Bruce walked offstage, grabbing towel after towel to wipe the sweat from his face and arms following a torrid concert in Pittsburgh. Plenty of people surrounded Bruce, so I kept my distance as my friend made it safely to the bottom of the stage stairs where he stopped to talk to me.
"A.J., good to see you. Man, that was some crowd tonight, huh?"
The echoing chants for "Bruuuuce" ended the show but kept the feeling alive as the crowd begrudgingly left their seats for the exits. The roadies unhooked his microphone and earpieces, gave him another big bottle of water, and returned Bruce's legendary Fender Telecaster to its guitar case where it will rest before the next concert.
"Bruce, I swear I do not know what to say anymore. Always. I mean, always a classic."
Bruce smiled. Even though his body was still pumping with adrenaline, he knew I was sincere, but he wanted to know more. "Come on," he chuckled as he threw a wet towel at my face. "You gotta give me a little more than that!"
"What the hell, Bruce?" I quickly pulled the towel from my face and tossed it back at him where it fell to the ground for some errant backstage groupie to find it, stuff the towel in a plastic bag, then sell it on eBay.
Bruce and I walked down a hallway towards a more secluded reception area. We didn't need to say much, though. Silence can be uncomfortable for many people, but when you are with a friend, the silence reflects the depth of the relationship between two people, one which both have nurtured over time.
"So, Bruce. 'Land of Hope and Dreams' tonight." He stopped to listen to me as he always does. "You know, that is—hands down—my favorite song. It is just so crazy how that song never changes throughout the years."
Bruce began to talk but stopped himself. He just smiled at me, anticipating a conclusion to my thought.
"You are gonna make me finish this even though you know damn well what I am going to say." We both laughed. Over the years, Bruce's laugh has evolved into a grizzled grandpa chortle, one which emanates warm wisdom and understanding of life itself.
"Yeah, A.J., I am going to make you finish," Bruce bellowed. Then, as if someone snapped a finger, he instantly became serious. "Go on. You were saying that 'Hope and Dreams' never changes."
"OK. So every time I hear it, I am in a different place in my life, you know. Sometimes I am driving down the road somewhere, sunny day and all. I will roll down the windows and crank it up loud. I don't care if people hear me singing. Other times, I am tired from teaching all day. You know, I am doing my own thing like you do yours on stage, and I just keep hearing "this train, faith will be rewarded" in my head. I can even feel down and depressed about the state of the world, wondering how the hell we are ever going to turn things around. "Hope and Dreams" just tells me it is all part of this journey. And tonight..." I struggled to find those last words.
"I gotcha, buddy. I gotcha." Bruce slapped me on the shoulder as he left. "Look, I'm gonna head to the room back there. I have some other people I want to talk to." He looked me in the eyes and said, "Thanks again for coming. It really means a lot to me. I'll talk to you later, OK?"
I shook my head in feigned disappointment. "Yeah, yeah. The Boss is going to talk to me later!" We laughed again, as we have done so many times. I walked back down the hallway, out the doors of the arena, and into my world, confident that I would hear from my friend Bruce again.
Bruce and I have kept in touch over the years. Whenever I need to talk to him, he is as close as an old CD, an unexpected song on the radio, an Alexa request, or a conversation on E-Street Radio.
We have not been able to see each other in-person as much as we would like. You know, covid and everything. Still, Bruce is determined to stay in touch. I received a fantastic letter from him the other day.
"Things I found out through hard times and good
I wrote 'em all out in ink and blood
Dug deep in my soul and signed my name true
And sent it in my letter to you"
Cover Picture: JUST JARED, INC.
Video: Bruce Springsteen - Letter To You (Official Video)