I've been a devoted fan of Bruce Springsteen ever since I won a copy of his debut album "Greetings from Asbury Park" on the Jersey shore boardwalk in 1974. From that point on, Springsteen's music became a part of my daily life. I often imagined that I was a playing a role in one of his cinematic epics, making love in the dirt with Crazy Janey or walking like Brando into the sun, but my most personal adventure with Bruce would take place a few years later far from the swamps of Jersey.
It was July 1978 and I was into the third month of a two-week vacation in Los Angeles, visiting my friend Larry who had moved there from my hometown of Livingston, New Jersey. Much to my parent's dismay, I kept extending my extensions because we were having a blast. We were in our early twenties and between the sunny days, wild nights and California girls in their summer clothes, the good times were rolling and I just couldn't leave.
Around the same time, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band were blazing across the country on their legendary "Darkness on the Edge of Town" tour. Bruce was set to play a show at The Forum and Larry had scored tickets. Our old friend Eddie, who had just blown in to town searching for a new life in the promised land, joined us. Even though the seats were in the outer stratosphere section, we were all psyched to see the show.
But our seats were worse than we thought—by a lot. This was before concerts used giant video screens to bring the cheap seat people closer to the action. So we grabbed ourselves some overpriced beers and devised a plan. Once the show started and the lights dimmed, we would sneak our way down to the orchestra and scout out empty seats.
There were ushers stationed in front of each section checking tickets, so we split up giving ourselves a better chance of breaking through. I grabbed myself another beer, biding my time for the right moment to make my move. My shot came when a small cluster of people gathered in front of the usher. I joined their party pretending to be one of them. The usher only checked the first few tickets carefully, so I quickly flashed mine and slipped through. The rock gods were smiling on me.
I then made my way to the section just above the floor level stage left, but there were no open seats so I ducked into a dark corner and watched the show from there. Everyone was dancing around to one of Bruce's new songs, "Prove It All Night," so again, I was able lose myself in a crowd.
As I was checking out the lucky fans in the first few rows, I noticed two large security guards planted by the backstage entrance. What seemed like a few seconds later, a scuffle broke out and they rushed into the crowd to break it up, leaving their posts unmanned. I looked down and thought, "It's only about a 15-foot drop to the floor. I bet I can make it," and without hesitation, jumped down landing right by the unguarded backstage entrance.
The security dudes were still busy with the ruckus, but I knew they'd be back. Trapped between the crowd and the stage, I had no choice but to run around the side where I found myself backstage. Now what? My heart was racing as I wondered how long it would take before I was busted.
Luckily, I was dressed like most of the roadies: jeans, black T-shirt and high-top Converse, so I blended right in. I found a safe space by the side of the stage and watched the rest of the marathon show from a spot that money couldn't buy. If I were any closer, I'd be part of the band.
As soon as the show ended, the backstage area began filling up. I was still reeling from the concert and the surreal fact that I'd made it this far. I began to mingle and immediately ran into Bruce's recording engineer Jimmy Iovine, who I'd met in New York earlier that year. He asked if I was going to the after-show party in the green room.
"I was going to, but I can't find my pass," I lied.
"No problem," he said and handed me one. I had hit the backstage lottery. I thanked him and then remembered my friends and, more importantly, my ride home.
"Why don't you go on," I said. "I have to tell my two friends to wait for me." Jimmy reached inside his pocket and pulled out two more passes.
Could this night get any better?
I ran out to the arena and found my friends waiting by the side of stage. I gave them their passports to party town with the E Street band, we all freaked out for a few seconds and then raced backstage.
The large room was filled with guests—both famous and faceless—and Springsteen was making the rounds. It was impossible to get near him so we grabbed a beer and patiently waited for an opening. I spotted Jimmy again and went over to thank him. He asked if we wanted to meet Bruce and the band.
"Sure," I said casually, squelching the rabid fan boy in me. He took us into the green room, which had less people and more beer.
A short time later, pianist Roy Bittan and some of the other band members trickled into the room. Like Roy, my friend Larry was originally from Rockaway Beach in Queens and his older brother had known the keyboardist. So Larry introduced himself and Roy joined us at the table to reminisce about their old hometown.
A few minutes later, Clarence Clemmons—the Big Man himself—emerged from the dressing room wearing a Cheshire cat grin. He drifted over to our table and we got to shake his mighty hand. I really don't know how we kept our cool.
The crowd was thinning out and we were pretty sure this was as good as it was going to get when the door swung open and in walked The Boss. We looked on in disbelief as he snagged a beer and sat down with us. We all chatted about the show and our mutual love of the Garden State for a few glorious moments, and when it was time to go, the three of us floated out to the parking lot like spirits in the night.