Note from Colin: This the final and likely most interesting chapter of a three-part Bruce essay I wrote a little while back when Colin Gawel and The Lonely Bones were the only band asked to perform at the opening of the Bruce Springsteen exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Needless to say it was a huge honor. I knocked out this story to contribute to the program. Hope you enjoy. Part One. Part Two.
Yes, I met Bruce Springsteen once, but it wasn’t how I imagined it. In fact, it was totally unexpected. The two of us had a nice conversation in his dressing room one winter night in Youngstown, Ohio.
I was there because my band, Watershed, was in the process of being dropped from Epic/Sony Music Entertainment. Something about how we didn’t sell enough product and/or our records weren’t very good anyway. Go figure. In an effort to cheer me up, Columbia/Sony reps Andy Flick and Dave Watson invited me up from Columbus to catch one of the early Ghost of Tom Joad performances. I don’t remember the name of the small theater he played, but I can recall vividly that it was snowing so hard, Andy and I barely made the gig in time.
The theater was coal-fired warm and our seats were 20th row or something. Bruce killed. Hearing the song "Youngstown" performed in Youngstown was eerie. Initially, the crowd went wild hearing their hometown’s name mentioned, but by the end of the song they were quiet.
After the gig, knowing I was a huge fan, Andy asked if I wanted to go backstage with the press. “Uh, ok, sure. Is that cool? Yeah,” I sorta mumbled. Five minutes later I am whisked down a narrow hallway and find myself standing in a small dressing room with Bruce and five or six members of the Northeast Ohio press corps. (I remember the famous music critic from the Cleveland Plain Dealer was there. Bruce greeted her warmly. Her name? (editor's note: It was likely Jane Scott, who covered music at the PD from 1964 to 2002. She died in 2011.)
No one seemed to know how to get the thing started so I offered up: “It must be very strange to spend your entire career learning how to wind up a crowd, and now devote most of your energy to winding them down." Understand, this was his first solo tour and people just couldn’t stop screaming during quiet moments.
Bruce looked at me and said: “Wind 'em down…. Yeah that’s good, that’s right.”
We continued chatting about the show and reporters busily jotted down notes and held tape recorders out in our faces as talked. Noticing I was doing neither, Bruce asked: “Who are you exactly, anyway?” I explained about my band getting dropped, guys at the label feeling sorry and hooking me up, etc.
Someone came in and said it was time for the press to go. Bruce asked if I wanted to stick around and have a couple of beers with him. “If the label’s buying, I’m staying,” I said.
Everyone left and we sipped our beers and chatted about this and that. I recall bits and pieces of the conversation, but what I remember most is that it was comfortable and very two-way. It felt like old friends catching up.
OK, let’s address the obvious question: “Weren’t you nervous?” Strangely enough, I wasn’t nervous at all. But it’s not like I’m above getting a little jittery around people I admire -Steven Tyler, Terry Anderson, and Cincinnati Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman jump to mind.
Eventually, it was time for both of us to go. I grabbed a beer for the road and Bruce said, “Might as well grab two - get 'em while you can.” or something to that effect.
Looking back, I think our connection that night in Youngstown was real because we had something in common that trumped any of our differences in status or accomplishment.
We were just two musicians sitting in a dingy dressing room in Youngstown, Ohio, who had absolutely no idea what the future would bring either of us. One would lose his record deal and return his old job making sandwiches at Subway. The other would continue touring alone, singing songs about Mexican immigrants working in meth labs.
Both were terrified and thrilled at what the future might hold and both knew it was going to be a tough fight. Rock 'n' roll is always a tough fight.
Colin Gawel is a founding member of Pencilstorm. He writes songs and performs with Watershed and his solo band The Lonely Bones. You can read all about it in the acclaimed book Hitless Wonder. He owns a small coffee shop and lives in Columbus Ohio with his wife and 9-year-old son whose favorite band is Aerosmith. More Springsteen stories can be found at www.colingawel.com