Writer to Writer is a brief feature I’m doing in which I email a writer and ask a quick question about writing. Simple enough, right? Well, today I actually got a book signed by Bruce Springsteen at Bookpeople in Austin. This is a musing on why we like to meet artists and what I said to Bruce.
Ok. So, Bruce Springsteen is one of my favorite artists of all time in any medium. He’s got passion, presence, dedication, and all of it comes together in a way that nobody else on Earth can replicate. Seriously, watch the Super Bowl Performance, or the Hammersmith Odeon show, or this version of Thunder Road. If you don’t get it after a few views, I’m not sure what to tell you. The man is a story teller. The man’s energy is contagious. The man, the boss, is a living testament that you need to dive into your passion and seize it. Listen to the story at the beginning of Thunder Road, and to his delivery. This is a man who sees something majestic and powerful in everything around him. He could write an epic poem about his last trip to the grocery store. And you can feel that energy in the 1,000 plus people waiting in line for hours to get approximately 10 seconds with Bruce for a picture.
As cars drive by, drivers shout from the windows with a morbid curiosity twisting their face, “who are you waiting to see?” The people shout back with smiles from ear-to-ear, “Bruce Springsteen,” and nobody’s getting tired of it.
Now for some math. The crew walking around handing out wrist bands inform us that about 1,000 people signed up. Bruce is able to do about 400 pictures in an hour and I can’t help but wonder whether that’s more exhausting than a 2.5 hour concert. 400 per hour. That’s about 9 seconds per person. Everyone on this line is going to get something like 9 seconds with Bruce Springsteen to take a photograph and say something quickly. I’d been thinking about it, telling myself I’ll get about 30 seconds. How could I be so naive?
So, I stand nervously on the line, not really living up to the human-being who’s sociable. Instead I’m looking at my phone, getting a bit more panicked every corner we turn that gets closer to the front door. I’m practicing the wording in my head like I’m auditioning for a national commercial. And what the fuck am I going to tell him that he hasn’t already heard? Love your work? What’s the secret? Back to the drawing board.
As we get closer to the door I’m getting goose bumps and people around me are playing songs on their phones or in cars passing by. I hear “She’s the One” and I think of the Hammersmith Odeon. I hear “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” and I think of the Madison Square Garden performance after 9/11. These aren’t just musical performances, each performance comes with a baptism, a sermon, confession, and your last rites. Forgive me if I didn’t name all the right things, I never really got into Catholicism. Like Bruce, my family just wasn’t into that sort of thing, and if they weren’t I didn’t see a reason to go back into religion.
I walk into the front door of the store, the staff indicating wrist bands should stay to the left and head up the stairs. It never dawned on me that people would be in this store doing regular shopping while Bruce Springsteen stood two floors above them and forever out of reach. We’re getting closer. It’s been two and a half hours since I came and saw the back of the line. I’m seeing men and women walk out with books, their eyes glowing, wondering what they said or they did. Some of them just saying “that was incredible,” some women saying “I kissed him,” or “I told him I loved him.”
And I wonder what’s going through his head. A new person every ten seconds, everyone of them expressing some form of adoration for his work. We get up to the top floor, and I look down. I’m probably somewhere in the middle of the entire crowd. He must be exhausted by this point. People are now hyperventilating as they approach the door leading into the room where Bruce Springsteen stands ready to snap a photograph.
I walk in the room. Totally impressed with the crew he’s working with. There’s a handful of guys in suits, and bookstore staff. The suits are queuing up the line to move them forward in a timely manner, and the bookstore staff are taking people’s phones/cameras to take a quick picture. They’re rotating out. It’s an impressive operation. It’s my turn now. The guy in front of me just asked if Bruce thought the Giants would beat the Eagles. He said Giants. Fuck yeah, Bruce.
My turn. And avoiding the whole “I’m a professional writer…” fake bullshit trying to relate to Bruce Springsteen I focused on not stumbling over my words. I’m now being ushered to stand next to him. He puts his hand on my shoulder for a picture, and smiles. And I say “Thunder road put my daughter to sleep more times than I can count. I thought you should know that.” And his response? “I like that.”
Writer to writer it was a pretty fucking cool moment. And it was totally worth a 3 hour wait outside just to get a chance to shake hands with the boss.
Here’s two pics.