On about a dozen occasions in just under five minutes, it becomes clear that the person talking to me is Bruce Springsteen. This, in case you are wondering, never stops feeling like getting walloped by a large rolling boulder, or shoved into an above-ground pool filled with half-melted ice cubes.
On about a dozen occasions in just under five minutes, it becomes clear that the person talking to me is Bruce Springsteen. This, in case you are wondering, never stops feeling like getting walloped by a large rolling boulder, or shoved into an above-ground pool filled with half-melted ice cubes. You would think that after some time your brain would become acclimated to the pattern of realizing it's maintaining eye contact with Actual Bruce Springsteen, while simultaneously convincing your hands to stop shaking like that, but curiously this never occurs. The net effect is that every few minutes, I realize for what seems like the first time I'm engaged in an actual grown-up conversation with Bruce Springsteen and it would be best for everybody if I didn't throw up or try to hug him.
Currently, Bruce Springsteen is talking to my friend Ben and I about parenting. I was introduced as having come to New York City from South Carolina, and Springsteen mentions how he just moved his daughter to Duke, and as someone who has equated Duke with cartoonish supervillainy since the early '90s, I note that in talking to Bruce Springsteen for 14 seconds we've stumbled across the only topic on which I've ever really disagreed with him. Ben mentions the pocket-sized baby girl his wife delivered two weeks prior, and this redirects the conversation into the kind of small talk you might have at the play gym, about how one day they're newborns and the next day you're moving them into a dorm, and unbelievably I'm talking to Bruce Springsteen about children and family units and how he and Patti — it’s strange the conventional, non-guitarist role she plays in this particular narrative — enjoyed and facilitated their kids' closeness. I should make clear that I'm completely paraphrasing this part, as obviously I have zero recall of the words Bruce Springsteen actually used when he was talking to me — for all I know he could have been reciting detailed schematics to the Starship Enterprise in Farsi — but I got the gist of it, or at least more than I would have thought I could while concentrating so strenuously on not babbling like a drugged maniac.
Ben and I are backstage at “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” milling about in the hallway off the studio’s side door, the one Bruce and Jimmy exited through after the “Whip My Hair” bit. It is without question the most mundane-looking setting in which I'll ever see Bruce Springsteen; it probably looks like the way to the printer room at your office, except for the HD monitors everywhere and all the Roots walking around.
Before we found ourselves here, Ben and I watched Springsteen's performance from the Fallon show's “band bench.” For most of the taping, the band bench means the back three rows of the small studio, where you feel like you could reach up and adjust the lights, monitors and applause signs, but right before the musical performance you’re brought down the steps through the crowd, across the stage, past the Roots' setup, past Jimmy’s desk and behind the band's equipment, where a few platforms and some scaffolding have been set up for fans to whoop and dance on. Band bench people are usually escorted back to their seats after the performances, but this is where Jonathan comes in. Jonathan is the show's music booker and a college friend, music fanatic and man who implicitly understands the nature of diagnosably obsessive fanship. So Jonathan, who is totally getting an extra couple boxes of Christmas cookies this year, collects Ben and I out of the returning line, nods to several large security gentlemen and ushers us into the backstage/hallway crowd.
Before long, and really before I know what he's doing, he's introducing us to Bruce, who is talking to us in a manner that indicates there's nowhere in the world he needs to be. I'm basically handing man-crush jokes to my friends for the next 50 years, but Bruce Springsteen puts you completely at ease. I can literally not imagine the number of giddy-eyed pinheads like me who would sell their souls to have a conversation with Bruce, and here he is, 3 feet in front of me, and he couldn't seem more engaged.
Jonathan, being the only one of remotely deputized to ask such a thing, asks if he'd mind taking a photo, and of course Bruce obliges, because by now this entire thing is unfolding with a deeply unlikely perfection, and he's off after another two-handed handshake, and I've got something to add to the pictures of the heroes on my wall.
Jeff Vrabel is entirely aware of how much of a shameless fanboy he sounds like right now, and doesn't care. He can be reached http://jeffvrabel.com and followed at http://twitter.com/jeffvrabel.