TAKE ME TO THE RIVER

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By Steve Houk

I remember that it was snowing. Big puffy flakes that we were catching on our tongues as we giddily skipped down the streets of Hartford towards the Civic Center. It was Dec 12 1980, three days after John Lennon was shot, we were all 19 or 20, in the prime of our young lives. It was even our friend Linda’s 20th birthday, and in a stunning reminder how much time has passed, she passed away just last month.

But on that cold and wintry night in 1980, we were beside-ourselves ecstatic to be on our way to see Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band on a stop during the tour to support his latest album, The River, his much anticipated follow up to Darkness On The Edge Of Town. For many in our posse, it would be our first time at a full length Bruce show, a couple of us had seen him do his six or seven song set at the No Nukes Benefit a year before at MSG, but this was our first foray into a no holds barred full on Springsteen show. And it was a show that for some of us would end up being the greatest concert of our lives. And tonight, Bruce will be up there again, playing the entire River record, almost four decades after we first saw him.

Why was this concert that took place over 35 years ago so memorable, so profound, so unforgettable? Because it was way more than a concert, as most Springsteen shows are. This show was an experience, almost like a Broadway show, where we were taken on a journey, an adventure, an odyssey. We were brought to the highest heights and also down to some low lows, it’s a story, a tale, rather than a list of songs that a band plays and then they’re done. It was a revival meeting, a therapy session, a short story, a love song, a party crasher, a psalm, a hymn, a raging rocker. All of those things in one 3 hour and 45 minute expression of the sheer joy of rock and roll. Seeing Bruce for the first time was an utter mindblower. In subsequent Springsteen shows that I have seen, which were all spectacular in their own ways, you knew what to expect. He’d still find ways to surprise you, but you knew what you were in for. At this show in Hartford, we had yet to experience him, and so to sit there and see this relatively scrawny, mutton chopped Jersey Devil blow our minds ten ways from Sunday was an incomparably exhilarating feeling.

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For Bruce, The River was another vitally important chapter in his growth as an artist, and as a man. On Born To Run, Bruce took Wendy from the front porch to his front seat in a desperate attempt to escape the hopelessness of youth. On Darkness, he started peering into the reality of life and his need to find the promised land and escape the badlands became even more urgent, but he was still figuring it out, all as he kept racing in the street.

But on The River, responsibility and commitment have arrived and taken center stage, and amidst the hungry hearts, Sherry darlings and ramrods are strewn the stolen cars, wrecks on the highway and deep rivers of stark reality where beneath the surface of hot cars and hot girls flow the deep challenges of marriage, parenthood and work. On “Independence Day,” among the most deeply personal songs Springsteen has ever written, he makes no bones about telling his father that he’s a man now, he’s leaving to make his own way, because he knows one thing for sure: “They ain’t gonna do to me what I watched ’em do to you.”

And it was at this very moment, a critical time when we were all figuring out who we were too, that we were first given Bruce. A man standing tall and proud but also wary and troubled, on the edge of true adulthood, and huge superstardom, giving every single solitary ounce of his heart and soul for almost four hours, leaving us to walk into the snowy 1980 night deliriously happy, mouths still agape at what we had witnessed, and ecstatic we had found him.

And tonight, when the lights go out at Verizon Center, and we all take another dive into The River, we are no longer 18 or 19, like Bruce we now also have families, we have responsibilities, we have commitments and yes, we have struggles and challenges all these years later. And thankfully we still have Bruce, who tonight will take us back to that snowy Connecticut night when our rock and roll lives changed forever, and then ecstatically take us up into the stratosphere before letting us out in the streets once again to ponder what we just saw.

Take me to The River. Wash me down.

 

 

 

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