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And, while I'm at it, what's with all these young cats scramblin' off on pee breaks only to return hoisting tube-compressed rose bouquets for their concert dates? Christ, is this some new requisite form of rocknroll courtship? I suppose the vendors ain't nobody's dummies. They must all work on the principle that if one guy in the row buys his chick a tube of roses, the others will all be sprintin' out to the lobby chop-chop to ensure they don't lose any ground in the hump sweepstakes. Thankfully, we never had this hoop to jump through in order to help finagle a post-concert lay. Back then it was pretty much a given -- you dated, you mated. The ticket stub doubled as your proof-of-purchase seal. Besides, back in them daze, a gal might've taken a real offense to the fact that ya dragged her back a plant that she couldn't severe up and squash between a couple E-Z Widers.

But enough doddering nostalgia shit. I'm here to see The Boss, not to sit around ruminating about how hippies got their groove on and how they never wore rubbers and how Sonya, the collateral proof of which, is currently sitting right beside me, waiting like her jittery Pops for the man of the hour to become born again… to run. We're psyched as psyched can be as the lights finally dim and the band explodes into...

Hell, I don't know, but it's loud. Pandemonium ensues. Though we've all been awarded seats, no one bothers using them. I know, I know -- this is a Dee-troit Rock City rocknroll gig, not the deflated innards of the Detroit Tiger bullpen. Still, I'd rather achieve my boogaloo depth charge in a reclined position, all the better to perhaps see the fucking show, rather than get blotted out of the entire affair by this one 6’8’’ lawyer-lookin' dink right in front o' me who's (oxymoron alert) dancing up a caucasian storm and providing all the proof one might ever need that white men cannot jump and/or look anything but dodo-esque when a beat shows up.

"Hey, down in front," I party-poop.

It's no use. Bruce & Nils & Stevie & Max & Clarence are flat out gettin' it, and before long, I'm getting it, too… not ignorant enough to actually try dancin' or nothin', but unloosing the restraints of the inner-oldster mojo lever just the same...all fraught of boogie squint and cranium wobble and getdown Motown rapture and glee. By the time the band kerrangs into their third tune, PROVE IT, I'm a total goner, signed aboard that jocund trolley of intoxicant rocknroll mirth that chugs through the valley and shimmies up the lofty crags of the...

"PROMISED LAND!" my sister Bridgette shrieks in my ear.

"Yeah," I holler back, because it probably is.

When applied right, this is the exhilarating charge that rocknroll music can provide. A true wallop of emotional ascendancy that transforms you into some shameless torque-giddied optimist who just don't give two beans anymore about where you're at or where you've been or where you're supposed to go. It doesn't matter if it's Bruce Springsteen, Screeching Weasel, The Cowsills or Korn. You can be at a show or waiting for a traffic light to turn. Spines will jingle. Tits will tingle. Hearts will mingle. When it hits, it's gonna hit ya so hard. You'll be higher than a helium-pumped gull and you'll laugh your ass off at anyone who ain't got the divine pleasure of being YOU at that exact moment.

Then right when I think the whole ambient gaga can't loop out any further, the lights all dim down and The Boss, who ain't spoke a word at us so far, ambles out of the murk toward a singular spotlight and tilts his head stage-left. "This is for you, Michael Moore," he drawls. GAH!

I immediately shoot my gaze across the main floor and this is what I catch: Mike peering up from a half-devoured slab o' vendor pizza with the look of some dude who's just heard Jesus spill out his Powerball number. O dear fuck, this has Kodak Moment branded so deep within it that the iron would singe bone. Mike quickly recovers his cool as Bruce launches into FACTORY… which, come to think of it, might've been better suited as dedicatory salvo for 87% of the present throng other than MM, but, hell, that's just piddling around with semantics. Mike has always been a shoprat-elect, if for no reason other than his thoroughbred lineage and his invention of Rivethead. Besides, having this song dedicated to him is really a practical matter since, to the best of my knowledge, Bruce ain't ever penned a tune called NEVER WORKED THERE.

