A Springsteen Week-End
The following story is very long and quite personal. Anyway if you're curious about how it was that Bruce Springsteen in swimming trunks sang Backstreets for my daughter, by the side of a very exclusive swimming pool, then read ahead.
The Italian magazine TEMPI publishes a very positive review by Lorenzo Albacete (a NY Times columnist) of the book "The Life That You Save May Be Your Own - An American Pilgrimage," by Paul Elie. It is the comparative biography of four Catholic American writers: Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton. It gets my attention mainly because I love Flannery O'Connor, and I don't know that Walker Percy - one of Springsteen's favorite writers - was Catholic. I go buy this book on-line: it is June 23, and when it comes to delivery options I realize it could be an interesting book for Bruce, so I select 3-5 days delivery and decide that if the book arrives before Milan show I will try to give it to Springsteen.
Friday June 27 I have to interview Nils Lofgren. A face-to-face interview has been declined, and it will be a phoner. Nils - I'm told - is at 2-hours drive from Milan. I guess he's in Cernobbio on the Como's Lake, at Villa d'Este Hotel, where I know Bruce is staying. Nils probably wants to protect Springsteens' privacy. The phone number I receive confirms Villa d'Este hypothesis.
In the afternoon a parcel arrives: it's Elie's book. I start reading it immediately: the prologue, the first chapter. It is about the American pilgrimage of those four writers, a pilgrimage being defined as "a journey undertaken in light of a story." How many points of contact with Springsteen's music: his own journey is a pilgrimage, and his art belongs to the root of that big American tradition that includes F. O'Connor and the others. I have to give him this book. I write a dedication letter inside the book, where I thank Bruce and make connections between his music and the book's themes.
I know the delivery will be very hard: Villa d'Este is well known for its high security level and privacy respect. It is almost impossible to get in. I take with me wife and kids: at least if my plan fails we will have an ice-cream while walking lake side. We arrive at Villa d'Este: outside a dozen fans are waiting, a security guy watches the entrance.
I'm pushing the stroller with my son Simone, 1 year old, while my wife Rosa walks hand in hand with Chiara, 4 years old. We get in as if we were guests, no problem at the first security barrier, but at the second one the security guy approaches us. I explain that I have a book to deliver and in the meantime Simone, usually an unfriendly crying baby, smiles and wave his hand. The security guy smiles too: we're incredibly inside!
Villa d'Este is not a traditional hotel: it is a large complex of mansions in a big garden, golf club, a main building near an unique pool floating on the lake, and a private boat park. We walk about half a mile to arrive at the reception. At the reception desk I ask for a post-it that I put on the book's cover, I write "for Bruce Springsteen" and hand the book to the receptionist. He looks at me in suspicion and asks if we are guests. "No, I'm here just for the book" - "Does *he* know about it?" - "Sure, that's why I'm here"
We go out and I'm going toward the exit. I don't consider looking for Springsteen: the complex is large, and I'm already satisfied by the book delivery. Besides I can easily imagine my wife complaining "we won't spend the whole afternoon looking for Springsteen, right?" Unexpectedly Rosa says: "it's such a wonderful place, why don't we take a walk here?"
While we wander around we arrive at the lake floating pool. Inside the main large pool there is a built-in Jacuzzi, and Bruce is there, laughing out loud, talking to what looks like a microphone, or probably a mobile phone handed to him by two guys there in the pool. We sit down and look around. On our left there are Nils and Roy with their wives. Patti Scialfa is just a little more distant. Chiara tries hard to recognize Bruce, but the real problem is Simone: after ten minutes he starts crying out loud, everybody looks at us, and I am very embarrassed.
I'm even more embarrassed by the idea of being recognized by Nils, since I've met him in London few weeks before. He might think I've used the phone number to get the address.
My wife walks Simone around (he's learning to walk) in order to calm him. I wait for the right moment to approach Bruce: it will be hard since it's relax time and I don't want to harass him.
My mobile rings a couple of times: it's friends of mine calling and I tell them where I am and what I'm doing. I switch off the phone to avoid further calls and I suddenly realize that Bruce is gone. My wife reaches me and asks me why I haven't joined her: Patti and a friend of hers were playing with my kids. Rosa doesn't speak English and I could have easily got into a conversation with them. The right moment has been wasted, and Bruce is gone.
