that the Bible was just a made-up book.
But then would turn around and spit at you, in the same beery breath, that Sam Cooke was the one true fucking God.
There is a blood red circle
On the cold dark ground
And the rain is falling down
The church door's thrown open
I can hear the organ's song
But the congregation's gone
My city of ruins
My city of ruins
Now the sweet bells of mercy
Drift through the evening trees
Young men on the corner
Like scattered leaves,
The boarded up windows,
The empty streets
While my brother's down on his knees
My city of ruins
My city of ruins
- Bruce Springsteen, ‘My City of Ruins’
What I found had almost nothing to do with tickets back then. And it has nothing to do with them now either if I’m being honest with myself.
What I found was a pizza grease guitar poet alien crouching out on the roof outside my bedroom window. A lit-up finger in the middle of the long summer night. An extra-terrestrial from the swamps of Jersey, holding the light out for me to touch.
Phone home, dude. I heard it loud and clear in that raspy whisper.
Holding the life out for me to see. And I did. I converted. I closed my eyes and rode a beat-up Sony Walkman across the fucking universe, drunk on the poetry of my own mediocre existence.
What a gift. A set of eyes to help me see the world for all my years. A way of thinking, a way of life. Poetry in the heat rising up from the late summer sidewalks. The great American novel in me and my brother sneaking cigarettes outside the high school cafeteria.
Shit. I understand the ticket thing, but I don’t think I even care at this point. There is so much more to all this than any of that. No one owes me anything in this deal.
We are both alive on the same planet for now, me and Bruce.
Two tiny speck muscle cars watched by hawks.
I am fucking poetry. And so are you.
And love is love.
And so what can I tell you?
Sometimes the universe. It just/ works.
A week or so ago, I get a message from a guy I barely know personally. We had been back and forth on Bruce shows. I had seen he was at the first night and I was wondering, as any true fan would be wondering, what was it like. I am vague with my questions though. I don’t want to be a pain in the dude’s ass.
But he tells me that it was all so good. He says that Bruce is unreal, that his vivacity and his hunger never seem to abate. He is still up there, still slitting his veins wide open on the stage for all the world to drink.
Then he casually says something unexpected.
He invites Arle and I to Philly. He has tickets in the pit and he wants us to join him and his brother at the show. He liked my music, he reads Thunder Pie. He is a giving person, this I know already, but right in that moment, reading his words on a Facebook message, I lose myself/ roll backwards out of my body/ grab stars like dandelions as I tumble down a grassy summer twilight hill in space.
The reality of it escapes me and instead I am surrounded by fantasy. By nothing but the disbelief and trepidation that always proceed something good actually happening. This can’t be. This can’t be. This can’t be.
I think about all the other fans in the world, many of whom have been shut out completely this tour. There are so many broken hearts. So many bruised legacies that were so delicately constructed across decades of life and song and concert. I reflect on my own lifetime of Springsteen diehard-ism. I had never wavered before this year. I had never wondered if maybe everything was an illusion, and that even something to believe in is just another trick of the trade.
But deep down, I already know that I am going. That we are going. Me and Arle. There is no debate. There is only the distant campfires of consciousness, the entire Rebel Army just across this dark field. What was so irksome in the evening, it fades to memory by dawn.
Bruce. Philly. Serge. Conshohocken. Arle. Hoagies. Cheesesteaks. Marah. Christian Street. Point Breeze. The Schuylkill Expressway. Mike Schmidt. Von Hayes. Bill Bergey. WMMR. WYSP. Broadcasting LIVE from The Spectrum/ the crowd roaring behind Pierre Robert as he talks me through Bruce walking out onstage to the thunder/ then the first notes of the first song. then they cut to a radio track as I lay there maybe 14 mikes away/ in my bed in the dark/ a teenager who can barely breathe from the goosebumps showing up like Mystic Island lagoon dock barnacles on my young pink esophagus.
Frank’s Auto. Long drives to late shows where no one showed up. Loneliness and hunger and poverty/ real honest poverty. Me and my brother. Our guitar strings broken and left laying in heaps in Motel 6 parking lots in Green Bay and Seattle and Birmingham and Boston. One soft infested summer, Terry McGovern handing me and Dave two cold Heinekens before we walked out onto a Giant Stadium stage to a scene reserved for Gods.
