Folks are convulsing about the Stones' visit in October. Graybeards are fumbling through tattered ticket stub collections talking about old favorites. But do you remember when Bruce came to Cameron on March 28, 1976? Now that was a night....
The show started at 8 that warm Sunday night, the fourth stop on his Chicken Scratch Tour. He'd played in Virginia and South Carolina before on previous tours, but I think this was the E Street Band's first gig as a headliner in North Carolina (Bruce opened for Chicago in Fayetteville in 1973). He was preaching to the converted in '76, considering that on campus, Duke was known as the University of New Jersey at Durham. We knew all about Asbury Park.
Bruce performed every song from the recently released Born to Run. But the best rock 'n' roll moment ever for my money (tickets were ... $6.50) was the drama surrounding his version of "It's My Life." He just kind of started talking softly, telling a story about his father waiting up for him to come home. While the band noodled a few lines between the pauses, the spoken word was very intimate, you know, single spot, pin-drop audience. I now know that he did essentially the same rap each show on the tour, but for me it was a first, and I was baptized.
"I used to live in this small town ... in this two-family house ... at night my father used to lock up the front door ... and he'd sit in the kitchen every night with all the lights out ... he'd start asking me how I was doing ... then he'd start asking why I was living the way I was ... pretty soon we'd be screaming at each other ... I'd be running out the back door, telling him ... that it was my life."
Then, very, very slowly, mournfully, proud and with our full attention, he sang, "It's a hard world ... to get a break in...." You know the rest. He must have held the word "world" for 16 beats. I still get goose bumps hearing Bruce's 10 minutes of testimony. And this was only four songs into the night!
Five months before the Durham show, Springsteen had hit the front covers of both Newsweek and Time the same week. At Duke he joked about it during "Rosalita," changing the lyrics to "Tell your papa I ain't no freak, I got my picture on the cover of Time and Newsweek!"
Another staple of the tour was his first encore, the frat-rock raver "Detroit Medley," featuring "Devil with a Blue Dress On." Of course, Cameron went crazy. I mean crazy. Did he know who he was talking to? (Mitch Ryder, who rode the song to the top of the charts when Springsteen was still in high school, got the same tumultuous love-bath in Cameron when he performed it in 1968!)
Bruce closed the house and sent the campus back to the books (and turntables) with another oldie romp, "Quarter to Three," taking all we could get, no regrets.
But bring on those English blokes. They've had a few hits. "Hey, Mick," I say, "Hey Mick, paint it black, you devil!"