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Weinberg speaks on rock gigs, tours

Peter Ninneman | Friday, April 21, 2006

Max Weinberg was the star on stage Thursday at 8 p.m. in Debartolo Hall for a lecture on his experiences as drummer with Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band and the Max Weinberg 7 on Late Night with Conan O’Brien.

Weinberg brought motivated his audience while evoking laughs in the process. The night started out with a short film of comedy skits from the Conan O’Brien show, including one with Weinberg reading a poem about murdering his neighbor and putting him through a wood chipper.

Weinberg also had some more serious words and spoke about the pursuit of dreams.

“Some people, and you bump into these kinds of people sometimes, call dreams a waste of time,” Weinberg said. “Well, forget about those people.”

Weinberg recalled the moment in his life he knew he wanted to play drums. It was 1956 and he was a five-year-old waiting for Elvis’ debut on the Ed Sullivan Show with his teenage sisters. When Elvis’ band started to play “Hound dog,” Weinberg found himself playing along with the drums on the carpet, much to his sisters’ dismay.

“It was absolutely amazing to me, and still is today, how Elvis and his band took over our living room,” he said. “I’ve never been the same since.”

Weinberg went on to play every gig he could get, including strip clubs and bar mitzvahs.

“Playing behind those strippers and bumping them, rimshotting bad comedians, that was good preparation for what I’m doing now,” Weinberg said.

He caught a break in 1974 as a student at Seton Hall when he hit it off with Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band in an audition that he found in want ad.

“This was the best band I had ever sat in with. I wanted that gig,” he said.

The band soared in popularity with the 1975 album “Born to Run,” the first actual album that Weinberg had ever played on.

Weinberg said the ten-year whirlwind of touring that he did with the band fulfilled his “rock n’ roll dreams.”

“I had the best seat in the house,” he said.

To show the crowd what it was like to play in packed seats, Weinberg showed a video of concert footage set to “Born in the U.S.A.”

“I had that Fu Manchu mustache,” Weinberg said. “I offer that video as definitive proof that not everyone in the seventies looked like Ashton Kutcher.”

In October 1989, Weinberg’s life and career took a new direction when he got a call from Springsteen saying that he had been working on a new record and was going down a new path, and thanked Weinberg for his fifteen years of dedication.

“In retrospect… I probably shouldn’t have been surprised it was over,” Weinberg said.

He decided to go back to Seton Hall to finish his communications degree, which still required twenty-one more credits. To his surprise, they still had his account open, which he said probably meant that they knew he would be back when “the rock n’ roll thing was over” and he got “his act together.” They gave him credit for a book he had written, so only eighteen credits remained until he could receive his degree.

“I figured that was certainly doable over two semesters,” Weinberg said. “What are you laughing about?”

He took the LSAT after receiving his degree but claimed he got an “unbelievably low score.” Daydreaming out the window one day in a property law class, he said he saw “visions of freedom,” and proceeded to leave the classroom and withdraw from the college.

“I became a statistic… I’m very proud to say I’m a law school dropout,” Weinberg said.

Weinberg then got a job at a mail order record store, and worked a variety of jobs there for three years, until he was called up to tour with the band “10,000 Maniacs.”

“I was becoming a drummer again,” Weinberg said.

A short while later, he auditioned for the Broadway show “Tommy.” Twenty seconds into his audition, the conductor told him, “Alright, you can be the second alternate sub.”

“That was OK with me, suddenly I’d gotten a job,” Weinberg said.

He was so excited that he called his wife to come visit him in New York City. On a walk after dinner, he came across Conan O’Brien.

“You just never know,” he said. “Even with my little kid dreams, I never thought I’d have my own band with my name on the bass drum, playing on the Late Show.”