Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Boss is Back

Bagaduce Bay. Castine, Maine 2007
I'm a suburban girl from New York. I'm of that age when the first rock radio I ever listened to was an AM station, the first record I ever played was an actual record. Sharing my tunes meant spending a little extra on those black and gold Maxell tapes. Dropping the needle on the right track and staying right there, finger poised on the stop button until it finished playing. It was an art stopping the tape right and rewinding it just enough so one song would roll proper into the next. Touch-and-go if the tape wouldn't run out before the last tune was recorded. I know y'all know what I'm talking about.

Some of you anyway.

Yep, there I was on a fall day in 1978 or '79 in Izzy Smith's bedroom drinking soda pop and listening to some tunes. No, it wasn't like that. Izzy was the cool-ass audio geek of our clique of orphans, the kid that had the sweet stereo system who looked down on the hand-me-down RCA shit. Like what I had. The one with the needle that put more grooves in my vinyl than it was supposed to have. Pop, click used to not be sound effects.

Izzy was a real radio snob. This cat listened to FM radio, you dig? And he was a class below me, too. As big a pain in the ass he was, though, I had to give him credit -- he had some serious good musical taste. Most of what he played, I liked. And, I'm pained to say this now, but most of it I'd never even heard before. Look, I knew a little bit. Knew who the Who and the Stones were and stuff and a little bit of Dylan. You know, the Blowin' in the Wind Dylan. Not the Subterranean Homesick Blues electric kick-ass Dylan. I know. For shame on me.

Anyway, back to Izzy's bedroom. He kept his records in ABC order and he kept 'em nice and clean. Not like me. I'd stack up two, three records on my player and let 'em roll and leave 'em that way. Put 'em in the wrong sleeve. Hell, I wrote all over my Michael Jackson records. This was MJ when he was still black, that old Motown stuff. I can't even look at those records anymore, thinking how much they'd be worth if I didn't write "I love you, Michael" on 'em. (Whatever you're thinking right now isn't half as bad as what I'm thinking about myself). I had some Sugar Hill Gang. I had some Stevie Wonder and some Grandmaster Flash, and a couple of Sly and P-funk 45's. And some stuff I don't even dare mention in public. I'd listen to my Dad's dixieland records, his Bessie Smith, Tony Bennett and Sinatra stuff. But the disc that Izzy Smith spun that day. Now that was something new.

I'll never forget it, that feeling listening to the opening bars to the opening song on Born to Run. That kind of shit changes a girl's life. I am telling you. Come on now: The screen door slams/ Mary's dress waves/ Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays/ Roy Orbison singin' for the lonely/ Hey, that's me and I want you only/ Don't turn me home again I just can't face myself alone again ...

You got to be kidding me. It was magic. This hot guy in a floppy haircut and a scraggly beard with a voice that still makes my knees go weak. And underneath those words, this piano line that just cuts straight on through to your heart, a blast of harmonica and fuck me if that's not an electric guitar.

Lying out there like a killer in the sun / I know it's late but we can make it if we run

There are moments in a teenager's life that you do not forget. Ever. I'm not talking about the serious shit, the living and dying and dealing with the real world shit. I'm talking about those metaphysical line-crossing you-ain't-alone-in-this-world kind of shit. I am not ashamed to say that hearing the opening bars to "Thunder Road" was one of those for me.

The crazy part was it was only the beginning. On that album alone, "She's the One," "Backstreets," "Meeting Across the River," the title cut and the ripping and roaring "Jungleland." Just thinking about it now makes the hair on my neck stand up.

You want a perfect rock and roll album, spin yourself Born to Run. I swear it's like a rock opera but without the pretentiousness of rock opera rock. Not that there's anything wrong with Quadrophenia but I prefer the Jersey version. (No disrespect to Pete T and The Who either.)

The Boss gets a bad rap in some parts for the way he supposedly orchestrated his career, one calculating move after another. But the truth is the man can write music and nobody plays a longer and stronger show -- four-plus hours of hard-rocking, paint-peeling, sweat-flying playing makes laying down your 45 bucks seem like a bargain. Oh, sure, he's had his share of clunkers but pound-for-pound, it's hard to argue with his hallowed place in American rock and roll history, a spot he's carved out all for himself, forget the comparisons to Dylan and Woody Guthrie and God knows who else. Nah, Bruce is Bruce and the next generation is gonna be talking about when the next Springsteen will come along. It's gonna be a long wait I bet.

The occasion of my homage to Bruce is the upcoming release of a new album that marks his first complete studio recording with the E-Street Band in more years than I can count. For one week only, iTunes is making the single "Radio Nowhere" available for free.

From your front porch to my front seat/ The door is open but the ride it ain't free

If you want to sample it first, I got it streaming here up on my Vox stash and I must say it definitely rocks. Guess you can go home again.

For you old fogies like me, I'm also streaming Thunder Road from the aforementioned Born to Run disc. And here's a shout out to my old high school pal, Izzy Smith, for turning me onto The Boss.

Thanks, Izzy, wherever you are. You rock.

So Mary climb in / It's a town full of losers and I'm pulling out of here to win

No comments: