July 18, 2007

Memorable Moment in Music: Bruce Springsteen becomes rock and roll future

For the next six Wednesdays I’ve been asked to contribute my thoughts to the WXPN 885 Memorable Moments In Music series. Along with their listeners, they are working on creating a massive list of moments that we remember from music. A list of 885 means a lot of variety, so there will be plenty of room for all the possibilities that this daunting list implies. Here’s where I feel like starting today.

I wasn’t alive when this article below was written, and for most of my life I edged away from what I saw as the bombastic jangle of Springsteen until my eyes were recently opened a few years back; I’ve seen the light of his gorgeous songwriting and performance skill (even if I still don’t care for the bandanna-as-sweatband look). This article is one of the best pieces on music that I’ve ever read, by a Jon Landau at my age, feeling old, listening to his records, going to shows to feel that fire in his soul kindle again. This article was pounded out late at night (when the rawest and most honest missives are penned) after seeing rock and roll’s future in a fresh-faced guy from Jersey trying to carve out a name for himself.

Growing Young With Rock and Roll
by Jon Landau
May 22, 1974

It’s four in the morning and raining. I’m 27 today, feeling old, listening to my records, and remembering that things were diffferent a decade ago. In 1964, I was a freshman at Brandeis University, playing guitar and banjo five hours a day, listening to records most of the rest of the time, jamming with friends during the late-night hours, working out the harmonies to Beach Boys’ and Beatles’ songs.

Real Paper soul writer Russell Gersten was my best friend and we would run through the 45s everyday: Dionne Warwick’s “Walk On By” and “Anyone Who Had A Heart,” the Drifters’ “Up On the Roof,” Jackie Ross’ “Selfish One,” the Marvellettes’ “Too Many Fish in the Sea,” and the one that no one ever forgets, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas’ “Heat Wave.” Later that year a special woman named Tamar turned me onto Wilson Pickett’s “Midnight Hour” and Otis Redding’s “Respect,” and then came the soul. Meanwhile, I still went to bed to the sounds of the Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man” and later “Younger than Yesterday,” still one of my favorite good-night albums. I woke up to Having a Rave-Up with the Yardbirds instead of coffee. And for a change of pace, there was always bluegrass: The Stanley Brothers, Bill Monroe, and Jimmy Martin.

Through college, I consumed sound as if it were the staff of life. Others enjoyed drugs, school, travel, adventure. I just liked music: listening to it, playing it, talking about it. If some followed the inspiration of acid, or Zen, or dropping out, I followed the spirit of rock’n'roll.

Individual songs often achieved the status of sacraments. One September, I was driving through Waltham looking for a new apartment when the sound on the car radio stunned me. I pulled over to the side of the road, turned it up, demanded silence of my friends and two minutes and fifty-six second later knew that God had spoken to me through the Four Tops’ “Reach Out, I’ll Be There,” a record that I will cherish for as long as I live.

During those often lonely years, music was my constant companion and the search for the new record was like a search for a new friend and new revelation. “Mystic Eyes” opened mine to whole new vistas in white rock and roll and there were days when I couldn’t go to sleep without hearing it a dozen times.

Whether it was a neurotic and manic approach to music, or just a religious one, or both, I don’t really care. I only know that, then, as now, I’m grateful to the artists who gave the experience to me and hope that I can always respond to them.

The records were, of course, only part of it. In ’65 and ’66 I played in a band, the Jellyroll, that never made it. At the time I concluded that I was too much of a perfectionist to work with the other band members; in the end I realized I was too much of an autocrat, unable to relate to other people enough to share music with them.

Realizing that I wasn’t destined to play in a band, I gravitated to rock criticism. Starting with a few wretched pieces in Broadside and then some amateurish but convincing reviews in the earliest Crawdaddy, I at least found a substitute outlet for my desire to express myself about rock: If I couldn’t cope with playing, I may have done better writing about it.

But in those days, I didn’t see myself as a critic — the writing was just another extension of an all-encompassing obsession. It carried over to my love for live music, which I cared for even more than the records. I went to the Club 47 three times a week and then hunted down the rock shows — which weren’t so easy to find because they weren’t all conveniently located at downtown theatres. I flipped for the Animals’ two-hour show at Rindge Tech; the Rolling Stones, not just at Boston Garden, where they did the best half hour rock’n'roll set I had ever seen, but at Lynn Football Stadium, where they started a riot; Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels overcoming the worst of performing conditions at Watpole Skating Rink; and the Beatles at Suffolk Down, plainly audible, beautiful to look at, and confirmation that we — and I — existed as a special body of people who understood the power and the glory of rock’n'roll.

