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    In March this year my label Laughing Outlaw Records released a 22 track double CD of artists on the label covering Bruce Springsteen songs. The package came with an almost 9,000 word piece I wrote about seeing and interviewing Springsteen in Paris in 1981. This is it. Hope you like it.

    1. Bruce Springsteen has been central to my life since I first heard Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. in 1973. Over the years I've interviewed him a number of times and seen countless shows in Sydney, Paris, New York, Philadelphia, Austin, Washington D.C.,Los Angeles - and New Jersey. When I first proposed the idea of a Bruce covers album to the Laughing Outlaw family of artists, well, I knew there were obsessives like me on the label, but I didn't realise how deeply a love for his music ran through the whole roster. The result of that magnificent obsession is what you're holding. This essay was published in Roadrunner Magazine in 1981 and I want to thank Donald Robertson for permission to reprint it. It's all about seeing and interviewing Bruce for the first time in Paris in 1981 - and what it means to be a rock'n'roll fan. I hope you enjoy it.

      Stuart Coupe 2013

      Stuart Coupe 1981

      “When I hear a Springsteen record 1 don’t just hear Springsteen and the E Street Band, 1 hear the Drifters singing ‘Under The Boardwalk’, I hear Bo Diddley, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Jimmy Jones and a hundred other black men out of the 50’s we all owe more than a little debt to. I hear ALL those Roy Orbison records, not just ‘Only The Lonely’, I hear Jerry Lee and Buddy, I hear Otis, Wilson, and a little bit of Muddy. I hear Ben E King singing ‘1 (Who Have Nothing)’ and Jackie Wilson screaming ‘Lonely Teardrops’. It’s Elvis meets The Ronettes meets Chuck Berry. I hear Jerry Butler with and without the Impressions, and Dion with and without the Belmonts. I hear the Righteous Brothers and Van the Man. I hear the Rolling Stones and the Animals. I hear the Byrds and the Yardbirds, and Bobby Day singing ‘Rockin Robin’. I hear Smokey Robinson and every other artist who ever recorded for Berry Gordy and Motown, from Jnr Walker to Martha and the Vandellas. I even hear Dylan and Johnny Rivers. I hear the Band. I hear Creedence. l hear Gary U.S Bonds. I hear Sam and Dave shouting ‘Hold On (I’m Coming)’. I could go on and on, because I hear a little bit of every rock ‘n’ roller who ever laid a track on vinyl. Yet the Springsteen/E Street sound is unique. It wasn’t stolen from what preceded it. ‘Rosalita’, ‘Born To Run’, ‘Thunder Road’, ‘Badlands’, and almost all the rest are the result of twenty-five years of evolution".


      STUART COUPE: "Who me? I just love rock ‘n’ roll".

      Being a rock ‘n’ roll fan equals obsession. I’m one of those people. For as long as I can remember I’ve listened to rock ‘n’ roll, been inspired by it, sung it’s best choruses in my mind, and seen my own life reflected, and clarified in it. I grew up listening to a small transistor radio at home. The first time I had enough money to buy a single that’s exactly what I did. It was The Easybeats’ Friday On My Mind. I cried when my parents said they didn’t like it. I never set out with the intention of having rock ‘n’ roll separate me from them but it happened. I loved it and I couldn’t figure out why they didn’t too. But I’m not restricted to parents these days either. It’s simply those that love and those that don’t. It’s the ones that do who become my friends.

      When it comes to being a rock ‘n’ roll fan I’m a fan of Bruce Springsteen above everyone else. I love stacks of people — hundreds of them, but Springsteen stands head and shoulders above them.

      Springsteen’s music is about struggle, determination, loving, travel, dependency and independency. The history and spirit of rock ‘n’ roll pervades every line, every note, that he plays. And above all he’s a fan, just like me.

      Since I’ve been writing about rock ‘n’ roll I’ve written very little about Springsteen. In fact this is the first lengthy piece I’ve written about him. And it’s also the hardest. How do you do justice to him and his music? This will probably be the longest story ROADRUNNER will ever run but l’m stuck with the problem not of filling up the space but what to leave out.

      But if it comes out vaguely coherent and adds something to your appreciation of Springsteen and rock ‘n’ roll then it’s worth it.

      It’s written for Margaret in Melbourne who reckons she’s my biggest fan because I like Bruce Springsteen best of all and she thinks Born To Run is the greatest song ever recorded. She could be right, you know.

      To my mind Bruce Springsteen is the only rock ‘n’ roll performer to emerge in the Seventies who has any real claim to rank with Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, and The Beatles.
      There’s a depth to his vision of contemporary life, and a spirit in his music that simply dwarfs those who would be King.

      Greetings From Asbury Park, Springsteen’s first album, was released in 1972. I remember vividly the first time I heard a track from it. I was living in Launceston and conditioned to religiously taping Chris Winters ‘Room To Move’ program on the ABC. One night he played the staggering Half Past France from John Cale’s Paris 1919 album and Mary Queen Of Arkansas from this guy called Springsteen. I played those two songs over and over till the tape almost broke.

      Then a friend brought a copy of the album back from England. Springsteen wrote in a rush of Dylanesque images, long lines crammed with images, and song titles like it’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City, Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street, and Spirit In The Night.

