Bruce Springsteen and me: 'He joined in a session in the bar between eating his fish supper'

From chance encounters in speedos and chats about Stillorgan bowling to playing support to the E Street Band, some of the Boss’s biggest fans (and a few non-believers) tell us their stories

‘I’m standing on his stage, in Nowlan Park, Kilkenny, with my band Delorentos’

Ro Yourell, musician

I've been a fan of the Boss all my life, since being introduced to him by my parents' tape deck on winding summer car journeys. I first started singing and playing guitar at the height of Brit-pop, and although Oasis, Blur and Supergrass featured heavily in my repertoire, it was still Bruce's words that resonated most strongly with me. I performed Growing Up for my Leaving Cert Music practical. It was the sense of yearning, of longing in his lyrics, that I identified with as a teenager.

Fast forward 15 years to July 2013 and I’m standing on his stage, in Nowlan Park, Kilkenny, with my band Delorentos. In a few hours, he will confound the passage of time, for the umpteenth time, to rock the capacity stadium to its core. Even the sceptics and those who are only there because it’s the event of the summer, will be swept up by the energy, passion and giddy enthusiasm that he brings to every performance.

Needles to say, I’m feeling pretty inspired and catching a glimpse of his microphone stand, rooted to the centre of the enormous stage, I briefly consider whether I could emulate some of his remarkable pole-dancing technique, but decide against it (more yoga required). It’s an amazing experience. The day is warm, but the audience are warmer still and give us a generous, buzzy response.

I didn’t get to meet the man himself. Had I, I would have said “Thank you, for showing me that giving really is the best way to receive and that it’s not just what you say, but how you say it, that matters.”


I’ll be there, in Croke Park this Sunday, for the biggest family reunion yet.

‘We all have a musical blind spot and Springsteen is mine’

John Connolly, writer

I’ve put in the effort, honest I have. I’ve bought the records. I’ve stood in stadium fields for hours, waiting to feel the magic. I’ve watched the audience around me in transports of joy, and I’ve been left absolutely cold. The Boss just doesn’t do it for me.

We all have a musical blind spot – often more than one – and Springsteen is mine. I can admire what he does: the passion, the commitment, the desire to ensure that the audience has at least as good a time as he clearly does. But it simply doesn't connect with me. Oh, there are individual songs to which I'm happy to listen: I quite like I'm On Fire and Tunnel of Love, bits of the Nebraska album and those covers that he did of old Pete Seeger tunes, but that's about it. Why? You know, I'm not sure that I can put it into words. It's a combination of his earnestness, perhaps, and a distrust of his version of blue-collar rock. As Paddy McAloon put in his gentle, amused, and slightly reductive put-down, Cars and Girls: "Brucie dreams life's a highway/ Too many roads bypass my way… Some things hurt more, much more, than cars and girls."

Maybe that's why Tunnel of Love – both the song and the album – appeals to me a little more than the rest, because it's flawed, and has a kind of bitterness underpinning it. I think that tour was the last time I saw him live. After two hours, I'd had enough. After three, I wanted to find every person still shouting for an encore and threaten them with violence if they didn't shut up and let us all go home. I'm sorry, Bruce: it's not you, it's me.

Well, it’s a bit you . . .

‘Badlands is rocket fuel for the soul’

Shane Hegarty, writer

Like every moment when scepticism explodes into fervent belief, there was a epiphany. It was the RDS in 2003, my second time seeing Bruce Springsteen live. The first – the same venue, 1999 – had felt underwhelming. I just hadn't found that connection. Then again my understanding of Springsteen was limited largely to a home tape of Born in the USA as a teen, and an obsession with him from my future wife whose depths felt alien to me.

The Rising album shifted something, brought me closer. But on a May evening in Dublin, he strolled on stage, played Born in the USA acoustically, followed it with a full band version of The Rising and that was the moment of clarity. Over three hours later, I finally understood the ferocious energy, raw emotion, joy, spontaneity, craft, rock'n'roll purity, and, yes, connection of a Springsteen show. The gig had ended but it was only the beginning of my personal, never-ending tour. This week's will be my 15th and 16th shows (nothing compared to those who follow him practically as a full-time gig). My only regrets are the ones I've missed.