I lived those days with a sense of anticipation. I worked in Briggs & Briggs a few summers and would know when the next albums were coming. The disappointment when the new Stones was a day late, the exhilaration when Another Side of Bob Dylan showed up a week early. The thrill of turning on WBZ and hearing some strange sound, both beautiful and horrible, but that demanded to be heard again; it turned out to be “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling,” a record that stands just behind “Reach Out I’ll Be There” as means of musical catharsis.

My temperament being what it is, I often enjoyed hating as much as loving. That San Francisco shit corrupted the purity of the rock that I loved and I could have led a crusade against it. The Moby Grape moved me, but those songs about White Rabbits and hippie love made me laugh when they didn’t make me sick. I found more rock’n'roll in the dubbed-in hysteria on the Rolling Stones Got Live if You Want It than on most San Francisco albums combined.

For every moment I remember there are a dozen I’ve forgotten, but I feel like they are with me on a night like this, a permanent part of my consciousness, a feeling lost on my mind but never on my soul. And then there are those individual experiences so transcendent that I can remember them as if they happened yesterday: Sam and Dave at the Soul Together at Madison Square Garden in 1967: every gesture, every movement, the order of the songs. I would give anything to hear them sing “When Something’s Wrong with My Baby” just the way they did it that night.

The obsessions with Otis Redding, Jerry Butler, and B.B. King came a little bit later; each occupied six months of my time, while I digested every nuance of every album. Like the Byrds, I turn to them today and still find, when I least expect it, something new, something deeply felt, something that speaks to me.

As I left college in 1969 and went into record production I started exhausting my seemingly insatiable appetite. I felt no less intensely than before about certain artists; I just felt that way about fewer of them. I not only became more discriminating but more indifferent. I found it especially hard to listen to new faces. I had accumulated enough musical experience to fall back on when I needed its companionship but during this period in my life I found I needed music less and people, whom I spend too much of my life ignoring, much more.

Today I listen to music with a certain measure of detachment. I’m a professional and I make my living commenting on it. There are months when I hate it, going through the routine just as a shoe salesman goes through his. I follow films with the passion that music once held for me. But in my own moments of greatest need, I never give up the search for sounds that can answer every impulse, consume all emotion, cleanse and purify — all things that we have no right to expect from even the greatest works of art but which we can occasionally derive from them.

Still, today, if I hear a record I like it is no longer a signal for me to seek out every other that the artist has made. I take them as they come, love them, and leave them. Some have stuck — a few that come quickly to mind are Neil Young’s After the Goldrush, Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions, Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey, James Taylor’s records, Valerie Simpson’s Exposed, Randy Newman’s Sail Away, Exile on Main Street, Ry Cooder’s records, and, very specially, the last three albums of Joni Mitchell — but many more slip through the mind, making much fainter impressions than their counterparts of a decade ago.

But tonight there is someone I can write of the way I used to write, without reservations of any kind. Last Thursday, at the Harvard Square theatre, I saw my rock’n'roll past flash before my eyes. And I saw something else: I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen. And on a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was hearing music for the very first time.

When his two-hour set ended I could only think, can anyone really be this good; can anyone say this much to me, can rock’n'roll still speak with this kind of power and glory? And then I felt the sores on my thighs where I had been pounding my hands in time for the entire concert and knew that the answer was yes.

Springsteen does it all. He is a rock’n'roll punk, a Latin street poet, a ballet dancer, an actor, a joker, bar band leader, hot-shit rhythm guitar player, extraordinary singer, and a truly great rock’n'roll composer. He leads a band like he has been doing it forever. I racked my brains but simply can’t think of a white artist who does so many things so superbly. There is no one I would rather watch on a stage today. He opened with his fabulous party record “The E Street Shuffle” — but he slowed it down so graphically that it seemed a new song and it worked as well as the old. He took his overpowering story of a suicide, “For You,” and sang it with just piano accompaniment and a voice that rang out to the very last row of the Harvard Square theatre. He did three new songs, all of them street trash rockers, one even with a “Telstar” guitar introduction and an Eddie Cochran rhythm pattern. We missed hearing his “Four Winds Blow,” done to a fare-thee-well at his sensational week-long gig at Charley’s but “Rosalita” never sounded better and “Kitty’s Back,” one of the great contemporary shuffles, rocked me out of my chair, as I personally led the crowd to its feet and kept them there.

Bruce Springsteen is a wonder to look at. Skinny, dressed like a reject from Sha Na Na, he parades in front of his all-star rhythm band like a cross between Chuck Berry, early Bob Dylan, and Marlon Brando. Every gesture, every syllable adds something to his ultimate goal — to liberate our spirit while he liberates his by baring his soul through his music. Many try, few succeed, none more than he today.

It’s five o’clock now — I write columns like this as fast as I can for fear I’ll chicken out — and I’m listening to “Kitty’s Back.” I do feel old but the record and my memory of the concert has made me feel a little younger. I still feel the spirit and it still moves me.

