Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Reinventing Rock, Pt. 2: "The clumsy grace of the original"

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band--"Wings For Wheels (live)" (mp3)

There have been so many pleasures to entering the blogosphere this year, but among the best has been the chance to track down some old favorite concerts.

It's no secret that I am partial to live music, a position I plan to broaden in the coming year, but there are two legendary concerts from my past, which have only extended beyond my memory this year since we started this blog. The first is Bruce Springsteen's legendary Main Point concert in 1974. The second is Jackson Browne and David Lindley's concert from that same venue.

I suppose I should insert the following here: it's a Philadelphia thang; you wouldn't understand. But the fact is that I went to college in Philadelphia and took ample advantage of the thriving music scene that existed there in the later half of the 1970s. And that scene, while evidenced by an extensive list of concert offerings all 5 years I was there, was held together on a day-to-day basis by a radio station, WMMR. And WMMR played the two concerts I've alluded to above repeatedly. I had them on cassette and listened to them over and over, and, yes, not only did I "own" them then, but I feel like I have a right to own them now.

I have two points I want to make to justify my title, "Reinventing Rock," in this ongoing series. The first is this: when the ball falls on New Year's Eve, I will be beginning my 44th year collecting music, and though that term "music" has come to include almost all kinds of music, most of it is, obviously, rock music. As that ball falls on New Year's Eve, it will likely mark the beginning of another year where the music industry sees declining revenues, and, in their panic to control what's owed to them, they'll likely continue to harass little music sites like this one, as they have done twice this year.

But let's ponder a different perspective, shall we? As a 44-year collector of music, I want to change the question: what am I owed? To the music industry, I say, I have hung with you through 45's, LP's, cassettes, CD's, and now digital music. If you had your way with me, and sometimes you did, I would have bought the same music in 5 different formats. The same music. Just to keep up with the accessibility and playability of the exact same songs. So, again, I ask you, what am I owed? Why wasn't I allowed to buy the song once, and then, assuming I could provide the evidence, why wasn't I allowed to get a free upgrade to the next format? I mean, if a song is a song, why does it make a difference what medium it is played on? Once I purchased the right to play it, why was I required to re-buy it so many times?

Which takes me back to those two concerts at the Main Point. The radio played them and I taped them off the radio. And, because they were such an important part of my "formative music years" I want to hear them again whenever I want to. And so, I tracked one down on a blog, and I know that the other one exists, because I've seen reference to it, but I don't have it quite yet. But I intend to keep trying. Is that really illegal activity? Is it?

Because the real point, the main point (pun intended), is that full access to all kinds of music from an artist allows us to understand the process, the growth, the false starts and bad turns, the learning that makes, for me at least, the songwriters I admire more worth listening to. Case in point: check out the Springsteen track above. "Wings For Wheels" is from that Main Point show I listened to so many times so many years ago. I always assumed it was just "Thunder Road," which of course it is the precursor to. But it is also not "Thunder Road," and not just in its title. "Thunder Road," in its final version, has pretensions of becoming one of the great rock anthems of all times, a goal that it reaches. "Wings For Wheels" is more of a greaser song, the story of a nowhere guy who doesn't have much to offer but a car, and a not very reliable one at that:

Well, this 442, she's gonna overheat,
Make up your mind, girl, I gotta get back out on the street.

Contrast those lines with the final version:

Oh-oh, come take my hand
We're riding out tonight to case the promised land.

In the revision, the narrative becomes part of the great American metaphor. Even the girl's name change, from Angelina to Mary, broadens the song's appeal.

Of course, like so many others, I went with Bruce on this revision and along on his journey to become an international rock star, but often I still prefer the clumsy grace of the original narrator and his self-awareness:

Now the season's over
And I feel it gettin' cold,
I wish I could take you to some sandy beach
Where we'd never grow old.
But, girl, you know that's just jive,
But the night's bustin' open and I'm alive.

Isn't it nice to know that both exist and that you have a choice? I asked in the last post if you would prefer to study history or to chart and predict the future. With music, the answer is, of course, both, and the great gift of the Internet is that it allows us (for the moment, at least) to forge on in both directions, constantly revising our perspectives on the music and the musicians we think we know.


Billy said...

FWIW, my musical resolution is to get more acquainted with non-Greatest Hits music, particularly from the '70s and early '80s.

For instance, I bought Fleetwood Mac's "Tusk" at McKay's last week and am thoroughly enjoying it.

I'd never heard "Wings for Wheels" before. Truly fascinating. HNY.

Bob said...

Chalk me up as a big fan of "Tusk." I think many of Lyndsay Buckingham's best songs are on there, especially "I Know I'm Not Wrong." If ever interested, Camper Van Beethooven redid the whole thing, song by song.

jed said...

The remastered "Tusk" bonus disc has lots of Buckingham demos - great fun. His new record, "Gift of Screws," is quite good.

troutking said...

Anything that connects you and live Bruce is a good thing in my book. By the way, your New Year's resolutions of more live music and more travel sounds like the perfect recipe for a multi-date Bruce concert road trip this spring!