The Boss and Me

Story by Gord Ellis, Photo by Danny Clinch



Superior Outdoors


Bruce Springsteen came onto my musical radar in 1975. My family had moved to Edmonton for a year as my dad took a sabbatical from his high school teaching job. I was 13 at the time and completely infatuated with the music of Elton John. However, there was an FM rock station in Edmonton that had a very cool DJ. He played the big hits of the day like EJ, but also played music that I’d not heard before. That included music from Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen. The DJ was a big fan of the Boss and slowly, but over time, I became one too. The music on Born was big, passionate, and different than the pop/rock I’d gravitated to. So began my lifelong journey as a Springsteen fan. In 1984, this columnist was working in Toronto at Ontario Place. That job would allow me to be in the perfect place to see my first Springsteen show. It took place at the CNE and was part of a midsummer run of shows supporting the newly released Born in the U.S.A. At the time, Springsteen was a big draw, but he had not yet achieved superstar status—that would come a few months later. However, experiencing Bruce Springsteen live was, in many ways, a life-changing event. The performer, the band, and the crowd all seemed to be as one. It was as close to musical religious experience as my 21-yearold self had experienced at the time. Springsteen was not a kid in 1984. He was just a few years from 40 and was already making sly references to age even then. He was acutely aware that much of the audience in the crowd was 10 to 15 years younger than he was, and that age gap would increase as the hits kept coming. Yet his sheer vitality, and the power of the E Street Band, would provide inspiration for years to come. I saw the Boss one more time on that tour and then twice the following year. The 1985 version of the Born in the U.S.A. tour was larger—and more of a spectacle— than the previous year, and it would spell the end of an era. Springsteen would start writing differently after that, and disbanded the E Street Band. I remained a huge fan, but raising kids and having a busy career meant there would be a huge gap in seeing Springsteen live again. The E Street Band reunion tour in 1999 was the next time I’d seen him live, after a nearly 14-year break. It was, again, a transformative experience. Fast forward to March 2023. After another big break in the live Spingsteen concert timeline, and for my first big post-COVID-restrictions concert, my wife Cheryl and I travelled to St. Paul, Minn. to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. For some reason, this show felt extra important to me. Nearly 40 years had passed since that first Toronto concert. Bruce was still here, although two key members of his band, Danny Federici and “The Big Man” Clarence Clemons, had passed in the time since the reunion tour. Would it still feel the same? And could Springsteen, now in his early 70s, still pull off the self proclaimed “magic trick” he has been laying out since 1972? When the lights went down, and the Boss walked out, dramatically backlit for maximum effect, it was a euphoric moment. My wife would later tell me “you had both arms in the air!” It was a big deal for me—and most of the building. Yet it wouldn’t have been nearly as inspiring if that 70-year-old man on the stage had not been able to deliver. The voice was there, full volume and still operatic at times. During a three-hour show, he played the hits, some deep cuts, and enough songs off his excellent 2020 album Letter to You to be wholly satisfying to fans new and old. At the end of the show, with just an acoustic guitar in hand, he sang “I’ll See You in My Dreams” and I could feel the emotion well up in me. Sadly, a Canadian leg of the latest Springsteen tour was recently postponed due to the singer suffering a peptic ulcer. However, I do hope to attend the rescheduled date in Montreal with my brother Roy (also a big fan) in 2024. It will be like seeing an old friend.