      In these songs I met Crazy Janey, Wild Billy, Hazy Davy, the Angel, Jimmy The Saint. Kids who lived on the streets. Kids, like Springsteen, who were growing up:

      I stood stone-like at midnight suspended in my masquerade
      combed my hair till it was just right and commanded the night brigade
      I was open to pain and crossed by the rain and I walked on a crooked crutch
      I strolled all alone through a fallout zone and came out with my soul untouched
      I hid in the crowded wrath of the crowd but when they said ‘Sit down,’ I stood up
      Ooh...growin’ up
      The flag of piracy flew from my mast, my sails were set wing to wing
      I had a jukebox graduate for first mate, she couldn’t sail but she sure could sing
      … And I swear I found the key to the universe in the engine of an old parked car.

      Springsteen grew up in New Jersey, raised as a Catholic in the small town of Freehold. One of the most legendary stories about his Catholic schooling concerns a school assignment where Springsteen’s class were asked to draw their impression of Christ on the cross.

      Young Bruce handed up his drawing — Christ crucified on an electric guitar.

      Prior to the Bruce Springsteen Band days Bruce had numerous bands like The Castiles, and Steel Mill (a dreadful heavy metal outfit) who worked around the bars of New Jersey, especially the resort community of Asbury Park. Yes Virginia, there really is an Asbury Park, and the boardwalk is still there. Maybe Sandy really did walk under it one night.

      In some ways Asbury Park was probably like Liverpool in the early Sixties. Hundreds of bands coming and going, changing members and playing to each other and their fans. Eventually one of them makes it big — in Liverpool it was The Beatles, in Asbury Park, Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band. In this context Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes filled the role of The Searchers, to Asbury Park’s Beatles.

      Back to the saga of the boy next door and his guitar. A year after Greetings From Asbury Park, The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle is released. It’s less frantic than the first. More relaxed and sensuous, with the sound of cars sliding along wet streets and girls walking along the boardwalk on hot summer nights.

      There’s a whole host of new characters — Diamond Jackie, Spanish Johnny, Kitty, Jack Knife, Weak Knee Willie, and Big Bone Billy.

      Through all the songs there’s a sense of moving. Wild Billy, who works at the circus, is always on the move, the guy who loves Rosie gets a record contract and wants to shift from New Jersey to Southern California, and in Fourth Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) Springsteen sings of leaving his youthful innocence behind:

      Sandy, the waitress I was seein’ lost her desire for me, I spoke with her last night, she said she won’t set herself on fire for me anymore,
      She worked the joint under the boardwalk, she was always the girl you saw boppin’ down the beach with the radio, Kids say last night she was dressed like a star in one of those cheap little seaside bars and saw her parked with her loverboy out on the Kokomo,
      Did you hear, the cops finally busted Madame Marie for tellin’ fortunes better than they do.
      For me, this boardwalk life’s through, you ought to quit this scene too.

      The Wild, The Innocent … made it pretty obvious that Bruce Springsteen had a lot to say and was going to be around awhile saying it. As Dave Marsh writes: "There are a few precious moments in rock when you hear a musician overcoming both his own limits and the restrictions of the form. At those times, the music flows into something as awesome that it’s force is undeniable. Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, Eric Clapton’s Layla, Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone, Phil Spector’s Da Doo Ron Ron, Roy Orbison’s Running Scared perhaps Neil Young on Helpless and Tonight’s The Night, certainly the entire first Jimi Hendrix Experience LP and The Who’s My Generation and Substitute are moments such as that. For Springsteen, the watershed came on his second album. If he has already written greater music, explored the possibilities of his ideas more completely, made better recordings, none of it can ever sound quite this fresh. Neither he, nor we, will ever again be quite so astonished by the dimensions of his talent.”

      It was three years before Springsteen made another record. Problems with manager Mike Appel, and the resulting law-suits kept The Boss from releasing any new material.

      During this period critic Jon Landau wrote a story reflecting on his life as a rock ‘n’ roll fan, and the importance of Springsteen to renewing his faith in the music. The piece was about growing up listening to The Righteous Brothers, The Four Tops, The Rolling Stones and Motown. The last four paragraphs sealed Springsteen’s fate — Landau, at this stage, was the most influential critic in America. He wrote: “But tonight there is someone I can write of the way I used to write, without reservations of any kind. Last Thursday at Harvard Square Theatre, I saw my rock and roll past flash before my eyes. And I saw something else: I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen. And on a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was hearing music for the first time."

      Landau’s quote became the most famous line ever written about a rock ‘n’ roll performer "I Saw Rock and Roll Future and its name is Bruce Springsteen."

      Springsteen has lived with that tag ever since. He hates it. During his first English tour he physically ripped down and disfigured billboard posters bearing the slogan.

      Late in 1975 Born To Run was released, one of the truly great rock ‘n’ roll records. Springsteen had refined his songwriting. Prose poems were still poems but they translated to rock ‘n’ roll songs perfectly.

      More songs about cars, movement, escape from mundane lives and nostalgia for the innocence of youth. Here was Springsteen’s most famous song, Born To Run:

      The highway’s jammed with broken heroes
      On the last chance power drive
      Everybody’s out on the run tonight
      But there’s no place left to hide
      Together, Wendy, we can live with the sadness
      I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul
      Someday girl, I don’t know when,
      We’re gonna get to that place
      Where we really want to go
      And we’ll walk in the sun
      But then tramps like us Baby we were born to run.

