FREEHOLD, N.J. — The Boss was back in his hometown.
Bruce Springsteen’s latest tour opened Tuesday, and the rocker who usually lets his songs do the talking yielded to fans to take a turn and share their stories of what he meant to them.
They simply wanted to say thank you.
“I want to just tell him he’s been my therapy for 40 years,” said Joan Forman, of New Jersey.
Fans from all over the world lined up hours before Springsteen’s appearance at a Barnes & Noble in Freehold to promote his new autobiography, “Born to Run.”
In the book, Springsteen remembers his childhood in New Jersey, his rise to superstardom and personal struggles that inspired songs such as “Born to Run” and “Thunder Road.”
Springsteen dressed in all black, from shirt and leather jacket to jeans and shoes and didn’t say a word on his way to a small platform where he was flanked by two banners that featured a picture of the book’s cover.
Springsteen’s fans waited hours to share how his music helped them fight cancer, how they fell in love listening to his songs, how his lyrics are the soundtrack of their lives.
“I love his music and his shows. They give me more joy than anything,” 25-year-old Erin Brown said. “His music collection is what ties things in life together rather than religion for me.”
Brown wore a homemade shirt with a heart on the back and was in tears when she approached Springsteen.
“Come here, sweetheart,” he told her.
“Hi, Bruce. I love you. You’re the best,” she said.
They snapped some photos and Brown hugged Springsteen. Brown sent the snapshots from her mobile phone to friends, and one replied they looked like a couple: “Which I love,” she sighed.
Brown drove eight hours overnight from Cameron, North Carolina, to the bookstore off Springsteen’s famed Highway 9 — which seemed like a small drive down the boulevard compared to others who flew long distance from Europe.
Phil Beard, of Liverpool, England, arranged a trip around Springsteen’s appearance. Beard said he’s been to 63 Springsteen concerts on two continents over 40 years and hoped to convince him to play a gig in Liverpool. Beard’s wedding anniversary is the same date as Springsteen’s birthday, Sept. 23.
“It’s a coincidence. That’s what we say, anyway,” Beard said, laughing.
One woman posted in a Springsteen fan page on Facebook that she booked a flight from Munich to London to New York, planned to meet The Boss, then fly right back from Newark, New Jersey to Paris.
Springsteen signed plenty of books — Barnes & Noble said about 2,000 were sold and he stayed for almost four hours.
Springsteen, 67, is coming off the marathon “The River” tour that revisited a chunk of his 1970s catalog. Like his lengthy shows — a stop this month in Philadelphia lasted nearly four hours, four minutes — fans were still outside in the parking lot late in the afternoon.
The book tour will also take Springsteen to New York; Philadelphia; Seattle; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Portland, Oregon.
But his first stop was Freehold, a town where he once mused in song, “Would they have dumped me if they knew I’d strike it rich/straight out of Freehold.”
The small, blue-collar community has a walkable downtown filled with stores, restaurants and many government buildings. While its neighborhoods of mostly small homes are close-knit, the town has been beset at times by racial tension, economic distress and downtown blight.
“On these streets, I have been rolled in my baby carriage, learned to walk, been taught by my grandfather to ride a bike, and fought and run from some of my first fights,” Springsteen writes in “Born to Run.” ”I learned the depth and comfort of real friendships, felt my early sexual stirrings and, on the evenings before air conditioning, watched the porches fill with neighbors seeking conversation and respite from the summer heat.”
He concludes the first chapter of his book by describing the Freehold of his youth with a variation of the “heart-stopping, pants-dropping …” introduction he normally uses for the E Street Band.
“Here we live in the shadow of the steeple, where the holy rubber meets the road, all crookedly blessed in God’s mercy, in the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, race-riot-creating, oddball-hating, love-and-fear-making, heartbreaking town of Freehold, New Jersey.
“Let the service begin.”
This story has been corrected to show that Springsteen’s birthday is Sept. 23, not Sept. 27.