Each show is different. Each setlist has it treats. Every time I think it's peaked, something magical occurs. There has been the rain drumming on the roof of the old Point during the Devils and Dust acoustic show of 2005. The 2012 tribute to the recently departed Clarence Clemons in Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out. Bleeding fingers as he ended Kilkenny 2013 with a stunning This Hard Land. There were tens of thousands of people there, yet he was speaking to every individual .

In that time, the E-Street Band shows have stretched longer and longer, while the pre-encore breaks have disappeared entirely. He plays like he never wants it to end. Three and half hours? He, and we, could do another three and a half. In my house, we have a long-standing fear that each time we see him may be the last. After all, he plays every show like he has the exact same fear.

A favourite song? There are so many. Too many. But, screw it, this week I'm going for Badlands. That song is rocket fuel for the soul.

I'm blessed, in that I've met Springsteen twice. Once with The Irish Times over lunch in Toronto, during which I actually stopped to take in the happy fact that my professional career had peaked. Then, in Mount Juliet in 2013, when I happened to be in its small bar when he joined in a session, playing two songs in between eating his fish supper. When he left the room some hours later, the room collectively exhaled in disbelief. By the way, my wife has met him while he was in Speedos, but that's another story.

‘I heard the start of Springsteen’s Slane concert on a radio in Templeogue. Six separate vehicular trips later, I caught the last two hours’

Frank McNally, journalist

It is certainly impressive, as our man in the RDS noted yesterday, that Bruce Springsteen plays for "more than two-and-a-half hours". And yet even this is an example of the consumer's drastically reduced purchasing power in recent times. Excuse me while I grow all nostalgic here; but I remember when the great man thought nothing of playing for four hours.

It was 1985, and money was scarce. Not for Bruce, obviously. But some of us were so strapped for cash at the time that we heroically ignored the hype preceding his appearance at Slane. Until the afternoon of the concert itself, that is; whereupon our resistance collapsed.

It was a beautiful day. And I remember listening to the wireless - as we called it back then – in a house in deepest south Dublin, when the station went live to Slane for a report on the start of the concert. Sure enough, Springsteen was already on stage – I could hear him in the background. And the effect was electrifying.

It was a bit like St Patrick – a much earlier headline act in Slane – lighting the paschal fire. Bruce was calling me to Meath, and I had to go. So I dropped everything and went: first catching a no.15 bus into the city, then a 19A out to Finglas. And from there, I started hitching.

There were days then when you got one lift all the way to your destination, without even trying. This was one of the other days - when friendly farmers driving beat-up Ford Anglias and in no hurry to get anywhere would bring you from here up to the next turn-off, at which point you had to get your thumb out again.

But I reached the outskirts of Slane in four or five instalments and walked the last mile-and-a-half into the village, which was now shrouded in silence.

Was the concert over? Hell, no. It was just the half-time break. During which, I found a forlorn tout who, having a clearance sale, offloaded his last ticket to me for a fiver – 66 per cent off the recommended retail price.

Thus, having heard the start of Springsteen’s Slane concert on a radio in Templeogue, and having made at least six separate vehicular trips in the meantime, I attended the second half of the concert, which lasted the guts of two hours. And the great thing was, I still had money left for food.

But you tell young people that now, and they won’t believe you.

from An Irishman's Diary from 2008

‘Springsteen plays for his fans, and not fair-weather ones’

Una Mullally, journalist

I’ve only seen The Boss play live once, headlining Glastonbury in 2009, where he and the E Street Band made (in my opinion) the mistake of playing a Springsteen set, not a festival set. That gig was well reviewed, but what I remember is people drifting away at the fringes, realising that Springsteen plays for his fans, and not fair-weather ones.

As someone who finds earnestness incredibly attractive in music, I still sometimes can't quite relate to the very male, heartland rock he brought to the mainstream. But it's the undercurrent of antiestablishment sentiment that makes Springsteen feel of "us" and not of "them". Born in the U.S.A. sounds as vicious as ever; Streets Of Philadelphia is as mournful and searching as it was in 1993 when Hollywood finally began to acknowledge the HIV/AIDS crisis. Springsteen is also a shoulder to cry on. His 2002 record The Rising answered a yearning for inspiration and comfort people were seeking post-9/11, although perhaps Steve Earle unpicked the complexities of that era a little better two years later with The Revolution Starts… Now.

