The day my son became a lifelong Bruce Springsteen fan
Tony Wilson is the author of more than a dozen books for both adults and children. His bestselling book The Cow Tripped Over the Moon is dedicated to his son Jack.
Our son Jack, aged five, is one of Australia’s biggest Bruce Springsteen fans. He has cerebral palsy, which affects all four limbs, and cortical vision impairment, which means he struggles to see further than a metre.
He has inherited his Bruceness from me. I received a copy of Born to Run from my uncle when I was 11 – a dubbed tape containing my first taste of true rock ‘n’ roll, and it was love. My wife, Tamsin, is a respecter of Bruce, if not a devotee. She’s been to two live shows now. She thinks they are great, if a fraction long.
But Jack’s obsession takes mine to a different level. He watches ‘Bwuce’ all day on YouTube. Jack is no ‘greatest hits’ fan. He requests specific gigs, tracks, guest artists (Bwian from The Gaslight Anthem with Bwuce!). He knows all of the E Street Band by name.
We were so unsure whether to take him to see Springsteen when he played in Melbourne in February 2017. On the one hand, he is seriously obsessed. On the other hand, his lack of vision and his sensory processing issues mean he can’t cope with loud music. He’s made screaming exits from the school fete and dozens of other similar scenarios. He hates it if it’s raining too loud on the roof. So, we thought he’d have no chance of coping; my prediction was two minutes, max.
All day he said he didn’t want to go. “Maybe I’ll see Bwuce later,” he said over and over. Then he’d cry, begging not to go. “I want to see Bwuce another time! Not today!” We tried to reassure him, “Just give it a try,” but he was insistent. I started to consider who else might go in his place.
Tamsin was the one who convinced me to give Jack a shot. “Let’s just get him close to the stadium, and if he doesn’t get upset, we’ll just keep going. It’s his favourite thing in the world. We’ve got to try.”
We set up plans for our inevitable failure. My brother Ned offered to wait outside AAMI Park in Melbourne. The plan was that if Jack was upset, I’d run him out, and Ned would take him home.
Jack flinched at the first blast of noise as we exited the train. I felt a flutter of concern. But Jack regrouped.
“Is that Bwuce?”
“No, that’s Jet,” I said.
“Is there clapping at Jet?”
“Yes, there will be clapping at Jet.”
“Will Bwuce be on soon?”
“Yes, after Jet.”
“And Steven Van Zandt?”
“Yes, he’ll be on guitar.”
“Yes, she’ll be there, too.”
“Bwuce’s wife, Patti?”
“Yes, she’s Bruce’s wife.”
And so, we name-checked the whole E Street Band as we crossed the railway yards, on the one-kilometre walk from Jolimont Station to AAMI Park.
It got louder and louder, but he seemed to be coping. Then a nervous moment. Security told me I couldn’t take in a backpack. It wasn’t a standard backpack. It was a child carrier of the type you buy at camping shops. Usually, they are used with toddlers, but because Jack is slim hipped, and still unable to walk, we use it in situations where a pusher or wheelchair don’t work. With the noise of the concert, we guessed Jack would appreciate being close.
I explained Jack’s cerebral palsy. “Without this I reckon he hasn’t got a chance,” I said.
“Fair enough,” said the most sensible security officer on earth, then he ushered us in.
We found our way to the back of the stadium, using lifts and ramps that took us halfway around the venue. We found our spots. Plenty of room. Not too loud at all. The calm before the storm. Springsteen was still 40 minutes away.
“Will Bwuce play ‘American Land’?” Jack asked, which is Bruce’s thumping Pogues-ish ode to American immigration. Jack’s favourite.
“Maybe,” I said.
“Will he play ‘Badlands’?”
Then it started. The “MELBOOOURNE”, the clapping, the drums, the music. ‘American Land’ it was.
Jack shrieked as he does for the YouTube songs. He called Bruce’s name. He called Steven Van Zandt’s name. He jiggled, he rocked, he had a ball.
For 12 songs. One hour and 10 minutes.
Then he broke. ‘Youngstown’ broke him, and he asked to go home. We tried to stay on another couple of songs, hoping a favourite track might revive his exaltation, but it wasn’t to be. I messaged Ned, still patiently waiting for us outside the stadium. “Outside in 10?” Then we did a handover on Swan Street. Jack, with the noise behind him, was euphoric again. I returned to the show. Jack earbashed Ned all the way home about what he’d experienced. Then he told it all again to Tamsin.
His first words to me when he woke up the next day were: “I’m a Bwuce Springsteen fan. I’m a Bwuce Springsteen goer.”