Cliff, Judie, and Bruce Springsteen ©Tracey Noelle Luz
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Bruce Springsteen and I are Now Even.
It took the better part of my life, but I’ve settle the score with the man they call The Boss. What was it that needed to be settled, you ask? Let me explain.
As many already know, I live in an interesting part of New Jersey, an odd little world between the shore and the river, a town called Red Bank, which my wife and I adore. But when we want to go out at night, we much prefer the bar and club scene of Asbury Park. And so, for my wife Judie’s birthday, we planned a three-stop crawl on and along the ever-evolving boardwalk of Asbury Park.
Our first stop was a relatively new addition called the Pinball Museum, a one-price-per-hour arcade, with a vast assortment of classic old pinball machines. And you can bring in your own beer. From there, we went on to a spacious lounge called the Water Mark. With its ocean views and minimal, but comfortable modern décor, we were instantly transported from a gritty old school arcade to luxurious ambiance. But there was still one more stop, and I wanted to make sure everything was running smoothly at the final destination of Judie’s birthday night. So I went on ahead asked my wife and friends to try to follow along as soon as possible.
I walked north just a few short blocks over to the friendly Asbury Lanes, a resurrected, early 60’s bowling alley that doubled as a rock club. For this evening, I’d book three seasoned garage bands; Holmes from North Jersey, Bad Karma from the New Brunswick area (Central Jersey), and the Rib Eye Brothers from Red Bank (consisting of several former members of the mighty ‘90s rock band Monster Magnet). All were friends of ours, as was almost the entire expected audience.
When I walked up to the front of the Asbury Lanes, I was greeted by my friend and best man at my wedding, Bryan Bruden, along with several other friends who were having a cigarette before going in. As I proceeded, I saw more friends lined up to pay their ten bucks to enter. I queued up and chatted while I fumbled for my wallet and pulled out a twenty dollar bill just as the door opened behind me. Since I knew practically everyone who was attending the show, I turned to greet whomever it might’ve been. It was Bruce Springsteen. So I said hello and shook his hand. Then I thanked him for showing up for my wife’s birthday. I told him everyone at the Lanes tonight was here to celebrate her birthday. But before we could continue our conversation, all I could hear was, “How many? Hello, excuse me, how many?” asked the woman collecting the admission at the door.
“Uh, I… uh,” I had the twenty in my hand and was holding it almost close enough for her to reach it, but just hadn’t yet handed it over.
“How many am I taking out for?” she continued to ask, but I was in a conversation with someone who’d meant an awful lot to me and my friends when I was in high school, and now I finally had my chance to meet in the flesh.
“Um… oh, take out for two. One for me, and one for my friend here!” spilled out of me in a seemingly surreal moment.
“Oh, that’s okay, but thank you,” protested Springsteen with a laugh. I’m sure people try to give him gifts and comp him for stuff all the time.
“No, really — because I owe you,” I said. “You played, like ten nights at the Beacon Theater in New York back around ’76 or maybe ’77?”
“Sounds about right,” said Springsteen scratching his chin.
“Well I sold a lot of tickets and, I’m sorry for scalping, but I was a kid and, well, in a way, you bought me my first car. It was a 1970 Buick Skylark with a 440 4 barrel.”
“Hey, I can’t hold that against ya,” he was grinning as he offered absolution.
Then I held up the twenty dollar bill for him to see it, and said, “Then you’ll understand that when I buy you this ticket, we’ll be even.”
“Fair enough!” laughed Springsteen, “Go right ahead!”
When I meet someone I admire, I never want to come off as a pest, even though he had a good laugh. So I was going to just walk away and go talk to some friends. But he said to me just as I was about to disappear, “It’s really your girl’s birthday? Where is she?” asked Springsteen.
“She’s over at the Water Mark, she’ll be here in about fifteen minutes.” Pointing over my shoulder.
“Well when she gets here, I’d like to wish her a happy birthday! I’ll be right over there,” he said, pointing to the far end in the direction of the bar.
Moments later, Judie arrived, was informed of our special guest, and posed with a living legend for a birthday photo. But what was really remarkable was just how comfortable Springsteen was with all of our friends. Nobody pestered him or texted or tweeted his location. Many of our friends are either musicians or have worked in entertainment in some capacity. Several were radio DJs. From time to time I would look over and see one or several of my friends engaged in conversation with Springsteen. He enjoyed the bands along with everyone else, and hung out for over two hours. Throughout the evening we shared a few stories and had quite a few laughs, but mostly, I was there to celebrate my wife’s birthday and be with all of our friends. When he went to leave, he came over to me and put his left hand on my shoulder and extended his right and shook my hand and said, “I just wanna thank ya for a great night.”
Bruce Sprinsteen did that in front of about eight or nine friends who I’d been in a circle talking with. Later I realized that he had taken the spotlight off of himself and put it on us. He made the evening about Judie’s birthday and the bands that were playing. He made us feel that it had been his good fortune to have had met us, rather than the other way around. A truly humble hero, and masterful way of being a public figure in public.