In an Irish context, criticising Springsteen is a bit like criticising Tayto or Brian O'Driscoll. He is a totem of authenticity, a version of America that Irish people love, with all its white, blue-collar masculinity, a shorthand for realness and decency in a fake and corrupt world. He is "real", although David Remnick's profile of Springsteen in the New Yorker in 2012 captured how the showmanship beloved of fans is so expertly rehearsed.

‘I met Springsteen in New York. We talked about the Stillorgan Bowling Alley’

Brian Boyd, journalist

I am on a Greyhound Bus on the New Jersey Turnpike on my way to start a job on a funfair in Atlantic City. Out of the window I see a signpost for Asbury Park. I am 18 and I could explode with excitement. Springsteen’s elegy to the white-trash holiday resort of Atlantic City is my summer’s soundtrack. On my way home from work late at night I too would see how “down on the boardwalk they’re getting ready for a fight”; and I did try to heed his warning that “down here, it’s just winners and losers and don’t caught on the wrong side of that line”. (I met Springsteen in New York years later. We talked about the Stillorgan Bowling Alley.)

Atlantic City is not just my favourite Springsteen song but one of my all-time favourites: hearing it brings back memories of drinking pitchers of Michelob beer in a boardwalk bar until 6am with the tattooed Italian-American "Guidos" who took me under their wing and who I'm still in touch with today. (In the music video for Atlantic City, you can see the house where I used to live.)

The song says “Everything dies baby, that’s a fact, but maybe everything that dies someday comes back” and this is true because I’m “coming back” to Atlantic City this September for the wedding of one of my drinking buddies.

When I arrive at JFK, I’ll text him the song’s chorus line: “Meet me tonight in Atlantic City.”

‘The E Street Band launched into Rosalita. It will never be topped’

Elaine Buckley, producer

By the time I was born, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band had already released seven albums. He is not of my era, nor was he a prevalent feature in my house. Intrigued by the furore surrounding the release of The Rising as a teenager, I made a conscious decision to delve into his back catalogue. It was Born to Run that started it, Darkness on the Edge of Town that escalated it, and The Wild, The Innocent & the E Street Shuffle that triggered the full-blown obsession. I spent hours poring over his lyrics and chipping away at his songs on my guitar. The more I listened to and learned about The Boss, the further I fell – this was true love.

My ultimate Springsteen live experience was in 2009 in the RDS. I went to see him twice in the one weekend, queueing for pit bands for both shows. His set lists are pot luck, but on the Sunday night I saw the majestic Jungleland, with Clarence Clemons’ legendary sax solo moving me to tears. Straight after, the E Street Band launched into Rosalita, my favourite song. It will never be topped.

The prospect of hearing The River in its entirety on Friday is exhilarating; I’ve been watching The Ties That Bind documentary and spinning the album on vinyl in the build up. The setting of Croke Park will make it all the more special. Now, if I could only decide which Springsteen T-shirt to wear.

‘My favourite tune? Born to Run’

Jim Carroll, journalist

Bruce Springsteen saved my life. That’s probably a bit of an exaggeration, but it makes for a great opening line. He’s been a part of my musical life for as long as I’ve had a musical life, those albums like Nebraska, The River, Darkness On the Edge of Town and Born To Run soundtracking my teenage years as I stumbled on them one by one.

My favourite tune is Born to Run. I could be a nerd and go for some deep cut yet this is the one for me. It’s an evergreen banger, a track which never loses its edge, its thrill, its energy, its power, its gumption, its appeal. Lisa and I chose it for the first dance at our wedding so there’s that magic moment as well.

The songs and albums shaped Springsteen for me, but the live show illuminated the experience. I’ve seen him a bunch of times at this stage. Every time I think I’ve seen him at his best, he comes back and confounds you by taking it up a notch. That show in Limerick’s Thomond Park in 2013 was the latest case of something else.

I’ve never met him or interviewed him and I’m beginning to think I like it like that. The last thing Springsteen needs at this stage of his life is an encounter with another fanboy with a typewriter. But like all the other fanboys, I know he likes to go bowling when he’s in Ireland so maybe I’ll just bump into him in some alley at the weekend.