Springsteen & I & The Airborne Toxic Event: On Being a Fan

Posted: August 8, 2013 in A Little Less Profound
Tags: , , ,
Glen with Daren Taylor of The Airborne Toxic Event

Two days on the road had started to show their wear and tear on me, I’m afraid.

“I’ve been friends with Bruce since 1985; he just doesn’t know it.”

Fandom is a weird and wonderful thing. At its best, it’s inspiring and exhilarating. At its worst, it can be downright creepy.

I recently attended a screening of Springsteen & I, a film by fans, for fans; a film that puts both ends of the fandom spectrum on vivid display.

Whether or not you’re a fan of the Boss (I happen to be a big one; not Airborne-big, mind you, but still big), it’s mandatory viewing for anyone who’s a rabid fan of anything. Because more than a movie about Bruce, this is a movie about fans: a celebration of the fan experience, an attempt to find meaning in the madness, and a cautionary tale pleading with us not to push it too far.

As I listened to person after person share their story of how Bruce and his music have touched their life, I couldn’t help but relate everything I heard to my experiences with The Airborne Toxic Event, and my connections with others in the fan community.

There was the girl who, after several false starts due to extreme nervousness, finally managed to read the truly touching letter she’d written to Springsteen, grasping for words to adequately and eloquently articulate the impact he’s had on her – calling to mind a similar letter that I once penned, hoping against hope that it would somehow make its way in front of the eyes for whom it was intended.

There was my wife’s spiritual doppelgänger – the guy for whom Bruce represents love, not for Springsteen but for his wife, a superfan who regularly drags her reluctant husband around Europe to attend shows he has no desire to sit through. Asked what he would say to Bruce if given the opportunity, he responded without hesitation: “Shorten your shows.” To my left, my wife whispered a hearty “Amen,” as I grew in my appreciation for the one who indulges my obsession (and occasionally even accompanies me to a gig) with nary an eye roll (at least, not to my face).

There was the couple who’ve been fans for decades but have never been able to scrape together the funds to attend a live show, having to content themselves with dancing in the dark in the kitchen of their nondescript apartment. They were a reminder of how lucky I am to be able to see my favorite band for under 20 bucks – a privilege I take for granted, and that may one day disappear if and when they finally receive the acclaim they deserve.

There was the stadium worker who related a moment of unexpected camaraderie, when a complete stranger put his arm around his shoulders during a particularly poignant rendition of Blood Brothers. It illustrated the power of music to create a surprising kinship, and to draw together a tribe of diverse people bound by a shared passion.

There were those who crossed the line separating fan from fanatic: the woman who showed her son a photo of Springsteen every day of his young life and said, “Daddy,” and the other mom who forced her son to memorize the Springsteen canon, and then forced him to go on camera to prove it. It reinforced the importance of putting limits on our devotion: to respect our heroes as real people with real lives, to recognize that there are more important things in the world, and – for the love of God – to refrain from proposing marriage on Twitter.

There was The Man himself, meeting some of his most ardent supporters, explaining how he has received so much joy from other musicians that it’s a privilege for him to now play that role in their lives. I’ve seen that same attitude from each member of TATE, as they seem genuinely grateful that we bothered to show up to watch them play, and humbly awed that we know the lyrics to Graveyard well enough to sing it back to them.

And finally, there was the Danish woman who is responsible for the (paraphrased) quote at the beginning of this post: “I’ve been friends with Bruce since 1985; he just doesn’t know it.” It’s how we all feel: that somehow, through the fusion of poetry and melody, we KNOW these people, and they know us. Their words have woven their way into the fabric of our lives, constituting the personal soundtrack that carries us through heartache and despair and joy and celebration and everything in between. It’s the great mystery of fandom, and ultimately it’s this more than anything that explains us.

Glen is the founder and editor of This Is Nowhere. He’s grateful for an understanding wife and kids who indulge his silly compulsion to chase a band all over the Pacific Northwest (and occasionally beyond) every time the opportunity arises.

  1. This. Is. Awesome. Truly inspiring and awesome. Sir, you are so talented. I have never truly sat down and listened to a Springsteen song (please don’t throw rocks at me or tell Mikel) but now I feel like I have to. And I want to see this movie someday. You are way more talented than me. Don’t stop writing, I have much to learn from you.


  2. Thanks Colleen (aside from your ridiculous self-deprecation!). I have no intention of stopping – just getting warmed up! Even if you and Christie are my only readers, lol.

    As for Springsteen, if you want to sit down and listen to one song, try Jungleland. I wouldn’t normally recommend that as someone’s first foray into Bruce, but I think you can handle it. 😉


  3. Glen, I have enjoyed reading both yours and Colleen’s sites! I was born and lived in Silver Lake all of my life, and didn’t come to love TATE until I moved to Portland, oh the tragic irony! 🙂


  4. Thanks so much Kethra! It’s a shame you missed out on all the Silver Lake fun in the early days. Were you at the Portland show this past April? I was there – so great. If you ever feel inspired to write your own TATE story, I’d love to post it. Thanks for stopping by!


    • I was there at the Crystal Ballroom too, Glen! I wish I had known your group of “superfans” since I didn’t have anyone to go with me to the concert (hubby is a heavy metal guy who drew the line with going to see TATE with me!). @BikeinPink is a longtime friend who got me hooked!

      Here’s another bitter irony: I went to the Sunset Junction street festival each year since I lived in the Sunset Junction area of Silver Lake. Mikel said he and Noah wouldn’t even drive, they’d just roll their amps down to the show since they lived so close! Argh, we were probably neighbors!


  5. […] In one of our early posts, we wrote about the film Springsteen and I, and mused about it in the context of The Airborne Toxic Event fan community. With this crowdsourced movie, the creators accomplished through film what we hoped to do through This Is Nowhere: provide a venue for fans to share their stories of what draws them to their favorite band, and celebrate the connection we share as a result. […]


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