Rocking forward

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The other day I went to this flea market in my neighborhood, and I logically stopped at the record stall. While I went through my usual wallet carnage, a young kid came over and quite shyly asked if there were Springsteen records, since he had none and was trying to fill this gap in his musical education.

I promptly stepped over the stall owner, and began to illustrate the on hand discography, I’m afraid quite poor. I anyway managed to explain the essential difference and pertaining difference between a bootleg and an official record, and he left with my blessing for future purchases, holding in hand Nebraska and Born in the USA (that was all, as present good stuff).

I looked at him going home, his new two treasures in hand, and I wistfully remembered my own first Bruce’s purchase. And boy, what a road he has in front of him. I almost felt envy thinking about the pleasure of the first discover of such treasures. Plus all the others, the first albums, then Born to run and Darkness, then the live shows…

I almost, not quite but almost wished I could go back in time and undo my fan history to begin again. Then I thought that the odd thing about Bruce and rock’n’roll is that the more you have, the more you want, and you’ll always want more, so I’ll just keep rockin’ forward, not back. The direction is set, and the record player keeps going.

 

Tolling for the aching ones

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It’s July 19th, 1988. Bruce is already a worldwide famous rockstar. He’s been asking for years to play in East Berlin, and finally they give him approval. He’s there with the E Street Band. The unmissable bootleg it’s called Behind the wall, and is not so astounding, as sound. But you don’t listen to this one for the audio; you hear out the emotions of that day. He opens the show with Badlands, not Tunnel of love, discarded even if it’s the tour album title track. He needs something more than a ride on a tunnel to love, to speak to this crowd.

You imagine the smiles of those kids in that evening, their yearning for freedom and desire to express themselves all compressed in one shout to the sky with their fist raised in the air: Born in the USA. Each person lost in the crowd, yet together. 180.000 people, probably more.  With that first shout, Bruce greets them. It’s good to be here, he says, and that he likes to imagine for them a future with no barriers, then starting Chimes of Freedom.

The Wall would fall one year later. I like to think that some of those kids gathered a little courage and strenght to fight for their freedom from this day too.

 

Just get on board

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Three moments of your life, three songs
No surrender.
Mid-Eighties, small town middle class borough, bourgeois living room, on the record player a vinyl of a new american rockstar, boosters cracking, volume at the maximum level.  Three kids dance in the room, jumping and screaming, one is standing on the couch, shoes and all, wielding a tennis racket as a guitar.
We learned more from a three-minute record than we ever learned in school. At the time I actually understood just “no surrender”, but for me even that was more than enough.
The river
Early Nineties, same small town and borough, saturday night. A car parked in the driveway of some friend’s house, a cassette playing in the stereo. There’s this “rock compilation” on, one is a slow song from that american rockstar, who is singing of how sometimes life slaps you in the face and you have to face it for real, not just dreaming it away.
For my nineteen birthday I got a union card and a wedding coat. I’ll have to move shortly in the big city nearby, new work, new house, new life, and all this “new” that’s waiting for me in a way is scaring. But I still believe the future is a big dream and many possibilities.
Land of hope and dreams
Last years of the 2000 decade, a tenement in the City, studio apartment full of Ikea furniture. A hard decision to make, a real important job opportunity, an irrevocable one: if I take it,  I’ll have to turn my back to some people I call friends, and there’s no coming back from that.
It’s been days of thinking and indecisive thoughts. Then from the stereo that american rockstar, the same who made me jump with my shoes on mum’s precious couch, screams that Faith will be rewarded, and suddenly everything is crystal-clear.
The things you believe in always come first, in fact, they are the only thing that matters.

That’s good

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One of my favourite pieces of all Bruce’s discography is the live version of The river, the one recorded at the Los Angeles Coliseum on the final shows of the Born in the USA Tour. The studio version of course is a masterpiece, but I always felt that the live one was an outclass, for intensity and emotions. First there’s the melancholic synth intro tuned with the guitar, and then that wonderful speech of his, starting with How’re you doing out there tonight?

and then he talks, his voice calm but at times moved in the memory, remembering all the fights he had with his father. His guitar, his long hair, the days and nights spent outside just to be far from his house; the winter nights crouched up in a phone boot to keep the cold out, speaking all night long to his girlfriend on the phone, then mustering up the courage to go home, to remain in the driveway knowing that his father was inside, waiting for him in the kitchen. And the “talk” his father always wanted to have, “what do you think you’re doing with your life?”, the “man I can’t wait till when the Army gets you, ’cause when the Army gets you they’ll make a man out of you”.

Then he turns firm, serious, speaking of the Vietnam and of those who went and didn’t come back, and those others who came back and weren’t the same. I had shivers while listening to him remembering the medical examination for the military draft “and I went…and I failed!”, his voice cracking in a half laugh, as if unburdening all the fear of that moment. Then the last words, telling his return home: My parents waiting for me in the kitchen, my father getting up to ask “Where have you been?” and I said “Uh… I went to take my physical”, and he said “What happened?” and I said “They didn’t take me”.

And he said “That’s good”.

I have listened to this intro hundreds, maybe thousands of times, and every single time I hear it, that phrase absolutely breaks my heart, it’s like I’m there in that kitchen, and I’m broken inside. A few moments and the harmonica breaks in, releasing pieces of soul, starting the most powerful, incredible version of The river ever listened on earth. In the Live 75/85 version there’s the end section with a solo piano by Bittan, fantastic. Matchless. Then the amazing harmonica reprise, that brings us peacefully to the end.

For me, this version, these notes and words were, and in a way still are, the quintessence of Bruce’s music, because live he brings out the raw emotions, and he’s the absolute master of doing it.