Wednesday, April 16, 2008

You're Not The Boss Of Me (anymore)

For Jeff.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band--"Prove It All Night (live bootleg)" (mp3)

Every time Bruce Springsteen goes on tour, someone will ask me if I'm going to try to get tickets. Every time, I say, "No."

I'll get an incredulous look. People know I like him; why wouldn't I want to go see the greatest live show ever? "Dude," they'll say, "he plays for three hours."

I know. I saw him twice in 1978, and afterwards, I knew that I never needed to see him again.

Some moments are so trapped in time that there is no point in trying to repeat them--in any way, for any reason. My collegiate experience with Bruce Springsteen was like that. Even if I could recreate it, I'm not sure that I would. Bruce was all-night, shout out the lyrics, puke out the window. He could salve the pain of love and raise the glory of salvation. He was the savior and we believed.

Ah, those 1978 concerts--I saw him twice, in Hampton Road, VA and Pittsburgh, PA-- transcendent shows, both of them. From the extended jungle percussion jam at the start of "She's The One" to the doctors carrying Bruce back out on a stretcher to play "Rosalita," the set lists captured the mixture of poetry and frivolity of his early career. The Darkness songs had added weight. He even recaptured "Because The Night" with a searing, extended live version that told the story that Patti Smith's single had not. In Pittsburgh, he sat solo at the piano and fumbled (a little) through "Lost in the Flood," requested by an audience member whose friend had recently died in a motorcycle accident. But at the center of it all was Bruce's guitar, notes bending to capture the pain in the dark new songs.

Of course, I still listen. I was one of the few who likes The Ghost of Tom Joad. For the first three anniversaries of 9/11, my ritual was to sit alone in the kitchen with a six-pack of beer after everyone else was asleep and listen to The Rising with a beatific smile. I like the new CD, too. Good, kind of retro-Jersey, songs. But it sounds muddy to me. Too many instruments and layers, no virtuosity. I mean, Little Steven has got a few chops, but Nils Lofgren, seriously, is one of the great rock guitarists and a distinctive vocalist, but you'd never even know he was in the band, given the stock guitar parts he is expected to play. (For contrast, check out "Moon Tears" by Lofgren's original band, Grin--it's a worthy bookend to Zeppelin's "Communication Breakdown") On Magic, even Bruce rarely, if ever, plays lead.

Somewhere between 1978 and now, Bruce went from being a rocker to becoming an artist, from having a hungry heart to living a vegetarian lifestyle. It may sound sophomoric and pointlessly reckless, but rock and roll was meant to fueled by greasy cheeseburgers and amphetamines, not exquisitely-detailed backstage food contract riders and personal trainers.

I used to get angry at critics who would seek to remind us that rock was never supposed to last this long, but every time I see one of the elder statesmen trying to keep repeating youthful posturing, I think those critics were probably right.

But, in 1978, Bruce was it. This was the tour where he seemed to want to remind everyone that he could actually play that guitar he was holding on the cover of Born To Run. I mean, really play it.

All I have to offer as evidence is one song, "Prove It All Night," taken from a beat-up record with most of the highs and lows worn away, a bootleg of Bruce's 1978 show at the Roxy. It is not a great recording, but maybe somewhere in it you can hear what was then that isn't now--how stripped-down the band played, how much Bruce believes every word he whispers or growls barely on key, how his guitar cuts in like a chainsaw (sounding like no other guitar before or since), how after the solos it all drops off to just his voice and the drums, how every second of that 9-minute version of a 4-minute song seems essential. Hell, the opening piano-guitar sequence is longer than the original song. Before his guitar enters, he announces, almost to himself, "Prove it all night. Prove it all night again."

Nowadays, Bruce is promoted and canonized by adoring upper middle class adults who can afford tickets to his shows after a light supper of sushi and wine. Back then, he was unleashed on unsuspecting audiences who had heard his name on the wind, but didn't know what to expect. Then they saw. And heard. And believed.

"Prove It All Night" comes from a bootleg LP purchased at a record store in Upper Darby, PA in 1978 and recently converted to MP3 using a USB turntable I got for Christmas. The original recorded version is on Darkness on the Edge of Town, available from Itunes.


franklinavenue said...

Dude, you were what? Six? In 1978.

But anyway, that's fine. I don't blame you for not returning and leaving the gleaming memories to glint in the gloaming.

I am no Springsteen fan. I was always kind of like - meh. It's OK. And definitely I tip toward the pre-Born in the USA albums. I just find him arrogant and boring nowadays. And going to one of his shows would be one of the least culturally satisfying things I think one could do.

Ever hear the song Bruce by You-Know-Who? Good for a yuk.

Bob said...

wrong dude. i wuz 21 in 78.


franklinavenue said...

Excellent. You're the same age as my husband. I was 11 in 1978. Let's party.

(Sorry, I thought you were that other whippersnapper)

Bob said...

