Bruce Springsteen Made Me An Offer I Couldn’t Refuse

Source: Jason Kempin/Getty Images North America

I’d always heard that, off-stage, Bruce Springsteen is a very normal sort of person. Meaning that the uninhibited, propulsive sides of his personality are reserved for those many moments when he stands beneath spotlights. Yes, everybody knows that in concert he rocks and rolls like few mortals ever have, sweating up storms of great magnitude while giving it all he has. And now I can attest to the truth of this paragraph’s first sentence too, because last week I met The Boss. At my house, no less. He’s a good guy. As is his buddy Steven Van Zandt, a guitar slinger who has been a member of Springsteen’s E Street Band for many years. I didn’t know that they were planning to visit me. I’d have put on something more flattering than a Donald Duck tee shirt and a pair of candy-striped shorts if I had. Whatever, as they say. The main thing is that it’s a good thing I was home when they knocked on my suburban Philadelphia front door yesterday afternoon.

“Hey, Neil, surprise!” said Stevie when I opened the door. “You’re not the best looking guy I’ve ever seen, but you’re nowhere near as ugly as I was expecting. Bruce and I drove all the way from northern New Jersey to meet you. We’re glad to be here. Nice shorts, by the way.”

“Holy crap!” I said. “Stevie? Bruce? What the hell’s going on? Is this a joke? Am I on Candid Camera?”

“Hi, Neil,” said Bruce, peeking out from behind his friend. “Believe it or not, we’re here on serious business. Well, maybe not all that serious. We’ll explain all. C’mon, man, can we come in? I’ve got to use your bathroom. Half an hour ago I emptied a two liter bottle of RC Cola in no time flat. Big mistake. My bladder is sending out an SOS.”

“Gentlemen, enter!” I said, bowing and sweeping my right hand in a dramatic, welcoming arc. Enter they did, Bruce quickly spotting the ground floor john and heading towards it pronto. Stevie and I shook hands and took seats in the living room. I stared at him in disbelief. He smiled that smile of his that’s wide as a canyon.

“Stevie, what do you want to drink?” I finally managed to ask.

“Got any seltzer? Bruce I’m sure would love some, too.”

“I’ve got gallons of it. I’ll be right back.”

Two minutes later I strode into the living room with a big tray that held glasses of fizzy water and bowls of pretzels and chips. I looked at Bruce, who had finished his business and taken a seat on the sofa, and at Stevie. We lifted the glasses to our lips and reached into the bowls.

“Guys,” I said, “nothing like this has ever happened to me. Woody Allen is the only star I ever met before. That was in 1973 when I was living in Manhattan. I accidentally knocked him over with a shopping cart in a Gristedes supermarket when I made a U- turn in the cereal aisle. He got up from the floor, glared at me and kept on shopping. Never said a word. More importantly, he didn’t sue.”

“Yeah, Woody’s the forgiving kind, so that doesn’t surprise me,” said Stevie. “Anyway, here’s why we’ve paid you a visit. It’s because of that story you wrote last week about your weakening obsession with music [click here to read it]. It found its way to one of the Springsteen-fan websites.” Bruce nodded in agreement. “And Brucie boy, having nothing better to do, checked out that site the other day. Your story jumped out at him like a wild animal. After reading it he knew that he had to take some action to try and help you out. So, he called me, told me what your article was about and explained everything he had in mind. I was on board just like that.” He snapped his fingers to emphasize the point. “Ergo, here we are. And don’t bother asking how we found out where you live. It’s a Google world, my man. The only person that nobody can find hasn’t been born yet.”

“Stevie, Bruce, I’m humbled. Please continue.”

“Neil, we’re all about the same age here. Not getting any younger, that’s for sure,” Bruce said. “But Stevie and I are having the times of our lives. Just like always. We haven’t gotten tired of rock and roll in the least. Man, the passion, the fire are still there. It broke my heart when I read in your article that you’re only one-fifth the music guy that you used to be. Neil, we have come to get you out of what I am convinced is a funk. We want to turn you back into the rock and roll animal that you once were. And you know how we’re going to do that? Hold onto the few strands of hair that you have left on your wrinkly head . . . Neil, we want you to become part of The E Street Band! You’ll have more excitement than you ever thought possible. You’ll travel all over the world. You’ll drown, like me and Stevie and the rest of the band, in audience applause. Man, you’re going to have the time of your life.”

Photo: Don Marshall

I swear, my jaw dropped through the living room floor and into the basement. Whose wouldn’t have? Quickly I pulled it back into place, slapped myself in the face and said, “Bruce, this is an offer only a fool would refuse. My life has been good till now, but I wouldn’t mind it becoming great. Only problem is, I’m unfit to be in your band. You guys are the best. Me, I can’t stay on pitch when I sing. And I have less talent on musical instruments than the average three year old.”

“Doesn’t matter, Neil,” said The Boss. “We’ll teach you to sing simple background harmonies. You’ll sound just fine. And as far as instruments go, I want you to play the triangle. Anybody can play the triangle. And on a few tunes maybe we’ll have you bang on some wood blocks. Some of my songs would be strengthened with some incisive wood block poundings, don’t you think, Stevie?” Steven gave the thumbs-up sign emphatically. “Thunder Road, for instance, and Born In The U.S.A. You will be able to handle this, Neil. I’m totally confident.”

