I came to rock music later than many of my peers. My parents listened to country music and "oldies" in the 70s and early 80s and I was perfectly happy to listen to it. I even disdained "rock" as being something not worth my time. I happily bought albums and singles (.33s and .45s) of country music - Kenny Rogers and The Oak Ridge Boys were early favorites; my younger brother's collection of Alabama albums was also of great interest. In fact, it wasn't until 7th grade when I really started listening to the music on The Loop (out of Chicago) that was played on the bus on the way to and from school. I began to like "rock" songs...and eventually branched out with my album purchasing. I'm pretty sure it was early 1984 when I finally succumbed and picked up Michael Jackson's Thriller, finally joining millions of other people. I switched over to buying rock albums and singles until Christmas that year further changed my musical life - I got a Sony Walkman and a number of tapes, including The Pointer Sisters, The Cars, ZZ Top (which my mom asked for as "22 Top" due to my sloppy handwriting and a general ignorance of the genre), and Van Halen (might as well jump!). My conservative nature was still intact, though, as I somehow overlooked asking for Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A.
Now maybe only a couple songs from that album had been on the radio at that point. I do remember that the album had a long shelf life and over half the songs were releases as singles. But I'm sure I was aware of the stuff and I know I liked it. I just wasn't sure about it yet. In those days I used to keep track of the songs I heard on the radio (Z95 by that point, I think) and made a running tally - my own Top 40 to match against Kasey Casem every week. And eventually, I realized that I needed Born in the U.S.A. and I got it in the late spring or early summer of 1985 (maybe as early as my birthday in March?). It was in my Walkman many, many, many times. I loved it and I loved Bruce (and maybe at some point I'll talk more directly about the album). By the time I started high school in the fall of 1985, he was my favorite musician. I even used that fact to bond with a senior girl in the swing choir who was beautiful and ended up being my dance partner on a few songs (including, "Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey?," which we performed many times during the year). She had even been to Soldier Field to see him in concert.
Christmas 1986 added a new chapter to my love of Bruce - the release of the boxed set, Live/1975-1985. Not only were the songs from Born in the U.S.A. including but also a bunch of older songs I'd never heard before. How cool was that? What was this "Thunder Road" and "Adam Raised a Cain?" I heard "Hungry Heart" and "Candy's Room" and "Racing in the Street" and "Nebraska." I heard "Born to Run" for the first time. I was in love all over again.
It wasn't until I was in college and buying CDs that I actually picked up the Born to Run album. Of course, I'd read all about it and heard many of the songs from it but it was still a revelation to me. The epic grandeur of "Jungleland." The amazing rocker "She's the One." The noirish cool and melancholy of "Meeting Across the River." The power of the title track, of course. And the song that slowly became my favorite Bruce song and then my favorite song in the world, "Thunder Road." A fantastic album.
Now it's 2005 and this week saw the release of a new Bruce boxed set, the 30th Anniversary Edition of Born to Run. It contains the remastered album, which is just finishing as I'm typing this. It sounds great and the songs are still great. Even better, the set contains 2 DVDs. I watched "Wings for Wheels" first, which is a 90 minute documentary of the making of the album and consists of interviews looking back as well as old footage from that time period as well as some alternate takes with varying instrumentation and lyrics playing along in the background. It's very entertaining. That disc also contains a three song performance from 1973, featuring a smaller E Street Band with Vinnie "Mad Dog" Lopez on drums. It's a lot of fun.
Even cooler is a two hour plus concert from 1975 - Bruce and the boys at the Hammersmith Odeon in London. It's cool not only to see the group when they were younger but the music is amazing. And I was surprised to see some of the current live arrangements intact back then - the organ intro to piano to full band on "Lost in the Flood," for instance. "She's the One" rocks and "For You" is done by Bruce alone on the piano. "Kitty's Back" stretches out to include long solos by Danny Federici and Roy Bittan and Clarence Clemons. Max Weinberg thunders on the drums and Garry W. Tallent holds down the bass. The interaction between a young Bruce and a young Stevie Van Zandt is so much fun to see. It's a great historical document and a great concert.
I was 4 years old when the original Born to Run album came out, too young to know anything about him. I found Bruce at 14 and now I'm 34. He's been my favorite artist for 20 years and this 30th anniversary collection is a great testament to why that's true.
I'm pulling outta here to win...