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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Madison election memories: Bruce came up for a beer

In some ways, Bruce Springsteen’s presidential stump in downtown Madison Monday resembled his 2004 visit with Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.

Warming up the crowd on President Barack Obama’s last stretch of campaigning, he appeared on stage with his harmonica and guitar, even playing two of the same songs as eight years ago: “No Surrender” and “The Promised Land.” It was a similarly crisp fall morning.

But at 18,000 spectators, the crowd was a fraction of the 80,000 that assembled for Springsteen and Kerry on West Washington Avenue eight years ago. And this time, Springsteen didn’t watch the main attraction from the deck of 508 W. Washington Ave. with a group of star-struck students.

“My roommate had written on a cardboard box ‘Bruce, Come Up For A Beer,’ and hung it over our balcony … almost directly in front of the stage,” said Emily Fischer, class of 2005, who then lived in the house with six other female students, but was not home at the time. “He saw our sign and he and his wife [Patti Scialfa] came upstairs where we were on the second story.”

According to the roommates, Springsteen said he was looking for a good vantage point to watch Kerry, then the first political candidate he had ever publicly endorsed.

“We stood on the porch, trying to be respectful … but also thinking it was really cool,” Jen Garfield, class of 2005, another roommate, said. “I think that we were mostly watching [Bruce].”

While some of the episode’s details escaped the roommates—Garfield and Fischer couldn’t recall any of their exchange with Springsteen—others aren’t as easily forgotten.

The roommates remember Springsteen and NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw, one of a few journalists who followed Springsteen upstairs, tripping over their cable and Internet cords, and also that the evening news host was “kind of a jerk,” according to Fischer (though others claimed he was just preoccupied with Kerry’s speech).

All were in agreement, however, in recollecting the beer they offered up to the rocker as his hosts—Capital Amber from Madison’s Capital Brewery.

The brewery’s CEO showed up a week later, to pay his respects.

“He came and said, 'We just want to thank you for mentioning our brewery,’ and gave us a huge box of beer,” Fischer said. “That was exciting for us as well.“

After the senator’s speech, Springsteen posed for a few photos and signed Kerry/Edwards posters for the roommates before leaving the apartment—just in time for Sonya Larson, the apartment’s resident Springsteen devotee, to see him step into a black SUV.

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“As a little girl I used to lie in bed with my Walkman and headphones, listening to Bruce Springsteen albums as I went to sleep,” Larson said.

According to Larson, most of the roommates skipped classes to watch the rally from their porch. A volunteer for the Kerry campaign in Madison, she spent the morning ushering the crowd through metal detectors, happy with knowing that she’d be closer to the Boss himself.

She was watching Kerry speak when her phone rang with the call from her roommates.

“It was like that scene in ‘Slumdog Millionaire,’ I was running against the crowd,” she said. “I completely abandoned my post. It was potentially endangering to Kerry.”

Springsteen wasn’t the only celebrity campaign surrogate on campus that fall. Larson recalls hearing about Natalie Portman’s visit. She even caught Leonardo DiCaprio’s speech, but had forgotten it in light of missing the Boss.

“I was very upset when Kerry lost, but I didn’t cry,” she said. “I cried for two hours after Bruce Springsteen left our apartment.”

The roommates have since graduated, moving out of Madison and across the country in the eight years since the 2004 election. That Springsteen finds himself on the campaign trail once again—his Madison appearance was the first of several in battleground states Monday—speaks to the intangible importance of famous feet on the ground in pivotal electorates.

But is Bruce Springsteen still the guest of choice for the former residents of 508 West Washington?

“I’d choose Obama in a second—no offense Bruce,” Garfield joked.

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