I bought a new home this week and upstairs in the bedroom is a sleeping beauty who understands only too well what I try to do with my records and typewriter. About rock’n'roll, the Lovin’ Spoonful once sang, “I’ll tell you about the magic that will free your soul/But it’s like trying to tell a stranger about rock’n'roll.” Last Thursday, I remembered that the magic still exists and as long as I write about rock, my mission is to tell a stranger about it — just as long as I remember that I’m the stranger I’m writing for.

from The Real Paper, “Loose Ends” column
****************************************

There’s no boot of the actual show that Landau attended, according to some ubergeek Springsteen pals (who I love), but this show from a few months later at The Main Point in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania captures that bright rebel fire of a young and hungry Springsteen in what some have called “one of the most compelling performances of Springsteen’s entire career.”

This show marks the very first known performance of Thunder Road (with in-progress lyrics and a different title) and a whiz-bang version of Chuck Berry’s “Back in the U.S.A.” I’ve been really deeply enjoying this version of Dylan’s “I Want You” for a while now without realizing it was from this show. Everything that is droll and straightforward in Dylan’s delivery on the original is wrenched and wrung of every bit of longing in Springsteen’s rendition, with instrumentation that sounds like a waltz or a carnival. Also, many consider this to be one of the definitive versions of “Incident on 57th Street.” Enjoy. Grow young.

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN
THE MAIN POINT, 2/5/75
Incident on 57th Street
Mountain of Love
Born To Run
Intro to E Street Shuffle
E Street Shuffle
“Wings For Wheels” (Thunder Road, first performance)
I Want You (Dylan cover)
Spirit In The Night
She’s The One
Growin’ Up
Saint In The City
Jungleland
Kitty’s Back
New York City Serenade
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
4th of July Asbury Park (Sandy)
A Love So Fine
For You
Back In The U.S.A. (Chuck Berry cover)

MAIN POINT ZIP
(skipping mp3s fixed throughout)

39 Comments »

  • Holy crow! Awesome post, thanks so much. Love “Incident” – one of my favorite Bruce songs!

    James — July 19, 2007 @ 7:51 am

  • “Hey little heroes, summer’s long but I guess it ain’t very
    sweet around here anymore”

    awesome blog – great post !

    http://www.nosurrender.gr

    Anonymous — July 19, 2007 @ 8:32 am

  • Great post, again, terrific stuff…fyi, FOR YOU also skips

    Anonymous — July 19, 2007 @ 8:34 am

  • Sweet Raisin Muffins!

    I just started up “Incident on 57th Street” and I know EXACTLY what I’m going to be doing for the next 3 hours.

    Many many thanks for this!

    Steve — July 19, 2007 @ 2:12 pm

  • Hi Heather:

    I love your blog and check it fairly regularly.

    I was at the Harvard Square show! What the article doesn’t say is that he opened for Bonnie Raitt–imagine that–a great show from start to finish. I was ready to leave after Bruce–exhausted from witnessing the sheer force that was a hungry Springsteen show in those days–but my girlfriend insisted we stay for Bonnie as well. That was a great show too, she had just released Taking My Time, it was a classic band with Freebo in tow, etc

    Bruce–man, we coldn’t believe what we saw. Saw him again, 6 months later at Dartmouth College, a tinier venue, headlining. Born to Run was due out within the month and everything beginning to change for him. After Landau’s piece the buzz about him became a roar.

    Thanks for bringing back some sweet memories. BTW, also saw Van Morrison at the Harvard Sq Theater, around the same time–will never forget him down on his knees singing “It’s Not The Twilight Zone”, doing those killer versions of Caravan and Cypress Avenue that he used to do, wow!

    Tim K — July 19, 2007 @ 3:55 pm

  • Thank you thank you ………this is the big music.

    russell — July 19, 2007 @ 5:34 pm

  • love your blog, LOVE this entry. all i can say is thank you. i really did NOT need to get distracted for the rest of the night but i thank you from the bottom of my heart for doing exactly that.