      These were the same kids that inhabited the first two albums. But they’re getting older, a little wiser. They’re looking for a way out — driving cars, crime, hiding in the backstreets, street gang camaraderie.

      With its searing Spectoresque sound Born To Run was worth every minute we’d been waiting for its release. The only question was, how long can he keep recording rock ‘n’ roll classics, each one better than those before? Two years later there was no sign of him slowing down. Darkness On The Edge Of Town turned out to be one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll records in the history of the music.

      On it Springsteen’s politics were more explicit and defined. The innocence of the earlier albums was completely gone and instead his characters were facing the grim reality of life. They struggled to break out but they were caught every time. It didn’t stop them trying.

      Darkness … was received by critics and the public as a depressing, defeated album. This upset Springsteen who saw the songs as being about positive struggle against the odds. In Promised Land he sings:

      There’s a dark cloud rising from the desert floor
      packed my bags and I’m heading straight into the storm
      Gonna be a twister to blow everything down
      That ain’t got the faith to stand its ground
      Blow away the dreams that tear you apart
      Blow away the dreams that break your heart
      Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted
      The dogs on main street howl
      ‘cause they understand
      If I could take one moment into my hands
      Mister, I ain’t no boy, no, I’m a man,
      And I believe in a promised land.

      As Dave Marsh wrote: “You could say that this music is about survival, but not the easy kind that pop musicians and consciousness cults like to talk about. This sort of survival isn’t about being ‘happy’ or having ‘fun’, or resolving the dilemmas of being sensually satiated. In this context, the kind of ‘survival’ — in which demons are neither conquered nor conquering: but simply ignored — is far more meaningless than death itself could ever be. For Springsteen, survival is a matter of facing up to everything that saps psychic and physical strength: it means taking life on its own terms, and never giving in. “When Bruce Springsteen sings on his new album, that’s not about ‘fun’, said Pete Townshend, “That’s fucking triumph, man.”

      Besides containing Springsteen’s most fully realised songs, Darkness … highlighted the musicianship of The E Street Band. Springsteen’s guitar playing opened up new possibilities for the use of the instrument and the performances by the band left no doubt that they were the tightest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world.

      The River, a double set, was released late in 1980. It sounded as though Springsteen was reacting against the supposed depressing feeling of Darkness. This time there was a stack of up tempo rock ‘n ‘roll songs.

      But the classic ballads were still there. Three in particular, Independence Day, Point Blank, and Wreck On The Highway rank with the finest stuff Springsteen has recorded. And for the first time this album contained first person love songs. In the past all Springsteen’s overt love songs had been given to other people to record. Not now.

      The car was still the dominant symbol in Springsteen’s songs. All but three songs on The River are reliant on automobile metaphors.

      The River is also a much more mature album. Springsteen’s characters have got older with their creator and as Ken Viola, publisher of the Springsteen/Jukes fanzine Thunder Road, told me in New York: “The River represents, at least to me, what a 30 year old guy who grew up relatively middle-class thinks about and experiences, and its a very urban, kind of city thing. The songs seem to be directed at older people — 30 year olds. That isn’t bad necessarily but it doesn’t have the youthful vitality that some of his earlier records did".

      The River is the work of a maturing man but it still contained more rock ‘n’ roll spirit than just about anything else recorded last year. But enough of the skimpy history. Let’s get to the point of this whole story. It is about time isn’t it?

      PAUL RUSSELL: "You wanna go to Europe and see Bruce Springsteen play?"

      Springsteen has never played live in Australia. It’s hard enough to get him out of America, let alone to Australia. Nevertheless, there’s been almost as many rumours of an impending tour as there are for a Rolling Stones or Who tour. He’ll definitely be here next month they’re always saying. He never is.

      For a person with such a huge reputation Springsteen doesn’t sell a lot of records, here or overseas. Hungry Heart, the first single from The River, hovered around the lower regions of the Top 40 before disappearing and The River sold well but not spectacularly.

      It’s the same in America. “We’ve really got to break him with this album.” Julian Shapiro from CBS International in New York tells me. “I mean Springsteen isn’t really a big seller. The River’s his best selling album but it’s only done 1.8 million copies. Compare that with a guy like Billy Joel who regularly does 4 million units.”

      “The way we look at it The River has seven or eight potential singles on it and we’ve really got to get him away this time. I mean we may not get another album from him for two years.”
      The closest comparison with Springsteen was the late Bob Marley, a guy who didn’t have gigantic sales figures but had a real reputation for putting on an amazing live show that made the records seem almost insignificant.

      “But wait till you see him live” has always been the classic Springsteen fans’ response to people who remain unconvinced after hearing the records.

      As far as Australia is concerned that’s where the Catch 22 comes in. Rumour has it Springsteen wants around a million dollars to tour Australia – he travels with 46 people, his own sound system, staging and lighting.

      A million dollars is a lot for a promoter to risk on the reputation of a guy who isn’t an established superstar (read McCartney, Stewart, Joel, Police) in this country.

      It’s worse when he says he won’t play outdoors on principle.

      And then he says he won’t come till record sales increase. Whereas tours are the traditional way to increase record sales.

