Columnist CJ LaCava
(Born in NJ and now in the UK)

Before the Show, Earl's Court, May 23, 1999
Posted on May 24, 1999 @ 5:00PM GMT

It was Sunday, May 23, 1999. It was the afternoon before the last Springsteen show in London. I was determined to try to get a Bruce Springsteen autograph one last time.

To the Dorchester Hotel.

By this time, a lot of fans know where Bruce and the band are staying while in London. I got the to the hotel at about 1:30PM and there were about two dozen people already there behind barriers put up by the hotel. There were two police men in the lobby.

I had a pretty good position. There were groups of people behind crowd control barriers on either side of the hotel entrance. I chose the side with the fewest people. There I met a group of fans from Germany who saw the show in Germany and who have come to the UK for tonight's show at Earl's Court.

I'm an autograph collector. I especially love signed CD covers. I was equipped with my best autograph pen, the CD cover from 18 Tracks, a letter to Bruce asking for an autograph, and a self-addressed, stamped CD BOX so he could mail it back to me. If I couldn't meet him in person today, plan B would be to get the letter, CD, and box up to his room somehow.

I waited for about 30 minutes. Then, first out of the door that day was Danny Federici. He came over to both groups of fans and signed autographs for everyone. A real top man. He even posed for pictures.

When he can over, a fan asked him what he was doing.

"Just out for a walk before the show."

As he signed, sometimes he wrote "Danny '99" or "E Street Band '99" on people's things uder his signature. The fans had albums, tour programs from the current tour and past tours, autograph books, and just plain pieces of paper. A lot of people had Born to Run albums and CDs. He signed it all. Unfortunately, all I had for him was the back of my Bruce letter.

He signed it anyway. I said, "I really appreciate this, Danny. Thank you."

Next out way Roy Bittan. He was with his wife. He waved and went over to the other side and sided for those fans. It looked like he was bringing his wife to the airport. She had a few bags - he had none. He drove off with her (in a hired Mercedes) and returned alone.

When we came back, he came to our side of the hotel entrance and signed for everyone. Once again, all I had for him was a the back of my letter. He was very nice and took pictures with a lot of people.

"Thank you, Roy. We really appreciate your time."

"You're welcome."

"Have a great show tonight."

"Thank you."

Roy was wearing round, rim-less glasses with a blue tinge. Reminded me a lot of the glasses Paul Shaffer wears on Late Night with David Letterman. Maybe it's a trend with keyboard players.

Next out was Garry Tallent. He came out and went to the other side where he was mobbed. Quite a few more fans had gathered around at this time. A lot of people would see the crowd, come over, and ask who we were waiting to see. I even met a groups of women from New Jersey who happened to be in town on a tour.

Garry was trying to be nice. He signed for a lot of people and then tried to walk away. People kept following him. He finally escaped.

Garry came back about 15 minutes later with some food and wine from a Europa Foods store. Once again, he was surrounded. People were pushing this time - even though he said he'd get to everyone. The crowd continued to grow.

Then a large, Chrysler mini-van pulled up with an Earl's Court parking pass on the dashboard. We got a bit excited. Out came Max Weinberg. We waved to the crowd, got in the van, and took off. So no autographs from Max today. I don't blame him - by this time the crowd was at about 200. I was still up front, but the barriers were small. The crowd could have easily rush him.

Next out was the big man - and let me tell you. . . he was huge. Easily six foot 4 inches or so. Massive. He had a silly hat on. He waved and looked over towards us. Said a few words and took off in another mini-van - front seat. No autographs from Clarance either.

Who came out next for a black cab? Kelsey Grammer. No one knows why here was in London. But he and his very attractive, blond wife came down for a taxi.

"Hello, Mr. Grammer." I shouted. The Germans I was with did not know him.

"Hello." He waved to us.

"I don't have time to sign now. I'll be back later."

Kelsey got into the cab and drove right by me. I waved to him in the cab and he waved back. He seemed happy to be here. I wonder if he thought all of the people were there to see him?

I told the Germans he was on Frasier and Cheers. They knew the TV show Cheers and suddenly realized who he was.

Now the security came out of the hotel and asked everyone to get on the sidewalk and behind the barriers. The crowd was huge. People were now across the parking lot. One fan had a sige sign that read, "Please play Sherry Darling".

Then, a taxi load of drunk Italians (they had flags and beer cans with them) pulled up. They stumbled out and joined the crowd screaming something about how they couldn't promise us life everlasting. I've heard that somewhere else recently . . .

Great, just what we need. A bigger, drunker, crowd. My chances of getting a Bruce autograph now were quickly approaching zero. Yes, this is a selfish motivation. I know all of these fans had every right to be there.

The rest of the band started to come out and head to the gig. Next out was Nils Lofgren and he came right up to the group of fans I was with. He was very nice and signed for about 20 people. Since I only had a piece of paper, I decided to help another fan by passing up his big Bruce book. Nils signed it.

"Is the set list going to change a lot this tour, Nils?" somebody asked.

"I don't think so."

"You have a really great voice, Nils."

"Thank you very much. I appreciate that."

Nil's looked rather happy and healthy. He had sun-glasses on and a necklace made of colorful, Gibson guitar picks.

Somebody handed Nils a program from the recent tour, but it was opened up to Garry Tallent's page.

"That's Garry's page!" Nils said.

"Get to the back of the line! Only real fans in front!" Somebody yelled.

"Have a good show," I said. Nils took off.

Before Nils was out of view, Steve Van Zandt came out. He was quite a site as he came right up to us. He was wearing his bandana, a Hawaiian shirt (unbuttoned), and no glasses. He looked and talked just like a typical NJ guy. Maybe a lot like a typical gas station attendant.

Steve was in a really great mood. He was laughing and joking with the crowd. He signed for about 20 people. I once again passed more worthy signing material to the front. I wanted the big prize on my CD cover.

"Is the set list going to change a lot this tour, Nils?" somebody asked again.

"I don't know. We never know what we're going to play until a few minutes before the show starts." Steve laughed.

Steve took off and I looked behind me. The crowd was now about 300. There is no way Bruce is going to sign now, there are just too many people here.

I decided to stay. Maybe I'll get lucky.

Some woman and her son were in front of the barriers. She had a camera. For some reason she was allowed closer than the rest of us. I guess she was going to get a picture of her kid with Bruce and Patti. I wonder how she managed to get so close?

Now the body guards were out. Bruce was coming down. No doubt about it.

The crowd was excited. The last black, Chrysler mini-van with dark windows pulled up. Bruce and Patti emerged from the hotel to loud cheers from the fans. Everyone was clapping and yelling from Bruce to come over to us.

"Please sign for us, Bruce."

"Hello, Patti!"

"Bruce, come over, please."

No dice. He stood outside the can for about 30 seconds, took a look around and waved to the crowd with a smile on his face. Patti saw the "Please play Sherry Darling" sign and pointed it out to Bruce. Apparently the fans with the sign had been outside the hotel for each London gig.

That night, Bruce played Sherry Darling.

They got into the van along with some other people I did not recognize: an older woman that could have been Bruce's mother and a younger girl (teen-aged).

Then they drove off to Earl's Court. I left. I was too tired to go to the show that night. I had a very long week and no tickets.

It's too bad - I hear the show was ace and the sounds mix was the best yet.

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