Friday Night; 04/18/08; 10:07 pm.
As most of you have heard by now, Danny Federici — Bruce Springsteen’s longtime keyboardist in several of his bands, but most famously including the E Street Band — passed away on Thursday following a three-year battle with melanoma. Federici was 58, which by any standard is far too young for a light which shone as brightly as did Federici’s to be snuffed out.
Who knows the answers to why things like these happen?
If any of us did, there would be no need for things like faith, and the religions of the world would all be put out of business overnight. So who are we to question, and when you get right down to it, what would be the point of it anyway?
Anyway, I think I have had some time now to put this into perspective.
Danny is gone, and for those of us who loved his music — specifically, his immeasurable contributions to all of the great records he has made with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band over the past four decades — the music is what we are left with.
And from his accordion work on “4th Of July Asbury Park (Sandy)” to the searing organ break on “Kitty’s Back,” to those wonderful glockenspiel flourishes on songs like “Born To Run” and “Hungry Heart,” — which were such a signature part of the E Street Band sound — the one thing that is sure is that Danny Federici brought a lot of joy to a lot of people.
If the music is what we are left with, then Danny Federici is in that sense immortal.
God knows that any one of us should be so fortunate.
Still, that doesn’t make this loss hurt any less today. Other than a short news brief on my personal website, I held off writing anything about this until today.
To be honest, I was so stunned by the news that I really didn’t know what to say. Besides, Donald Gibson did a professional job of dutifully reporting the news to our readers as a music journalist.
And Mark Saleski — a guy whom I have never met face to face, but who I nonetheless consider a friend — wrote one of the most poignant pieces of his that I have ever read. In it, Mark attempted to make some sense of the fragile issues of mortality as they relate not only to the musicians we revere from afar, but also to the close family and friends we treasure so much. Simply stated as it was, it is still powerful stuff.
That pretty much covered it as far as I was concerned. Still, with the shock now beginning to wear off some 24 hours later, I feel compelled to offer my own thoughts. I hope you will bear with me.
I never knew Danny Federici personally, but I met him once when I was living in Los Angeles in the early nineties. I ran into him at a sub sandwich shop in Studio City next to my favorite newsstand, where I offered the few feeble words of thanks that a diehard Springsteen fanboy like me could muster. He was most gracious in putting up with me.
I never knew him, but still I considered him family. At least in the way that the community of hardcore Bruce Springsteen fans would.
Danny Federici was/is an integral part of the music that has brought myself and millions of others so much joy for the past four decades. So as any one of those “tramps” will tell you, that sense of community is something that is unmatched anywhere in rock and roll outside of perhaps the “Deadheads” who followed around the Grateful Dead from coast to coast for so many years.
When I tell you that for us “Bruce Tramps” being at one of those E Street Band shows is like being in a great big room with about 20,000 of your best friends, it is no exaggeration. For the diehard fan, an E Street Band show is like Christmas, your birthday, your high school graduation, and your wedding day all wrapped up into one.
Federici’s death came as a shock.
It’s not so much that it was unexpected. Federici took an extended absence last fall from the Magic tour, following an emotional on-stage farewell:
Federici rejoined the E Street Band on-stage one last time for an emotional version of “4th of July Asbury Park (Sandy)” in a concert earlier this year. “Sandy” was considered one of Federici’s signature songs with the E Street Band, in particular because of his accordion work.
The general consensus at that time was that he would be rejoining the tour shortly. In fact, when I saw an accordion on-stage at the show I attended last month in Portland, I even excitedly remarked to my concert buddy that “we might be getting Danny tonight.”
It wasn’t to be, of course, but the idea was that by all accounts Danny was getting better. When the news came, it was a shock even though we all knew he was sick.
At the time I heard about it, I was participating in an impromptu “Springsteen roundtable” discussion with my fellow Blogcritics scribes El Bicho, Josh Hathaway, and Josh’s friend “11” on the BC internet radio show, B Sides Concept Album.
Josh does a great job of hosting the show. We always have a lot of fun, and this night was no exception. On this particular night, the resident Bruce-geeks were comparing setlists, gushing about all of the great shows, and in general getting Josh amped up for his virgin concert experience with Bruce and the E Street Band — just days away in Atlanta.
When Donald Gibson broke the news about Danny to us in the chat room as he saw it come across the AP wire, the giddy mood took a very quick downhill turn. I haven’t yet listened to the playback, and to be honest I’m not sure I will.
What I do remember is a conversation that took place off air (although I believe it’s still there on the playback), where we speculated about the future of the E Street Band. That was after the shock had at least somewhat, but not completely worn off. And to be honest, the speculations of the remaining trio (Josh, “11”, and myself) of armchair E Street quarterbacks was probably meaningless babble anyway. It felt oddly comforting at the time, for whatever that’s worth.
I’m going to end my thoughts on Danny’s passing in much the same way that I began them. Although Danny may be gone from this mortal coil, he does live on, and will continue to do so through his music.
That may sound somewhat trite, and I begrudge no one who thinks so. However, because of the immeasurable contribution he made to the sound of the E Street Band — a sound which has fostered one of the strongest fan communities in all of rock and roll, and which has made millions of people happy for four decades — it is no less valid an observation.
Rest In Peace Danny.
Make a difference — donate to the Danny Federici Melanoma Fund.