      “We think we need someone to go to Europe and tell people in Australia what Springsteen is like live," Paul Russell, the managing director of CBS Records, Australia, tells me one night at a Charlie Daniels party cum record presentation: “Do you think you could find the time to go over?”
      Could I find the time? What a joke. I’d walk over broken glass to see a Springsteen show. Wasn’t I the person who wrote in my book that my greatest desire was to see Bruce Springsteen in concert????????? (Book “The New Music")

      Initially I have tickets for three of the five sold out shows at Wembley Stadium in London. Then comes the announcement Springsteen has collapsed and the English dates have been postponed till after his European concerts.

      “I’m not so sure he really did collapse,” Julian Shapiro says. “Between you and me I think he was tired after a really long American tour but it’s more that he doesn’t want to go to Europe and realises that when he does go he’s stuck there for six weeks.”

      So Paris it is. A few days into the tour Springsteen and the E Street Band are playing two nights at the Palais des Sports, a sporting venue that holds around 5,000 people. This will be the first time Springsteen has appeared in France.

      “No football, no football,” mutters the French cabbie who can’t figure out why I want the Palais des Sports. I show him my ticket. “Aaaah, muzic consert.” He’s sussed it out.

      It’s bitterly cold. People are huddling around hot food caravans. I’m handed a postcard for Rose Tattoo announcing their European dates.

      Around Paris the posters for Rose Tattoo outnumber those for French election candidates by two to one. The Tatts are, like The Saints, much more popular in Europe than they’re ever likely to be in Australia.

      The show starts at 9 o’clock. There’s no support act. I’m with John Peters from 3XY who’s also been flown over for the concerts. Our tickets are about 15 rows from the front, just to the side of centre. Not bad at all.

      We’re both pretty tired. John arrived from Australia only a few hours earlier and I flew in from New York that morning, devastated after three weeks of constant activity in that city.

      It’s a strange sensation. After dreaming of this moment for so many years it’s hard to believe it’s real. Am I really sitting in the Palais des Sports in Paris about to see the finest rock ‘n’ roll performer to appear in the past ten years?

      Could he possibly be as good as my expectations?????? What happens if he’s dreadful? Less than great?

      Christ, CBS has just spent over $5,000 on me seeing this show. Sure, they get a few other interviews but this is IT. The purpose of the whole exercise. Now, I make a big thing about having a reputation as a critic who says ONLY what he thinks, what happens if I get back to Australia and have to tell CBS and the world that this guy just doesn’t cut it???? Great records but all this ‘you’ve gotta see him in concert’ stuff is a load of crap. He’s OK but so are The Boomtown Rats.

      Gulp. This is getting worrying.

      The lights go down. Oh well, we’re on the way. It’s just after 9. The French are really into the flickering light routine. The moment the house lights go down hundreds of matches and cigarette lighters flicker in the darkness. It really is quite moving... honest.

      I’m expecting the big blast as the E Streeters and Bruce slam into Badlands or another rock ‘n’ roller. Not so. Springsteen walks out. He’s like a shadow. Just a faint light illuminating his face. The crowd cheers and then goes silent. Slowly, oh so slowly. Springsteen starts singing Factory, just a slight guitar sound in the background.

      Early in the morning factory whistle blows,
      Man rises from bed and puts on his clothes,
      Man takes his lunch, walks out in the morning light,
      It’s the working, the working, just the working life.

      He’s stunning. Chilling. Then the lights flash. Max Weinberg thrashes the drums and it’s Prove It All Night. The E Street band are on two tiers. Across the back there’s keyboards player Danny Federici, opposite him is pianist Roy Bittan and in the middle is Mighty Max sitting behind the most basic drum kit I’ve ever seen. But does he hammer those four or five drums? You betcha.
      Down front Clarence Clemons is on the left, then Bruce, and bassist Gary Tallent, next to Mr Cool himself, Miami Steve in a black suit, and black hat.

      All the band stand out as individual characters. Federici plays the whole show with this ‘don’t fuck with me’ snarl on his face. He’s a large man who treats his organ like a toy. You see it shaking on its legs, expecting that at any moment they’ll break. Weinberg looks like a would be high school librarian. Glasses. Frail build. Only difference is that he drums with the power of Keith Moon. Bittan sits sedately at the piano. He’s balding, has a beard and looks as though he’d be just as happy tinkering away in a piano bar. Doesn’t even blink an eyelid or look up when Springsteen leaps onto his piano, sings a few verses and then propels himself back onto the stage. Clarence is fabbo. Blowing sax, hitting a tambourine. Dressed in great suits, real leather hats. etc. The whole bit. Then there’s Tallent, a pretty sexy bass player. One of those guys whose body moves like the bass notes. They kinda slink around the stage in slow, rhythmic motions.

      As for Bruce. Well, he’s short and looks like all the zillions of photos you’ve seen except that he’s grown these long Elvis Presley-like sideburns. And is he active? The only time he stands still during the show is when he’s playing guitar and singing, hence he can’t drag the mike with him.

      Prove It All Night leads into Out in The Street. Miami snarling the choruses with Bruce. “When I’m out in the street I walk the way / wanna walk. I talk the way I wanna talk.” or something like that. Then Ties That Bind, and Darkness On The Edge Of Town, in which Bruce changes “I lost my wife” to “1 lost my girl”, the only time he changes a lyric during both shows.

      Take my word for it. This is pretty fuckin’ exciting. By this stage I’m registering about one chill up the spine every 30 seconds. Every word, every line, every solo seems so much more impassioned, and felt in a concert situation. It’s sorta like hearing the records but everything is highlighted and more immediate. This is one concert where you’re NOT better off saving money and staying home listening to the records.

