On the 15th June 2013, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played Wembley Stadium as part of his tour for Wrecking Ball, his seventeenth studio album. I was going for my 19th birthday, my mum taking me to see my favourite artist and formative influence in concert, though we could only get a hold of tickets in the second back row, up in the nosebleed seats.
After we made our way in and up (and up, and up, and up) we were in for one hell of a show. Springsteen was at this point a 64-year-old man, and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone a third of his age with more energy. He gave everything to the show – he ran side to side, up and down, danced with the audience, played, sang, everything. He didn’t take a break in three and a half hours and honestly, I was tired from just looking at him. Seeing your heroes in person is always a bit of a trip, especially when they have as much vitality and presence in person as they have in your imagination.
The concert was amazing – Springsteen spent the first hour and a half walking lengths of the stage picking up peoples request signs, getting the consensus of the band before playing them, then triumphantly throwing the sign away. Then, he played the entirety of Darkness on the Edge of Town; hearing an album track for track like that in concert was something else. But the most magical bit of the whole evening – up there with the most magical moments of my life, my ‘running through the airports rom-com-esque’ moment – came right at the end.
So Springsteen had just left the stage after his encore, and my mum poked me; there was a train home in 20 minutes that we should try and catch, since there was only one afterwards and it was in about two hours. So we hurried down (down, and down, and down) from our seats, and got into the inside of the stadium, completely empty except for us. We were just walking to the stairs when we heard the crowd outside go up in cheers, echoing through the huge space; he’d come back on stage. My mum turned to me and said, “Well, let’s wait and see what he plays; if we really like it, we’ll stay, if not we’ll run for the train.” So we paused, and waited. It was really quiet, the cheering having died down, before the silence was broken. By six solitary notes on the harmonica. ‘Thunder Road’.
I bloody sprinted. I honestly did not think about anything and I just ran, out to the seating, and along the rows until I got far enough out to see the stage. Acoustic and totally alone, without the E Street Band to accompany him, Springsteen was playing my favourite song in this world. I’d spent the whole day with my fingers crossed, hoping he’d play it; it wouldn’t have ruined the day if he didn’t, obviously, but…
‘Thunder Road’ is a song about believing you’re done for, that you’ve got nothing to your name just like you’ve got nothing left to give; but it’s a song for just going out and trying anyway. It’s a song for giving it one last try, going out in a blaze of glory because even if you fail you can say you’ve tried, you’ve given it your all. It’s a song for everyone who has ever doubted they mattered. And – as I honest to god had to hold myself up on a railing, bags around my feet, openly and unattractively sobbing for five straight minutes as my mum desperately tried to give me tissues when she caught up – in that moment, it felt like it was a song being played just for me.