I went to a church rummage sale at just the right time last weekend. To clear everything out, they offered a shopping bag for three dollars, which could then be filled up with whatever you could fit in it.
When I went to the books section, I found a boxed set of Bruce Springsteen Live 1975-1985 on three cassettes. I didn’t have any cassette player to play them on, but I liked the booklet that came with it, and so I put in into my shopping bag and kept looking for other things.
I’ve been on something of a Springsteen bender lately, and I wrote a post about what might happen to the E Street Band after Clarence Clemons passed away last summer. I have great respect for his music, and I was happy to discover that several songs from his Hyde Park concert in 2009 are available on YouTube.
As I was putting some things away in the attic yesterday, I came across an old stero system that had apparently been put away for some reason. And I was quite happy to see that it contained a cassette player, so I immediately dug it out of the spot it had been occupying, and set it up in my bedroom. It still worked fine (I’m not really sure how it wound up in the attic to begin with), so I went to get my new Springsteen tapes (a quarter of a century after somebody else had bought them) and put one in.
One of my favorite songs, “Badlands” was the first song that came on, and I listened to the rest of the tape, flipped it over and played the other side (for everyone who doesn’t know, you had to play the songs in order, and could only listen to the 4 or 5 songs that were on the side that you were listening to. That explains why CDs became so popular instead).
At the end of the second side of the first tape, there were still two more tapes to be listened to. But they were each still wrapped in the plastic they came in. So these tapes, which were made 25 years ago, had never even been listened to once. At least there would be no issues with tape wear and tear. Whether they would still work as they were supposed to was another question, though. It turned out that they were fine.
I immediately understood what had happened. This boxed set, which was a rarity in the 1980s (although now everyone seems to have put one out), spanned the length of Springsteen’s career, and so people (like me, back in the day) who got into his music with Born in the USA didn’t know songs like “Badlands” or “Independence Day.” There’s a lot of great music there, but unless you knew the songs already, you weren’t really going to give these a fair listen. At least, an 18 year old like me (or whoever bought these and only listened to one tape) wouldn’t do that.
And the fact that these were recorded live didn’t help much, either. Springsteen is at his best in concert, and if you haven’t been to one of his shows you might not know that. I’ve only been to one, but it opened up my eyes to how unique his music is. It really is life-affirming, in a way that I don’t know if any other performer can match. And the bootlegs of his shows, which inevitably make their way around the internet and in the “real world” don’t always capture the music as well as they could. But these are are top quality recordings, so the music really does come shining through.
When I was 18, I loved hearing a good guitar lick. I suppose I still do. But when I heard the extended jam that Bruce played at the end of the live version of “Born in the USA”–a song I wouldn’t have associated with guitar playing, at least from the studio version–I said to myself, “I would have loved that when I was 18.” But truth be told, I love it today just as much.
So the next time I find a rummage sale, I think I’ll wait until the end to go. Hopefully the next three dollar bagful will yield as much good stuff as the last one did.