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Bruce Springsteen feared fans would die in horror crush at 1985 Irish gig

By Ivan Little

Published 29/09/2016

The crowd at Slane in 1985
The crowd at Slane in 1985
Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen on stage with Jake Clemons at Croke Park
Bruce Springsteen

Rock superstar Bruce Springsteen has revealed that he feared people were going to be killed at his legendary 1985 concert at Slane Castle.

The Boss said the frightening scenes among the 95,000 fans at the Co Meath venue, made him think about cancelling the rest of his sell-out European tour that year.

In his new autobiography the New Jersey singer also links his Irish roots to a strain of mental problems in his family, and talks openly about his own fight against depression and how it was at its worst at a dinner in Ireland.

In Born To Run, Springsteen devotes an entire section to the Slane gig - his first major outdoor show. The crowd was the biggest he'd ever seen. But it was what was happening right in front of him in the crush that alarmed him as soon as he came on stage.

He writes: "The crowd closest to the stage were deeply into their Guinness and dangerously swaying from left to right. They were opening up gaping holes amongst themselves, as audience members by the dozens fell to the muddy ground vanishing for unbearable seconds 'til righted once again by their neighbours."

Springsteen says he watched as red-faced fans who were soaked in drink and sweat were pulled out of the crowd and passed across barriers to be taken to medical tents. He says he thought someone was going to be killed and that it would be his fault, adding: "It was a sight way too hairy for my tender eyes."

Springsteen says that he kept on singing but he was thinking he couldn't go on putting people in a situation where they "could be grievously injured".

"I was in a pure rage and simmering panic," he writes. Backstage during the intermission he had what he calls a "highly charged" debate with his manager Jon Landau about cancelling the entire tour after Slane.

"I could not face what was happening in front of the stage at Slane on a nightly basis. It was irresponsible and violated the protective instinct for my audience I prided myself on."

However, Landau persuaded him to postpone any decision until after a few more concerts and Springsteen says that in the second half at Slane, the crowd settled down.

"I observed there was a sketchy but ritual orderliness to what appeared from the stage to be pure chaos. The crowd protected one another. If you fell, the nearest person to your left or right reached down, grabbed an arm and pulled you upright. It wasn't pretty (or to my eye safe) but it worked."

Springsteen says the rest of the people at Slane weren't aware of what was happening at the front, and the gig went on to attain legendary status.

In another section of the book entitled 'The Irish', Springsteen says that in 1852 - at the end of the Great Famine - his great-great grandmother Ann Garrity left Ireland at the age of 14 with two sisters and settled in Freehold, New Jersey, where the singer was born.

However, he writes about aunts who howled during family gatherings; cousins who never left their homes and other men who routinely pulled out all their hair.

He also talks of how female relatives used to throw holy water over their loved ones to protect them during thunderstorms.

Springsteen says: "A lot of trouble came in the blood of my people who hailed from the Emerald Isle."

He adds: "I don't know where it started but a serious strain of mental illness drifts through those of us who are here, seeming to randomly pick off a cousin, an aunt, a son, a grandma and unfortunately my dad."

Springsteen writes candidly about his own battle against depression and how, while having dinner at an unspecified location in Ireland with his wife Patti Scialfa - whose mother came from Belfast - and a group of friends, he was "doing his best to fake that I was a sane person".

He says he had to leave the table regularly and at one point he phoned his pharmacologist, who'd prescribed him drugs, which eventually helped lift his depression.

But Springsteen says: "It was a terrifying window into mental debilitation and brought back the ghost of my father's mental illness and my family's history and taunted me with the possibility that even after all I had done, all I'd accomplished, I could fall to the same path."

Springsteen says the love of his wife got him through his darkest hours.

In the book, published by Simon and Schuster, Springsteen - a regular visitor to Ireland for concerts and to watch his daughter Jessica competing in equestrian events - also talks of his friendship with U2.

He says "I feel a great bond with the band", adding that Bono and his companions "also happen to be some of the nicest people I've ever met in the music business".

Belfast Telegraph

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