My Born in the USA years. 1984. 1985. Me and John DePietro and Kevin Duda and my brother Dave and Phil Dean and Butch Coll and his sister Jackie. Bob Pfanders. Jimmy Williams walking by. Now he’s dead. Now he can’t walk by no more. The videos on MTV, relentlessly. The Philly radio summer. Construction workers with transistors blasting. Born in the USA and hammers banging and thick accents cursing. Wooder Oice. RAD-EEE-ATER. Moik Shit. Fuck yeeeew JIMMY! My Hometown and white dudes with tool belts razzing the one black dude with a tool belt. Pink Cadillac and the black dude with the tool belt eating his lunch with the rest of the guys/ talking shit/ kissing and telling/ race and buildings and chicken parm sandwiches from the deli by the job site.
My Pop-Pop dying. My Mom-Mom dying with her hand in mine. Teenage fat punk. Sausage grinder horny classic rock baby bitch. Pete ROZE, may-un! FUCK HIM, BAHBEE!
Oregon Diner Snapper Soup.
The city skyline sometimes. Then the city skyline all the time. Then the city skyline hardly ever anymore.
Bruce in Philly in a few hours as I write this on my bed right now?
Even when there is so much controversy, so much drama? Even when I understand both sides? Even when want everyone to have their slice of the magic pie before it is gone?
I close my eyes and roll down the existential hill.
Sutcliffe Park. Conshy. Josey’s candy store. Topps. Fleer. Donruss Diamond Kings. Gaylord Perry. Spitball dreams. Invisible Serge. Visible Italian girl in the deli by the Auto Parts store.
Prove It All Night after school on the bus.
The churches on every corner. The roasted hots in every deli. The old people with their rolled up newspapers, moving down the block. Those blazing summer days in the 1980’s when everything seemed forever and there was nothing to do but ride the bike until you dropped. Towns away. Far away. For no reason at all.
Tramps like us.
You’re fucking right we are going.
You’re fucking right we are going to Philly tonight.
It’s all we ever wanted.
On my bed a couple nights ago, I could hear Henry playing his electric guitar in his room. I was laying there alone, before I turned on the box fan, before I shut out the sounds of the world. He plays so good now, my son does. Nirvana. Weezer. Foo Fighters. Hendrix.
The riffs or the chords, I recognize them right away. He doesn’t stop to tune too often either, just like his old man. Just like his Uncle Dave. Ha. It makes me smile to hear him squeezing a sour neck until something familiar comes up out of it. It is a special kind of joy, then, that I sense myself experiencing. I lay there on the bed, up on top of the covers in my work pants and my work hoodie. I am saw dusted but I don’t care. I’ll wash the sheets on the weekend. Until then, whatever.
I hear Henry play a bit of one of our songs. A Marah song.
It washes over me on this Monday night in a way that I stop to hold. For some, it would make them smile, cause them pause, then the moment would move along. The way I guess life is supposed to move along if you want to get things done. But I can’t anymore.
I stop time in its tracks and I hold it tight in my hands so it cannot spin away. It struggles. It pushes against the resistance, but I refuse it and eventually it understands. Eventually time itself understands that another hardcore Springsteen person is recognizing a bit of poetry unfolding unexpectedly.
I lay there and listen to the shape of Henry’s cheap Strat notes. They are rounded like metal poles. Horizontal like a fence. He is building something with each flick of his young fingers, with each strum and drag of his growing hands. My body is mine this evening and somewhere out there Bruce Springsteen’s body is his for this evening, but me and him, we both know better. The moments fly by. The days once seemed endless and the summer nights were wild with boredom. Life, we spent so much of it waiting for something to happen. For something to come crashing through the walls of that tired scene. And for something entirely new to rise up out of the ashes of it all.
A hot new scene.
A perfectly lit new stage just as the lights go down.
The crowd going from their steady chatter to the exploding burst of energy and life.
Alone on my bed, I recognize everything. For just an instant, I stand in awe of the show I have known. I close my eyes, hear Bruce count it in. I am alone then, out in the wide open prairie wind. Lost in the badlands surrounded by rattlesnakes.
