Springsteen, sonnets and Spanish Harlem

By Rosalie Tirella

I want to go back to my previous post, the one where I shared CANDY’S ROOM with you, by Bruce Springsteen, and write about Bruce:


The song IS IT FOR ME when we speak of Springsteen! Here’s Bruce totally of and in his element: the raw and ready Italian kid searching for his BIG break. But stuck in New Jersey! No escape from its mundaneness! Fuck!! Where is Bruce’s Salvation, THE BIG RESCUE?

MUSIC!!! Of course!

HIS SONGS!!! HE’S WRITING THEM OUTSIDE HIS PARENTS’ BEDROOM! He’s just a kid, but he already knows – the chosen all know! – he’s a genius! He just needs the right connections, the big door to crack open just a little …

Bruce is tough – and tentative – in Candy’s Room. Young and world-weary in her bedroom. Dreamboat – and maybe lout in the early morning light. Poured-on jeans – and WASP sports jacket! Backyard martinis, anyone? Hell No! It’s the Stone Pony, sex in muscle cars or on the sand just a whisper away from the boardwalk. It’s the big-haired, big-boobed Italian girls of the Jersey shore praying to the Madonna for forgiveness on Sunday morning after maybe pleasuring Bruce on a Friday or Saturday night, watching his gorgeous face as he comes!

Hail Mary! Full of Grace!

Bruce and his E Street Band on The River

This was MY BRUCE. Lupine, hungry, desperate: the Bruce Springsteen of my youth and the youth of my friends at Clark University circa 1979, 1980.

It’s 1979. I’m a freshman at Clark University in Main South and sleeping with my steady boyfriend Ted, in love, in lust with his Husky-blue eyes and shiny thick blue-black hair that covers his eyes! Ted’s best friends Joe, Frank and Lance listen to and WORSHIP Bruce Springsteen. They hitch hike up and down the East Coast following him, going to all his concerts and waiting outside stage doors, like girl groupies, to say Hey, man. That’s the way it was then, before Bruce became GOD, when it was just the townies and the smart boys from the colleges all along the East Coast. His early audience – knowing before anyone knew. They were there for every 4-hour-long Bruce Springsteen gig. FOUR HOURS!

Back then Bruce was kinda a guy thing – my guys went but I never did. Joe, especially. Returning to Clark from seeing BRUCE, BRUCE, BRUCE!!! in some shit club in Pennsylvania! Touched by Bruce! Illuminated by Bruce! Inspired by Bruce! He’d start a band of his own at Clark – pretty mediocre.

They saw Bruce before he put on the mantle “Voice of a Generation” and started prefacing, pretty self-consciously if you ask me – at all his concerts – before all his gorgeous, get-your-crotch-wet-we’re-so-fucked anthems – with little homilies! Preaching wisdom to us kids! Life lessons. About family, growing up, leaving home but not leaving home.

And all we wanted to do was dance the night away, drink and get laid! We were 18, 19, maybe 20 – the old timer, of our bunch!

Still, we listened patiently to Springsteen. Genuflected in the Church of Springsteen! Then we ROARED as he pulled at his guitar and sang THUNDER ROAD, BADLANDS or some old rock n roll chestnut. He strutted, begged, cajoled, whispered … sang his wild, sprawling, sad, ruminative Jersey music-poems! The REAL gospel, to me:

That’s where I learned …

I began to write more essays and short stories. Joe liked them. He told my boyfriend: Rose is a good writer! I was floating above the serving trays in Dana Commons! Joe was our clique’s gifted one! He knew … In fact, he was so cool he quit school just like that and hitch hiked across America for the experience! What a thrill when he called me from Texas and told me a Texas story in that quiet voice of his with his little lisp! I long to hear that lisp every day!

When Joe came back to Clark University, my boyfriend and I and Lance felt we all needed a road trip! To New York City! To Spanish Harlem! Where Joe’s big sister shared a slummy apartment with five or six other college kids. They too had “dropped out.” They were in NYC, writing poetry and visiting painters in the Village! This was before Rudy G. became mayor of New York and cleaned up Times Square and hosed off Port Authority’s hookers and strip joints. Ted and I were excited! We took the bus into the City from Worcester – Ted was already in Spanish Harlem, hanging out with his sister and her new boyfriend. She was beautiful.

I remember Ted coming out to meet us … and the boys brushing past the young and pretty prostitutes in their white go go boots (“no corner boys – ain’t got no money”๐ŸŽถ), walking wicked fast, saying NO THANKS! and me, their Rosalita, beaming, running circles around them, throwing back my head and laughing brashly at the dirty peep hole palaces … I was so in love with the city night and my guys … …then riding the gray, dirty, graffiti-covered subway cars to Joe’s sister’s apartment where there were only: stacks of books and three twin matresses thrown on the floor and one queen sized in the other room. Lamps with crooked shades we’re by the mattresses’ corners; they threw soft yellow light on our soft, wrinkleless faces. Sheila picked up the novel she was reading and gave it to her brother: “You’d like it,” she said. More Kesey. We all knew – cuz we were dreamy, artsy Clarkies – that Joe was already deep into SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION!

A masterpiece

Then we all drank some good wine out of coffee mugs, and Joe told us that his sister was studying abroad – in Japan – next semester.

My boys: I see their young handsome faces in that crummy room tonight! In that dangerous neighborhood. Their grace and goodness so true – so loyal to me. Treating me like one of the guys, as in thinking I was pretty and respecting that I was Ted’s girl, but knowing I was smart, could talk about books, Bruce, America … as their equal. All the girls in my dorm were jealous! Rose’s cool, handsome boys! They all meet outside Ted’s dorm every evening and walk under the Worcester stars to Dana Commons to eat supper together! To laugh and enjoy each other’s company! To challenge each other’s ideas. We talk hometowns, parents’ divorces, Joe’s dad (a lawyer in Baltimore) arguing a case before the Supreme Court! Movies, too … writing, music, poetry books and, of course, Bruce Springsteen.

He is us.

Home again at Clark from our New York City trip…hanging out in Lance’s room at Wright Hall, with my beautiful boys … listening intently to GREETINGS FROM ASBURY PARK:
๐ŸŽธ๐ŸŽธ๐ŸŽธ๐ŸŽธ pic: Rose T.

“… when they said, ‘Sit down,’ I stood up”โ™ฅ๏ธ

Yes, we bought two or more copies of EVERY SPRINGSTEEN ALBUM! Cuz we listened that intensely … wore ’em out as they passed into us – musical osmosis. Joe wrote his English paper on DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN. Taking a drag from his cig (he got an A for his paper – he was our best paper writer and TA’d a philosophy class as an undergrad) Ted said, “Chaunce (our professor) thought his (Springsteen’s) lyrics are good. He liked them.”

Wow. Our favorite professor was listening to our favorite artist! He was into the Boss, too!

Were we ever that young?