Meeting Across The River: Springsteen and Me By Lisa Ellex

Meeting Across The River: Springsteen and Me By Lisa Ellex

. 6 min read
Photo Credit: KG, a friend of PrimeCrush, from the Atlanta 2023 Show

“I turned a corner to see a form walking directly toward me. Looking as lost as I was, an extremely fit man dressed in jeans and a skin-tight T-shirt drew closer. Call me crazy, but there was an aura around him …”

I am not one who is easily impressed by celebrity. I’ve sung for Liza Minnelli (a bit unnerving), had my likeness sketched on a cocktail napkin by Tony Bennett (he wouldn’t let me take it home), was chased by Dizzy Gillespie (he couldn’t catch me), and once answered the door to Robert De Niro to find him wearing nothing but an exquisite pair of autumnal-hued, paisley-patterned silk boxers that appeared to have been painstakingly hand-stitched by fourth-generation seamsters somewhere near Ponte di Legno. (Okay, so maybe I stared a little too long but it’s not what you think!).

My interest in Bruce Springsteen was suddenly piqued after hearing him recount an incident that occurred very late on the night of April 29,1976. Following a gig in Memphis to publicize his album, Born to Run, Springsteen and his guitar player, Steven Van Zandt, took a taxi to Elvis Presley's home, Graceland. They approached the famous iron gates when Springsteen noticed a light on in the mansion’s second floor window. He jumped over a wall and started running up the driveway toward Elvis’s front door with nothing in mind other than wanting to meet the King of Rock and Roll. And why not? Springsteen had recently been dubbed rock ‘n roll royalty too, having simultaneously appeared on the covers of the October 1975 issues of Newsweek and Time magazines. Besides, he had written his hit, “Fire” in the hope that Presley would record it.

Just as Springsteen knocked on Elvis’s door, security appeared.

“Is Elvis home?” Springsteen asked.

“He’s not here,” the guard replied.

Springsteen explained that like Elvis, he too, was a guitar player and had just finished playing a show in Memphis. The security guard was unimpressed. In a last ditch effort to gain entry, Springsteen mentioned being on the cover of Time and Newsweek, at which point the guard took Springsteen by the arm and escorted him to the street where Van Zandt was waiting.

Springsteen’s dramatic attempt to be close to Elvis Presley illustrates a human side of the icon, reminding us just how much he is like you and me; a music fan with a burning desire to tell an artist what a difference their music has made in our lives. But Springsteen never got to tell Elvis. Less than six months later, Elvis passed. At an Asbury Park concert some decades later, Springsteen spoke about Elvis to his audience: “It was hard to understand how somebody’s music had come in and taken away so many people’s loneliness and made you feel like you were part of something and whose music gave such a reason to live – made me feel the promise of life – could have died so tragically. I guess you gotta be careful. It’s easy to let the best of yourself slip away.”

One night when I was visiting a friend, the album Born to Run was on his turntable. The album produced many hits including “Thunder Road,” “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” “Jungleland,” and of course, the title track, “Born to Run.” But the one cut that knocked me over – the one I had never heard until that moment – was “Meeting Across the River,”  a poetic and poignant — almost cinematic — depiction of desperation and hope. Even before Springsteen began to sing, the moan of the trumpet and the simple, repetitive piano figure gave me chills. The brilliance of “Meeting Across the River” is in the storytelling and the sense of foreboding that Springsteen ingeniously establishes without ever letting the listener know the fate of the song’s subjects. It was then I understood that Springsteen was not a lyricist in the intellectual sense of Paul Simon, but a master painter of pictures. There was no question– I was coming around to the Springsteen side.

On the weekend before my daughter was to leave New York City for her freshman year of college, she asked if we could take a drive to Gladstone, New Jersey to visit the U.S. Equestrian Team Olympic Training Center. As a pre-teen, she had competed in equestrian events, but somehow we never got to see the center and thought it would be a nice thing to do together before she left home to begin her next chapter.

As my daughter observed some events in the arena, I wandered off on my own to tour the historic 100-year-old facility. Over a magnificently-tiled octagonal foyer I made my way into the building, marveling at the masonry and architecture. Before long, my lousy sense of direction had me lost somewhere in one of the three levels of the 38,000-square-foot stable. With not a soul in sight, it almost felt haunted. Searching for an exit sign to find my way back to the arena, I turned a corner to see a form walking directly toward me. Looking as lost as I was, an extremely fit man dressed in jeans and a skin-tight T-shirt drew closer. Call me crazy, but there was an aura around him. Yup. It was the Boss. Casual, relaxed, and humble as ever. I froze. He smiled. I heard myself mutter, “Hi.” He returned the greeting, and we continued to pass each other in the aisle of the stalls. Trying not to appear flustered, I kept walking, desperately fighting the urge to turn around and give one last look at the man with the aura, for that was just how I wanted to remember him.

When my daughter returned home from college for the summer, she surprised me with a birthday present of tickets to the second leg of Springsteen’s River Tour. That August 30, 2016 show at MetLife Stadium made history among the band’s longest shows, with a running time of four hours and two minutes. Somehow, in that cavernous stadium that seated 82,500 people, I felt as if I was watching Springsteen in an intimate jam with some friends in his living room. Though they’ve played thousands of shows, the E Street Band still managed to find joy in every note and honesty in every lyric. After 34 songs, I left the concert a full-blown Springsteen fan.

Seven years have passed since that show. In that time, Springsteen has completed six different tours (recently kicked off his seventh) and released three studio albums, the latest, an album of ‘60s and ‘70s R&B and soul that is fittingly titled, Only the Strong Survive.  After spending 50 of his 74 years in the music industry, Springsteen has proven that he has not only survived, but will forever remain a master of American music.

Some critics were harsh on Springsteen’s choice to release an album using each song’s original arrangement. But before musicians wrote their own music, they fell in love with the music of others. Only the Strong Survive is Springsteen telling us, “Hey! I love these songs! Listen to them with me!”  It’s his celebration of the roots that are embedded in the body of his life’s work and the intangible sense of soul he brings to everything he writes.

The album’s 6th track, “Turn Back The Hands of Time,” was a hit for 33-year-old Tyrone Davis when he recorded it in 1970, and it remains one of the best R&B tunes of its time. But when a 70-something-year-old Springsteen sings the song, a poignancy emerges as he comes to the realization that, “we could have a love so divine, if I could turn back the hands of time.” Right up until the record’s last cut, “Someday We’ll Be Together,” Only the Strong Survive examines reaching a certain age and taking a hard look back at the choices we have made.

As for my own midlife introspection, I’m spending less time in my hometown of New York City and more time enjoying the beach town where I spent summers as a child. Springsteen is often spotted roaming various shore neighborhoods here. After all, it’s his home. On any given day you might enter a local business to hear someone say, “Bruce was just here! Did you see him?” Then I realize, Elvis may have had Graceland, but Bruce has New Jersey. And the King’s blue suede shoes fit him just fine.

If you love me as much as I love you (and I really do love you!), then please help me grow by forwarding this {love} Letter to a friend!  And I'd love to have you join us on instagram, facebook & twitter.

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