'I've seen Bruce rock 36 times'
Our hardcore Springsteen fans tell John Meagher why there's no one like The Boss
He has been a friend to John Connolly in good times and in bad: those awkward late teenage years, the break-up of his marriage, the start of a happy new relationship.
Yet, the Dublin graphic designer has only met this person once – when he and a buddy stood outside Dublin's Merrion Hotel some years ago and managed to snatch a few words with him as he came out.
"It was a strange experience because Bruce Springsteen has been such a pivotal part of my life since I was 15," he says, "You feel like you know him, but of course you don't – not really.
"And there I was – doing what I always said I wouldn't do – standing with the other fans outside a hotel in the hope of getting an autograph or shaking his hand. My memory is that he looked so wealthy when he emerged – big chunky rings on his fingers, this amazing, healthy tan ... "
Last night, 40-year-old Connolly was among the devotees who packed into Cork's Pairc Ui Chaoimh for the second night of the Irish leg of Springsteen's European tour. It was his 36th time to see The Boss.
Next week, he's off to Leeds (Springsteen has sandwiched shows in the Yorkshire city and Cardiff between Irish dates): "I'm very excited about that one because, unusually enough for this tour, he is playing indoors. I've been hearing myself say to people that it's a great opportunity to see him in an intimate venue, but it is a 12,000 capacity room and not the Olympia."
And then there are the two dates in Kilkenny's Nowlan Park next weekend.
"The final one could be particularly special because it's the very last night of his European tour and those concluding evenings tend to be that bit more special."
Connolly's interest in the New Jersey singer was first piqued when he heard a live Springsteen album in 1986.
He had been too young to go with his sisters to the now legendary Slane concert the year before, but jumped at the opportunity in 1988 when Bruce played Dublin's RDS – something of an Irish spiritual home for him.
"It was just an extraordinary show. There may have been songs that he played that night that I didn't yet know, but it was one of those experiences that stays with you. He has sound-tracked my life for 25 years now and I can't imagine a time when I'm not listening to him although I like to think I have a healthy interest and not like some of the people I've met who won't actually listen to music if it's not made by Springsteen or, if they do, it's always 'would Bruce like this?'"
RTé political reporter David McCullagh is a self-confessed Springsteen nut and, when he speaks to the Irish Independent, he is still on a high after the preceding night's gig at Thomond Park, Limerick.
"It was something else – one of the top five gigs of his I've seen" he enthuses. It was his 26th time to see Springsteen (last night in Cork was number 27), although he suggests that he is in the ha'penny place compared to others. "There are people out there who have seen him more than 100 times. I've a long way to go."
The Limerick show, which saw Springsteen dedicate his iconic anthem 'Glory Days' to the county's Munster Final-winning hurlers, typified just why people like David McCullagh are so devoted to his music.
"You never know what he's going to play, and that's part of the magic," he says. "He has such an extraordinary back catalogue and he loves to mix it up for every show. There were songs aired last night that he hadn't played in a long time and I was kicking myself that I wasn't there for the pre-show set he did."
Springsteen thrilled early arrivals by playing three songs acoustically at 5.30pm – a full two hours before he was due on stage.
McCullagh was 17 when he first saw Springsteen live – at Slane 1985.
"I don't think it would have been possible to go to that show and been ambivalent about Springsteen. But the really great thing is he puts as much energy into his shows now as he did then."
Ken Murphy, a 29-year-old student from Dublin, also attended the Limerick gig.
"It's impossible to put into words how great it was," he says. "There's a big community of Springsteen fans on Twitter and the consensus seemed to be that it was a special gig. I mean, at the pre-show set he played one song, 'Hearts of Stone', that he has never played live before." Springsteen fans crave such detail.
Murphy is sheepish when admitting that he is a latecomer to Springsteen: "I hadn't known much about his music with the exception of his best known songs, but I went to see him in the RDS for the 'Working on a Dream' tour in 2009 and was blown away. My great regret is not having had those songs in my life before then."
In the four years since, Murphy has more than made up for lost time and speaks with the sort of encyclopaedic knowledge that would impress those who have been with Springsteen since the start.
"Unlike some of his peers, Springsteen is still making great music and is not relying on old songs. New material gets a great response too."
Meanwhile, Connolly believes Springsteen's enduring appeal is down to his talent for writing songs with universal appeal.
"People talk about him writing for the blue collar man, but what he actually does is writes for the Everyman. Listen to his music – there's something there for everyone."