• Mitchell Roth (pictured here with glasses to the right of Springsteen) says attending the shows make him feel at home. (Paul Blackburn)Source: Paul Blackburn
"It’s almost spiritual and cathartic. When you’re up the front, he’s not playing to you, he’s playing with you."
By
Ros Reines

17 Feb 2017 - 3:20 PM  UPDATED 1 Mar 2017 - 9:28 AM

Mitchell Roth - a middle-aged Jewish man born and bred in New Jersey, USA - does not look like a rabid rock fan. He’s not kitted out in lurid tour gear, nor does he have trouble hearing from standing far too close to the stage night after night. This is surprising since the 55-year-old mild mannered Californian lawyer has followed Bruce Springsteen’s glittering trajectory around the world, taking in nearly 400 concerts.

Currently in Sydney at the time of writing, he’s having a cup of tea in a Potts Point’ cafe and pondering what it is exactly about Springsteen that has turned him into a rock god. After all, Roth will see a total of eight shows in Australia on this tour alone. Doesn’t he ever get bored?

“Not at all,” says Roth, patiently. “Bruce Springsteen is the best entertainer I’ve ever seen. He always empties the tank. Also, the shows are rarely similar because he mixes up the set lists every time, so most of us don’t know what’s coming.”

Right now Springsteen, a working class hero if ever there was one, is riled up about Donald Trump’s presidency and his stance on immigration. "So many of his songs are protest songs,” says Roth. "He constructs his set lists from songs that are angry.”

Roth sites a recent Melbourne show. “It was after the phone fiasco [when President Trump allegedly argued with Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull about taking our refugees]; “Springsteen stood in front of the crowd and explained that he felt embarrassed to be an American. Then he played a song called Don’t Hang Up.

“A lot of my friends on tour feel that the current state of US politics is energising him,” he says, so he can easily perform with the E Street Band for three hours on stage, far longer than most rock acts.

The friends that Roth’s referring to are a handful of Americans and Europeans, mostly professionals, who also float around the world in Springsteen’s wake. Some, like Roth, continue to work remotely. Others just take their leave around Springsteen’s touring schedule.

Roth first saw Bruce Springsteen perform in 1978 when he was just 16-years-old. His performance on stage spoke to him in a way that no other artist has ever done since. It was like a call to arms and it helped that they both came from New Jersey, living just a town apart. Roth says that Springsteen is now a New Jersey icon.

“Look, I wouldn’t call him a friend but he definitely knows who I am and if he saw me in the street, he’d acknowledge me.”

“He’s huge in the US and in Europe but you can tell that he loves being here in Australia,” he says, “even though it’s sometimes difficult for him to get audiences here off their seats.” Roth himself would never consider being anywhere in a Bruce Springsteen concert other than right in front of the stage in the pits.

“You have to be up close to feel the vibes,” he says.  “Springsteen takes the energy from the crowd and give it back tenfold. It’s almost spiritual and cathartic. When you’re up the front, he’s not playing to you, he’s playing with you.”

Roth says that he definitely has a connection with Springsteen. “A couple of times he’s handed me the mic to sing. There was one occasion in Stockholm and once in Philadelphia, even though I was terrible at it,” he admits.

“Look, I wouldn’t call him a friend but he definitely knows who I am and if he saw me in the street, he’d acknowledge me.”

But Roth isn’t spending around US $500 per show (including airfares and hotel accommodation), so he can boast that he’s friends with one of the greatest rock acts in the world. It’s more about sparking off Springsteen’s uncompromising honesty.

It’s almost spiritual and cathartic. When you’re up the front, he’s not playing to you, he’s playing with you.

“Sometimes when I walk into the pits to take my place in front of the stage, I feel as though I’m coming home,” he says. "It’s like I’m with family.”

And Springsteen’s message of justice for all also permeates and inspires Roth’s  work as a lawyer, where he specialises in representing some of the most marginalised by society - the elderly. He ensures that their families and carers are not abusing their trust.

“It’s rewarding work,” he says. “I really enjoy it and I make sure that I put in four hours a day wherever I am.”

Roth and his partner do not have children together, so that also makes it easy to just pack up and go.”

But with Springsteen now 67, what will happen when the star eventually steps away from live performances?

Roth shakes his head in disbelief.  Surely this will never happen. After all, Bruce Springsteen is practically an immortal.

 

Image of Mitchell Roth by Paul Blackburn.

 

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