Malina Sarah Saval spends
nights with Bruce Springsteen
white JERSEY CITY T-shirt was tight on me, the rust-colored satin
letters stretched snugly across my ample chest. Bruce was looking
straight at me, leaning seductively across his shiny guitar, strumming
the soul-infused chords to "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out,"
his bedraggled brown hair matted against his sweaty forehead as
he strutted under the hot lights of the Staples Center stage. I
was panting, bouncing energetically up and down to every beat, every
groove, shouting the words to the song as my heart beat louder than
an African bongo drum and thumped so wildly it was as if a bomb
was exploding in my body. Steve, my friend from film school-slash-Bruce-Springsteen-concert
buddy was standing alongside me, waving his hands wildly over his
head and dancing around with breathless abandon. This was our first
Bruce Springsteen concert, though we had been die-hard fans for
several years, and we were seated front row center. There was nothing
between Bruce and us. Nothing but for the pulsing electricity of
his music as it echoed across the stadium and filled our spirituality-hungry
We had bought the cheapest seats in the house, the only tickets that,
as fledgling writers living in Los Angeles, we could afford. It was Monday,
October 18, 1999 and there we were in the nosebleed section, as high up
in the stands as one could possibly go without being in the actual stratosphere,
a veritable mile from where Bruce would be grinding and thumping and sounding
his raspy inner pipes. The situation seemed hopeless. Our heads spun with
dizziness and our lungs constricted as we climbed the series of narrow
steps to our seats. I felt as though I were Sir Edmund Hillary in a PBS
documentary about climbing Mount Everest. The cement wall of the stadium
felt cold as we leaned back in our chairs, and our neck hairs stood up
We had gotten to the concert a good two hours early, hoping that perhaps
we could finagle our way backstage, hoping that some guardian angel security
guard would hear our plight, hoping that after listening to our tales
of woe about all the long, lonely post-relationship fallout hours in college
wed spent listening to the Nebraska album and Darkness of the Edge
of Town, hed sneak us into Bruces dressing room. But no suck
luck. Steve and I were stuck in section 337, row ZZ. For a few minutes
we consoled ourselves with the thought that the concert would be taped
and rebroadcast on HBO in a few months, and we could watch it from the
comfort of our living rooms, with a far better view of Bruce than we could
ever pray for now.
But then, suddenly, our prayers were answered. Our guardian angel came
in the form of a thick-necked, burly security guard wearing a blue bandanna
and a flimsy white T-shirt, a tattoo of a fire-breathing dragon covering
the entirety of his bulging muscular left arm. He drew two white tickets
from his pockets. "You guys want to sit front row?" he asked
in a rich, husky voice.
Led by the security guard, Steve and I impatiently descended the several
flights of the stairs of the Staples Center until we were planted front
row, center. Floor section, row A. Movie stars were sitting behind us.
We had better seats than Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon. Ed Norton was
seated two rows back. We could hardly contain the rush of excitement rocketing
through our bodies, not to mention our sheer shock and surprise. This
had never happened to either of us before, sitting front row, center.
Not for anything. Once at the Boston Garden when I was thirteen years-old
I had rushed a crowd at a Billy Joel concert with my cousin Stacy, thrusting
my way through throngs of middle-aged suburban Jewish housewives, but
was promptly escorted by security back to my seats in the mezzanine. Another
time I had been caller number twenty at a radio station and scored third
row orchestra seats to see Les Miserables at the Wang Center in Boston,
craning my neck for three straight hours to the point where I developed
a pinched-nerve and had to walk around school wearing a neck brace for
two weeks and suffer the psychological abuse that comes with being a designated
high school freak. But never had I been seated front row. A guy named
Sheldon was sitting next to us, along with his twin sister Beth. Theyd
been Bruce fans since the he first emerged on the music scene in the mid-70s.
Sheldon showed us pictures of his lovely, albeit zaftig, wife Aviva and
their three year-old son, Ben, who already knows all the words to every
song off the Darkness on the Edge of Town album. Within minutes Steve
and I were running to the payphone to call our parents, our friends, our
shrinks, our ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends. "Were seated
front row at the Bruce Springsteen concert," we squealed over and
I first became a Bruce Springsteen fan in the mid-Eighties, while I was
still in high school and had curly feathered hair and wore leg warmers
over my tapered jeans. I could lie and pretend to be über-cool and
say that I discovered him all on my own, but I must give credit where
credit is due, and the truth is, it was my cousin Stacy who first introduced
me to the sultry, soul-laden sounds of Bruce Springsteen. Stacy was the
original Bruce fan. Shed gone to a Bruce concert before, his Born
in the USA tour, but her grandfather had made her leave two hours into
the show, though it went on for a good four. Of course, she well compensated
for that early departure, making a point to see Bruce umpteen times over.
