Friday, June 20, 2008

Springsteen at Madison Square Garden? It Doesn't Get Much Better Than That

I guess you could say that I burned myself out with all the golf and basketball posts over the past week. But when inspiration is fleeting, one can always find it in the work of Bruce Springsteen. So now seems as good a time as any to get back to my accounts of the Springsteen concerts I’ve been lucky enough to attend. For those who can’t wait for this little project to end, take heart – there’s only two to go!

Show #8, June 2000
Madison Square Garden
New York City

This account is going to be a little different from those in the past, in that it quotes liberally (and verbatim) from an e-mail I wrote to friends shortly after I returned from the concert. After all, it’s not every day that you fly across the country to see a concert – at least not for me. This was the only trip I’ve made to New York City in my lifetime, and it was all a little overwhelming. Don’t get me wrong; it was about as much fun as you can pack into a two-day period – but when you live in a city where the tallest building isn’t as high as every building you can see around you for blocks around, it sort of puts things in perspective.

The year 2000 was the year I turned 40. In an e-mail exchange early in the year, shortly after Springsteen had announced a two-week stand at Madison Square Garden to close out the E Street Band’s triumphant reunion tour, I had joked with my friend Craig that we should treat ourselves to a 40th birthday present and go to one of the shows. As it turned out, since Craig works for a major airline, this was not as difficult as it might have seemed at first glance. When he and his family visited Sacramento during the spring break holiday, he told me, “just say the word, and we can do this.” I didn’t take much convincing.

Because I was flying on a family and friends pass, it made the most sense to fly direct to Kennedy Airport out of San Francisco. This brings us to vignette #1:

Upon advice from friends in San Francisco, I arrived at SFO on Thursday a mere six hours prior to my flight, the expected traffic never having materialized. After a couple of drinks in the bar and reading three magazines from cover to cover and doing the SF Chronicle crossword, there were only 2 hours left, which were somewhat nerve-wracking - because I was flying on a Friends/Family pass, I was designated standby. Fortunately, because he works in their corporate office my friend Craig was able to track ticket sales to the last minute, and had sent me an e-mail earlier that day saying that I had a "90% chance" of getting on the flight, but probably in coach." After checking in, and waiting until everyone on the flight boarded, and then waiting for other standbys to be called, I was literally the last person they let on the plane (we did have contingency plans, but all of which included a changeover - this was a direct flight). And I made it in first class - which I could easily get used to. And flying a 767 is not the same as one of the little puddle-jumpers they use for LA-Sacramento flights; this is a real plane well-equipped to handle such things as turbulence. So, after my complimentary champagne and cocktail, and my "midnight snack" of pizza with sun-dried tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms (and glass of cabernet, of course) I settled down for a little nap in my reclining chair with footrest (having declined to watch a movie on the offered personal DVD player). Oh, and I mustn't forget the hot towels to freshen up every now and then.

I have to say, nearly 8 years later, that the wait was really excruciating. I didn’t do a lot of flying in those days, and when I did it was not a long flight. Having crossed the country numerous times now in my current job, I’ve gotten used to flying, but back then it was way down on the list of my favorite things.

After the red-eye flight, I landed at Kennedy at 6:30 a.m. on a Friday morning (the concert was that night). Which brings us to vignette #2:

Craig picked me up at JFK at 630 am, and we headed to our accommodations - the apartment that his employer rents in the City. It was on the 48th floor of a 72-story apartment building, on E. 38th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenue. About 1600 square feet, with a "great room" consisting of a half circle of all windows, overlooking the United Nations building, the East River (Queens and Brooklyn in the distance), and the financial district to the south.

Needless to say, this was an amazing place. I probably didn’t know well enough to appreciate it properly.

After freshening up, we were afoot - walked to Grand Central Station, through Rockefeller Plaza to see the Today Show Concert (Sting), and then through Central Park and up to 5th Avenue to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After 3-4 hours there, we cut through the park to Central Park West, walked to Broadway and then down through Times Square, Herald Square, a quick lunch at a diner, by the Empire State building and other sights, and I made my only real "touristy" purchase, a Late Show with David Letterman t-shirt, at the CBS Store next to the Ed Sullivan Theater where they film the show. Then, back to the Apartment for a much-needed afternoon nap. Around 6 p.m., we cabbed it to have a quick dinner at the Carnegie Deli, and then walked down to Madison Square Garden for the Springsteen concert, which of course was the reason for the trip in the first place.

