I Know You’re Lonely for Words That I Ain’t Spoken

Most people know that Bruce Springsteen has a new album out. But everyone knows that a man, shouting at Springsteen, partly inspired the new songs.

I am a Springsteen fan. I was a Springsteen fan at an age when it was either cute or seriously disturbing that a child might carry a Six-Million Dollar Man lunchbox and also know the lyrics to Incident on 57th Street. (‘Kevin, I don’t care if the golden-heeled fairies are in a real bitch fight, President Carter says if you don’t learn the metric system you won’t know how to buy fruit.’) I own every record except for The Ghost of Tom Joad (which sounds a lot like homework to me), as well as a dozen or so bootlegs. I’ve seen him play in three different states including New Jersey, just to get my credentials out of the way.

When I heard he was going to perform on The Today Show last Tuesday, I set TiVo to record and then watched it later that evening when my wife (whose complete indifference to Springsteen I actually find kind of hot) was out of the house.

If you didn’t see it, The Today Show did an entire, three-hour telecast from the boardwalk in Asbury Park, and the E Street Band played four songs from the Convention Center there. Most of the segments were Springsteen or New Jersey-related. They made lots of jokes about The Sopranos; chatted with a very affectionate Danny DeVito, who was charming in the way that anyone can be after taking Ecstasy at seven in the morning (‘The Atlantic Ocean is the greatest ocean!’); and they nabbed an exclusive, live interview with The Guy Who Yelled ‘We Need You!’ At Bruce Springsteen Last September.

If you’re not yet familiar with The Guy Who Yelled ‘We Need You!’ At Bruce Springsteen Last September, then the Sony Records publicity department has failed you. Here is the way The Guardian described the incident in a story dated July 21:

A few days after 11 September, Bruce Springsteen was pulling out of a beach parking lot in the Jersey Shore town of Sea Bright when a fan rode by. The man rolled down his window, shouted ‘We need you!’ and drove on. It was the kind of moment, Springsteen says, that made his career worthwhile. ‘That’s part of my job. It’s an honour to find that place in the audience’s life.’

Kind of cute, I guess. Every story needs an angle. But this pleasant little exchange has now been related innumerable times as the E Street media blitz tries to manufacture Springsteen’s first number-one record in 18 years. Apparently, after hearing it so often, Katie Couric believes it’s significant.

How else do you explain why Katie devoted five minutes of network air to a one-on-one interview with The Guy Who Yelled ‘We Need You!’ At Bruce Springsteen Last September? (For the sake of elegance, I will begin referring to him by the pseudonym ‘Carl’). The folks at Today should know that the fastest way to ruin a little story is by trying to turn it into a big one. Heck, we’ve heard Bruce’s perspective on this ripping yarn, wouldn’t it be great to know what was happening on the other side of that car window?

Well, now we do:

KATIE: Then you decided you would take a drive…
CARL: … I needed to go to the beach, and I pulled into the beach and I saw Bruce pulling out and I rolled down the window and I yelled as loud, and as hard as I could: ‘We. Need. You. Now.’
KATIE: He says it was that statement that you made that inspired him to write many of the songs on his new album…

(Aside: In another parking lot encounter 22 years ago, a woman who told Bruce he left his headlights on inspired that whole second disc of The River.)

In a matter of moments, Carl was playing to the crowd like a real rock star. ‘It’s great to be in Asbury Park!’ he yelled to the gathering throng, and they responded with enthusiastic cheers.

Katie somehow managed to think up six questions to ask Carl, but I have one more: ‘How did Today Show producers find you, a fellow who shouted something out the window of a moving car more than ten months ago, when the FBI still can’t identify the Zodiac killer, who left behind fibers and shoeprints and a half-dozen taunting notes?’

Matt Lauer, possibly as a reward for his smaller paycheck, pulled the more dignified assignment of interviewing Springsteen himself. When Lauer mentioned the beach incident, Bruce looked like a teenager who wished his parents would stop bringing up the time he tried to change his own diaper at Friendly’s:

LAUER: Story goes that a couple of days later you were driving. I don’t know exactly where, but not far from here I understand. And a guy recognizes you—
LAUER:—as you drive by. And he says, ‘Hey Bruce, we need you.’
SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah, but he just kinda shouted out.
LAUER: But what did you take that to mean when he said, ‘We need you?’
SPRINGSTEEN: Oh, I knew what he was talking about. You know? [Laughs] I think one of the things people wanted to see in those early days was they wanted to see the faces of people who were familiar to them and people who mattered to them.

In other words, ‘For Chrrissakes, why did I tell anybody this stupid freaking story?’

I’m not the first person to note that the bar for celebrity in this country is set lower than the Hilton sisters’ tolerance for waiting outside Suite 16, and when The Today Show calls, I suppose it’s difficult to tell them you’re not interesting enough to be on television. But honestly people, some of us need to start showing a little discipline.

Over the years, I have yelled many things at Bruce Springsteen. They include: ‘Wooooooooooo!’ ‘Little Steven rocks!’ and ‘Play Rosalita!’ No one has ever asked me to describe to a national audience the circumstances under which I screamed them:

KATIE: Kevin, tell us about the day you yelled ‘Wooooooooooo!’ at Bruce Springsteen.
KEVIN: You see, Bruce had just finished like a 20-minute version of Badlands and it was awesome but I couldn’t clap because I had this, like, 32-ounce pop in my hand so I thought for a second and then it suddenly came to me that instead of clapping I could just go, ‘Wooooooooooo!’

Worse than that, Bruce has never, in response, ever, played Rosalita for me.

During Carl’s interview with Katie, there was a guy standing in the crowd behind him. He was kind of short and about three people deep so the camera couldn’t see his face, but he had taken his baseball cap off and he was waving it around over his head. He kept that up for the entire five minutes, just waving his cap around. If he couldn’t get some TV time, maybe his headgear could.

In the age of satellite television fame is cheap, and fame without accomplishment cheapens us. For some people, actors and musicians and athletes for example, fame is the price of success. Those who thrive on it, rather than cope with it, often meet sad ends (Yes, Anna Nicole, I’m talking to you).

For the rest of us it would probably pay to remember that modesty and celebrity can’t both be virtues.