Things get worse: Simone keeps on crying. In the meantime Patti is eating with friends at a table not far from our place. I ask what time is it: ten to six. I wait a little longer, then I decide to try: since Patti played with my kids I ask Chiara to give her a CD I had with me. The CD is "I'm A Big Girl Now," the bootleg compilation of outtakes, TV appearances, and rare b-sides, produced by Cathy V., an American friend of mine. My daughter doesn't want to go alone, and ask me to join her. We go. We approach Patti and I tell her that my daughter has a gift for her. Patti hugs Chiara, then the usual questions: "what's your name?" "How old are you?" Then she takes the CD. She stares at it, looks at me, then at the back cover for the song list, and a beautiful smile appears on her face. "This is incredible: I've recorded these songs when I was 20." This is not completely true, anyway I avoid to contradict her... "I don't have them anymore, how did you get them?" - "The magic of Internet!" - I reply - "It's a fan-project, a not-for-profit compilation done by a fan of yours" - "Wonderful!"
It's done! Patti is on cloud nine, and we didn't turn out to be harassers. "I'm going to call my husband!," but the guy that was eating with her replies that Bruce is quite busy right now. "Tell Bruce to come here immediately! It's very important!," and while the guy goes away to call Bruce I think to myself that it's the same story everywhere: wives rule. While waiting for Bruce I ask Patti when her new album will be released. "It's done, it's finished. It will be released next year when Bruce's tour is over." I kindly ask if we can trust Springsteens when it comes to release dates. She laughs and reply that "yes! you can believe me on this! At least this time."
Bruce arrives in swimming trunks, with his typical walking, and he appears to me as disappointed. He sits down and Patti starts talking about the CD, commenting songs one by one: "this one is the one that does sha-la-la, this other one is the one that does li-li-li. This one has been written in that session, you remember it? This one has been recorded in that studio, etc." Bruce is not excited, asks for a hamburger that he will eat while he obliges to listen to Patti. I introduce myself in the conversation telling her there is also a second volume, "Some Things Baby", and if she is interested I could send her a copy. "Absolutely, please" and talking to a red headed girl she says: "give him the address." I have paper but I haven't a pen, so the girl goes away looking for a pen (that night at home I will realize I had four - F O U R - sharpie pens with me...)
Two kids approach Bruce for autographs, and he takes the pen that just arrived. Bruce has some problem with the spelling of the name Letizia and I help him. The red headed girl turns out to be Kelly K., Patti's assistant, and she writes the address on my notebook. I was expecting a Shore Fire Media address, or maybe a Jon Landau Management address... or even a Sony New York address... this is not the case, the address is that one: Rumson, NJ. Kelly writes down her email address too and says to me: "send the CD to Patti. Anything you need, just ask me." WOW! Then she asks me if I want something signed. "Yes, I would be pleased! Let me get it."
I reach into my bag. I have the DVD special edition of The Rising, the limited edition CD single "Live and Rare," Nils' complete discography, the last album by Soozie Tyrell, the last one by Clarence Clemons, and... my copy of the book SONGS. I pick up SONGS already enjoying what is going to happen. I hand the book to Patti and she hands it to Bruce. I stop her saying that I only want Patti's signature. Bruce is puzzled, looks at me with a priceless face, and hands the book back to Patti. She is also surprised, but the trick is soon revealed: the book already has a wonderful dedication by Bruce on the first page, while on the second there are all E-Street band members' signatures but Patti's. We all laugh, and Patti signs near the other E-Streeters, even if the white space is limited, and doesn't exploit Bruce's page with its large white space available.
Time to go. Chiara has been grabbing my leg all along. Rosa has been with Simone, but she was able to set up a kind of gesture conversation with Patti. Patti explained to Rosa she has three kids, and Rosa points to Kelly as if she was one of the kids. Kelly and Patti laugh out loud while Patti in Italian says "no, little, little kids." All in all Bruce up to now hasn't been that much talkative: maybe he's not really disappointed, but surely he is not forthcoming. I try to take time telling them that tomorrow we will be at the show, and Chiara will be with us: her first live show. I propose to tell a story about Chiara.