Today she works at a radio station in Boston, scoring free tickets whenever
hes in town.
We were fourteen, fifteen at the time when I first heard Bruce. Stacy
and I would hang out in her suburban Boston house memorizing the liner
notes to Born to Run and Greetings from Asbury Park. Stacy knew the words
before I did, and whenever shed pop in a song, shed say, "Bruce
just speaks to me." Before too long he was speaking to me, too. While
all the other kids were listening to Cindy Lauper and Bon Jovi (for whom,
I must admit, I later developed a kitschy appreciation), I was sitting
in my darkened basement bedroom, the curtains drawn, singing the lyrics
to Hungry Heart, thinking about the boyfriends with the bowl-cuts who
crushed me and the so-called friends who had failed me, convinced that
only Bruce understood how misunderstood I actually was. "Everybodys
got a hungry heart/Everybodys got a hungry heart/They take your
money and they break your heart
"By senior year of high school,
as I headed off to college, Bruce Springsteen had become a necessary component
of my post-adolescent angst.
In college, Bruce was pretty much all I listened to. Oh, I had the quintessential
other trendy collegiate CDs in my collectionsome Van Morrison, some
Cowboy Junkies, a bunch of old Billy Joels. And I have always been a huge
Motown fan, feeling closely akin to the lugubrious lyrics of Marvin Gaye
and Stevie Wonder. But there was definitely a semesteror two, or
three, or fourwhen I was stuck in the bone-cold snow belt of Ithaca,
New York, doing time at Cornell University, when it was Bruce and only
Bruce with whose music I seemed to identify. "Youre born with
nothing/and better off that way/Soon as youve got something they
send/Someone to try and take it all away/You can ride this road til
dawn/Without another human being in sight/Just kids wasted on/Something
in the night
" Bruces raw, oiled-up, blue-collar lyrics,
appealed to the white trash Jersey mall chick hiding within the Boston
born-and-raised nice, Jewish girl. Bruce understood being young and slightly
messed up, with no concrete direction in life.
Bruce understood me.
I was two inches from Bruce. He crossed the stage, his black T-shirt hugging
his still-firm pectorals, belting out from the bottom of his lungs the
words to Badlands. "Badlands, you gotta live it everyday/Let the
broken hearts stands/As the price youve gotta pay
beefy security guard looked my way and nodded. I moved forward. Bruce
leaned down. I grabbed hold of his sweaty-soaked black Levis jeans,
rubbing them vigorously against my slightly shaking hands and screaming
like a teenage girl in 1963 whos just kissed Paul McCartney. He
leaned forward, kneeling suggestively down on his knees, and let me strum
a few chords on his guitar. He was smoldering, his brow furrowed and glistening,
and suddenly I had an MTV fantasy. I would follow Bruce on tourfrom
Los Angeles to New York to Tokyo. I would be the girl to hand him his
guitar picks in-between sets. Id become his sidekick, his roadie,
the girl after whom he would lust, driving Patti absolutely mad with jealousy.
The guard pulled me back. Then Bruce looked down. He tilted his head just
slightly so as he stared curiously at the lettering on my baby-doll T.
"I like your shirt," he mouthed to me. Then he smiled and my
heart lurched upwards like a slingshot into the back of my throat. I gulped.
Suddenly, without warning, my image was plastered up on a huge, larger-than-life-size
video monitor looming above the Staples Center, the words JERSEY CITY
standing twenty-feet tall. The stadium erupted in a thunderous round of
applause and I was suddenly rocketed shirt-first into the inner-sanctum
of celebrity. This was my fifteen minutes of fame. I was just like Courtney
Cox in the Dancing in the Dark video. It was one of those Things to Do
Before You Die moments, when your stomach turns summersaults and the adrenaline
takes hold of your body like a bolt of lightening striking a lone tree
in the center of an empty field. I was so overcome with exhilaration I
nearly peed in my pants. I crossed my legs tight and bounced up and down.
Steve was laughing hysterically. I darted through the crush of concert-goers
and made a beeline for the closest bathroom.
In line for the bathroom, women were coming up to me left and right. "Youre
the Jersey City girl!" they exclaimed with girlish excitement. "Thats
so cool." I ran from the bathroom to make it back in time for Bruces
next song, but people were stopping me in my tracks. "Look, its
the Jersey City girl!" they all shouted.
