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The busker and the Boss

Bruce Springsteen in the Public Garden playing David Gonzalez's guitar. Bruce Springsteen in the Public Garden playing David Gonzalez's guitar.
By Mark Shanahan & Meredith Goldstein
Globe Staff / September 3, 2011

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David Gonzalez has been playing guitar for nearly 30 years, and strummed on street corners in nine countries. But it was still a special thrill this week when Bruce Springsteen paused to listen as Gonzalez plucked the strings of his Spanish guitar in the Public Garden.

The Boss, who was in town to drop his son Evan at Boston College, stopped to chat for a few minutes Thursday, but quickly moved along when his presence began to attract the attention of passersby.

“He said, ‘I’ll see you later,’ ’’ Gonzalez told us yesterday. “About 30 minutes later, he came back and we had a long conversation.’’

Seems Bruce and his wife, Patti Scialfa, first saw the Argentine-born guitarist while walking through the Public Garden earlier this summer. They listened for a bit but didn’t introduce themselves, and Gonzalez didn’t realize it was them.

“I see famous people sometimes,’’ said Gonzalez. “When Christian Bale was here for ‘The Fighter,’ he was staying in the penthouse at the Taj and would come by and listen with his wife and daughter.’’

When Springsteen returned Thursday, he complimented Gonzalez on his unique style, and asked how long he’d been playing. The busker told the Boss he’d never seen him in concert, but tried in 1989 when Springsteen (and Sting and Tracy Chapman and Peter Gabriel) played a benefit for Amnesty International in Buenos Aires. Gonzalez was living in Patagonia at the time and couldn’t afford the trip.

“I told him the music I make is music therapy,’’ said Gonzalez. “Music is the only way we can win from oppression. We need it every day. That’s what I told him.’’

He then asked if Bruce wanted to play a song. Smiling, Springsteen politely declined, but he did strum a riff from one of Gonzalez’s songs. (The 27-second solo can be viewed on YouTube.)

As he was leaving, Bruce put his hand in his pocket and dropped a few bucks into the guitar case. Gonzalez won’t say how much, but it was generous.

“He said, ‘This is for that trip you never made,’ ’’ said Gonzalez.

The Boss didn’t immediately depart Boston. The “Born to Run’’ singer had dinner at Michael Schlow’s Via Matta with J. Geils frontman Peter Wolf, and from there it was off to Atwood’s in Cambridge to see the Roy Sludge Trio. (The guitarist for the country/rockabilly act is Duke Levine, who plays in Wolf’s band, the Midnight Travelers.)

Springsteen’s brilliant disguise? A baseball cap. He and Wolf were barely noticed as they hung around for the band’s second set.

“Was hard to tell who he was at first,’’ Jim Seery, who books shows at the Plough & Stars and was in the audience, wrote on Facebook. “In a strange way, it was sort of cool to watch him watch another band. He stayed the whole second set hanging with Wolf, and no one bothered him while Roy Sludge Trio ripped it up.’’