At that moment Sandy, my wife, turned her key in the front door lock and entered our house. She had been out shopping for some Matisse-inspired toilet seat covers. Sadly, none were to be found. Bruce and Steven rose, fine gentlemen that they are, when she came into the living room. Not unexpectedly, her jaw dropped not only into the basement but through the basement floor itself.

Well, Bruce and Steven hung around Sandy’s and my house for a few more hours. We all got on famously. Like I said, they are good guys. Very good guys. Bruce and the band are taking a break from the road right now, but plans for the next round are in the works. Rehearsals and touring start early next year. Sandy will fly to be with me now and then, like when the band is in London and Amsterdam and Stockholm. I’m psyched about what’s ahead.

This is the damndest thing, isn’t it? Me, a schlub who gets yanked from behind a computer keyboard to become a cog in one of the most popular bands in the universe. You know, I’m awake, but pinch me anyway. I won’t mind in the least.

 

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Everybody Wants Some!! (A Look At Linklater’s Latest)

They keep their noses to the grindstone, often think outside the box, avoid publicity most of the time, and write and direct movies right and left. Not being a film scholar, I’m unable to say how many of our fellow humans currently fit that description. But I’ll offer the two names that pop into my mind: Woody Allen. Richard Linklater.

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Maybe I’ll pen an essay about Woody one of these days. But today not being that day, I’ll proceed with some thoughts about Richard Linklater and about his latest movie. It’s called Everybody Wants Some!!, and it’s a really raunchy comedy. If you’re uncomfortable with fu*ks and sh*ts filling the air like swarming gnats, then you’re gonna wanna sit this one out. I saw Everybody recently with my wife Sandy, who doesn’t always go for raunchy comedies. She liked this one, though. And so did I. It’s cruder than crude, but it’s also kind of sweet and nutty and charming.

You know, Linklater’s newest ain’t no masterpiece. But who cares? It’s a romp. A blast. And Linklater undoubtedly needed a breather of sorts after finishing production on Everybody’s predecessor, Boyhood, in 2014. Boyhood had to have been a challenge and a half. It followed the life and times of a lad over a 13 year period, up to the start of his freshman year at college. And it did this in real time. Linklater filmed Boyhood for a few days every year from 2002 through 2014. Same cast each year, and pretty much the same crew. It’s hard to imagine the patience and discipline required to devise and orchestrate a project of such magnitude.

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Boyhood aimed high, examining life’s nuances and complexities. Everybody Wants Some!! aims a lot lower. Its focus is on the cravings of the gonadal regions of a group of collegiate male student-athletes gathered together a few days before the start of classes, in 1980 Texas. The boys comprise the college’s baseball team, and have been allowed, and assigned, to live together in a big old house off-campus for the upcoming school year. The college’s administrative geniuses who made that decision never saw Animal House, for sure.

Boys being boys, and testosterone being testosterone, the baseball tribe’s upperclassmen lead the newbies from bacchanalia to bacchanalia all over town for several days, including the blowouts in their big old house. Vast numbers of college girls are ogled and flirted with. And some, certainly not as many as the boys would have hoped for, are bedded. Actually, though, Everybody details the high life too. Amazing quantities of beer are drunk during the movie. And so much cannabis smoke is inhaled, I left the theater with a contact high. Thanks, Linklater, I needed that . . . and I’m not joking.

Not every scene in Everybody plays out as wackily as intended, and not all the dialogue slips easily off the actors’ tongues. But the pursuit of wild fun rarely slows. Where else are you going to see guys and girls, gleefully drunk, riding a mattress down a flight of stairs? Or watch a team’s veteran players duct-tape its new guys to an outfield wall, and then launch balls at them during batting practice?

Everbody Wants Some!! is drawn from Linklater’s collegiate life, and is a follow-up, in spirit, to his 1993 movie Dazed And Confused, which emerged from his high school experiences. High school, for Linklater, was a time of frustration and confinement. College? Hey, kind of the opposite. Goodbye to parental restraints, hello to freedom and experimentation. Linklater’s quasi-alter ego in Everybody, freshman Jake (smoothly played by Blake Jenner), is the eyes and gonads through which the movie unfolds.

As part of my attempt at research for this article, I read an interview that Linklater gave not long ago to help promote Everybody. He said: “That’s what the [new] movie’s about, navigating that transitional period and the notion of identity. Who are you? Who do you want to be?”

Huh? Richard, I disagree. Only a smattering of screen time is assigned to analyses of the big concepts that you mentioned. Yeah, the guys (and the one girl who has more than five lines during the flick) are possibly semi-consciously on a quest for self-discovery, but who isn’t? To me, what Everybody Wants Some!! is about is grabbing hold of good times while you can. Because they don’t necessarily last forever.

And something very basic dawned on me in the midst of my research. Namely, without having realized it before, I’m a Linklater fan. He has directed 18 feature films over the years, and I’ve seen (and liked) eight of them. That’s 44%, which isn’t bad. But his five most recent movies, a string that began with 2008’s Me And Orson Welles, are a different story. I’ve caught them all, which was news to me. The quintet includes Bernie, a delightful movie from 2011 starring Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine that I urge all to see.

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