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And now for something completely different

The other day, I was talking with some of the Media Cannibals at a bash about song stories for Yuletide, and how I didn't get it. Nobody else did, either, and we were discussing the ins and outs of what you would do for a song to make it into a story. Like, I can get possibly taking an actual song that's a story and doing something with it. But your average pop song, I just don't get it. How do you make a piece of fiction out of it? Sandy mentioned "Jack and Diane" and I was saying that I could potentially see it for something like "Thunder Road," since Bruce Springsteen actually talks about Mary and her past. But is the narrator Bruce himself? Or someone else? And do you make him up, or what?

For some reason lately, "Thunder Road" has been on my mind, anyway. Maybe I should have made it a request for Yuletide. But the version that's been on my mind has been the "acoustic" version that's just him and The Professor, Roy Bittan, the piano player for the E Street Band, performed at the Roxy in 1975. I have never in my life heard such a beautiful slow version of a song before, and have never since. It's probably, I would wager to say, my favorite song in the world. If I had to pick three desert island songs, that would be my first one.

Back in the late '70s and all through the '80s, I was a Springsteen fanatic. I collected all the bootlegs, went to shows all over the Northwest, waited in line for tickets for days, that sort of thing. My friend and I had every book and magazine article ever published about him. This was in the days before personal computers, so you can imagine the letters that had to be written, stores to be combed, and phone calls to be made for that kind of fanatacism. When I first met the Cannibals, a bunch of them were traveling all over the place, following Led Zep on tour, and while I couldn't understand their passion for those guys, I totally understood the passion for a performer(s) that would take you all over the country to hear them play. And the funny thing is, despite the fact that I used to go to just about a concert a week, I've never really liked live music as much as studio discs, for the most part.

And of course, now I look back at that running around and going to clubs and think, wow, the stuff I was able to get away with in high school and early college. Parents today would never let their kids do what we did at that age. I was in high school when I discovered Springsteen, just before Born to Run made him a national figure, and I still vividly remember going to see him at the Paramount, just weeks before he made the cover of Newsweek and Time simultaneously and everyone was talking about him. It was the most amazing show, and I thought, wow, I don't know much about him, but I'm going to find out everything. The tickets were only a dollar-fifty! No one had heard of him yet.

When I first heard the bootleg of the Roxy '75 performance, I wanted to hear everything done that way, but of course, "Thunder Road" was the special song on that bootleg. It's stuck with me for decades -- until recently, I could still pull out my cassette tape and play it, and often I would just ignore the rest of the tape and play only "Thunder Road." Over and over again. The lyrics to that song still amaze me, the storytelling ability Bruce has and the unique way he creates these essential, particular images while embracing all the muscle and power of American rock and roll. It's like the musical equivalent of a performance racing car.

I wanted to see if I could find my tape, but for the hell of it, I Googled Springsteen and Roxy and Thunder Road, and lo and behold, some kind soul has actually put it up on YouTube. Roy Bittan is a piano genius; I took piano most of my life, and I've tried to learn some of his parts, like the gorgeous, haunting piano intro to "Jungleland" and this beautiful backup music, but it is really hard. You have to be a damn good keys master to play his stuff, and I never was.

So, yeah, this one, I could see a story for. I should make myself a Bruce icon.

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(Deleted comment)
Nov. 25th, 2010 06:35 am (UTC)
Thank you so much for letting me know about the stories! This will be great, and I'm anxious to read them. Maybe it will also help me figure out what people actually do for song stories -- sometimes I have to see, like, a lot of different types of things before I can grasp what it's about.
Nov. 24th, 2010 11:08 pm (UTC)
That really is a fantastic version of a tremendous song. And thanks for the story about your days as a Springsteen fan.

(I ripped the audio track, so if you're interested in an mp3 it's here: http://www.box.net/shared/6mz6irsk4m )
Nov. 25th, 2010 05:01 am (UTC)
Thanks for the audio!
Nov. 25th, 2010 05:58 am (UTC)
You're welcome :)
Nov. 25th, 2010 06:37 am (UTC)
Oh man, thank you a thousand million times for this... I have never been able to figure out how to rip the sound from YouTube files, and now I can have it for my very own on my iPod and play it whenever I want, without having to try to hook up the cassette deck. This just makes me... well, thankful. Very very thankful.
Nov. 25th, 2010 08:37 pm (UTC)
Glad to be of service!

This site is usually pretty reliable in getting good sounding audio, I've found.
Nov. 25th, 2010 05:00 am (UTC)
Thanks for this. I love hearing about your Springsteen love. He was one of the patron saints of my high school and college years, coming out of the Rust Belt as I did.

He's one of the most distinctive songwriters I've ever heard. I remember waking up on Orcas Island to Johnny Cash's version of Highway Patrolman on the radio and knowing, without a word from the announcer, that it was a Springsteen cover.
Nov. 25th, 2010 06:41 am (UTC)
You know, we need to get together one of these days... it's been too long since I've seen you. Maybe we can swap Bruce stories. ;-) I love meeting people who have been into him -- when I made my first Firefly vid, My Beautiful Reward, nearly everyone told me the same thing: "I hate Springsteen but I really liked the vid" and it wore me down. Everyone has different tastes, but it was hard to hear because he's so important to me. But I liked that maybe the vid was like a Bruce ambassador and hopefully they looked at his music differently.
Nov. 25th, 2010 04:59 pm (UTC)
I'd love to get together. I suspect we have very similar musically taste — or at least similar experiences (I might have more of a thing for old R&B because of my childhood proximity to Detroit).

Your vid feedback is so odd to me. I think Bruce was pretty much universally revered in the Rust Belt, at least up through Darkness on the Edge of Town. But there was a lot of backlash after </i>Born in the USA</i>, especially after Reagan appropriated the title song (did the man or his handlers ever listen to the lyrics?).
Nov. 27th, 2010 06:35 pm (UTC)
I mostly don't get the songfic thing, either, but there were some really interesting takes on "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" last year for Yuletide.
Nov. 28th, 2010 03:31 pm (UTC)
Stopping by to wish you Happy Birthday!!
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