    Anonymous — July 19, 2007 @ 8:27 pm

  • This is amazing, thank you! Don’t know if you heard the “Live at the Hammersmith Odeon 1975″ album from last year, but it’s a similar concert from the same era with crystal clear sound quality (sounds like it could have been recorded last week). It has fewer unreleased covers/songs, but the impact of Thunder Road/Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out/Spirit In the Night at the beginning is one of the most powerful things I have ever heard. You can really see why they were the best rock & roll band around at the time.

    petepizza — July 20, 2007 @ 10:36 am

  • Forgot my Bruce story- my parents saw him in Central Park, opening for John Sebastian around the time “Greetings from Asbury Park” came out, when he was unknown. THey were disgusted- they said he looked visibly dirty (not grungy-cool, but like hadn’t bathed or shaved in weeks), appeared drunk, and did this move throughout the show where he would run in circles around the mike stand repeatedly until he literally fell down, then would get up and do it again. I don’t know if this is accurate, if he just didn’t have a solid act together yet, or if he was just drunk, but this description always makes me laugh.

    petepizza — July 20, 2007 @ 10:41 am

  • I watched Taylor Hackford’s Chuck Berry documentary a few weeks ago and Bruce talked about that early time. Landau mentions ‘Rosalita’ so this was after the second album but Bruce was talking about the time right after “Greetings” had been released and they were opening for Chuck Berry and offered to be his backing band, since he has none.

    They asked Chuck what songs they were going to play and Chuck just said, “We’re going to play Chuck Berry songs” and launched into it.

    Bruce had a real reverence for that and the great thing is he could walk up to any band today and say the exact same thing and people would be able to follow along.

    There are great storytellers around today too. Like Landau I may have heard too much to appreciate them now. Or rock is dead. Or Revolver is the best Beatles album. Whatever the latest theory is, I’ll agree to it.

    But any guy who can follow up “Nebraska” with “Born In The USA” deserves all the respect he will some day get. I will brook no argument on that.

    Cash — July 20, 2007 @ 3:13 pm

  • The point closed down, it was a great place and if only i was alive when this happened, i would have loved it

    Anthony — July 24, 2007 @ 10:00 am

  • this is fantastic! Thanks for this.

    nick bahula is dead — July 24, 2007 @ 12:57 pm

  • so i might have told you before, i’ve never had the bruce springsteen epiphany that so many people have had. but… this brought me one step closer. im loving this. thanks so much.

    j

    JETHRO — July 25, 2007 @ 6:59 am

  • Great blog, great post.

    Just fyi, A Love So Fine Still skips.

    Figgsrock2 — July 26, 2007 @ 5:11 pm

  • THANK YOU!!!

    escapista — November 27, 2007 @ 8:21 am

  • Stumbled upon your blog tonight looking for some good old fashioned Rock and Roll.

    I was supposed to be taking my new wife to see her first Springsteen concert tonight in Arnhem, Holland.

    Unfortunately Bruce isn´t well and the concert is cancelled. They´re planning to reschedule for tomorrow but by then we´ll be on the ferry back to Scotland.

    So, thank you so much for sharing your Springsteen MP3s. Between you and YouTube we´ve had quite a night !

    A J Megaughin

    Anonymous — November 30, 2007 @ 1:35 pm

  • nice post cheers,
    for real early springsteen, ‘the castelles’ early, check this dave the spaz show
    http://wfmu.org/playlists/shows/23677

    around 1:51 !

    stinson bolinas — February 1, 2008 @ 3:06 pm

  • THANK YOU!!!!

    svartlarsson — February 10, 2008 @ 7:57 pm

  • “IT’S ALWAYS BEEN ABOUT BEING PHYSICAL.” (THE BOSSteen)

    You can put that in the bank and smoke it,
    - Caveman Jones / They Might be Giant Dwarves

    Pete.Moss — March 15, 2008 @ 12:46 am

  • This is amazing, you just went to +1o on the wow factor. Without a doubt very impressive. Music dominates my life, my time and who I was yesterday, who I am today and who I will be in the future. I’ve had the privilege to see Bruce & The E Street Band three times. For me, Bruce sings to me through my soul. There is something about music in general that literally makes my hair stand up on end. No matter the situation, music will continue to define me and enrich me with all it’s glory. Long after we are gone from this place, music will continue to tell the world it’s stories. I believe that music is God’s words being given to mere mortals to continue to tell their stories for all mankind. It was a pleasure to find this gem written by you. Thank-you for sharing to the rest of us!

    Carlos — April 9, 2008 @ 7:01 pm

  • Rest in peace, Danny Federici….gone too soon…

    Matt Wardlaw — April 18, 2008 @ 10:05 am

  • Thank you for the posting of what I believe may be one of the best descriptions of what it feels like to find “that music thing” that I would try and describe to my Mom when I was very small..

    Darin — June 11, 2008 @ 9:07 pm

  • I WANT YOU is really great, in this version; I notice some influences from Van Morrison, in the way the band plays and Bruce ‘act’; and there’s a voice (is that van Zandt?) singing like Van Morrison now and then; yesterday this song has been inserted in the cd for my 40 days little baby :-)

    nicolap — August 1, 2008 @ 6:57 am

  • Magic! Pure Magic!!

    Anonymous — August 14, 2008 @ 10:11 pm

  • The links aren’t working. Fix them please.

    Anonymous — December 10, 2008 @ 10:32 pm

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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