So the legend that is Billy extends all the way to our Northern neighbors? For the upcoming election, who is the favorite candidate up there?

karos said...

Billy be a legend in his own mind. Well, not entirely...

Most in my circle favour (yes, with a "u") Obama. I couldn't give you a measure on the national pulse exactly, except to say it's probably overwhelmingly in favour of the Democrats. I think we are all just so giddy GWB is on the outs that it little matters who replaces him.

Me, I was very interested in Kerry last time 'round.

Bob said...

Look for an all-Canadian music post in the near future. Billy is dusting off his Rush cds as we speak.

troutking said...

I have a better idea now of your thought process. That is an impressive version of Prove It All Night, but then again so was the one I heard in Cincinnati a couple of weeks ago, where Bruce and Nils traded licks in much the same kind of flameout at the end. You are dead right about Nils---needs more to do.

It may also be true that Bruce doesn't play as long or as hard as he used to, but he's still the best live band going (according to this week's Rolling Stone) and Max and Little Stevie agree that they're playing better (by whatever definition) than they ever have. The guy is simply a live energy dynamo and every time I've seen him, no matter how psyched people in the crowd are, no one is having a better time than Bruce. I think the difference is back then he NEEDED it. Now he just LOVES it. Does that make it less meaningful? I don't think so. In some ways it's more impressive, he's STILL doing it because he loves it and putting on such a great show for YOU the audience, not for him. I don't NEED rock and roll, but I do love going to a concert, having a few beers and getting lost in the energy, hope, love, brotherhood and spirit all rolled into one. I also love seeing the joy he and the band get from playing with each other, their shared history flickering behind the looks and embraces they exchange. They all have nicknames---the Boss, the Phantom, Little Stevie, Mighty Max, Big Man---that bespeak of youthful adventures. OK, I don't know what Nils' nickname is---maybe Shorty? Bruce has many songs since 1978 that are fun to hear in concert---Out in the Street, Cadillac Ranch, Glory Days, Waiting on a Sunny Day--but also songs that are powerful explorations of universal themes from anger to nostalgia---Gypsy Biker (great guitar solos in concert), Livin In the Future, Girls in the Summer Clothes, Better Days, No Surrender, the list goes on. How about the Rising and all it evokes relating to 9/11. Plus you add in the special events you can never predict: Tom Morello appearing on stage to wail with the band on Ghost of Tom Joad, the electic version of Atlantic City, the original bass player from Meeting Across the River appearing with Bruce in Milwaukee, a rarity song that YOU were there for---maybe Growin Up or Rosalita or Point Blank.

I enjoy a concert much more deeply now than I did when I was 21. I can barely remember the concerts I saw back then. It's not nostalgia when I go see Bruce or Bob or the Who or the Stones because my relationship is with that music right now. Like A Rolling Stone means more to me now than it did when I was 21, same with Thunder Road. But, of course, I wasn't listening to them in 1978. All I knew from music than was my dad's crappy John Denver 8 tracks since I was only 7.

I'm rambling. To summarize:
1. Bruce still puts on a rocking show that puts everyone else to shame. His joy and energy is unparalleled. He reminds you "it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive." You'll smile more in that 2 hours than any other you've had in a while.
2. he is not the same, his songs aren't the same, you aren't the same as you were in 1978, so why not come back for a totally new experience?
3. i'm sure you were in some kind of altered state back then and it was 30 years ago---you don't remember s%^t about it anyway!!!

troutking said...

oh yeah, one more thing, i'm going to see the Boss friday in atlanta. you wanna come?

busy friday? well i'm going to charlotte sunday night too. come on, we'll be back in time for class monday, about 4:30 am I'd say...

Billy Bob said...

Kurtz, thanks for the throwdown; I totally deserve it. The one thing I won't concede: too many freakin' people in the band! I don't care who you are, anytime you have more than two guitars (three, if you're Lynyrd Skynyrd), you're pushin' it. And, despite your passionate post and the great players mentioned, you didn't assuage my fear that Clarence probably needs to be put out to pasture.

troutking said...

1. they do have three guitar players---patti is usually home with the kids and when she is there (or soozie tyrell is playing guitar instead of violin) I think their sound is off. kinda like that bootleg they played of just linda mccartney's keyboard playing and singing on one of paul's tours. it was awful but it wasnt actually going through a speaker. still, i'll take lovely linda over hateful heather any day!

2. no way, dude! Clarence is still the man. He's walking slow because he had hip replacement, but when he hits that jungleland solo, you are on the backstreets of jersey, baby! Perhaps you are jealous because as Bruce always introduces him---"You want to be like him, but you cain't! Do I have to say his name? Do I have to say his name? CLARENCE "BIG MAN" CLEMENS!!! (Caveat: I did Clarence "acting" on a sitcom with one of the wayans brothers this morning. He is no Little Stevie Silvio Dante Van Zant!)

Billy Bob said...

I love that Jungleland solo by Clarence; I loved it when he did the same one note for note 30 years ago!