The best part about Bruce's tribute to Mike is that it once and for all proves the fact that the guy ain't harboring any ill will toward MM and his cruddy choice of pals. Happy Boss = Happy other Boss = Happy Hamper. Not that I really assumed that Springsteen ever knew I trudged this earth. A guy of his stature has got better things to do than read every bozo's memoirs. Believe me, if I had his band and that wife and half of the take on all those concession stands, you'd never find my nose in a book either. I'd be tearing my hair(s) out over the fact that I could wake up every morning to the knowledge that I'm not only severe of coin and clever, but I'm also the relentless badass muh-fuh that sent forth one of thee greatest rock anthems of all-time, or at least this magic moment...

"BADLANDS!!!" Bridgette screams.

"YES!" I holler back. "Now stop YELLING!"

It all unwinds for me when Springsteen begins stalking up that middle break and the band comes slowly beckoning behind him and the entire Palace mass swells while hum-chanting the chorus structure… then: "To the ones who had a notion, a notion deep inside, that it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive…" It goes along from there, but it's that specific allowance, that rumbling affirmation, that simple shred of TRUTH that ascends from mere thematic rocknroll fodder to become something so elementary astute that it oughtta be nailed above the entrance of every goddamn shrink's office from here straight on through to the doorsteps of Roche and Upjohn.

Listen: as detailed in last month's rue, I've allowed myself to be taken by these miserable pricks for over a decade… plied with mind-rot dummy elixirs and dunce-of-the-month pharma-samples until the definition of peace of mind qualified as nothing more than straggling from naptime to bedtime. And I'm not implying it could all have been averted via one simple slogan from a rock star's craw, but just one fucking time I would have liked to have heard something come out of Dr. K's skinny lips that made as much rudimentary out-the-door sense as, "It ain't no sin to be glad you're alive!" After a while, "Try some of these" grows awfully stale.

Ok, so I've had a helluva good time and a real epiphany, too. However, it's now three hours into the show and Bruce is still reloading and gunning 'em down. Not to knock The Boss or nothin', especially in the infancy of our truce, but there really isn't any band I'd care to see wind on for as long as it takes to thoroughly cook a pork roast. Not even The Stones in their prime or an Abba reunion.

So, in a custom popularized by my granny when she wanted to sneak out of mass right after communion, I motion down the aisle and start orbiting my keys on my index finger. I might be on the mental mend, but I'm still not quite sturdy enough to mingle in the flow of an exodus this massive. Chris, Sonya and Bridgette recognize the cue, and though not one of them look ready to shove, they dutifully fall in line as I hurry up the steps and into the lobby.

Right then, an unmistakable sound explodes behind us. You'd probably have had to been reared in some alien galaxy in order not to recognize the majestic intro whoosh to this number. My party stops dead in its tracks. There's almost a look of betrayal upon their faces as they quickly realize how I've bilked them in old granny-fashion out of…

"BORN TO RUN!" Bridgette squeals.

"I intend to," I mention, breaking into a sprint, so happy to have been here, just as happy to go.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Alas, every day can't be a groovy rocknroll fete. Two days later, I'm back in Suttons Bay, and I'm having one of those tricky days where it's directly split in half -- equal parts agony and self-repulsion, equal parts jubilation and reclaimed faith.

It began as I was driving the snake-road that leads from my home up in the woods down into town. I pulled out of the brush to see my neighbor Steve working in his front yard. Steve was twiddling with some object suspended on a sawhorse -- re-screening a porch door or sanding a patio bench, some such hearty hunk of drudge. As I crept by in the Blazer, I gave him a wave and tossed out my customary, "You're makin' me look bad" -- a remark that has become a tradition between us. Steve is handy. I'm a little girl trapped in Buddy Hackett's body.

