It’s kind of weird watching Bruce Springsteen watch a movie.
Look, if there’s one thing I don’t even try to “play it cool” about it’s my unadulterated love for Bruce Springsteen. I’m sort of partially serious when I claim that back in 2004 I moved to New York City for more access to Springsteen concerts. (My number of shows attended has ballooned substantially over the last 15 years.) Anyway, somehow, in all this time, I have never been to Asbury Park, New Jersey. On Wednesday night, Blinded by the Light – a love letter of a movie about the music of Bruce Springsteen that I first saw back at Sundance and adored – was having its premiere in Asbury Park. This seemed to be a good time to go to Asbury Park.
So, here’s a little bit of backstory about Bruce Springsteen and this movie: Blinded by the Light, directed by Gurinder Chadha, is based on Sarfraz Manzoor’s book about growing up in a Pakistani family while living in English town of Luton and falling in love with Springsteen’s music. Springsteen pretty much gave this production full access to his catalog – using a Springsteen song in a movie usually costs a pretty penny – and, boy, Blinded by the Light did not skimp on the Springsteen music. So, of course, when Blinded by the Light premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, there were countless rumors Bruce himself would be making the trip to Park City, Utah.
Now, I’ve seen Bruce roughly 26 (maybe 27, I haven’t counted recently) times but I’ve never caught one of his “secret” or “rumored” shows. Basically, let’s say, oh, Joe Grushecky is playing a gig at The Stone Pony or Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, there’s maybe a five percent chance Bruce shows up to just jam. This will never, ever be announced. And most of the time you’re just going to wind up getting a full Joe Grushecky set. But, on those rare occasions, the lucky people there will get to basically be transported back in time to the early 1970s, before Born to Run, where they get to see Bruce Springsteen just hanging out in a bar playing guitar. It’s every Springsteen fan’s dream.
So, this past January, I chased those Sundance rumors hard. Now, in retrospect, from the sources I had, I do believe, at one point, Bruce was planning on doing a surprise show at Sundance, but then it fell apart. So, instead, what happened was I pulled every string possible with an end result of me waiting in the freezing cold for two hours to watch Feist perform a cover of “State Trooper.” (That’s no dig at Feist, it was a pretty awesome cover of “State Trooper.”) But, alas, later at the Sundance premiere for Blinded by the Light, Gurinder Chadha announced Bruce wouldn’t be there because he wanted the movie to speak for itself, or whatever, so that was that.
When I was first emailed about the Blinded by the Light premiere (with an afterparty at the famed Stone Pony) my first reaction was, “I’ve fallen for this one before.” And the folks at Warner Bros. were very coy about a Bruce appearance, which could mean anything really. (Again, I’ve seen this play out not in my favor before.) But! I finally decided I was looking for an excuse to both see this movie again and to visit Asbury Park, and that was enough. I wasn’t counting on anything else and, with my luck (please remember I traveled back home to St. Louis for two Stanley Cup Final games and saw the Blues get blown out both times), there was no way Bruce was showing up anyway, so why even worry about it?
Me and a friend arrived in Asbury Park a little early to “soak it all in,” but “soak” seemed to be the word of the day because a monsoon decided to hit on this day, so most of my “famed Asbury Park Boardwalk” time was spent inside a pinball machine museum (which, yes, is a pretty great place to avoid the rain). Later, as we were seated at the premiere, a man of some sort of authority announced there was a chance the power might go out and gave us instructions on what to do in case this happened. Yes, that “no power” scenario playing out all seemed about how a night like this would turn out for me.