      Independence Day is followed by Springsteen’s version of John Fogerty’s Who’ll Stop The Rain, a song he apparently added to the set after Lennon was shot. Two Hearts, and Promised Land are next.

      Story time and Springsteen tells a version of the story about going past Elvis’ place after a concert. It was close to the version Dave Marsh quotes in Born To Run. Miami Steve and Bruce hop into a cab after a show in Memphis; “We told the cab driver, take us somewhere quiet.” He said, “Are you guys celebrities?” ‘Yeah’. So he said he’d take us out along the highway, by Elvis’ house. I said, “You gotta take me to Elvis’ house”. He says, “Okay. Do you mind if I call the dispatcher and tell him where we’re going?” So he calls the guy, says. “We got some celebrities here. We got.....” and he shoves the mike in my face, so I say, ‘Bruce Springsteen’. They didn’t know who I was, but they were pretendin' to, y`know? He told the dispatcher we were going to Elvis’ house; he was crackin’ up because the dispatcher thought we were going to drink coffee with Elvis.

      When we got to the gate, I looked through. It was 3am but all the lights in the house were on. I said, “I gotta see if he’s home.” So I climbed over and started up the driveway; it’s a long walk ‘cause the house is set way back. And I was almost at the front door, just getting ready to knock, when I see this guy looking at me from the trees. He says, “Hey, come here a minute.” I said, “Is Elvis here?” He said, no, he was in Lake Tahoe or something.

      “Well, now I’m pullin’ out all the cheap shots I can think – you know, I was on Time, I play guitar, Elvis is my hero, all the things I never say to anybody. Because I figure I’ve got to get a message through. But he just said, ‘Yeah, sure. Why don’t you let me walk you down to the gate. You gotta get out of here.’ He thought I was just another crazy fan — which I was”

      In Paris the only alteration to that story was Springsteen pondering what he’d actually have said if The King had been there and they’d met. Springsteen also talked about the Presley songs that impressed him most — How Great Thou Art and The American Trilogy. “And I rate this song with those,” he said, introducing a very straight, folky reading of Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land, complete with harmonica solo.

      Then The River, Badlands and Thunder Road. The French audiences were singing along with all the songs off The River and Darkness but they didn’t have the faintest idea of Thunder Road.
      As the lights dim after Thunder Road the band stagger to the front of the stage. It’s 10.20. “Don’t go away,” Springsteen says. “We’ll have a short break and we’ll be back to play another whole set for yas.”

      Twenty minutes later they’re back. This is easily the greatest rock ‘n’ roll show I’ve ever seen and it’s only half over.

      OK, this time there’s Cadillac Ranch, Sherry Darling (complete with a young girl dancing onstage with The Boss), Fire, Look But Better Not Touch, Wreck On The Highway, Racing in The Streets, Candy’s Room, Ramrod and Rosalita. By the end of Rosalita the place is going beserk. Bruce introduces the band and off they go. Everyone’s standing up. Seats are getting smashed and thrown out of the way.

      Five minutes of roaring applause and they’re back on. And in five minutes Springsteen devastates everything else in the concert. A slow, unaccompanied version of Presley’s I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You. Boy, and if you ever thought rock ‘n’ roll couldn’t put tears in your eyes and a lump in your throat.

      Three more killer punches end it all — Born To Run, The Detroit Medley and a version of the John Fogerty song Status Quo made money from Rockin’ All Over The World.
      Zoweeeeeeee. It IS the greatest rock ‘n’ roll concert l’ve ever seen. Springsteen and the E Streeters are THE best. And you betta believe it.

      BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: "Hi, I hear you’re from Australia. My name’s Bruce too."
      It’s well after 1am when we leave the venue. The Boss and co. played for over three hours and afterwards it seems like 3 minutes.

      Outside into the freezing, and I mean freezing, Paris night and off to the post gig party at this ritzy nightclub cum disco called Captain Video that CBS have taken over for the night.
      It’s like a normal disco, a bit classier than most. On the video screen I see clips of Rose Tattoo and some live footage of The Angels.

      And the big question? Will THEY turn up? Sure enough, about 3am Miami Steve arrives. Then Gary Tallent, Springsteen and eventually everyone except Clarence.

      Stay where you are, Bruce is coming over in a minute. Celia from the French CBS office tells John and I. A few minutes later Springsteen comes over to the table, looking tired and dressed in jeans and a lumber jacket. He can hardly talk. His voice is a husky rasp. "I hear you’re from Australia." he says. "Sorry I can’t talk but why don’t you come backstage after the show tomorrow night.”

      He’s led off to meet some more people. I start talking with Dave Marsh who’s flown from New York to see most of the European shows. His wife, Barbara Carr, is Springsteen’s publicist and they’ve bought their kids along. Just like family affair. “Daddy, have you got 20 francs,” the 10 year old asks Marsh.

      For a long time Marsh has been my favourite American rock ‘n’ roll writer. His Springsteen biography was magnificent and he’s been the most perceptive and, dare I say caring, of the Rolling Stone brigade over the years. He looks like your average American college kid only a few years older. I ask him how good the show I’d just seen was compared to others. “I’ll tell you how good it was,” Marsh says. “I had tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. When he came out and sang those early songs like Factory I saw my whole life flash past me. It was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen him give.”

