If I Should Fall Behind…Backstage
7th June 2016
Bruce Springsteen has a telecaster wrapped round the middle of his body, his short muscular frame jutting out into the crowd like a solid mountain crag and the anthems of the hard working Joe, the ups-and downs of middle America screaming over a throng of white collar Londoners. I am being led towards the back of the stage by two friendly security guards along a private track running through the middle of the crowd, that up until 13 minutes ago, Bruce was strutting along. I am as close to him as I will have been in 25 years of hero worship. But not for very much longer.
Temporarily, I let myself believe that after my brief appearance on Saturday Kitchen, I have become an international superstar, who with the nod of his trucker capped head, can get myself and my friend whisked backstage for an audience with the boss. People temporarily avert their eyes from Bruce to steal a glance at the couple being led down the aluminum decking lined with metal barriers. They probably assume we are VIP’s and in that moment they are part of one of the many great “Joe Hurd mental fantasies” that have been a regular part of my life.
We are going backstage, this is a fact. But we aren’t going to see the boss. We are not going to even get to see a backing singer. We would be very lucky to even bump into an electrical tape clad rigger. No, the kind of the troubadour we could bump into, at best, would be a St. Johns ambulance man humming along to Born in The USA.
My friend has just fainted 15 minutes into what should be one of the most culturally defining, evocative mental homecomings of my life and we are leaving the show, via a first aid station.
It was all way too good to be true from day one. After seeing an advert for Bruce’s River Tour in the metro, I got the two tickets with total ease, even though they sold out in two hours. That Sunday morning I’d got an early gym shift in, had a nice sunny walk through the park before meeting F in one of my favourite restaurants. I had linguine Vongole, my favourite Sunday lunch. We drank a bottle of Brunello, and then in the line to get into Wembley shared some beers with the people around us. We got into the stadium and quipped ourselves with another beer. Bruce came out, had a little tinkle and despite the significant amount of chemical lager inside me, the only water to get released from my body dripped slowly out the corner of my eye.
Everything then started to happen in slow motion. F wasn’t moving much anymore. A woman to our left was looking at her, then at me. Bruce was into Cadillac Ranch and the gentleman to my left had backed off.
“Are you ok?” I tentatively enquired
“I don’t feel good” she said in her quiet English-Italian
“Do you want some water?” that old chestnut of faux medical knowledge
“No, I think I am going to faint”
I knew we should have had Cotoletta di Vitello at the restaurant, red meat Joe you total fool, not fish, especially in girls of this size and stature on a hot sunny day.
There is a security woman already on top of us now. She has spotted the iceberg, which is ironic; as an iceberg and it’s incredible capacity for cooling things is what I need right now because my gig is about to start sinking.
I realise I have lost control. F is picked up over a barrier and I am following in a panicked trance. Panicked because she looks bad, but panicked because my mind is starting to play out worse case scenarios of not seeing my idol finish his set. Security folk ask me if I am with her and for a minute I contemplate doing the Old Peter in the garden of Gethsemane “Nope, don’t know her, never seen her” But I can’t, because through his music, weirdly, Bruce has taught me that’s simply not cool.
F is now flanked by two security people. I am dawdling. I am a good dawdler when I want to be and I go to Olympic efforts to squeeze every drop of Bruce out. At this point I still think there might be a chance we will see the rest of the show. Then we get backstage…
The patient worsens. She’s not digging this at all. I can now here the gravelly voice of my all American hero, the man who accompanied me to Sunday league football as a kid, played out my Dad’s radio as we drove through my hometown, who comforted me through hundreds of broken hearts and shared a cold one on a hot summer afternoon, as a muffled, distant drone. I am on autopilot. I am trying to be cheerful. I think of the innocent optimism of that other great American Blue collar hero, Rocky. If she was Adrian and I was the Italian Stallion, that’s the best way to be I decide. It works. I try to make her laugh, try to make light of it with “It’s fine, I mean, he will be back…one day, and plus I can listen to all this stuff when I get home”.
The executioner, donned in a green security jacket with a severe red cross on an armband comes over. I know what’s coming.
“You are going to have to go back into the crowd or leave.”
I look at F. She doesn’t look good. I mean she does, but she looks like she couldn’t face the pulsating mass of 20,000 writing bodies in 28-degree heat.
“We can go back” she quietly says.
I see Adrian’s face.
“You don’t really want to do you?”
“Not really, I don’t feel good” she says looking sad.
“Ok, I think we will go” I say smilingly to the St. Johns lady.
We slowly walk down the stairs and slip out a back door. My heart, for the second time in my life, is actually broken.
“Can we go get Pizza” I manage, through a thick fog of complete shock.
I can hear the thump of the E-street band ringing all the way down Wembley Way.
Thank god she’s Italian.