Bruce Springsteen changed my life last week. I may be wrong, but I don’t think I’ll ever be quite the same again.
Like many immigrants from the US, I’ve been traveling to the States from Israel for the past few years for business. My being away from home so much has taken its toll on the family. But with the love and support of my long-suffering wife, we’ve managed.
On my latest trip — a mix of business and pleasure — I was able to take four of our (eight!) kids with me, and I wanted to do something special for them. A friend of mine was just at a Springsteen concert in Germany, and that gave me an idea.
All my kids (we have five boys and three girls) are musicians to varying degrees, and we’ve worked hard to make sure that music is an essential part of their lives. My wife and kids formed a family band called The Special Opps. They’ve been playing together for a while now and, to me at least, they sound quite good.
I’d never been to a Springsteen concert, though I’d had a few opportunities through the years. I checked the Boss’s tour schedule and it turned out he was playing up in Boston on August 18 — at the 69,000-seat Gillette Stadium — while we were going to be in New York. Not too far. Taking the kids seemed like a great idea.
Unfortunately, by the time I checked into it, most of the tickets were gone. The only ones left were either in the nosebleed seats or in “the pit” — general admission; standing room only.
My youngest, Morty, is 11, and my wife and I had some concerns that he wouldn’t have the juice to stand for one of Bruce’s fabled three-and-a-half-hour concerts. But we decided to go for it. How many times would me and a quartet of the kids get to see the Boss live?
We surprised them with the tickets the night before the show. They freaked out, of course.
That night, while I was looking up driving directions to the stadium, I noticed a small link on the venue website. It was for general admission ticket holders like us. The link opened a page with directions for entering a lottery to get to the front of the stage. This was the first I’d heard of the possibility. To enter, we needed to be at the stadium at 1 p.m. There, numbered bracelets would be distributed to the first 1,000 of us in the general admission horde, and those 1,000 would be given first access to the stadium. If we were really lucky, we might even be among the first of the 1,000 allowed in — based on a system Springsteen uses. It sounded complicated but well worth a shot.
We left for Boston at 8 a.m. sharp. I thought five hours would be plenty, but it was pouring, I-95 was bumper-to-bumper, and Morty needed a rest stop just as we got moving near the New Haven exit.
I was getting nervous that we’d be late for the bracelet lottery but, hey, part of the fun of the concert was the road trip, and we were all in a really good, positive place. If we missed the lottery, so be it.
We pulled up to the stadium a little after 1 p.m. An orderly line had formed. This, we all thought, would not work in Israel. Hundreds of people calmly waiting their turn for a yellow bracelet? No pushing, no shoving, no aggression? I don’t think so.
There was even camaraderie. We discovered that most of the folks who join the lottery line aren’t ordinary fans, there for today’s gig only. These are Bruce fanatics, people who follow him around the world. Many of them have been to dozens of shows. Not sure how they can afford it, but these people are committed.
We had some fun conversations with the others on line. People were pretty excited to hear that we’d come all the way from Israel for the show. No one could believe we’d never seen Springsteen before. It seemed like some of the old-timers felt we didn’t really deserve to be there; we weren’t true believers. But we ignored that, and concentrated on trying to stay dry in the plastic ponchos we’d bought from Eastern Mountain Sports at the stadium.
We got our bracelets — numbers 125-129. We were told to come back at 4:30 for phase two.
Joining the new line, after lunch, we were again stunned by everyone’s polite behavior. With minimal assistance, folks lined up cheerfully — this time according to our numbers.
Now came the moment of truth. The number was about to be drawn. Someone on line explained the system to me. A fan is chosen from the crowd to draw a random number, anywhere between 1 and 1,000. And that’s where the line to enter the stadium starts. If 512 is chosen, then the person with bracelet 512 gets in first, then 513, 514, and so on. And poor old bracelet 511 is the last of the 1,000 to enter, and gets to stand in the back of the pit — no disaster, but not close enough to see the drips of Springsteen sweat.
A hush fell over the crowd. Wow, these fans were really taking this seriously. The announcement came: The line would start with number…114. Amazing! The kids and I would be the 11th to 15th people allowed into the stadium.
All around us, the fans were frozen for a second, as they registered the significance of the announced number for each of them, and their proximity to His Bossness. I saw one woman burst into tears. I thought she was crying with joy till I noticed the 109 on her bracelet. Poor woman, she’d be nearly the last one in.
