Month: May 2015

Whatever Happened To (or How Did We All Turn Out)

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The digital age has enabled us to stay connected with people much easier, or being able to re-connect with someone from your past.  In the dark ages (pre-digital), if you had a friend that moved away (especially as a kid) you probably never saw them again.  You might get a letter or two,  but after a while your life moved on and they began a new one.  In grade school I had a best friend and we swore we would always be friends.  One summer I went away to camp and when I returned found out his family had moved out of town.  That was it.  Friendship over.  The comet has left the solar system.

Today, if someone you know moves away,  or changes jobs, or if you are a kid and make a friend at camp, you can still make instant contact with that person anytime. You can stay in the orbits of each other’s lives, and thanks to social media can passively keep track of each other, wish each other happy birthdays, hook up at a concert, etc.  Basically, still be a part of the other person and their life.

Facebook is the great contributor to this new phenomenon.  Today, you don’t have to wonder about that old high-school friend and how they turned out.  You can check if the girl you had a crush on in 10th grade is still hot, or if the jock who bullied you got fat and now drives a truck.  Thanks to Facebook, you can be “friends” with people that you grew up with that you never thought you would see again.  And the irony of it now is that most of the people who didn’t like you or vice-versa, are actually pretty nice to be friends with.  You share stories online, comment on each other’s family pictures, wish each other happy birthday, etc., something that would have been unheard of when you were growing up.

Some mysteries have been solved, thanks to Facebook and other forms of communication in our digital age.  I may not actually SEE the people I grew up with, but we are now back within each other’s orbits and it has helped complete our lives.  Perhaps we will get together again, and actually witness in person how we all turned out.  Or maybe we will keep our distance, continuing with our current lives, content in the knowledge that not only did we turn out ok, but everyone else did as well.

It’s ok to look back, but don’t stare.  The past is always back there, keeping a step or two behind.

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How We Listen To And Discover Music Has Changed

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Lately I have been reading a bit about the Grateful Dead final Fare Thee Well performances this summer in the Bay area and Chicago’s Soldier Field.  Rather than continue to fade away, they are ending with the remaining four members and help from some great friends.

I remember the first time I truly listened to their music and finally became a fan.  It was the fall of 1977, my freshman year at college, and I was partying with another guy down the hall and he played side four of their Skulls and Roses (informal name) album.  Warf Rat is first, which I thought was pretty cool, but then comes the Not Fade Away/Going Down The Road combo with the jam in the middle.  I was blown away.  I had never before heard such intricate guitar interplay and call and response work between Garcia and Weir,  and this converted me from a casual to a real fan of their music.

Thinking back to my high school and college days, it was easy to find other music geeks like myself just by keeping your ears open.  The size of your record (or tape) collection did matter in those days.  When you went into someone’s dorm room or apartment, you would immediately know if they were like you or not based on the number of albums they had.  You could search through someone’s collection and talk about different groups, liner notes, band evolutions, etc, because it was easy to find a common ground of communication.  And, instead of doing five other things at once, we actually sat down together and LISTENED to music without doing anything else.

Enter the digital age, and now everyone has a better music collection than the one I carefully and painstakingly cultivated and built over 40 years of listening to all kinds of amazing (and sometimes horrible) music.  The playing field is level now.   My music collection is no longer a badge of honor.  The good news is that you can find pretty much any selection of music ever made with a few clicks of a mouse or a few swipes on a phone.  The bad news is that we have lost a way of identifying ourselves by the music we listen to, and separating the music lovers from the casual listeners.  We have no way of recognizing one another because we all share the same generic easy to find music collection.  We cannot flip through a collection and instantly bond with the guy who lives down the hall from us.

The good news is that it is easy to find and discover new music.  The bad news is we have taken people out of the equation.  Sure, we can all write online reviews, and we can click to find “if you liked band x, check out band y” recommendations.  But who doesn’t remember the joy of telling a new friend “hey, check this out” while you put another record on the turntable or a tape in the player, and the two of you immediately bonded over the thrill of a musical introduction.

