The title isn’t exactly click-bate, but this post is really about love found and lost more than Springsteen, though he does make an appearance, literally.
A sadly indelible story from my past, this tale that came to mind (again, again) the other night while listening to Springsteen’s autobiography, Born To Run. I tend to exclusively read books printed on paper, but I use audiobooks and the occasional podcast to fall asleep to. Springsteen reads the book himself which, when it’s genuinely interesting, when he’s describing his life experiences and the details of his career, is often illuminating, even compelling now and then. But when he’s philosophizing, as he began doing in his songwriting fairly early on and which he does quite often in the book, it’s annoying verging on excruciating. Just like most of his songs and music after the “Born to Run” recoding IMHO. Good for sleep though.
At one point he writes/reads how the band came to add “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” to its repertoire. That’s the inciting incident here. I’ll get to that.
My most intense and memorable relationship was my first. My first serious relationship. The girl was beautiful and sexy and intelligent and funny and ‘one of us’. I fell fast and hard for her anyway.
She was in high school, the class a year later than mine, though by this time I’d dropped out of school, run away with the carnival three times, received my GED, applied to a selection of NY state schools and would be attending the University of Buffalo in the coming fall. But that’s several other stories. My all-consuming obsession just then was this girl. Let’s call her Sandy. Sandy had a boyfriend but he was obviously evil and undeserving. I made it my mission to break them up. My strategy was simple: Be there. Be everywhere. I just kept showing up.
(This same behavior lead to Harvey and Bob Weinstein hiring me back at Miramax a year after I’d resigned and forced them to pay off my contract because, well, because they were assholes. At virtually every NY film event they attended after I bailed, there I was. It wasn’t a strategy, but it’s the reason Bob cited for thinking of me first to run their new division. I just kept showing up. (It wasn’t until later that I became aware of Woody’s quote.)
The boyfriend would pick Sandy up at school and drive her home and I was there. It helped that the family was on my side. They hated this guy almost as much as I did. Her mom especially. She and I became fast friends. My goal was fairly transparent and she was a staunch and charming ally. He never had a chance.
Sandy broke it off with him after a couple of weeks and we were in love. Mad love. And just how much did her mom like me? How grateful was she for my victory over the dreaded boyfriend?
Her daughter and I had two things that I’d say qualified as ‘our thing’. One was that we were first among our peers to choose to stay home Saturday nights. Our friends thought we were weird, but they hadn’t yet turned on to Saturday Night Live. Our other thing, the thing that happened five nights a week in her bedroom, a room that shared a wall with her mom and dad’s bedroom, a thing with yet another TV tie-in, was watching “The Honeymooners” together each evening at 11pm. In her bed. Door closed. We genuinely loved “The Honeymooners”. We also loved each other. Her bedroom door was never breached.
But love is as love does.
Soon after our relationship began, a family connection helped me score a job with Upjohn Laboratories. It was a perfect for me. I loved to drive – still love the road, obviously – and that was the gig. I drove a route that looped through the western half of Long Island into parts of Queens, collecting blood samples from out of those little silver containers you see at the doorstep of most doctors’ offices, and delivering them to the lab back on Long Island.
Unfortunately, I also had a need for speed. License in hand, I earned my first speeding ticket in less than a month along with a brief suspension. By the time of the Upjohn job, I’d barreled into speeding ticket number two. With three came revocation but I doubt I thought much about that risk. A couple of months into the job, ticket three, license revoked. (Soon after reinstatement, it occurred to me that being the second fastest driver on the road made more sense. That third speeding ticket was my last.)
Loss of license, end of job, stranded at my parent’s house without wheels, all of which really sucked. I naturally called Sandy first thing. She listened to my sad tale with appropriate sympathy, then proceeded to break up with me. She was in love with someone else. “I still love you but…” I was devastated. I can almost still feel it. The knife-through-the-heart, nauseating, earth-shattering, desperate, unspeakable dread of it.
As it turns out, a small group of us had scored tickets to see a sky-rocketing Bruce Springsteen at Long Island’s C.W. Post College. The show was now just days away. I called the friend with the tickets and told her to sell mine. I wasn’t going. By the morning of the show, however, she’d convinced me that giving up the ticket – the hottest ticket in the known Universe at the time – was self-destructive and stupid. Fair enough.
But I had no way of getting to the show. No driver’s license. “No problem,” says she, “come with us.” ‘Us’ included the ex and the new boyfriend, who also happened to be the evening’s chauffeur. Somehow I summoned up the courage, or dulled the pain enough with booze, weed and/or other illicit substances, to say “sure.” The ride to the show was…awkward.
I all but leapt out of the car on arrival and dashed inside the venue. I almost immediately spotted a former schoolmate in the front row who was notoriously reliable for travelling with a pocketful of the best drugs of the moment. She was also someone Sandy hated. Miss Notorious and I made eye contact and, with enthusiastic, aerobic motions impossible to miss from my ex’s POV immediately behind me, she beckoned me to Row A. Feeling especially vindictive, I made a b-line, popped the Quaalude on offer and had a front row seat, albeit woozy from the lude, for a monumental Springsteen show featuring a rousing rendition “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town”.
As the lights came up in the auditorium, and with no other obvious way home, I somehow managed to hook back up with Sandy, the boyfriend and the rest before they split. We all landed back at Sandy’s house. The others joined Sandy’s brother in the basement for a weed transaction leaving Sandy and I alone in the kitchen. Silence. Averted eyes. I broke the spell. “Are you happy?” Her tears seemed to form and flow in slow motion. The answer was clear, but she spoke the word for emphasis. “No.”
And so the pattern was established. She fell briefly out of love again three months later and then, with consequences for me that were permanently scarring, I arrived in Buffalo to a mailbox-full of love letters, immediately followed by deafening silence and yet a third break. It all happened prior to the start of classes. The profound ache that followed was all the fuel needed to undermine the delicate bridge I’d managed to build from high school dropout to university student. I limped to the close of my second semester and never returned.
Of course, my crash and burn at Buffalo was likely inevitable. Dyslexia is a cunning and powerful foe, and one I’d not yet unmasked. Here I am, though, reliving the Sandy thing decades later, almost as if it happened yesterday. Sandy lit the fuse. Of that I’m certain.
Soon after arriving back home that Christmas ‘break’, I attended a party where Sandy, genuinely heartbroken and remorseful, eyes overflowing with those painfully familiar, irresistible tears, attempted yet another reconciliation. I resisted. The third time had broken me in more ways than one. Still, walking away that night was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Pathetic? You bet. Oh well.
All of which leads me back to Bruce Springsteen and “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town”. (I know, finally.)
Some years after the C.W. Post concert, a recording of “Santa Claus” surfaced on the radio. I was convinced that it had been recorded that night at Post but, pre interwebs, I’d never bothered to put in the effort required to confirm. It was fun to think it was true though.
The other night, Bruce’s mention of the tune prompted me to look it up on the Google. Low and behold…
The photo above was taken at the C.W. Post show. Here’s a reprint of that full review, including mention of Santa, courtesy of another attendee.
Nice to have finally put this one to bed. Goodnight John boy. Goodnight Bruce Springsteen. Goodnight Santa. Goodnight Sandy.