I should also mention that it was really, really hot that weekend. And New York City hot isn’t the same thing as Sacramento hot – there really is something to that old “but it’s dry heat!” cliché.

Of course, the show was great, and seeing him at Madison Square Garden just added to the greatness. I remember getting there really early; in fact, we must have been among the first people in the arena to take our seats. They were the best seats I’ve ever had at a Springsteen concert – not on the floor, but very close to the stage, close enough that you could see everything perfectly without having to resort either to binoculars or the big screens. The highlight of the early part of the show was “American Skin (41 Shots),” which he had just started playing a couple of months beforehand. Sitting in front of us that night were three firemen who were joined by one of their sisters, and I remember one of the firemen being so offended at the song (it had gotten quite a bit of notoriety) that he stood with his back to the stage during the entire song. I also remember that by the time the night was over, for the first time I really understood the phrase “stinking drunk on beer.” Even though they all kept their faculties (more or less), by the end of the evening they smelled like a keg left out overnight after a frat party. And when the first notes of “Jungleland” hit, we got to witness one of those classic “this is the greatest moment of my life!” moments that you only see when someone has had, oh…9 or 10 beers or so. It was great, and just added to the atmosphere.

In truth, the show was really one long highlight – the heart of that tour, which never changed from night to night, was the Youngstown/Murder Inc./Badlands/Out in the Street/Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out sequence, and I don't know how it could have sounded better than it did on this night. And “Point Blank?” “Dead Man Walkin’?” Wow. But the best moment may have been Bruce’s hilarious monologue during the middle of “Light of Day,” during which he played a bit with the New York City crowd:

“New York City !....New York City !....but everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve seen people lost in confusion....I´ve seen people lost in loneliness on the subways....I´ve seen people lost in the wilderness of the concrete jungle....I´ve seen people lost in envy of the Jersey Devils winning the Stanley Cup....I´ve seen people lost at the Statue of Liberty which is actually in New Jersey, come to think of it....I´ve seen people lost in the New York Giants memorabilia, who actually play in New Jersey....should be called the Jersey Giants, baby....I´ll show you some controversy !....I´ve seen people lost to the strains of the theme song ´New York, New York´ ....actually sung by a man from New Jersey....”

But that wasn’t the end of the trip; we had one more full day in the city, and made the most of it. Which brings us to our final vignette:

Saturday, we had a leisurely stroll down to Greenwich Village where we explored used book stores and had brunch, and then walked back up the piers to around the Javits Center when we decided that a cab sounded like a great idea (it was hot both days - 90s and very humid). We went through the Museum of Natural History, and then explored the Upper West Side for a few hours before heading back down Broadway to have drinks and dinner. And then, an early Sunday morning flight back, again in first class (and this time I took the DVD player), with mimosas and a full-blown Sunday brunch. All in all it was a wonderful time, and probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience (though I hope not).

I took quite a few pictures on this trip, and in many of them are the twin towers of the World Trade Center. In retrospect, that was probably the most touristy thing I did during that weekend. But, hey – what better way to prove that you were in New York City than to frame as many pictures as you can around the World Trade Center? But I’m glad I did.

To date, it still counts as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but someday I’ll make it back. And next time, my wife Debra will be with me.

Setlist: Code of Silence/The Ties That Bind/Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street/Two Hearts/Darkness on the Edge of Town/Point Blank/American Skin (41 Shots)/The Promised Land/Youngstown/Murder Inc./Badlands/Out in the Street/Tenth Avenue Freeze-out/Human Touch/Dead Man Walkin'/Meeting Across the River/Jungleland/Light of Day/Hungry Heart/Born to Run/Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)/Thunder Road/If I Should Fall Behind/Land of Hope and Dreams

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