I am not sure which time of music collection and listening was better.  Sure, it is easy now, and connecting with others is still possible, but I think it is more sterile.  It is online, through screen names and user names, etc, and rarely do we ever meet in real life, and when we do those meetings are awkwardly uncomfortable as some people want to retreat back behind the safety of their keyboards and put their earbuds back on.  Consuming music has always been a central part of my being, and helped shape me to who I am today.   I very much enjoy the ability to quickly find music to listen to, and the portability of it is beyond the wildest dreams of anyone from 20 or 30 years ago, but I miss the old social aspect and personal touch of listening to and finding new music.  It may be easier to find and listen to music today, and easier to socially connect, but are these connections real or are they an illusion.  Time will tell.

In the meantime, love live rock.

Springsteen Nassau 1980 – The Little Brother All Grown Up

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As great at the Nassau show is, I always considered it the little brother to the great 1978 Darkness shows such as Passaic, Winterland, Agora, the Roxy, and  Atlanta (all radio broadcasts, well booted, and known to fans as Winterland Night, Passaic Night, Summertime Bruce, and Roxy Night).  For many of us, we can hear a moment in one of these and know exactly what show is being played. “Bootleggers, roll your tapes” is from Roxy, and “vomiting in your girl’s purse” was from the Agora show.  They are like old friends that never lose our love.

Springsteen Nassau

I never felt the same way about Nassau Night, the great 12/31/1980 show that many consider one of Springsteen’s greatest performances.  It’s an amazing show, 38 songs played in just under 4 hours.  While I always thought the Darkness shows were emotionally focused, intense, and tight, Nassau always seemed bigger and less intimate to me. I didn’t have the same emotional connection as I did the ’78 shows. The band had moved to arenas, the thematic pattern of the show had changed, the crowds were bigger, and the shows were longer and just bigger.  The performances are outstanding, but my connection to it was not the same.  Compared to the concise and focused Darkness shows, the River shows were a marathon collection of highs and lows, emotional mood swings, before finally ending with a frenzied encore set that left the fans and band exhausted.

With the release of 12/31/1980 Nassau show as part of his live concert series, I finally admit that this show is close to being an equal to those great 1978 shows. The band is well seasoned and running on all cylinders from start to finish.  Yes, it is a sprawl compared to the tightness of the Darkness shows.   Running almost 4 hours, Nassau contains most of The River, along with fan favorites from prior tours and a few covers.  The performances are outstanding, and the mix of old and new songs gives the listener time to really listen to what is being performed.  Only Springsteen would have a “mini-set” in the middle of the show that would be considered a “beer-run/bathroom break” today:  playing three slow songs in a row.  But, when Fade Away, The Price You Pay, and Wreck On The Highway are played here, the emotional intensity and intimacy with the audience is second to none at the time.

Compared to today, 1980 is almost the dark ages with the way information flows. Today, you get home from a show and within hours someone has already posted a recording online.  Back then bootlegs were purchased at flea markets and “underground” record stores.  Despite this, the crowd warmly receives Rendezvous (never released) and is already singing the first verse to Hungry Heart (prompted by Bruce).  I know it was his first “hit” single, but the song was only two months old from the time it was released. I remember being at one of the Landover MD shows the month before and people were singing the first verse already.

Bruce himself has said that “the best music is essentially there to provide you something to face the world with”.  His music has always been the soundtrack of my life, and shows like Nassau are moments in time that can never be replaced.  Springsteen and the E Street Band have been captivating me for over 40 years and I have no intention of ending this relationship with them and the music they present to me. This series of live releases give us the chance to go back, and dust off those cobwebs and remember the way our lives used to be, how much we have changed since then, and how much we are still the same.

“At the end of every hard day, people find some reason to believe”.

“Stay hard, stay hungry, stay alive”.

Amen Bruce, Amen.