When I finally did make it back to my seat, Bruce was lunging into Born
to Run. Throngs of Bruce fans were waving their arms wildly over their
heads, banging their fists into the smoke-scented air during the chorus.
" Cuz tramps like us/Baby we were born to run
throaty, soul-coated voice reverberated throughout the Staples Center
soul. He was a priest, a religious icon. There was more soul in the Staples
Center that night than in a Black Baptist church in South Central Los
Angeles. Bruce was bringing the entire stadium to life. His face tightened
and his gut retracted into his lower ribs. Bruce was on fire, and he smiled
at me and it was clearI was his Jersey City girl.
The second night it happened again. At the very last minute Steve and
I couldnt resist. I pulled on my unwashed, smelly JERSEY GIRL T-shirt,
circular sweat stains underneath the armpits, and disguised it under a
baggy sweatshirt and a beaten-up baseball cap from college. Steve was
incognito in a pair of thick, dark sunglasses and his fathers old
oversized Hawaiian button-down. We arrived at the Staples Center a good
four hours early and scalped last row, twenty-five dollar tickets from
a scrappy-looking black kid in a mesh L.A. Kings starter jersey. We made
our way to our last row seats and waited. And waited.
And finally our wish came true. Again. Again one of Bruces beefy
security guards handed us two tickets for the front row. Minutes later
were seated front row, center, our same seats as the night before.
Its a miracle. Its a sign from God. We look for Sheldon and
his sister Beth, but they are nowhere to be found. With the help of a
pair of binoculars Steve borrows from a woman sitting next to us, we eventually
spot Sheldon but no Beth, sitting behind the stage, a good dozen rows
up. Steve and I are overcome with how lucky we are. We feel special. We
are Bruces chosen fans. Its mid-way through Sherry Darling
that Bruce notices me. "The Jersey City girl is back," he booms
over the microphone. Again Im on the monitor. Again people are stopping
me as I wait in line for the bathroom. Again Im Bruces Jersey
By the third night, our luck was still running deep as the Ganges River
during monsoon season. This time were front row, left of center.
My Jersey City T-shirt reeks of sweat and stale weed from the pre-concert
parking lot tailgate parties. Its sticking uncomfortably to my back.
Theres mustard and relish stains on the front. Its just about
walking on its own by now. Sheldon and Beth are nowhere, but the woman
who lent us her binoculars the night before is seated way up in the stands.
She spots us through her binoculars and waves, and Steve and I are almost
embarrassed by how fortuitous we are. Even Courtney Cox and her husband
David Arquette are seated five rows behind, off to the side. I start to
think that perhaps Bruce is my destiny, that we are bound to meet and
fall madly in love. As Im entertaining marital fantasies, the lights
dim. The concert begins. This time when Bruce looks at me, he does a double-take.
He looks at my JERSEY CITY shirt and he cuts me a nervous glance. His
eyes roll back into his head. He fumbles on stage. He thinks Im
a stalker. He thinks Im a freak. He thinks Im totally crazy.
And I am.
Im crazy about him.
I bought the T-shirt one night the summer before the Bruce Springsteen
concert during a drunken shopping spree with friends. It was one of those
rare sticky Los Angeles nights. I was stumbling along Main Street in my
hood of Santa Monica, California where I live, kicking it back with
my close friends, Doug, Kira, Stephanie and Vivien. We had all just spent
three hours getting sloshed on margaritas and stuffing our faces with
chicken tacos at Baja Cantina, the kind of Mexican bar-slash-restaurant
with sawdust on the floor and a help-yourself tortilla chip stand. We
were singing theme songs to old 80s television shows when I spotted
the shirt in the window of a small gift shop, its pale-orange letters
complimenting the blue denim of the jeans hanging from the same mannequin.
"I need that T-shirt," I said to the clerk behind the counter.
He took it down for me and I bought it on the spot. I wasnt from
New Jersey and I had no idea that in a few months time Id be going
to a Bruce Springsteen concert, but it seemed somehow like a justified
impulse purchase. And yet it remained folded in my dresser drawer until
that wish-fulfilling fateful night.
Today, that JERSEY CITY T-shirt is nailed above my bed, the smell of stale
sweat still faint in the air. I look at it and it reminds me that Ill
always have a special place in Bruces heart.
I will always be the Jersey City girl.*
She had it down cold, that thing that made people fawn all over you
Or, Honeymoon for One
a week alone
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