      Marsh explained that the shows had been cut down in length for Europe and how Springsteen had worked out how to put it all across in around three hours. “In California he was doing four and four and a half hour shows but he was wearing the band, the kids and everyone except himself out.”

      Then to the show’s highlight, I Can’t Help Falling ... I’ve never heard him do that song. He’s never done it before. Who is he when he sings that song? Elvis wouldn’t sing it that way. Neither would Dylan.

      “Sometimes he’s Elvis, other times it’s Dylan, and other times he’s crazy enough to be Little Richard.

      Maybe John Lydon is right — there is nothing new in rock ‘n’ roll. But does it matter? That’s a good question.”

      Marsh was surprised and pleased that Springsteen’s first appearances in Europe had gone so well. “There was a time when we didn’t think Americans would understand what the guy was all about, let alone Parisians, He was a little nervous tonight but after he got going, it was great.
      He was certainly better than The Stones or The Who. Sometimes The Who were as good but not so consistently.”

      Later on in the evening Marsh is discussing the crowd’s response that night with some French rock journalists who think that only about 15% of the audience could understand English. “Maybe Bruce attracts a more literate audience,” Marsh says. “But then the whole point, for me, is like the story he used to tell before Independence Day about the records he used to hear on the radio and how he was moved by the sound, not the words. The important thing was the way he sang.”

      Garry Tallent looks pretty approachable so I start chatting with him about records. He and Southside Johnny share the same record collection which they keep at Garry’s place. “Southside needs to get down near the beach again,” he says. “He’s like a fish out of water where he’s living now.” He tells me that most of what they collect is do wop, rockabilly, and Roy Orbison. This is the guy who is reported to have been enlisted into the E Street band on the strength of telling Bruce he broke down and cried the first time he heard Running Scared on the radio. He speaks in awe about a recent show in the stage where Orbison came along to see them play and came backstage afterwards to say how much he enjoyed it. Hey, these guys are first and foremost rock ‘n’ roll fans — that’s what makes them so special.

      Flitting around is Miami Steve. “Australia? Don’t they speak another language down there?” he asks.

      Throughout all this manager Jon Landau keeps a watchful eye over his flock. He comes across as being as tough as Jake Riviera except he smiles more. People who don’t like Landau say that at the same time as he saw the future of rock ‘n’ roll he saw the future of his own bank account. But certainly he’s a fan as well. During the concerts he’s there clapping as hard as the most enthusiastic audience member.

      The party fades about 5am. The E Streeters drift off to the hotel. Me likewise.

      Sunday. It’s Easter in Paris. Off to the art galleries in search of the Mona Lisa.

      Concert number 2. We travel out with Amos, a rock ‘n’ roll journalist from Israel who’s just been to America on the CBS account and seen God in the form of Styx. Is it possible that he could also be a Springsteen fan? "If you’re a fan of rock ‘n’ roll it’s hard not to be a fan of Springsteen," he replies.

      The concert starts right on time. Tonight there’s no seats. It’s first in first served and already people are being squashed at the front.

      Again, it’s a slow start. Springsteen shrouded in darkness singing a song called Follow That Dream, a curious mixture of words by Presley and Roy Orbison, along with some of his own. It spells out the Springsteen philosophy:

      The heart is restless
      So tired and weary
      And you can’t go on in the distance a dream is calling you
      Well there’s just one thing that you can do
      Well you’ve got to follow that dream
      Wherever that dream may lead you
      Now baby I walk in dreams
      And I talk in dreams
      I need someone with a love I can trust
      And together well search for the things that come to us in dreams
      I’m gonna follow that dream wherever that dream may lead me
      Now every man has a right to live
      The right for a chance to give what he has to give
      The right to struggle for the things he believes
      For the things that come to him in dreams, baby in dreams, in dreams.

      All is silent. Lights flicker. Then BANG. Cascades of red, green and blue lights spotlight the players. “Lights out tonight / Trouble in the heartland. Got a head on collision / Smashin’ in my guts, man” Badlands, and the hall is dancing. I’m exhilarated. The contrast is so magnificent.

      Ties That Bind is next, before 10th Avenue Freezout, which Springsteen begins standing on Bitten’s piano, then, taking a mighty leap onto Weinberg’s drum rostrum, and finishing up singing the last verses on the next stage level.

      After Darkness On The Edge Of Town it’s time for another story, one of his best:
      “I grew up in this house where there was never many books or, I guess, anything that was considered art or anything and I remember when I was at school — at the time the things they were trying to teach me and the things that later on, when I got older, I missed not knowing, but when I was 15 or 16 either it was the way they were trying to teach it or I just wasn’t interested, but in my family when I got older I looked back and saw that my father — he quit high school and went into the army and he got married really young and picked up jobs where he could working in the factory and driving a truck. And I look back on my grandfather and he worked in a rug mill in the town that I grew up in and it seemed that we all had one thing in common — that we didn’t know enough. We didn’t know enough about what was happening to us.