As I eased out onto the road to head for the post office, I was suddenly rocked by this abrupt wave of depression. It just flew over me like 10,000 iron gulls blotting out the sun. I couldn't help thinking to myself how Steve had it all together -- grinding on some hunk of wood for the betterment of his home and family, doing it up proper, a man and his project laid out under a crisp October sky… challenges met, victory at hand, filling the role. What the hell was I doing? Men were supposed to be men. The weekends were their proving grounds. What was I doing?

I was driving to the post office to see if some punk records I'd ordered had come in. Three weeks past my 44th birthday, old enough to have sorted it out, old enough to have browsed the catalog, old enough to have studied the flow of these things, but, lost-lost-lost in some bomb shelter of the child-brain.

I sunk into a funk with no bottom. The punk records weren't in and I was glad of the fact. I headed home, more miserable than I'd been in several weeks. I passed Steve again. This time we didn't bother to wave. It's one of those unspoken manly regulations that frowns upon a dual salute within an hour time frame. I drove up the bat-cave drive and hurried in the house.

I took the dogs out in the yard and sprawled on the lawn. I'd been perfectly content just a few minutes earlier: the wife was at work, a huge buffet of football on the agenda, all the fixings for chicken burritos stowed in the fridge -- but it had all abruptly vanished with the sight of Steve standing there so sturdy in the gallant sun with his chores in the bullseye and his sleeves all rolled up. I lay on the ground and stared at the huge house I lived in. Where had it come from? This tree-girdled sanctuary strewn upon the gorgeous Leelanau spine? How'd I end up here? My dogs began licking my face. I think they wanted me to hop out of it, but I couldn't stop the upheaval in the jury box. The world was just too big and all of its gears were too active, crazy ferris wheel spokes set loose upon the hills.

I went in the house and watched football for several hours. I felt like shit. I thought there must be something I should be doing. Something honest and American and all so overdue. I thought about cleaning my shed or mowing the lawn or hacking my way through the mess in the garage. It was hopeless. It all seemed like re-grouting every square inch of the Pyramids.

I put on the headphones and listened to some young bastard yowlin' about having girl trouble. What was he going on about? He was twenty-something and lean and mean and people probably beat each other up trying to buy his first drink when he ambled into the bar. I looked up at Drew Henson tossing a Michigan touchdown pass. Certainly HE wasn't gonna be listening to some obscure power pop record about the tragedy of fickle women. Not tonight. Tonight he'd be going in for the two-stroke conversion with the kind of gal that made men run off to battlefields and have their brains blasted out.

Then I thought of Steve down there -- maybe breaking for a lemonade and a peek at the sports ticker. I liked Steve. He had the simple life crammed in his pocket.

I lay down on the couch. I thought about Springsteen. I wondered what the hell he was up to at that very moment. I wondered if he was going through any of this.

Suddenly I could picture him there in another hotel room, taking a shit while his wife yakked on the phone. I though of how he must feel, trapped in this impossible grind of knowing another 20,000 would be out there tonight sucking his spotlit bones for another shot of worn-down miracles. I could feel the horrible sameness of it -- the expectations and the routine and the room service omelet and the ball vice and the sound of Dave Marsh padding in and out of the room with his terrifying jowls sputterin' some shit about the divinity of the rocknroll charge and girls lined up in the lobby with their hearts thumping like the pistons of daffodils and deejays blithering and toadies playing fetch and maids shivering and bombs begging to release and the shades all drawn and the set-list half-finished and the clocks yanking around like puppets on fire and the walls all sweating and the boots unlaced and the toothbrush hanging and the luggage spilled on the floor and the sun just a rumor and it all crashing into the needle's eye as the turd hit the basin.

I sat there. I thought to myself: this isn't so bad. I might wanna be Steve, but I don't think I wanna be Bruce. On second thought, I didn't really wanna be Steve, either! All of a sudden, Saturday was coming back into a favorable focus. No shit, within five short minutes, I was feeling lucky as hell and satisfied with where I was.

Which was probably nowhere, but sometimes that's the best seat in the house.

--Ben Hamper

November 1999

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