On the 22nd July I was a big brave girl and I drove in a storm to the cinema to see Springsteen and I. I was umm-ing and aah-ing about whether to go or not because I didn’t have anyone to go with and I didn’t particularly want to go out in the storm, but I was going to see my first Bruce Springsteen gig in Cardiff the next night and I thought it would be a good build up to it (plus it had been super hot all day and the cinema had air conditioning). I finally decided that I’d go and see if there were any tickets left, but I wasn’t really holding my breath because the film was only scheduled for that one night and in a way I almost wanted it to have sold out because I was quite self-conscious about going by myself, but it had been moved to a bigger theatre earlier in the day and I was able to get a ticket without a problem. I sat in the theatre by myself, wondering if it would really be worth the effort and thinking about all the other things I needed to be doing instead of watching a film, but I really am SO glad that I went in the end. I already knew that Bruce Springsteen is a pretty remarkable man. I’d never doubted it, anyone who can regularly perform three/four hour sets night after night with such a high level of energy is definitely a person to be admired. But what I was really genuinely surprised and delighted by is the amount of time he has for his fans and the gestures he makes towards them. It really sets him apart from your average musician, and surely has to give him the title of being the loveliest man in the music business. I actually found the film quite moving in places, which I wasn’t really expecting, and it left me feeling so excited to see him in Cardiff the next day, and see demonstrations of his loveliness for myself.
Springsteen and I is a very touching film complied of snippets of live performances and videos made by the fans about what Bruce and his music means to them. There’s a great range of emotional responses to Bruce’s music; whether people like him because he makes them feel empowered about their life and the choices they made, because he reminds them of the good times or the bad times and how they made it through, whether the songs make them laugh or make them cry, or even just because they lost their virginity to Thunder Road, but the one thing that seems to unite all of these fans is the feeling that they have some sort of connection with the man himself. He really is a storyteller and a ‘man of the people’ who understands what’s important in everyday life, and his songs are very easy for the average person to relate to. He sings about what it is to be a blue collar worker struggling to get by, making it through hard times and not letting it get you down, and it really does make people feel special – it’s as if Bruce is singing about them, for them, to them. They all spoke about his music so earnestly and passionately, and one of the fans referred to Bruce as being like an old friend ‘even though he doesn’t know me’, and it’s this kind of connection that the fans have made with his music during important times in their lives that really made the film quite touching.
There was also a lot to laugh at, from the little girl who likes the amount of effort Bruce puts into singing because he gets super sweaty and all his veins pop out, to the long suffering husband who isn’t a fan himself but has been dragged along to countless shows by his wife and would really like Bruce to shorten his sets please, to the slightly creepy woman who used to hold up a picture of Bruce to her baby and pretend he was the daddy. There were so many different stories to tell, whether they related to specific gigs or just reflected a lifetime of listening to the music, and I felt like I was really getting to know the fans as individuals just from the experiences they shared.
But it was the level of fan interaction that really marks Bruce out as someone special. Whether it was letting people on stage to sing and dance with him, giving a pep talk to a recently dumped young man, quietly upgrading the tickets of people who couldn’t afford better seats, buying his fans a drink or giving away one of his own bracelets as a ‘symbol of brotherhood’; they’re all quite simple things for him to do, but it’s difficult to convey just how much these small gestures meant to the individuals involved. And that’s what’s so lovely. He didn’t have to let an Elvis impersonator take the stage and sing with the band, or dance with a girl for holding an ‘I’ll be your Courtney Cox’ sign, but he did it anyway and it was the best night of their lives. It’s amazing how one fairly simple thing can create such a powerful and emotional memory, but a lot of people wouldn’t take the time to do it to begin with. I think there are too many bands who’d have a security fit if a fan tried to get up on the stage, but the fact that he might come down to the barriers to sing and shake their hands really does mean an awful lot to them.
As if all these lovely stories and bits of gig footage weren’t exciting enough, there was an even bigger treat after the credits in the form of footage of six songs from Bruce’s Hard Rock Calling headlining slot in 2012, when the plug was infamously pulled during a duet with Paul McCartney. The atmosphere and the crowd looked so incredible, I felt quite gutted that I hadn’t been there. The footage included a powerful version of Thunder Road (which I believe was the opening song) with some really beautiful piano and a very impressive gig choir raising their voices. This was followed by footage of an absolutely stonking version of Because the Night, with a truly epic guitar solo from Nils Lofgren, spinning around like some kind of crazed wind-up toy (which you can see in the video below). How I wished I’d been there to witness that! It looked like such a great atmosphere throughout, you could see it was pissing down with rain during Shackled and Drawn but it didn’t seem to put anyone off. Cindy Mizelle (who I absolutely love, she’s so sassy!), did her thang and the whole band had a little dance at the end. We Are Alive was also included, and then Paul McCartney appeared to sing I Saw Her Standing There and the big finale (before the plug was pulled), Twist and Shout. Poor Macca , his voice isn’t what it was and he did look like he was struggling at times, but Bruce pulled him through and the crowd loved him anyway. God I wish I’d been at that party! I always hate feeling like I’ve missed out on something, and by the looks of it I really did miss out on something special in Hyde Park that day. But I can safely tell you that from now on I’ll be grabbing any opportunity to see Bruce and the E Street Band with both hands.
After the gig films there was a really sweet epilogue from some of the main ‘stars’ of Springsteen and I, talking about when/how they found out their footage had been chosen for the final cut, and what it was like for them to finally meet Bruce. It was kind of amazing, Bruce invited them all backstage, sang their song requests, and interacted with them all on a really personal, individual level and you could tell it just made each of them feel so special. Shagupta and David (the long suffering husband) said in the epilogue how Bruce had seen them outside his hotel and invited them in for a drink to tell them he’d loved their film, and she actually gave a little introductory speech in the Cineworld in Swindon about that meeting and about the premise of the film in general. It was really nice to hear the story from her in person, as well as on the film, because you could tell that she was genuinely still quite blown away by the whole thing, and the fact that she finally got to meet her hero and he was so wonderful to her. He really does seem like such a down to earth person, but at the same time it’s really worth it for him to build such a bond with his fans because they bring the energy that sustains him during a four hour set.
I think the most important thing that I took away from this film though was the power of music and the effect it can have on people’s lives. And it’s not just Bruce Springsteen’s music either. Really, the film could have been about any band or artist, any type of music, and the effect would be the same. Music is such a powerful, unifying force, it can trigger so many different emotions and have such an enormous effect on the day to day that it really is quite overwhelming to think about, but I’m grateful that we have it and I’m even more grateful that we have wonderful films like Springsteen and I to celebrate it. That’s probably enough gush and sentimentality for one day; now I think we should all find our favourite Bruce Springsteen track, stick it on full blast and belt it out at the top of our lungs, thinking how amazing it is to be a music fan and to feel truly appreciated by the bands and artists we love.