      “I’m 31 now and I just started to read the history of the United States (cheers) and the thing is that I started to learn about how things got to be the way they are today, how you end up a victim without even knowing it and how people get old and just die after not having hardly a day’s satisfaction or peace of mind in their lives … but I was lucky too because I met this guy when I was in my middle twenties who said you should watch this, you should read this. Most people from where I come from never had someone to try and help them in that way. So all I’m saying is try and learn about, learn about yourselves and about who you are (cheers) and try and make it better for who’s going to be coming (cheers) because the real future of rock ‘n’ roll is only about nine years old today … anyway … Well, papa go to bed …”

      A beautiful version of Independence Day.

      Tonight’s set contains a large number of the same songs as the night before but they’re placed in different order and there’s a fair stack of different inclusions - Because The Night replaces Fire. Point Blank is in instead of Wreck On The Highway. I Can’t Help Falling In Love is still there but we also get Highschool Hop thrown in with The Detroit Medley and a romping rendition of Sweet Soul Music, a song that’d been played through the PA during intermission the previous night.

      The highlights are numerous. A poignant version of Racing In The Street during which I became very conscious of the total stillness in the hall. Hardly a movement except flickering flames from lighters and matches. During Ramrod Clarence and Bruce walking across the stage on their knees, and during Rosalita moving closer and closer and closer together until they’re facing each other. Quickly they kiss each other on the lips before spinning round and round till Springsteen reaches his microphone to sing the next verse. Because The Night is greeted with raised fists rising in time with the music. And for This Land Is Your Land Springsteen talks about how this song was originally written as an angry answer to God Bless America. Was this land made for you and me? That’s a question people should ask themselves about where they live.

      Again the guy, and the rest of the E Streeters, don’t stop moving. They’re tireless, and what’s more, they look like they’re enjoying every fuckin minute of being up there. “They know every rock song there is,” a friend of the band tells me. “At practice Bruce can just call for a song, any song and they all know it.”

      Even the stage and road crew are reacting like the audience. You can see them sitting along the sides of the stage clapping and singing along with all the songs.

      One thing that strikes me throughout both concerts, and is a little worrying, is the constant suggestion and presence of Presley in Springsteen’s show.

      Besides the Presley songs, and all the references in stories he really does LOOK like Presley. When he takes off his guitar and stands side on, crooning a ballad with those sideburns, the black hair, and some of the clothes he was wearing he looks just like The King.

      Near the conclusion of both shows it becomes even more obvious. He falls into the classic Presley movements from the Fifties of throwing his head, shoulders and arms back in time with a drum beat. Hmmmmm.

      In his article, The Man Who Would Save Rock And Roll, Greil Marcus has looked at the similarities between the two. After detailing all the failures of rock ‘n’ roll today writes: “A concert by Bruce Springsteen offers many thrills, and one is that he performs as if none of the above is true. The implicit promise of a Bruce Springsteen concert is that This Is What It’s All About - This is The Rock. Whether the promise is more than a night’s happy illusion is, at the time, less important than whether Springsteen can live up to it.

      “As songwriter, singer, guitarist and bandleader, he appears at once as the anointed successor to Elvis Presley and as an imposter who expects to be asked for his stage pass; his show is, among other things, an argument about the nature of rock ‘n’ roll after 25 years. The argument is that rock ‘n’ roll is a means to fun that can acknowledge the most bitter defeats, that it was a coherent tradition which, when performed, will reveal possibilities of rock ‘n’ roll the tradition did not previously contain.”

      I guess the big question is whether Springsteen can keep Presley as an inspiration and not become a clone. Unfortunately, during the Paris concerts there were moments when he skirted a little too close to the latter. But back to the saga of An Australian in Paris watching A Bruce Springsteen Concert.

      “Hey I’m in Paris and I’m just about to interview the future of rock ‘n’ roll.”

      Sunday night, the second concert over, there’s about 30 people wearing backstage passes and waiting for an audience with The Boss.

      “Don’t expect anything to happen for about an hour,” Celia from the French CBS office says. “Bruce has a rub down after every show. It doesn’t matter if his parents are waiting - he has a rub down before he sees them...”

      Gradually the band appears - Clarence, Max, Gary and Miami Steve who’s drawn into a discussion about the Gary US Bonds album he and Springsteen produced.

      Somehow a long haired, sandal wearing guy has got through the security cordon. He walks up to Miami Steve and asks him to autograph his forehead. Miami Steve turns on him, a mean sneer on his face. “Where I come from, you know what we call people like you - he taunts, pushing the guy’s chest with his finger. Hippies! Fuckin’ hippies, now get out of here hippie, fuckin’ hippie.” The abuse continues till the hapless individual is safely out the door.

      I recall Ken Viola telling me, “Miami Steve is the key to the whole band, he knows everything, remembers every face, and every conversation.”

      Around 2.30 in the morning the band, and most of the touring party leave in a bus for their hotel. Only Landau and a few others are hanging around inside. There’s still about 80 fans shivering outside waiting to see Springsteen. Amos, by this time, is just about asleep standing up against the wall. “If I was about to meet Bruce Springsteen for the first time I wouldn’t be falling asleep” Celia laughs.

      Three o’clock and we’re ushered in. The dressing room reeks of linament, just like a football team change rooms. There’s towels everywhere. Springsteen looks tired. He’s short - shorter than he appears onstage even, dressed again in jeans and an old coat. His skin bears the marks of adolescent pimples and his jaw juts out. In the flesh he’s far from the spunk that people imagine him to be. He looks much better in 98% of the photos than the real thing!!
      But he’s friendly. Questions start. How about training to keep in shape for such mammoth concerts? “I usually go into the gym a week before a tour begins to do a few light workouts” Springsteen says, “It’s more what I don’t do than what I do. I don’t do drugs or booze and I need sleep. If I don’t get eight hours sleep a night it really affects the show the next night.

