It’s the 1980s in Manchester, New Hampshire, and I was hanging out with my best friend, J, who had a terrific crush on Bruce Springsteen. While some people loved The Boss, J- was… she was a researcher. She knew random facts, not-so-random facts, stats, stories, everything.
She was an expert in all things Bruce.
And that was why we were hanging out on the back stairs of this run-down club in the bad part of Manchester. To be fair, this was not the only bad part of Manchester back then. It was sort of hard to find a good part of Manchester back then.
Inside the club was Nils Lofgren who was part of the E. Street Band and therefore super important to J. He was touring to support his solo album, Flip, I think, but honestly I don’t know. I was more into bands like The Alarm, The Waterboys, artists like Tracy Chapman and Kate Bush and the Q-Tips and Tuck and Patti.
Me = Always weird.
J really wanted to listen to Nils Lofgren play. Nils was a guy, way older than us. He was a guy with a guitar who sang gritty songs. He was a guy with a guitar who sang gritty guitars in grimy clubs and that was all that mattered to J. I went along for the ride because that’s what friends do.
J’s mom wasn’t the kind of mom to let her hang out at a club that was 18 and up. Plus, we had no fake IDs. And if we had fake IDs, they still wouldn’t have worked because we looked like babies.
We were babies.
But we were super focused on hearing Nils play. If we could hear him, that would almost be like seeing him, right?
So, J. lied to her mom and said we were going to the high school football game. My mom dropped us off somewhere. J’s brother (who really was at the high school football game) saw us take-off and called his mom.
We didn’t know that though. We were too busy being ‘bad girls,’ sneaking up those back stairs and listening to Nils and his band.
“He knows Bruce,” J whispered.
“He’s so good. He’s so talented. Isn’t he?”
She half fainted on the stairs. We could hear everything. Every hard drum beat, every guitar lick, every vocal, every bass line. It was … It was pretty freaking awesome, honestly.
And then the door opened and the owner of the club saw us. “What are you girls doing?”
Listening didn’t really encompass all we thought we were doing. We thought we were being rebels, live wires, Calamity’s children, free and crazy and suddenly cool because we were there – right there – where we weren’t supposed to be. But how do you tell that to a random club owner who is staring at you.
There was a break in the music and then we heard people talking.
What is it?
What are they doing?
Let them be, man. Let them be.
These voices came to us like these mighty Greek gods, deciding our fate.
“Can we stay?” I asked finally brave.
“You can stay.”
I swear, J. almost fainted again. But the best part? The best part was that the club people propped open the door so we could hear better. And the other best part was when Nils proclaimed, “This one is for the girls on the back stairs.”
It was the 1980s in Manchester, New Hampshire and neither of us were cool, but we knew what good music sounded like and we were dimly aware that there was greatness in the walls of that grimy club that night, that the music world was amazing and eye-opening and bigger than us and for a second we got to be a part of it. We got to be the girls on the back stairs.
I always get in trouble with my handlers at book signings or after speaking events for Rotary and other things because I’m not fast at signing books or answering questions. Nils Lofgren is the reason for that. What was a throw-away moment for him resonated in my kid self forever. We were seen. We got to stay.
And that’s a big deal. When someone else listens and notices you? It’s huge. So, I hate rushing through signings or after events because I want to see people I’m interacting with, really see them for the time I get with them. That’s a gift, you know? And it’s a gift Nils Lofgren gave us.
And, yes, we got in trouble.
I made a video about copy editing my next book, co-written with Steve Wedel. It’s called IN THE WOODS and its scary self arrives in 2019. BUT HERE IS THE GOOFY VIDEO!
Our podcast DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE is still chugging along. Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of.