The old man counts it in, but it’s Henry’s guitar that comes cutting through/ his feedback-y notes clinging to the rawest vines growing up through the floors of this old house. My own son melting into my hero/ both of them amalgamating/ wrapping me up in their ever-loving arms/ creating around me a humidity of sorts/ a pitbull fever dream chained to the bumper of a single passing cloud. The music, the song, a way of seeing the world before it’s gone: all of it because I was young then, and listening for a voice. All of it because I am older now, and trying to be a voice for my own kids.
All of it even when I still don’t understand anything at all.
And for that alone, I thank you, Mr. Bruce Springsteen of Asbury Park or wherever the fuck you came from.
We were here together.
I was here alone.
Breaking rocks in the hot sun.
Everything is everything.
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Edited by Arle Bielanko
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Photographs/Art: SB. Last photo by Arle Bielanko.
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Every moment of light and dark is a miracle.
This one put a tear in my eye. Truly. I remember my discovering Bruce back in ‘75. “Born To Run” was a minor AM radio hit and it’s differentness struck me. Not the glam stuff which I so adored (and really that was just an update of the British Invasion sound which was where I fell in love with music), or the disco stuff which was almost the only think you heard on AM radio in those years, but something that was somehow both newer and older. The Spector thing. The east coast girl group grit. And I was fucking primed for it. The romanticism. The idea of your life, everyday life, as dramatic as a Scorsese film. He spoke about kids in a way that felt new/sincere/lived-in. Honest. I was a true believer. Snapped up BTR and the back catalogue (such as it was) and by senior year (when DARKNESS was released) it became the soundtrack of my life. The music guided me and let me know it was alright not to be like everybody else (even if the characters were just regular folk). DARKNESS landed hard because, unlike BTR and TWTIATESS (still my fav Bruce album) it felt rooted in suburbia, whereas the two more recent albums felt more NYC-based. And I was a suburban kid. I was an acolyte. His lyrics were street poetry. An overused simile, but nevertheless accurate. He sang about shit I knew, that I was living through. A good friend got his girlfriend pregnant and lived “The River”. One summer I spent working factory jobs. I was lost at 18/19/20, hell, longer. I’m still searching.
I’m not such an acolyte these days. I still dig (most of) the newer music, but the gilt has washed off a bit. I see where my teenaged/early 20’s Brucemania came from with a knowing smile. But it’s all good.
And I have my lonely/troubled nights. Still. Tried that phony nightmare bit with my wife a few times earlier in our marriage with much the same results as you got. I dunno. Life takes over. It’s what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans. Perhaps Lennon’s most profound lyric.
But this I do know, as a lyricist you, my friend, far surpassed the man who influenced you. Some reviewer (was it Hornsby?) stated the same in a piece on “20,000 Streets” and I thought, “yeah, well, we’ll see about that”; Bruce’s lyrical style is easily imitated (just ask John Cafferty, or fellow New Jersian Jon Bon Jovi). But you (and unless I’m mistaken, I’m would ascribe much of Marah’s lyrics to your pen), went straight to the blood and bone. Whereas Bruce gave us this romanticized image of the truth, you simply gave us the hard truth. Real. Harsh. Beautiful. You’re heard, my man.
I was 15 it was 1975 and on a small pocket radio ‘Born to Run’ came blasting out and everything changed………I couldn’t get enough and putting every penny together got the album……The first time I put it on and heard ‘Thunder Road’ it was game over,now here I am nearly 63 and still burning down that road,Bruce & The E Street have been there in every moment that matters…In May they will play 3 nights in Dublin thankfully I have got tickets for one night but it really is tough to miss two…….this will probably be the last time I get this buzz this high from what is the greatest live band to hit any stage and that is heart breaking but I still wouldn’t change any part of the journey since that night in 75…….very very few bands have ever come close to the power,the energy,the soul,the beauty the sheer joy of life and the poetry of living as Bruce……….you my friend and your brother have been one of the very very few with that raw edge and power that could move me in the same way and if you realise it or not with the might of Marah you understood and produced nights of magic that even Bruce would have been proud of………