Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Finally! Somebody OLDER than me...

I'd seen Bruce Springsteen perform maybe a dozen and a half times (or more) before he signed with CBS Records. I was an undergraduate commuter student at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey (whose current Mayor was my classmate, since we're dropping names) from 4th through 8th grade at St Peter's (sic) School). Commuter was a fancy name for townie which was what more than half the campus was, and we could have known that if we hadn't worked so hard to avoid knowing one another.

The Rutgers campus in the early seventies was still pretty small and somnambulant. There was Rutgers College and across town, Douglass College for Women, and out by the Johnson and Johnson manufacturing complex off Route One towards Landis Ford was the Ag School, later to be called Cook College of Environmental Sciences. This was all before the big-time college football bug bit everyone and the campus sprawl that took over Piscataway Townhip

The basketball team played it home games in a gym with an Olympic swimming pool in the balcony-regarded as very avant garde for its time we were told. Most of the RC campus was between Buccaleuh Park and the J & J Office complex. As a comms major, I hovered around Voorhees Hall, across from the green where Willie the Silent (William of Orange) stood his lonely vigil over us all.

Commuters had crap. Almost nothing on the campus was designed for us, except this hideous concrete slab of a building that looked out over the Raritan River, and onto Highland Park on the other shore. Glass walls where it wasn't cement and all winding stairwells and cavernous rooms lined with the kinds of couches that once you sat down in them three people needed to help pull you out.

The Ledge-or to give it its official name, The Rutgers College Commuter lounge. There were two soda machines, one of those 'hot food' machines that you knew from looking in the little glass glass doors on the front that all the food in it had come with the machine when it was delivered. Nothing went on at the Ledge, ever, except on Friday nights when there was 'a show'.

That's all the hand lettered signs ever said, 'show'. They never said 'concert', they never said 'dance' they never said 'rumble' and most Friday they were often all three and more often than not, all at the same time. It was a buck to get in and plastic cups of beer were a quarter. It was loud and crowded and as the weeks went on, it got more so. With music, beer and girls some of us more socially challenged figured this was as close to heaven as we might ever get. We were righter than we thought.

Eventually more than a few noticed that the bands on stage on Friday nights, Steel Mill, Sundance Blues Band and Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom, were pretty much the same guys week in and week out. And leading all of these bands was Bruce Springsteen, part-time cover boy for AARP Magazine and now rock and roll deity emeritus.

Today, he is sixty years old. I don't know that many people I've grown up with that I've also grown old with (pretended I forgot about you, Nat, but I didn't). Back in the day, I didn't know anyone my age now at my age then, so I guess this is progress. I've rhapsodized in this space often enough about the energy, earnestness, enthusiasm and engagement he brings to every performance, so I imagine he and the E Street Band will take a break from preps for the Giants Stadium shows (one of which some, part, or all of the 'Jersey roots' of my family will be attending) to do as each of us does at this stage in our lives when we hang another birthday on the line and contemplate the mysteries concealed by the Spirit in the Night.
-bill kenny

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