Every Thursday night my wife goes out with her friends and I stay home with the kids. When the "Live In NYC" DVD was released, I experienced its powerful effect on Chiara (at the time 2 and a half years old). One of those Thursday, we had already seen the DVD a couple of times, I was going to put on the latest Neil Young DVD, introducing Neil as Bruce's friend. While I was handling the disc, all of a sudden Chiara asks: "does he play 'hiding on the backstreets'?" As you can imagine Neil Young was immediately archived and the third showing of Springsteen's "Live in NYC" ruled that night. As a father I was very proud of Chiara's musical taste (she doesn't speak English, and - I swore - she's exposed to many different artists, not only Bruce)
While I'm telling this story, Bruce starts singing without waiting for the end. There he was, in his seat, in swimming trunks, with his hand toward Chiara. Chiara's arms hold tight to my right leg: "Hiding on the Backstreets... Hiding on the Backstreets..." Up to now I've been relatively calm and relaxed. I haven't been overcome by my emotions, as the previous times I've met Bruce. There has been time enough to familiarize with the Springsteens being there at the swimming pool, Patti playing with my kids, talking with Patti, the CD, Bruce's arrival, the autographs. The intensity has been increasing gradually. But Bruce singing Backstreets, here, now, to Chiara... I can't help but thinking "it's a dream... it's so surreal it cannot be true... it's not possible" trying in vain to focus on Bruce's voice. It looked like eternity... finally I get to listen to Bruce, just in time for the final, sweet and intense, "we swore forever friends," sang with an incredible voice, as a whisper, with that hand toward Chiara (yes *that* hand, the one you see in the "Live in NYC"), with such a tenderness for Chiara that I was speechless, and still I have goose bumps.
Once again: time to go. Oh well... it's so many years I long for a photo with Bruce... but in swimming trunks he isn't going to agree.I try with a shy "I guess it's not the right time to have a photo together" Bruce is nodding his head as to confirm it is not the right time, but Patti rules: "you must have a picture with his daughter at least." Bruce calls Chiara: "C'mon baby, c'mon," but Chiara is stone-like grabbing my leg. Patti insists: "you scare her. You should have a picture with her father, and she will relax." Bruce stands up, reaches us, crouches to be as high as Chiara, who sits on my leg, between Bruce and me.
I hand the camera to Rosa, and she sits Simone on a chair. With my best smile I tell Rosa: "if you fail this photo I'm going to ask for divorce." I see her scrambling around with the camera. It takes so long I have to say to Bruce something like: "she knows that if she fails this photo I might get upset." First click. "A second one please" I suggest, quite worried about the first one. Patti steps in asking me if I want her to take the picture, so that Rosa could join us. Without thinking about it I reply that I would prefer her to take care of Simone: I'm worried he could fall off the chair. Second click. The pictures will not turn out that good, anyway they are a nice souvenir and at least it is clear it's me, Chiara, and Bruce.
My wife will ask me later if I told Patti to take care of Simone. "Yes. Why do you ask this?" - "Just because she has been very kind: she has wrapped him with her arms while he was seated, then since he was still uncomfortable she took him in her arms and played with him." I missed this part completely. I've asked Patti Scialfa to baby-sit Simone: unreal.
Ok, now is really time to go. We shake hands, hugs and kisses for the kids, promises ("I will send you the CD"), and when it's my turn with Bruce I tell him about the book at the reception for him. He thanks me, but he's clearly not that much interested. I add it's about Flannery O'Connor and Walker Percy, and then he turns to me quite surprised: "Really?" - "Sure! It's in English, it's a new book." This time he really thanks me.
While going out I ask what time is it: 7PM. As strange as it can be, to the first friends asking about this story I reply we've been with Bruce and Patti about 20 minutes: I need my wife to make me realize it's been 40-50 minutes. We swore: forever friends.
Friday night I've organized a dinner with friends from all over the world: I'm very late, I know someone will be already at the restaurant waiting. Just to add to my being late Chiara wants to join me and Leo: we're going out without her since she is supposed to go to bed early, in order to stand the show the next day. The reason she wants to join us: she thinks we're going out for dinner with the Springsteens. I smile... as if we were friends with Bruce and Patti... The dinner turned out to be crowded, some people showed up at the last minute. It's very hot, but it seems almost everybody is having a good time. We sing until 1AM, and there is even time for an acoustic Rosalita. Someone comments: "let's hope for a better version tomorrow!"
