OF ALL the rock songs in all the world, there is one line that haunts me the most: “I got the kind of debts that no honest man can pay.” I know that feeling. Believe me, I do.
And why? Because Bruce Springsteen, who wrote those words in his song Atlantic City, has cost me a fortune over the years.
I’ll be there at the first night of his concert movie Western Stars tonight, but perhaps on this occasion he should lay out the red carpet for me.
I figure I have contributed enough to his hundreds of millions, the former home in Rumson (New Jersey’s most expensive town), the farm nearby and the houses in Los Angeles and Florida.
Bruce spent last year in his one-man show on Broadway and saw it as an opportunity to reflect on his life.
Me too. Not on his life, but mine. While I regret not a moment of my devotion to his music (and by the way, he is not The Boss, not Springsteen but just Bruce), it has cost me more than an honest man could reasonably afford.
Never mind the gigs, I have all his albums on CD, vinyl and even cassette tapes – remember them?
The high point (or low point, in my bank account) came in January last year when I went to see his show on Broadway.
Through a carefully organised campaign, my middle son Daniel managed to get us two tickets at a cost of $600 each. OK, I was prepared to pay but of course with three sons, I couldn’t just take one of them on a trip to New York.
Although I didn’t have tickets for the others, I said: “Daniel and I are off to New York. Do you want to come?”
I was then treated to a legion of excuses from Liam and Matthew: “Saving for a trip away,” and “I need to buy a bag of crisps.”
There was a pause and then I said: “No, you don’t understand, I’m paying for the flights and the hotels.”
At which point both chimed in:
“Count me in!” And then my wife looked at me with one of those expressions that meant she was coming along too.
So there I was with a family of five, plus my oldest son’s lovely partner, booking flights, transfers and hotels. In all, by the time Bruce pitched up at the theatre on Broadway I was down by about £6,000.
When I first saw him play I could have bought a house with that amount of money.
It all began in 1975. Bruce’s first gig outside America and it was at the Hammersmith Odeon in west London.
A friend at school had suggested we go and see this band from New Jersey. The songwriter and band leader was supposed to be “the new Bob Dylan”, but who wasn’t in those days?
So off we went. We were promised we would see the “future of rock ’n’ roll” and he turned out to be a scruffy man with a beany hat, a beard and a kick-ass band.
Bruce will not know this, but he has been in my life ever since.
I’ve been with him longer than my wife, a whole lot longer than any of my children have been alive and I rarely meet a work colleague now who was born before Bruce and I got together.
But why the devotion? Because there is a magic in the words and music that no one else in rock history has matched. He wrote the most aspirational line ever: “It’s a town full of losers, I’m pulling out of here to win” – and if you were brought up in Crawley, West Sussex, that is a phrase that certainly resonates.
He also gave us the most subtly erotic line, “Her body tan and wet down at the reservoir”, and the best words for pulling: “I would drive all night just to buy you shoes.”
He does not write just lyrics but stories, told in poetry with cinematic imagery. If
In Western Stars
RIGHT, well thanks Bruce. Some of that money (a tiny proportion) comes from me. Once, buying bootleg DVDs on a street in America, I said to the seller: “You’ll see Bruce gets his royalty payment?” All I got was a blank expression. New Yorkers don’t do irony.
I have, of course, bought the Broadway show on CD and vinyl – £75 for the two. And Western Stars, his latest studio album is at home on CD, vinyl and download. Add to that the thousands I have spent on tickets – around £80 for a gig – travel, hotels and I begin to think that perhaps, just perhaps, Bruce could send me a sub. How much is the total cost of being a lifelong fan? Times and prices change but with that trip to New York, it cannot be less than £30,000. And I would not take a penny back. What would I do? Swap Bruce’s music for a new kitchen, a car or a conservatory?
No. I have even chosen two of his songs to be played at my funeral – Darkness On The Edge Of Town from the 1975-1985 live album and the acoustic version ofThe Promised Land from 2005’s Columbus live album. With them, I will go to the next world a happy man. I just hope Bruce doesn’t expect royalties for playing them.