This past week an old friend of mine posted to her Facebook page a fond remembrance of her first Bruce Springsteen concert on December 9, 1980. My first Springsteen show was a bit earlier — in July, 1975, at Kutztown State College — but I was also at the show at the Philadelphia Spectrum on December 9, 1980.
My friend’s reminiscence reminded me that a decade earlier I had posted my own recollection of that concert in response to a post on rec.music.artists.springsteen (for those of you old enough to remember Usenet newsgroups). Here (with a few minor editorial tweaks) is what I wrote ten years ago about that night two decades earlier:
I was there that night. It was amazing.
Tickets were nearly impossible to get for that show but, through a stroke of luck, I had a friend with an extra ticket who invited me to the concert as her guest.
When I woke up that morning, my very first thought was “I’m gonna see Bruce tonight.” I was ecstatic.
Then I turned on the Today Show and heard the news. Mark David Chapman had shot and killed John Lennon the previous night. I couldn’t believe it. It seemed impossible.
I didn’t know what to think about the concert that night. Would Bruce still go on? Will he give a short concert and then retire to his home to be alone? As the lights went down at the Spectrum that night you could sense the strange mood of the crowd — anticipation mixed with sadness and apprehension.
Then Bruce stepped on stage and — rather than doing the usual countdown for the opening number — walked to the microphone and said (as I recall it from 20 years ago*). “It’s hard to come out here tonight. ‘Twist and Shout’ was the first song I ever learned. But sometimes you just gotta go on…”.
Then he shouted “One, two…” and the band tore into “Born to Run.” And the concert began. The band seemed to play with a desperate intensity that night. As if it were the only thing you could do; the only thing that mattered.
Then, after an incredible concert that ended with a version of the “Detroit Medley” that seemed to go on forever, the band broke into “Twist and Shout”. The Spectrum house lights were up throughout the song and you could see everyone in the crowd singing and dancing.
And, I know it sounds corny now, but — there, at that moment — I thought: rock and roll is important. It can change people’s lives. And it will go on forever.
6 thoughts on “Bruce Springsteen: December 9, 1980”
* A quick update on this post: My recollection of Springsteen’s words that night was fairly good — given that 20 years passed between when I heard them spoken and when I wrote them down.
But here, for record, is a more accurate account of what Bruce Springsteen said to open the show on December 9, 1980:
“I’d just like to say one thing. I’d appreciate it… It’s a hard night to come out and play tonight — when someone’s been lost…. The first record that I ever learned was a record called ‘Twist and Shout.’ If it wasn’t for John Lennon, we’d all be someplace very different tonight. It’s an unreasonable world — and you get asked to live with a lot of things that are just unlivable. And it’s a hard night to come out an play, but there’s just nothing else you can do.”
I was at all 3 Philadelphia shows that week and yes, this 3rd and final show was the most intense, still 30 years later it is the best show i have ever seen. Mike Thomas
Thanks for the comment. After I posted this, a few people sent me their stories of that evening. One friend of mine had an inverse, mirror-image reflection of my experience. She went to the concert on the previous night, December 8, and had a great time at the show. As she was driving home after the concert, she heard the news about John Lennon.
For all of us, it was a moment we’ll never forget.
I went to December 8th show with two friends from Gettysburg College. We sat 6 rows back behind the stage. They turned out to be great seats since the stage was open and we had an unobstructed view. The thing that sticks out in my mind is jumping in the car to return to school, turning on WMMR and expecting to hear a recap and more Springsteen. That never happened.
I was there December 9th, 1980. We scalped tickets outside and sat on the side about 10 rows back. The intensity that Bruce had is something that is indescribable. He was like a caged angry tiger. He kept gritting his teeth while looking at the other guys in the band, playing and singing like his life depended on it. You could feel the raw power of this amazing performance go right up your back. I have 38 shows under my belt and this was the best. I went December 6th and it was excellent, but you felt like you were witnessing something importantly historical that night. I have a bootleg of it but the sound is bad. Wow, what an incredible night!
I was there that night too. It was the first time that I saw Bruce! My friend Suzanne and I spent a fortune on second row seats from someone who got them from the mail in lottery. I met him in a parking lot behind some creepy hotel by the Lincoln Tunnel. On December 9th it was rumored that Bruce was going to cancel…….but Suz and I hit the Jersey turnpike in the gloomy rain…..Scott Moony on WNEW….playing John Lennon music. We got our seats to find of all people John Cafferty from Beaver Brown and Obie in front of us. They actually switched seats with us midway through. The show that night was incredible……my eyelids were sweating. I think Roy Bittan broke a few piano keys! Long time ago!