Thursday, August 16, 2007

Memorable Springsteen

Both of your intrepid reporters here at Teenage Kicks are big fans of The Boss, and if you don’t like him, well, we probably don’t like you (it’s only a guideline, we make exceptions; hi, Hook!). So we’ve decided to list some memorable moments in the man’s career, from both a general and a personal perspective. I’ll post a few now. Trip will add more upon his return from vacation.

Springsteen plays “Mary Queen of Arkansas” for John Hammond, May 3, 1972. Hammond, a famed, almost mythical, producer and record executive, had already been responsible for helping to launch the careers of Benny Goodman, Billie Holliday, Bob Dylan and Aretha Franklin on the day that a young Bruce Springsteen came to audition for Columbia Records, an acoustic guitar in hand. Springsteen proceeded to play four songs that would form the backbone of his debut album. The rest, as they say . . .

“Mary Queen of Arkansas”

I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen,” May 22, 1974. Heather already nailed this one cold.

Thunder Rolls, World Music Theater, Chicago, September 2, 1992. This was during Springsteen’s wilderness period, after he moved to California and shelved the E Street Band in favor of a unit featuring guitarist Shane Fontayne, a man of many mannerisms. Playing a rare show in an outdoor amphitheater, in support of the underrated Lucky Town and the regrettable Human Touch, Springsteen came out and floored me with a blistering set that reached to the very last row. The show’s centerpiece was a pile-driving “Light of Day” that included a classic stagey Springsteen moment, where the band stopped mid-song and the Boss stood motionless for what seemed like an eternity as the crowd whipped itself into a fury of building anticipation, until the man slowly came out of the pose and led the band to a rousing climax. But the real give-you-chills moment came during the encore. As Springsteen played the opening notes to “Thunder Road,” actual thunder rolled in from the western sky to the uproarious delight of the masses. After “Born to Run,” the show came to a close with an elegant reading of “My Beautiful Reward.” Despite the crowd’s pleas for another encore, the house lights came up, and we began to file out, only to be stopped in our tracks as Bruce and the band rushed back out and bashed their way through “Working on the Highway.” The single best arena rock show I’ve seen.

The Reunion, Kemper Arena, Kansas City, April 9, 2000. Believe it or not, this was the first time I saw Bruce with his brothers in arms, and it came just at the right time. After struggling all spring with a mystery illness and a career crisis, I needed someone to take a knife and cut some pain from my heart. And fortunately for me, I scored a pair of floor seats, about a dozen rows back, when the reunited, reinvigorated E Street Band came to my town on my 32nd birthday and led a full-fledged rock and roll revival. It was a show full of joy, friendship and history, and it included some of my more obscure favorites (“Downbound Train,” “Murder, Inc.”), and closed with the sublime “Land of Hope and Dreams.” “Is anyone out there alive tonight?” he asked. For the first time in a while, I could give an enthusiastic “yes.” Three months later, I had a new career, and eight months after that, the missus and I had a child. All because of a rock show. (I kid, I kid; it was only partly because of a rock show).

“My City of Ruins,” America: A Tribute to Heroes, September 21, 2001. I had been shuffling around aimlessly for ten days wondering what to make of the new world when Springsteen opened this television special with a song I had never heard before. Supported by his own acoustic guitar and harmonica, and the voices of Patti Scialfa, Steve Van Zandt, and a choir, Bruce said “this is a prayer for our fallen brothers and sisters” and began to sing a gorgeous song full of striking imagery that seemed like it must have been written for the occasion (later I learned that it had been written before and modified slightly). In the midst of all the confusion and fear, he implored us to “rise up” with a clarity that had been missing in the attack’s aftermath. Rise up, we have work to do. Rise up, there is life to be lived. Rise up and show the world a better way. It was simultaneously chilling and stirring, and to hear it today takes me back to that very moment, while filling with anger toward leaders who have failed to live up to the goodness and decency of the America reflected in the song . A version with the full E Street Band was featured on The Rising, but this simple, elegant take remains definitive.

“My City of Ruins”

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