Confessions from Holland Rd.

We had caught him dancing for joy.

Miami Steve Van Zandt’s mom was my 8th-grade geography teacher. I’m telling you this only because it figures into the time we surprised Bruce Springsteen skipping down Holland Rd. in Middletown, NJ. Holland Rd. was where the Van Zandts and, for a time, the E Street Band all lived.

I first saw Bruce when I was 12 years old. It was 1966, and Driftwood Beach Club held concerts on Sunday afternoons. Bruce was in the Castilles. Even then, he looked like a star. He wore a white V-neck T with faded blue jeans and played a steel blue Telecaster. He had this way of standing, cool and confident. I think he was all of 16.

I saw him several times at the Hazlet Drive-In and one night with "Child":http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Springsteen#Early_years down at Teendevous in Red Bank. I was there when "Steel Mill":http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steel_Mill played Clearwater and the Middletown cops cut the power. We went wild when Steve climbed up on the organ and plugged the whole band into a single light socket hanging off the scaffold. I was there at the Sunshine Inn the night they opened for Humble Pie. "Peter Frampton":http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Frampton came out and said, “You’ve got a fine local band, but now were gonna play some rock and roll.” We booed his sorry British ass right off the stage, and he had to apologize.

In the summer of ’73, I was living with the Wards. There was a rumor that Bruce and the band had rented the old Tatum farm nearby. Mr. Ward and I had gone into town on errands, and now we were on our way back. Holland Rd. was full of dappled sunlight and honeysuckle that afternoon. We rounded the bend by the Van Zandts and there was Bruce, dressed in his T-shirt and jeans, swinging his arms and spinning pirouettes. He turned to look back over his shoulder, the smile on his face pure heaven. We had caught him dancing for joy. Mr. Ward stopped the truck and asked if he wanted a ride.

"No, man, I’m good," he said, out of breath and sweating but still with that radiant smile.

"You look really happy," Mr. Ward said.

"I am—I’m really happy," Bruce said, looking inside the cab of the truck.

Mr. Ward let the clutch back out, and we pulled away. We got back to the house on the hill and told everyone what had happened. Somebody put on _Greetings from Asbury Park,_ and we all sat out on the porch, listening to the album and smoking grass. Mrs. Ward made us lunch. Down the front field, just over the treetops, I could see the faded green tile roof of the Tatum house. Bobby heard that Warner had given the band only a hundred grand for a three-record deal.

It wasn’t about the money.

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