Tuesday 16 January 2018

I reckon I'm Bruce Springsteen's ninth biggest fan - my wife just thinks I'm mad

Ralph Riegel and wife Mary at the Bruce Springsteen concert in Giants Stadium in New Jersey in October 2009
Ralph Riegel and wife Mary at the Bruce Springsteen concert in Giants Stadium in New Jersey in October 2009
Bruce Springsteen poses for a portrait at the Jersey Shore in August 1973 in New Jersey. Photo: Getty Images

I RECKON I'm Bruce Springsteen's No 9 fan in Ireland. But, truth be told, I probably don't even rank in the top 50. That's despite the fact that, God willing, the concert in Dublin's Croke Park on Sunday night will my 34th gig by The Boss since 1985.

I've seen him play in six countries, 13 cities and villages (Slane) and have missed just one tour since his first Irish gig all of 31 years ago. When I got married, one of the songs I took my new wife onto the dance floor with at our reception was 'Thunder Road' from the epic 1975 album, 'Born to Run'.

I've already told my family that, when eventually I depart this earthly realm for the great rock festival or newsroom in the sky, I want Springsteen's haunting tribute to his late friend, 'Terry's Song', played at my funeral.

My long-suffering wife Mary once asked, only half in jest, whether I should be assessed for obsessive compulsive disorder when it came to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

We went to Oslo for our wedding anniversary a few years back and, as we walked out of the Royal Palace grounds, a bus passed with a full-side advertisement for a concert that very evening by Springsteen and the E Street Band in the Telenor complex. She turned and said what a pity it was I didn't realise The Boss was in the same city at the same time. Then she saw the look on my face - and realised I had two tickets in my back pocket and the only reason we were in Oslo was because of that very concert.

She encouraged me to submit a video piece for Ridley Scott's 2013 documentary, 'Springsteen & I', which was all about the passion of his global fan base, with the words: "Maybe they can recommend some kind of treatment for you".

Ralph Riegel and wife Mary at the Bruce Springsteen concert in Giants Stadium in New Jersey in October 2009
Ralph Riegel and wife Mary at the Bruce Springsteen concert in Giants Stadium in New Jersey in October 2009

Not, mind you, that she complains too much because she was at Slane in 1985 (without me, I must state) and has been looking forward to the Croke Park concerts since they were announced.

Last January, I went to see my only sister, RoreyAnn, who lives with her husband, Craig, and their three children in New Jersey in the US. While it was a long-overdue family visit, by sheer coincidence I also had tickets for Springsteen's concert in Madison Square Gardens. Unfortunately, the gig was cancelled after one of the heaviest 24-hour snow storms in New York's history and my brother-in-law spent days telling his friends about the look of sheer horror on my face when I heard the news.

Even allowing for the fact the profitable sale of those tickets is now paying for my Croke Park passes, I don't think I'll ever again be able to look at snow without suffering traumatic flashbacks.

What saved me was there are people in Ireland every bit as passionate about The Boss as I am. I know one person - he doesn't want his name published in case he's recommended for psychiatric assessment - who has more than 100 concerts under his belt.

There are three people I know in Cork and Dublin who have planned their entire summer holidays this year around following Springsteen to gigs across Europe for his three-month 'River II' tour.

So what makes a 66-year-old rocker and his music so very special? One friend in Wales explained it very simply by describing Springsteen's music as life-affirming.

It's largely about the great music which, as John Landau aptly put it 40 years ago, is so much about the future of rock and roll.

But, for me, I think it's also very much about what Springsteen stands for. After the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001, lots of songs were written about the atrocity and America's response, many just to profit from the moment. But Springsteen's 'The Rising' released the following year, stands head and shoulders above all others as a dignified reflection of how ordinary Americans felt.

The famous story goes that Springsteen drove to the New Jersey shoreline, not far from his Rumson home, and stared at the Manhattan skyline after the attacks.

A passing motorist slowed down, realised who it was, wound down his window and simply said: "We need you."

The Boss can sing about cars, girls and romance with the very best of them - but the true magic, at least for me, is that he can bring the same kind of lyrical passion to weighty issues like war, homelessness and poverty.

While I adore the music he creates, what really matters to me is that Springsteen cares about the things I care about. He stands for something, even if that stance isn't always popular or fashionable.

How many other artists can lay claim to the same thing?

Irish Independent

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