We left from Brick, New Jersey, jammed into a tiny red Datsun, very early on the morning of October 3, 1980 on a trajectory straight through to Ann Arbor, Michigan where Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band were starting their first tour since 1978. There were five of us, and we were on a mission. And we had a fresh supply of zucchini bread thoughtfully prepared by someone’s mom for the journey. We pulled into the parking lot at Crisler Arena just as the band’s tour bus was rolling in and frantically jumped out of the car to join the small group of fans waiting there to shake hands with Bruce as he walked into the venue. It was the opening night of The River Tour. The album itself would not be released for another week.
I’d be lying if I said I remembered a lot from that night, but I do remember it was the first time I ever bought a concert ticket from a scalper. I blindly grabbed the first one that was offered to me, for $50, which was a huge amount of money when the base price was at most $11. But I would have paid whatever was in my pocket. You see, I walked into a concert hall on August 26, 1978, and my life was changed. That was the first time I ever saw Springsteen and the E Street Band present the glorious medicine show that was the Darkness Tour, and I walked out a different person.
Here’s what I do remember of October 3: the show was on the campus of the University of Michigan, and the security consisted of over zealous and totally obnoxious college kids who were drunk with power. The show started with “Born to Run,” which was unusual and had never happened before, but I was too much of a newbie to realize that. Bruce forgot the words but the audience chanted it until he returned to the groove. Eleven songs were apparently played from the new album. The show ended with “Backstreets.” The encores were “Rosalita” (which Clarence began with the classic opening lines from “Stagger Lee”: the night was dark / and the moon was yellow), “Jungleland,” “Detroit Medley” (we were, also, but a stone’s throw from Detroit), and “Thunder Road” (a repeat from earlier in the night, but this time featuring Bob Seger).
My friends and I were on the road for a week nonstop following the tour, which was a whole new experience for me. To save money we mostly slept in the car (in October, in the Midwest!) in hotel parking lots, so we could go inside in the morning and wash up in the lobby bathrooms. Once or twice, in big cities like Detroit and Chicago, we sprung for a hotel room and lied about how many of us there were in the room so we wouldn’t get charged extra. After Ann Arbor, we went to Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, and Chicago, and then back home to the so-called real world. It was sublime.
But that first night, 31 years ago today, was really the watershed moment for me, when I really gave myself over to a force a lot bigger than myself and just went along for the ride, smiling all the way. Ramroddin’ forever more, you might say.
Hey, little dolly won’t you say you will
Meet me tonight up on top of the hill
Well just a few miles cross the county line
There’s a cute little chapel nestled down in the pines
Say you’ll be mine little girl I’ll put my foot to the floor
Give me the word now sugar, we’ll go ramroddin’ forever more
(Ramrod, © Bruce Springsteen)