January 17th, 2016

I remember having to be at the ready at a tape player to hit record when the song you wanted came on the radio. I honestly don’t remember a lot of what I was trying to record; the earliest memories I have of this are in the 80’s, some with my Aunt Wendy babysitting I think. I do remember Bruce Springsteen being one of the artists I wanted to capture, however.

It was probably something from Born in the USA, given its popularity in the mid-80’s and all. I didn’t really know much about The Boss then, though, and wouldn’t really look into him much at all until high school.

While I’m not certain if it was Grade 11 or 12, I do know it took place during a period of Canadian History, which was a mandatory course back in my day. We had a substitute teacher, Mr. King, and not a lot was getting done. It was probably near the end of the day, or maybe even a Friday, because I remember him jotting down song lyrics and having us try and guess what they were.

One of the songs he chose was My Hometown from Born in the USA and he told us about why he’d picked it. For some reason that stuck with me, and later that day or the next I found myself at a local second-hand store with my father. I saw a copy of Born in the USA on cassette for cheap and picked it up.

That was the start of what’s become a lifelong interest in The Boss and the denizens of E Street. This was shortly before he released Human Touch and Lucky Town at the same time, both of which I think I got through Columbia House on CD, but prior to that I worked my way backwards.

I remember being so excited discovering about and getting my hands on Greetings from Asbury Park and The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle; everyone knew about Born to Run but listening to those first two albums before he “made it” made me feel special for some reason, like I’d discovered him all on my own.

Complete and utter foolishness, I know, but I was just a teenager so sue me.

At any rate, ever since then I’ve picked up everything by him I could get my hands on, including every album up to and including Tunnel of Love on vinyl even though I don’t actually have a record player. This includes every boxed set, save for his most recent one which I will get eventually, and even greatest hits / essential collections when they’ve included material not otherwise available.

I distinctly remember borrowing money off of my buddy Brad to buy the Tracks boxed set when it came out. I was living in Burke House with him at the time and attending MUN, and I just didn’t have the money. He knew how much I wanted it and loaned it to me, which I haven’t forgotten to this day.

That boxed set still blows me away; four discs of previously unreleased material, and we’re not talking about each disc only having a half dozen versions of / variations on previously released music either. While there were some demos on them, the vast majority of it was songs he’d simply just not put out for whatever reason, all polished, produced, and ready to go. It blew my mind back then and it still does now. Especially since he’s still doing it; witness the Darkness on the Edge of Town and The River collections from the last few years and how much original stuff was on both of them.

Entwined with my fascination of Springsteen is my learning to play the guitar, which probably helped with my love of both. I’m listening right now to Wild Billy’s Circus Story and I remember trying to figure that one out back in the day. The internet was still pretty young back then and guitar tabs were not nearly as prevalent or as easy to find, but if I couldn’t find them I’d try to figure them out on my own.

In fact, I remember during the short span of time I was fortunate enough to take guitar lessons from Duane Andrews I brought him a copy of Born to Run to ask for his help in learning how to play Jungleland. He was so fascinated by the saxophone solo in it, which changes key from the main song, and I’ll never forget being able to bring him something he enjoyed hearing, as he was (and still is, see his plethora of ECMA awards) such a phenomenal musician himself.

If I could ever be in a tribute band, it would most definitely be a Springsteen one. If anyone’s looking to start one up, let me know, yeah? I should start working on a pun-ny name right now, hmm.

So yes, discovering Springsteen at that time in my life, when I was transitioning from high school to university, from living at home to being on my own (kinda, as I was in residence after all), it really hit home for me. It’s never left, either, and I highly doubt it ever will.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see him in concert just once so far, though I’d love to see them another one or twenty times. It was on his Wrecking Ball tour of 2012, March 28th, the first of two shows in Philadelphia. I actually bought a pair of tickets for both nights but I don’t think my wife was up for two, so I sold my second set on Craigslist to a man who turned out to be a police officer. Not that selling them was illegal or anything, but when I met him on the parking lot of the Rite Aid next to my wife’s then apartment building I must admit I was a little freaked out. I sold them at cost, which I would’ve done for anyone; I was honestly just so amazingly pumped to be seeing him at all, though I’ll admit I would’ve gladly gone twice. He was grateful too and it was a nice moment for me, I suppose; being a hook up for a blue collar fan of The Boss to one of his shows seems almost poetic and certainly appropriate.

Anyway, the show was amazing. I am not a religious person by any stretch, I’ll be the first to admit, and at the risk of sounding sacrilegious it truly was a religious experience for me. Which is exactly how he presents it and performs it, and he did not fail to deliver. The extra layer of reverence was unfortunately due to the passing of two members of the band, Danny Federici some years prior and Clarence Clemons not too long before, and on this tour during their performance of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out he’d pause to have…

Ok, this bears further explanation. During each show he’d vamp for awhile and would intro each member of the band, saving The Big Man, Clarence Clemons, for last. Each tour he’d mix it up and use a different song for this, and on this tour, the first post-Big Man, that song was Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out. There’s a part in it where the fourth wall is kinda broken with lyrics of “when the changes came up town and the Big Man joined the band *cue sax riffing*”, which has a natural pause before it, so that’s where he’d stop to vamp. And he saved Clarence for last, asking the audience to cheer loud enough for him to hear us wherever he was. And I’m getting a little misty eyed thinking about it now, honestly. I went and got myself a nightcap of Talisker, partly because I want to dammit and partly because, yeah. Rest in Peace, Big Man.

So, yeah. Religious experience. Life… not life changing, that’s the wrong word, but life affirming? Reaffirming? Something along those lines, at least. It was truly the greatest concert of my life and right up there as one of the best moments period. What’s the second best you might ask? Vampire Weekend at The Orpheum in Boston, turning around to see the upper deck literally bouncing as the people in it cheered and sang along, but that’s another story for another time.

There are many other stories I could tell – signing in for my 1st year English class at CONA as Vinny ‘Mad Dog’ Lopez (an old Springsteen drummer) because I knew my prof was a huge fan too, how The Ghost of Tom Joad lead to me reading and loving The Grapes of Wrath, how I included one of his songs in a paper I wrote on law and music for my Law and Popular Culture class in law school – but I’d be here all night. While that sounds like an awesome proposition, as I’m listening to his albums as I write this (The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle is almost over now), I do have to get up early in the morning so this is as good a place to end it as any.

So I’ll leave off with the best (worst?) pun-ny name I could come up with for an NL Springsteen tribute band: Fish ‘n Bruce? Eh? Eh?



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