by Chris Parker
Some musicians inspire fans, and some do something more. It’s not necessarily a reflection on the quality of the music, as the face-painted hordes of Insane Clown Posse followers suggest, but a testament to the level of identification and comity music engenders. While Bruce Springsteen doesn’t quite galvanize the same response as Jerry Garcia, the outpouring is close. Recently, Raleigh resident Erica Bernstein had the opportunity to take her appreciation for The Boss to the next level.
A fan of Springsteen since she heard “The River” on the way back from the beach almost a dozen years ago (she remembers because it was the same day Princess Diana died), Bernstein followed up the thrill of meeting Springsteen in person in May with an hour-long DJ slot on the XM/Sirius’ E-Street Radio, a channel dedicated to all things Springsteen. Bernstein can be heard at 4 p.m. Monday, July 13, and again at midnight and 8 a.m. the next day, Tuesday, July 14.
“I’m as big a fan you can be without having a mental problem,” says Bernstein. “It comes at the cost of other music because I don’t have time.”
While she enjoys the music of Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young (she heard “Down By the River” in high school, setting up a lingering subconscious aquatic allure), Bernstein indeed spends much of her time listening to Springsteen. To wit, she owns all the studio albums, has pored over his 4-CD unreleased/outtakes box set, Tracks, frequented the fanzine Backstreets, watched dozens of interview videos and DVDs, and immersed herself in his many live and bootleg concert releases.
Oddly enough, she saw her Springsteen first show in London a decade ago.
“That was crazy because I was in another country watching this very American star, but everybody was going nuts and knew all the words to everything. Even more than I did,” Bernstein recalls.
Since the London gig, she’s seen 18 more shows and, on several occasions, sat in the friends/family section and made it backstage to the E-Street Lounge, “a place where, before the show, people with certain connections can go. Every once in a while someone from the band—never Bruce, and usually never Steve [Van Zandt, guitarist] or Clarence [Clemons, sax player]—comes out." She’s seen drummer Max Weinberg there, and bassist Gary Tallent, whose brother-in-law is a co-worker of Bernstein’s Aunt Karen, the source of the E-street passes.
“I don’t bother them because I figure they’re down there to see whoever it is they’ve let in that they know,” she explains. "Then all of a sudden they get swarmed and everybody has their camera phones out."
Nothing compares, of course, with the opportunity to meet The Boss in person, which Bernstein came to through an auction by a Greensboro area food bank. Along with her father, her sister and her sister’s fiancée, she was supposed to meet Springsteen before his May 2nd show in Greensboro. Things were hectic, though, so they were ushered in to see Springsteen about 15 minutes after the set finished. At first, Bernstein was hesitant to encounter her idol. Though she worked on political campaigns last year, meeting and getting pictures taken with Barrack and Michelle Obama, as well as Hilary Clinton, those experiences paled in comparison.
“Everything about him is so familiar to me, but there’s always been a separation there. He’s been on a stage or on TV or on my stereo. It’s never been just me and him standing in front of each other in a room,” she explains. “But he was everything you would imagine. Warm, down-to-earth, friendly, big smiles, still lots of energy even thought he’d been up there for 3 hours. He told my sister that he liked her red shoes. He was very nice and tried to pull everybody in.”
She says she looks the happiest she’s ever looked in her life in her snapshot with Springsteen. A few weeks later, she got the chance for an encore. Courtesy of another auction sponsored by the Kristen Ann Carr Fund, which supports cancer research, she was able to DJ a spot on E-Street Radio. “Grueling…but a bunch of fun,” she says.
Bernstein spoke about five songs and played other tunes between her showcase numbers. She started her set as Springsteen began this year’s Super Bowl show, with “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out.” True to her Springsteen scholarship, though, she chose the version from his 1975 concert performance at London Hammersmith Odeon, which was released three years ago. “It’s the Born to Run tour, but the songs are a lot faster than you’re used to,” she says.
Bernstein ended the set with “Dream Baby Dream,” a Suicide cover that Springsteen used to close many of the shows from his 2005 Devils and Dust, which he performed solo acoustic, playing an astounding 140 different songs over the course of the tour.
“It was so fascinating to see a lot of those songs stripped down. I’m thinking particularly songs like ‘Real World,’ off Human Touch, which is not one of my favorite albums,” she says. “Hearing [those songs] stripped down, the way he would do them on that tour, it was almost like there was a whole ’nother song in that song.”
Reflecting on that period of the Boss’ career, which followed the enormous success of Born in the U.S.A. and a failed marriage to Julianne Phillips (whom he married in ’85 and divorced four years later), Bernstein offers own take: “I think that he had gotten to a place where he wasn’t comfortable. He had a marriage that ultimately wasn’t comfortable or good for him. He was living in L.A. and that might have disconnected him because he did move back to New Jersey later. I think he also may have been lacking for ideas to write about. He was sort of in transition. [1995’s] The Ghost of Tom Joad brought him back.”
But, even after the radio gig, Bernstein is still trying to recover from meeting The Boss, which she describes as the apex of her life so far. “He kissed me a couple times on the top of the head. It was a very uncle kind of a move,” she says. “It was very sweet.”