Bruce Springsteen's evangelical nation baptized me in St. Paul

Photo by Justin Baker
"Can you feel the spirit?!"

By Justin Baker

I have spent a good part of the last decade goofing on my former boss and his Bruce Springsteen superfandom. By and large, it's your typical generational back-and-forth.  He calls me hipster and a cynic. I call him old. It's what friends do.

As my adult music appreciation has grown, though, and my status as a music critic has become more official, the issue has gotten hotter.  "Who are all these lame new bands you listen to?" he chides.  "Let me know when you want to write about real band."  "You mean that guy that played the Super Bowl looking like Wayne Newton?" I retort. So began my ex-employer's quest to engineer the massive, cranial explosion that would supposedly characterize my first live Bruce Springsteen experience. 

To be clear, I like Springsteen. You simply can't claim to love rock music and not appreciate the dude. He is on any sane music junkie's bucket list. The Jihad-ish devotion of his superfans, though, has always seemed a little weird. "Larry Bird went to see him once," claims my boss, "and he said: 'Bruce reminds me of me.'" I get what that is supposed to mean, but of course the Boss reminds White Basketball Jesus of himself.

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Bruce Springsteen at Xcel Energy Center, 11/11/12

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Along with the team from Hoosiers and Kevin Costner's character from Field of Dreams, Bird and Springsteen preside over the sacred cultural plane where America's middle-aged white men go to agree on who and what is worthy of respect -- you know -- who does it "the right way." It's a place where we kids don't understand the value of hard work, Michael Jordan is a self-centered a-hole, and a line like "just wrap your legs round these velvet rims and strap your hands across my engines" is enjoyed completely without irony. At least that's how it all looks from the outside.

That ethic would still tolerable, frankly, if it weren't so often coupled with a basic condescension for anyone who sees humor and (and even partial rationality) in modern sociopaths like Axl Rose, Kanye, and the aforementioned MJ. With that, it's downright annoying. Yeah, maybe my generation is jaded, but we've seen three terms of the Bush family. Give us as break and lighten the fuck up, old folks.

The set-up:

This Spring, on a visit to Detroit (former home and place of employment under Dan), several drinks into the night, the gauntlet was finally laid down:

Justin: "I'm going to the Sasquatch Festival in a couple weeks. Should be great."

Dan: "When are you gonna be ready for a real rock concert?"

Justin: "I told you. I'll go to any Springsteen show, any time. Pick a date."

Dan: "He's gonna be in Minneapolis in the fall."

Justin: "If you fly out, I will clear my calendar."

Dan: "You need to be educated, my son."

Justin: "Fine by me. Let's do this, once and for all."

And so it was settled. A few months later, the dates were announced. Plane and concert tickets were purchased. "You're going to be close enough to get Bruce's sweat on you," promised Dan. At last, one of the key questions of our time and place would be answered:
Can a generation gap be bridged with high-priced concert tickets?

Little did I know that The Springsteen Experience actually begins weeks before the event itself. First, I was included on e-mail chains and text messages from Dan's "Bruce Crew," where they exchange photos from various tour stops, and stories of Bruce's showmanship and compassionate heroism. I needed to be primed, evidently.

Then it was people I know around the Twin Cities, upon hearing about my Springsteen venture, virtually all of whom had the same reaction.

"It's your first time? Oh man, is that gonna be awesome for you."

Each such instance was inevitably followed by at least one personal "Bruce Story." "Bruce Stories" are excellent. They immediately supercede whatever is taking place at that moment. The teller then takes on a reverent tone while covering one of three major themes.

1. Bruce is a superhuman performer.

2. Bruce's show is going to permanently change your life.

3. Bruce is Gandhi with a guitar.

Some of them are as simple as "It was my wife's 40th Birthday and Bruce pulled her up on stage and kissed her on the cheek. He played "Prove It All Night" for her. We both still get chills."

So many "Bruce Stories" in this shot

Particularly charming was a story about a dude who held up a sign reading "Bruce, I just got dumped." Bruce leaned down and asked him what happened. "She said I didn't spend enough time with her," answered the dude. No word on what role traveling to Springsteen shows played in that situation, but Bruce offered sympathy, said his own exes "don't get the record royalties," and played "I'm Goin' Down" for him.

Then, some of them are like my own experience Sunday night at Xcel Energy Center -- detailed after the break.

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