Rock tours generally have a theme: a band’s coltish arrival, a new style or look, a reunion, a new set of songs, a political moment. Springsteen was salting the show with the political material from “Wrecking Ball,” but the most vivid theme on this tour was to be time passing, age, death, and, if Springsteen could manage it, a sense of renewal. The surviving core of the band—Van Zandt, Tallent, Weinberg, Bittan, and Springsteen—had been playing together since the Ford Administration; Lofgren and Patti Scialfa, Springsteen’s wife, who is a singer and guitar player, joined in the eighties.
The run of tragedy, debility, and erosion has seemed relentless in recent years. Nils Lofgren has had both hips replaced, and both his shoulders are a wreck. Max Weinberg has endured open-heart surgery, prostate-cancer treatment, two failed back operations, and seven hand operations. The morning after a concert, he told me, he feels like the Nick Nolte character in the football movie “North Dallas Forty”: bruised and barely able to move. Lofgren has compared the backstage area to “a MASHunit,” with ice packs, heating pads, Bengay tubes, and masseuses on call. More alarmingly, Jon Landau, Springsteen’s manager and closest friend, was recovering from brain surgery.
There have been deeper, permanent losses. In 2008, Danny Federici, who played organ and accordion with Springsteen for forty years, died of melanoma. Springsteen’s body man on tour, a Special Forces veteran named Terry Magovern, died the year before. Springsteen’s trainer died at the age of forty.
The most shocking loss came last year, when Clarence Clemons, Springsteen’s saxophone player and onstage foil and protector, died of a stroke. Clemons was a colossus—six-four, a former football player. As a musician, he possessed a raspy tone reminiscent of King Curtis.