Why Bruce Springsteen Performed Drunk in Milwaukee in 1975
Only a few short weeks after a 1975 show in Milwaukee, Bruce Springsteen would grace the cover of both Time and Newsweek. But he first faced a bit of drama during his performance on Oct. 2, 1975, at the Uptown Theatre that became memorable for a different reason.
The New Jersey rocker and members of the E Street Band were seven songs into their set when they had to leave the stage because of a bomb threat. When the show eventually resumed, the group was noticeably more than just a little bit “loose.”
The first part of the night featured classics like “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” “Thunder Road” and the title track to Born to Run, which was released in late August. Following the performance of “Thunder Road,” fans were notified that they needed to clear out of the venue, with Springsteen assuring them that they would all come back together to finish out the nights concert.
This left everyone — including Springsteen and the band — with some time to kill. According to E Street's Steven Van Zandt, an idea was quickly hatched. “In those days, I know it’s hard to believe, but the record company gave you a party in every town,” he tells UCR. “Now you see the record company once a tour, and that’s a lot.
“The record company said, ‘Well, it’s going to be an hour or two to get everybody out of the theater, search all of the seats, search the whole place and get everybody back in. Let’s have the party now.’”
Springsteen and the band proceeded to get really “hammered” in the hotel bar at the Pfister, the guitarist recalls. Eventually they made their way back to the venue. “We were really drunk, and we very rarely went onstage drunk,” Van Zandt explains, noting that returning was a perilous adventure. “Bruce was really drunk and almost killed himself climbing out of the car on the way back to the gig.”
Van Zandt was there for Springsteen in a key moment that could have otherwise ended a career that was just taking off. “I was holding onto him with both hands with all of my might,” he says. “He was literally trying to climb on the roof of the car that was going about 75 miles an hour.”
Listen to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band Perform 'Little Queenie' in 1975
Once they were back onstage, “We immediately reverted back to our bar-band days,” he says. The set list for the remaining 10 songs of the night reflects that. Opening with a free-spirited cover of Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie,” they covered the Shirelles' “Baby It’s You” and mixed in a bit of the Shaft theme during “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight).”
“I don’t know what you did, but we got real weird,” Springsteen told the crowd as they dug into the opening notes of “Little Queenie.” He then told the band to “bring it down” and took a moment to expand on the evening’s events. “There we was. We ran back to the hotel. Are you loose? ... We were drinking our skulls out.” You can can hear the rest of the story below.
In the years that followed, Springsteen’s “Are you loose?” quip has become a secret handshake, a subtle reminder of his first visit to Milwaukee. He's found a way to work the line into every concert when he’s in town. The evening still holds a special place for Van Zandt. “I just remember that being the greatest show we ever did,” he says. “Now, that may have been just my drunken feeling at the time.”
Van Zandt shares plenty of stories from his career in Unrequited Infatuations, his new memoir. He'll celebrate the arrival of the book with a number of special events, including a Sept. 28 livestream where he'll be interviewed by Springsteen.
Watch UCR's Interview With Steven Van Zandt