      “I don’t go out much these days. I don’t stay out all night but I do stay up all night.”

      Springsteen says that when it comes to Australian music he’s heard records by The Angels and Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons. I mention Friday On My Mind. “That song … Forget it,… its one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll records ever... and one of the hardest to play. I never could get the chords right to that one. I used to try real hard but they’d never be exactly right.”

      Surprise is expressed that the band is finishing the shows with Rockin’ All Over The World which, although written by John Fogerty is known mostly in Australia and Europe as a Status Quo song. “I didn’t know it’d been a hit for Status Quo,” Springsteen laughs. “I just think of it as a John Fogerty song. But when I suggested we do it the band slapped me on the back. They said ‘Boss, how’d you think of that? How’d you know it’d been a hit for Status Quo? It’ll go down really well here.

      “It was lust luck on my part. I didn’t look so good when they found out.

      “There’s just that one line that says it all … like it. I like it. I like it.”

      Springsteen says he’s heard that the name ‘Bruce’ is really common in Australia and that people make a big thing about it. I explain that Brooocccceeee is used in the same way that non-New Jersey residents say Joooiiisssy when referring to New Jersey. Pretty much a term of derision and mockery. Springsteen talks about the isolation in New Jersey. “My sister hadn’t been to New York till a few years back and then she and her husband couldn’t find Fifth Avenue so they came back.”

      Fifth Avenue is the main street in New York!!

      Can Springsteen remember seeing any great bands in the Sixties? “I didn’t see too many bands till I turned twenty and became more mobile” he says. “When I was fifteen saw Herman’s Hermits head lining over The Who and The Blue Magoos”

      The range of rock ‘n’ roll classics that Springsteen and the E Street band have, at times, covered is quite awesome, I prompt Springsteen about one of my favourites, The Animals song, It’s My Life and he launches into his feelings about radio in the Sixties.

      “The main thing I notice about the difference between radio then and now is that songs back then seemed so much more socially conscious.

      “Things like The Animals It’s My Life and We Gotta Get Out Of This Place, and I just love Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On... I always have a copy of that with me.

      “And then there’s The Temptations Papa Was A Rolling Stone and Cloud Nine, and all those great Impressions tracks with Curtis Mayfield.

      “I really haven’t heard anything good on the radio since 1974.”

      I’d assume that exceptions to that last statement would be Thunder Road, Hungry Heart, Born To Run and other Springsteen songs that stood out like beacons amongst the other dross.
      Both shows in Paris were different. Does he and the band alter the sets every night? "We try and make every night different" says Springsteen. “We’ve never done Factory like we did it last night. We always change it because it keeps us on our toes, and it’s important when we’re playing more than one show in the same place.”

      His reaction to French audiences? “They know all the songs from The River and seem to know more from Darkness than Born To Run” Springsteen says. “They’re not too good on Thunder Road but they know Backstreets which we’ve been doing a bit on this tour.”

      John’s interested in whether Springsteen saw the movie Badlands before he wrote the song. “I saw that after making the record but I’d read Carol which is the story of the girl recounting the story of what happened from jail - the part Sissy Spacek played.

      “The song really doesn’t have a lot to do with the movie.”

      On a bootleg recorded during the 1978 American tour Springsteen makes a reference to a book called Born On The Fourth Of July by a Vietnam Veteran, Ron Kovic. Springsteen dedicates Darkness On The Edge Of Town to Kovic who is in the audience.

      Born On The Fourth Of July is all about Kovic’s experiences before, during and after the Vietnam War. At 21 he was paralysed from the waist down. The result of a life dreaming of being an American hero like Elvis Presley and John Wayne and going to fight for his country.

      After the war Kovic became increasingly politicised, eventually joined a Veterans Association and demonstrating at political conventions and touring the country speaking out against America’s involvements overseas.

      “I read that book after recording Darkness On The Edge Of Town and it just really affected me” Springsteen says. “The guy really knows how to get it all down.
      “They say that Dispatches is supposed to be the definitive book about Vietnam but Ron’s is much more human and powerful.

      “It was strange. I was taking a few days off at this hotel in California and there was this guy in a wheelchair there. I kept nodding hello each day and we just smiled whenever we saw each other. You know how it is when you see the same person every day. Anyway, one day he came up and said ‘Hi, my name’s Ron Kovic.’ It didn’t register for a moment and then I realised who he was. He’s a really inspiring guy. And the way he gets it all down about wanting to be an American hero and tieing it up with John Wayne and Elvis, its an amazing book. We’re talking about doing some shows together when I get back for the War veterans organisation.”

      And the BIG question - what’s the possibility of an Australian tour? "Well we finish up touring Europe, then we go back to America for some more shows. We should be in Australia in The Fall, at least before Christmas. We want to go everywhere this time!!!

      Hey ho, that’s what I wanted to hear. It’s getting on for 4am and Springsteen wants to eat. Plus there’s a stack of other people waiting to see him. He signs a few autographs for people in Australia. Mine says “To Stuart. It was nice to meet you. See ya in Australia. Bruce Springsteen.”
      And that’s a promise!
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