All that fame, all of a sudden. What was it all about? Even back then, Bruce Springsteen was too smart to try to find out. Except one time.
It was in Memphis, after a concert in 1976. Springsteen and a couple of pals made a midnight pilgrimage out to Graceland, where rock's first real King still dwelled. Outside those gates, a certain madness took hold. The Boss wanted to meet Elvis, and he made a sudden, sprung-loose, solo commando raid on the sacred fortress. He was grabbed and turned back, and it was then, as he still likes to tell it, that he cashed in all his chips. "I'm Bruce Springsteen!" he yelled. "I was on the cover of TIME! The cover of Newsweek! I got an album, Born to Run. It was in the Top Ten!"
Bruce got the heave. Never did get to see the King. He got something else, though. Nine years later, after four more albums, six Top Ten singles and several transcontinental concert jaunts, Bruce Springsteen has become the biggest American rocker since Elvis Presley. He is the new King. He owns the dream. It is his fence the fans are hopping now.
Born in the U.S.A. has been a Top Ten album for over a year and, with 13 million copies sold worldwide, has become the all-time best seller in Columbia Records' history. Springsteen, 35, has been on a concert blitz since a year ago. By the time he takes a break this October, he will have played 62 cities around the world in 15 months. The shows have sold out everywhere; in Milan and Kyoto, the audiences sang whole songs with him.
Aug. 5 began what will likely be the Boss's last haul around the circuit for a while, and fans are descending in pickups, limos, vans, customized hardtops and road-weary convertibles onto his Super Bowl-size venues. This week and next he will be playing on home turf, six nights at New Jersey's Giants Stadium, which will hold, with field seating, 60,000 people at a time. The size of all this may be a little hard to grasp, but try using this for scale: the Beatles, appearing at Shea Stadium in 1965, played before 56,000 people, one time only. They also played for 35 minutes.
Springsteen still performs his full show (four hours, counting intermission) and has made no concessions to flash. There are video screens to beam images of the Boss and the E Street Band up to seats where the air may get thin, but Springsteen works hard to retain the feeling of one-on-one communion that has characterized his shows since the early days. Intimacy is lost incrementally as venues and audiences get larger, of course, and Boss fanatics of long standing will have to do a little adjusting to their dreams. Playing music on a ball field may never be ideal, but with state-of-the-art stadium sound by Engineer Bruce Jackson and with Springsteen onstage, bearing down hard on Cadillac Ranch, this is as good as it gets. The Springsteen concerts are the fulfillment of one of pop's dearest ideals: sensationally popular music that is also great rock 'n' roll.