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the river

bruce in '78, or, you wish you were there

1978: We saw Bruce three times that year, during the Darkness tour that is often called Bruce's best-ever by hardcore fans. All three shows had particular moments that made them stand out.

The first show was in June at the Berkeley Community Theater. Bruce played a Friday and Saturday night, and I dutifully stood in line for several hours at the ticket outlet to get Saturday tix (since I worked nights in those days, and Friday was a workday). Even though I was very close to the front of the line (4th, 5th, can't recall), there was a feeling of depression once the ticket window opened, as the couple of people in front of me walked back shaking their heads at how far back in the auditorium they would be sitting. The person right in front of me got to the window; I looked over his shoulder as he said he didn't care which night, just give him the one with the best seats.

And he got 4th row on the middle aisle.

Now it was my turn. "Give me two for the same night as that guy who just left!" I said. And was given ... third row, two seats in from the aisle, for Friday night!

I cried all the way home. This was before cell phones, so I couldn't say anything to Robin until I actually saw her face-to-face.

The third row was a blast. During "Spirit in the Night," Bruce and Clarence took off into the theater, standing right next to us for a bit, then moving further upwards (that was why 4th-row-aisle was better than 3rd-row-seats-3/4). Near the end of the show, folks rushed the stage ... we didn't have far to go, for a change! ... and at one point, as Bruce slid on his knees while playing guitar, I reached out and touched him on the boot. (I subsequently had a bumper sticker made up which read "I Touched Bruce Springsteen" which I placed on our car. One afternoon I was waiting at a red light, and a guy pulled up next to me, rolled down his window, and shouted out "I touched Diana Ross!") It was the greatest concert I had ever attended up to that moment. I believe my brother David and sister Chris were there again for this one.

In December, Bruce returned as part of the Final Month of Winterland. Winterland was a mid-sized barn that had hosted everything from ice skating to boxing to concerts over the course of many decades. I had seen a few shows there, myself, in the mid-70s: Lou Reed, J.Geils, the Sex Pistols. The Band held their "Last Waltz" concert at Winterland. Bill Graham used Winterland as a venue bigger than small theaters but smaller than hockey arenas, but 1978 was to be the last year of Winterland shows (it's since been torn down), and Graham managed to get a lot of big acts to play the old dump in its last month, including Bruce for two shows. We got tickets for both, our first time going to two shows in a row (no need to worry about best seats, as it was general admission for the entire hall).

The first show, December 15, 1978, is widely bootlegged and is considered by fans to be one of the handful of greatest Bruce concerts of all time ... the Brucelegs website calls it "Probably the most famous show Bruce will ever do." The show was broadcast on local radio. I stood on the floor with the teeming masses; Robin sat with my brother David, his then-wife Bonnie, and perhaps other folks, in seats just off the floor. There was no aisle to walk up this time, so for "Spirit in the Night," Bruce just laid down on top of the fans, who passed him around, being thoughtful enough to roll him back towards the stage and the mic just in time for him to get the next verse. (OK, in 2002, the audience roll is a cliche, but in 1978, not a lot of artists were doing it.) He played "Prove It All Night" for more than ten minutes. He played "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." He played "The Fever," which at the time was known as a Southside Johnny song; he played "Fire," which was a Robert Gordon song before it was a Pointer Sisters song. He played "Because the Night," which at the time was a Patti Smith song. He played "Point Blank," which at that time wasn't KNOWN as a song. And among the encores were the Mitch Ryder Detroit Medley AND "Raise Your Hand" AND "Quarter to Three." It was a magnificent show, and since we were in different places in Winterland, it was the only Bruce show where Robin and I didn't sit together.

The next afternoon, some friends of ours got married. We attended the wedding, but cut out early during the reception to go stand in line at Winterland. Robin got kinda drunk, but we managed to get there somehow, and ended up sitting in the balcony on the side near the stage. It was another great night, with an odd highlight, for me at least: during "Fire," in my excitement I thrust my fist out to match Max's drumbeat and smashed my hand against a railing. For many years after, when I touched my right pinky, I would get an odd tingly sensation in the finger. That version of "Fire" ended up being used for the 1975-1985 live album.

1978 was probably the most crucial year of all in our Bruce lives. He came out with Darkness ... we saw him three times, one up close, another for one of the most classic of Bruce shows ... we went two nights in a row for the first time. We've gotten a lot of enjoyment out of Bruce over the past 24 years, enough joy in fact that we've managed to avoid feeling nostalgic for the most part ... why lose yourself in the past when the present continues to offer so much? But 1978 was perhaps the best Bruce Year of all.

At least until 1980, about which more later ...

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