Now we got onto a new line — the holy trail that led to the stadium itself. We were warned that bathrooms would be hard to get to from now until the end. My beloved, bespectacled, big-grinning Morty, whose New Haven pit stop turned out to have been the delay that gave us prime position, needed to go again. Who were we to begrudge him? A kindly guard granted our wish for a rapid bathroom break from the ranks.
At about six, two hours before the show was to start, we were allowed into Gillette. The place is immense. Rows of seats stretching into the distance. And here we were, five Springsteen amateurs, walking in our line, calmly, to the front of the stage. We found our spot, directly in front of His microphone. I felt a little guilty. I got over it.
As we waited, it occurred to me that Morty was wearing his New York Giants cap. Inside Gillette Stadium, home of Patriot Nation, no less. Whoops! Totally not on purpose, Patriot fans — he’d just grabbed it on the way out of the house because it was raining.
That Giants cap didn’t go unnoticed. Several people around us in the pit started mentioning it. Who knew? Bruce is a Giants fan. The title track of his latest album, “Wrecking Ball,” mentions the team. Some folks sniped that we’d perched it on Morty’s head to get Springsteen’s attention.
Then one woman in the crowd, Michelle, squeezed over and asked me if my son was ready to sing. Huh? Turns out that Springsteen has been pulling kids — the cuter the better — out of the crowd during the tour to join him on stage for a particular song. Which song? “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day.” Never heard of it. Didn’t believe her.
Michelle told us, “Well, you better learn it quick.” I didn’t think so. I couldn’t fathom Springsteen pulling one of my kids up on stage. Stuff like that just doesn’t happen.
Show time, and there we all were, literally next to the stage. The E Street Band came out one by one, then Bruce. It was electrifying. Extremely loud and incredibly close. Springsteen meandered the width and depth of the stage as the evening progressed, but a lot of the time he was right there, touching distance, in front of us.
It got more incredible. Early on, the Boss looked down, right at us, and evidently noticed Morty, glasses, grin and — I’m pretty sure — Giants cap. He came back and looked a few more times. Another of my kids, Mendel, a really good guitarist, was holding out the pick he always carries, offering it to the great man. Bruce leaned over, took it, and gave Mendel his.
But he was mainly looking at Morty.
Seventeen songs in (I checked later), the band got to “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day.” Bruce started singing it far back, but then walked over, our way. My heart was racing. I pulled out our new camera and started filming. Then there he was, right in front of us.
He looked down, paused, and gestured to Morty — upturned palms and shrug indicating something like, “Nu?”
Like, “You knew this was going to happen, right?”
Mendel lifted Morty to the stage.
There he was, in all his utterly-living-the-moment-ness, beaming, standing next to the Boss.
But, boy, did he not know the words. This didn’t stop him. Neither did the outrageousness of the situation — up on stage with Bruce, in front of tens of thousands of people, not really knowing what was expected of him.
Of course, I now know, the kids who Bruce pulls up on stage share the vocals on the “Sunny Day” chorus with the crowd. But Morty didn’t know the vocals. And Springsteen worked that out pretty quickly.
Morty yelled “Waiting” — one of the words. Didn’t actually know any of the others. So yelled it again a few more times. Springsteen, amused, put his hands behind his back — as in, “you’re on your own kid.” Morty, out of lyrics, put the mic up to Bruce’s face — encouraging the Boss to sing. Fortunately, he obliged.
Morty and Bruce were clearly playing off each other — an insane, surreal, ridiculous, intimate moment — in front of a packed football stadium.
Then Bruce lifted Morty up high, and danced around the stage with him in his arms. It was funny. It was lighthearted. For Morty, for his brothers, for his dad, it was wonderful.
Springsteen whispered something to Morty to yell out. Morty obliged: “COME ON E STREET BAND!” The crowd roared. The Boss gave Morty not one but two high-fives, and sent him back down to us, with a thumbs-up for good measure. Somehow, I’d had the presence of mind to keep filming.
During the last encore, “Twist and Shout,” Bruce came over again and asked my kids if they were brothers. They said yes, and Bruce gave Morty a pick of his own. What a sweetheart to think of us, at the end of a huge show, in front of a massive audience, after rocking for three and a half hours.
I don’t know how those crazy few moments on stage have changed Morty, if at all. They can’t have hurt his confidence, but then that was never lacking.
For me, though, and I know this sounds sappy, it was almost a miracle — a little sprinkle of earthly perfection.
A superhero reached down, lifted up my beautiful boy, and filled his heart with the purest joy. And there’s nothing a parent could want for his kid more than that.