Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Best Music is Packaged - A Rebuttal

A response to Bob's previous post

Thunder Road (live) - Bruce Springsteen (mp3)
Talent Show - The Replacements (mp3)

Give me recorded music over concerts anytime. But first, I must digress.

Before I saw him perform at the Dean Dome in Chapel Hill in 1993, I was hardly a fan of Bruce Springsteen. Before Courtney Cox hopped up on stage with him in 1984 whilst I witnessed the event from my living room watching MTV, I didn't know Bruce from Adam.

I was 12, fer' Chrissakes. I still thought "Hello" by Lionel Richie was a kickass song. (Lionel's first two solo albums were amongst the first dozen I ever purchased.) I was too naive to even appreciate the disturbing stalker professor nature of the song.

Born in the USA became the first in a string of Springsteen album purchases for one of my best friends, and as all good friends should, I worked hard at liking that huge LIVE 1975-85 box set he got for Christmas, even though that song "War" and the video of it really just scared me.

As a sophomore, I finally began to buy into his brilliance when a hallmate forced me to sit down and listen all the way through "Thunder Road" three times. This was while a keg party raged all around us, but John swore my lack of appreciation for the song was much more important than any girl. By the third time, I knew he was right.

A year later, Bruce had released both Better Days and Lucky Town to an array of opinion, but I was a nascent fan, so he could do no wrong. A girl I pined over for two years mentioned he was coming to town, so we camped out together and got second row upper level seats. Hell, just getting to be in line with her was worth the money. We were going on a date! I thought!

I have told many friends about this particular concert. It was, simply put, the single most impressive concert experience I've ever had. Springsteen played for right at three hours (maybe 2:45 if you take away the breaks between two encores), all the while my date-slash-friend held a lengthy and flirty conversation with the two Army dudes from Fort Bragg sitting behind us. But even her betrayal wasn't enough to take my attention away from Bruuuuce, whose joy for performing has been plenty well-documented.

He sang "Thunder Road" the way he performs it on the MTV Concert album, the way some dude who was older in the tooth would sing it, all the while crying for and laughing at the young twenty-something who wrote the song in the first place. That song is so freakin' amazing that it's stunning at any speed, even with the inestimable Roy Bittan laying down some mood-altering organ instead of pounding on that wonderful piano. "Light of Day" was so transcendent that I to this day can even listen to the Joan Jett/Michael J. Fox version and still adore it.

The whole damn concert was an emotional injection of musical adoration. It made you love music more to see these veterans up there having the time of their lives performing songs they'd played thousands upon thousands of times before.

But then came the part that made the experience truly unique.

The lights went up. The roadies came out and started breaking down the stage. The crowd thinned out, but I was stuck with my date -- except now she was clearly just my friend, because she was still talking to this one Army dude while his friend and I exchanged frequently uncomfortable looks.

And then we heard some girls squealing. And we heard applause. And we saw the remaining ants on the floor below us rushing toward the stage, or what was left of it. Our eyes went to that area, where we witnessed The Boss and his E. Street Band taking off the roadie coveralls. They had merely sized the stage down for a more intimate set to be played only for the true fans who refused to leave and the goobers whose attempts at romance backfired.

We all ran down to the floor and enjoyed what, if memory serves, was another six-song set. They played long enough that word had spread to the exiting masses, several more thousand of whom came rushing back, packing the floor. (And this was before cell phones and text messages!)

The concert had converted me to a fan. That final encore made me a believer.

Of the many amazing concerts I've seen, The Boss @ the Dean Dome tops them all.

But if I had to choose between my memory of that experience or my ability to listen to any of my Bruce songs anytime I want to, I'd take the albums every time, and I wouldn't even have to think twice.

The reasons are simple:
  1. Simple math, really. In 1991, I saw the Zoo Station concert in Atlanta, 10 rows from the floor, for $35. Or, in album math, roughly the price of three albums. If I wanted to see anyone who has ever sold more than 500,000 albums in their career in 2008, I'd have to fork over at least six or seven albums' worth of cash. The concerts haven't gotten twice as good. If they were only worth three albums in 1991, then they ain't worth a penny more today.  
  2. I've never had some fucking moron scream out "FREEBIRD!!!" while I'm listening to my iPod.
  3. On my iPod, no jerk next to me sings so loud I can't hear the Bono or Patty or Geddy, and I can sing along as loudly as I want without someone else thinking of me as that same jerk.
  4. No one holds up fucking lighters every time they hear a cheesy ballad on my iPod.
  5. Without the recorded music, nine times out of ten I wouldn't go to the concert. The egg really does precede the chicken more often than not for concert-goers.
  6. Finally, and most importantly, for every Great Concert Moment in my life, there are 20 times when I was stranded on an emotional island in my room, or in my car, or somewhere else, and I heard a song, and my isolation was gone. Or I was overwhelmed with love, and I heard a song, and it me to an altogether even higher place of joy. Or I was sad but had held back my tears until I could be alone, and a song put its hand on my shoulder and let me lean into the nape of its neck to lose myself in a healing cry. As amazing as music can be in bringing people together, it's even more valuable to me when I'm alone with it.
 If all concerts were like Bruce's in Chapel Hill... it would at least be a harder decision.


Bob said...

For once, Billy, I don't even think you believe your own argument here. So much space is devoted to an incredible concert experience. Heck, even your photos undercut your argument. Are you really saying that you're bothered by these girls holding up their lighters?

And, you know, I listen to live music on my ipod all the time.

Billy said...

I'm being totally genuine. Rush was my favorite band for more time than any other, and they put on an amazing live show. But if I had to choose between the dozen albums of theirs I own or the ability to see them in concert, I'd take the albums. And it's not even a close call for me.

Matt said...

I'm shocked that you would pick live Bruce over studio Bruce.

Rush, I guess I can understand that a little bit more.

Threw a shoutout your way, here.


I love all things music, but my Ipod says that I like the live stuff a lot, judging by all of the various boots/live albums that are on it, in addition to the regular albums.

jennifer said...

I'm mainly with you, although seeing Travis live is definitely different than just listening to albums. I would throw down $35 often to be at Andy's feet.

And seeing Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were each worth the money to just be able to say I was in the same room (albeit a big big room) with a Beatle.

and this is unrelated to your post, but I just survived my first day of honest-to-God teaching! I'm excited and exhausted.

Anonymous said...

Another Jennifer says:

What you are missing in your discussion of live vs. recorded music is the experience of meeting other fans. I've had the most transcendent experiences of my life at Springsteen concerts - and not necessarily when the music played. On the way back from Giant's Stadium in NJ in late July, and while waiting for the bus, I had the most marvelous conversation with a guy who had travelled far to see Bruce (as had I). We had a totally intense re-hash of the show together, both buoyed along by the euphoria we felt. A complete stranger, who I will never meet again, and yet we had shared a wonderful experience, and were able to complete it by an exchange of ideas - broadening our appreciation. Nowhere, listening to your IPod can such a thing happen.

Bob said...

I agree on the fans; though the most interesting ones I met were at Jorma Kaukonen (of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna) solo concerts. In particular, I met a guy in rural Jersey who called himself "Travelin' Brad," an interesting moniker on several levels, and who seemed to have several inside scoops on Jorma and his lifestyle. I didn't buy much of it, but, as I suggested in my original post, you have to make an effort to get to live shows, and, for some people, that means coming out of the woodwork.