The next day I try to finalize Soozie Tyrell's interview with no luck. It must be written somewhere that I won't do it: I had to ask for rescheduling the interview from Dublin to Milan, this time I don't get a timely confirmation, because PC and mobile phone fail at the wrong moment. Leo and I spend the whole day looking for cables we need to set up our exciting experiment: record the show from the IEM transmissions. It will turn out to be a complete failure: late that night, back from the show, very tired, Leo and I will spend our last energies listening to the tapes looking for something good: it's all crap. The only consolation is to think about a friend I've never met sending me more than $3000 in receivers: "the trust is deep" he wrote. We swore: forever friends.
It's Saturday afternoon: with Rosa, Chiara and a few friends we head down to the show, at the San Siro Stadium. A journalist and a photographer approach us for pictures and a mini-interview. They are from Repubblica, one of the main Italian newspapers. At the end of the interview I add: "we spent one hour yesterday with the Springsteens in a very exclusive swimming pool, but don't write about it since nobody would believe us." The next day our picture is in the newspaper: talk about the chances of meeting the Springsteens and then the next day to have your picture and interview in a newspaper (no mention of the swimming pool)... good karma is flowing around us. And hundreds of phone calls on the arrival for my mobile...
As for the show, it has been the best ever for me (many pictures here). I cannot judge in a objective way, but in a subjective way for me it has been the best ever. It has probably been the show I've watched less, since all my attention was for Chiara: she danced, sang, clapped until the end. We had reserved seats, where it wasn't raining as hard as on the floor. Anyway my daughter was always pushing me to the front of the balcony, where it was raining harder, and she wasn't concerned at all about her mother being seated behind (and quite silent). Chiara was asking for our friends: "where is Maria Claudia?" - "She is on the floor, in the front stage" - "Dad, why don't we join her? Why are we so far from the stage?" On Empty Sky Chiara asks me: "why is this song so sad? Why is Bruce so sad?" - "Because it talks about a husband suffering the loss of his wife" - "Oh, I understand. This is why he's sad and wants to sing it with Patti." About Waiting On A Sunny Day: "I think this is my favorite one along with 'hiding on the backstreets'."
There are plenty of friends around us: Tiziana, Davide, Walter, Sue, Linda, Leo, Frank, many parents of our friends included. Paolo and his family. I also introduce Chiara to a bald guy, with a Live 75-85 parody t-shirt with Duffy Duck instead of Bruce. He's well known among Italian Springsteen fan and I tell Chiara: "he is a mean guy: every time I invite him for dinner he refuses. He doesn't want to be a friend of ours." Chiara immediately replies: "stop inviting him." Then later she says: "maybe he's just too shy to accept your invitation."
During My City Of Ruins for the first time Chiara asks when we'll get back home. Two minutes later Dancing In The Dark sees her dancing very excited. Rosa finally joins us, and we all dance together. It's Rosalita time. All of a sudden Chiara stops and says to me: "I'm going to call Leo to join us dancing." I know the show is going to end, and I watch her naively stepping up. She's going to call her friend Leo. We swore: forever friends.
We are going out very slowly. There is time enough to say hi to everybody. Unexpectedly Linda hugs me, as Mary-Ellen the night before: I've exchanged a couple of emails with them before, and I've met them yesterday night for the first time. It is the moment I realize that Springsteen music has really built a community of trust and love.
A sandwich on the way out (half for me, half for Chiara) and we walk to our car. My daughter still has questions: "Dad, why didn't Bruce played 'hiding on the backstreets'?" I ponder the answer.... then reply: "Because he already played that one yesterday for you" - "Oh, I got it!" Later on she starts complaining that she's tired, that her shoes are soaked, and she announce she's going to cry. I take her in my arms. She says: "you're a really good dad, I don't want to lose you, for a very long time."
The next day I drive Leo to the airport: he's leaving. That evening we get back to Villa d'Este: Kelly wrote me Bruce hasn't received the book, "could you forward it home, please?" The Springsteens are gone, but this time we cannot get in: Rosa, Simone and two friends of ours have to wait outside. I am the only one to get in, but I take Chiara with me. We arrive at the swimming pool and Chiara asks: "Are Bruce and Patti back home in America?" - "Yes, they are" - "They flew back with Leo, all together, right?" I smile... we swore: forever friends.