In Providence

In Providence: Hungry Heart

“My wife used to love Bruce. All she’d play is Bruce. Let me tell you, Bruce Springsteen ever showed up at the door, I was out, boy. I was a goner.”

He lives in Wayland Square within walking distance of Books on the Square and Red Stripe. Currently, he’s the father of four and the grandfather of six, but there’s another one on the way, and at the age of 78, he’s decided he wants to start a band.

“We haven’t booked any gigs yet, but that’s not what we’re looking to do. When you get to be our age, you’re just looking to stay out of trouble.”

His wife wasn’t just a fan of Bruce Springsteen. According to him, she was also an avid reader, a lover of any movie with a car chase in it, an incomparable mother and the love of his life. She passed away in 2017, and it left him unmoored.

“I thought I was going to go right after her, because I was so down in the dumps about it. But she would have said, ‘Who’s going to look out for the kids if we’re both gone, you jerk?’ That’s what she would say. That’s why I got to hang around for a little bit longer. We got a granddaughter getting married in the spring, and I gotta be there to see it. Before then, I need to find something to do, and I remember that I used to play in a band when I was younger.”

The Four Legs.

They played a total of seven performances and then split up when the bass player broke his hand punching a guy in the face at one of their shows for saying they sucked.

“He had a point. The guy — not the bass player. He was a real a**hole.”

What did The Four Legs refer to?

“Hell if I know.”

The new band doesn’t have a name yet, but he wants to call it Arthritis.

“That way when the music is bad, they’ll say, ‘What do you expect? They all have arthritis.’ I recruited some guys I play golf with and my brother-in-law, and we play down in my basement because I don’t want the neighbors hearing us. We have to play loud, because my brother-in-law can’t hear a damn thing. I keep telling him that he needs to get his hearing checked, but he’s stubborn as all hell so I said, ‘Forget it’ and besides I don’t need him to hear anything; he’s on drums.”

What would his wife think of his new hobby?

“She’d love it. This kind of thing could always get her to laugh. Me and my big ideas. I was always tinkering with something or breaking something she needed to use — like the bathroom sink or the shower or our car. I don’t know how she put up with me.”

Then I make a request.

“That’s a tough one. Let me ask the band.”

A month later, I’m in his basement along with a few invited guests for the first ever, semi-public performance this foursome’s ever done.

After thanking the six or seven of us sitting on folding chairs next to the furnace, the show begins. They’ve learned a couple of standards, and they do those first. Right after “Spirit in the Sky,” they arrive at my request, and just as I had hoped, it comes with a special dedication.

“You all know whose favorite this was, so I hope she’s listening.”

Nobody would tell you it was the most polished rendition of “Hungry Heart” they’ve ever heard. It was bumpy and off-tempo and the vocals were erratic, but as they performed, I saw everyone in the room — the band included — lean into the song in a way you’re lucky to find even at the most joyful of concerts.

When they finished, we all cheered and Arthritis took a goofy-but-sincere bow.

Afterward, I asked him how it felt playing that song.

“It felt pretty good. Thank you for asking me to do that. Felt good singing that song like when we used to be in the car driving somewhere and I’d sing and try kissing her neck and she’d swat at me saying we were going to get in an accident. I was always trying to be her Bruce. But see, I got to be married to my girl for 50 years and he didn’t, so who came out on top?”

So what happens now?

“We might do it again. There’s a senior center that has acts like us. My brother-in-law needs to get his head out of his a** and find the rhythm, but other than that, I think we’re doing all right for a bunch of guys older than dirt.”

Hey, I tell him, everybody’s gotta start somewhere.

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