Sunday, 10 February 2013

An unashamed rock snob goes to Jungleland

With music retailers dying off like brothers in the US army called Ryan of late it may sound the death knell for physical music formats. Many of the big labels will see cutting back on CD production except for super deluxe releases and multimedia box sets as a sensible move. The age of music collections on hard drives, probably with little of it paid for, may soon be upon us.

Maybe its the reaction of a pure nostalgic old sod to concentrate more money and time on the music formats of the previous century as the world turns its back on them. Maybe its about holding on to your youth when there bits of plastic were all you spent your cash on and went hungry at lunchtime in school for. Maybe its the classic "rock snob" default position that this stuff sounds better on vinyl AND CD. CDs sound better than mp3s. Mp3s are the bottom of the food-chain maybe even below wax cylinders, People who say they can't tell the difference between any of these formats has screwed hearing. I can prove this with an Etch A Sketch.
When will we true believers be allowed to stand up and say proudly 'I'm right, you're wrong, its not snobbery, its science'?

Anyhoo, this week I bought my sixth physical copy of Bruce Springsteen's 'Born To Run'

from left to right - 70's UK pressing, slightly later 70's UK pressing, 24k gold plated Mastersound CD, 
Columbia 200g reissue, 1980 Half Speed Mastered edition, 30th Anniversary box set with 2 DVDs

I always used to think that BTR wasn't my favourite Springsteen album as it doesn't have 'Racing In The Street' and 'Badlands' on it like 'Darkness At The Edge Of Town'. However I've come to realize that nothing else he has done has as many moments that take me out of myself  like this album.   

It's a uplifting album of dreams and redemption. It's the Springsteen that people love and deride in equal measure - bombastic, anthemic and blue collar man of the people. Corny, overblown, naff and desperate to be authentic 
  • 'The highways jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive'
  • 'We swore forever friends on the backstreets until the end'
  • 'And tonight you'll try just one more time to leave it all behind and to break on through' 
  • 'And you're just a prisoner of your dreams holding on for your life `cause you work all day to blow `em away in the night' 
  • 'Well the nights busting open these two lanes will take us anywhere'
  • 'And tonight's gonna be everything that I said / And when I walk through that door/ I'm just gonna throw that money on the bed / She'll see this time I wasn't just talking' 
Yet it's the last song that floors me and I'm sure thats exactly the impression Bruce wanted to leave on the listener. Its epic full of wonderful evocative imagery that is everything we imagine that the real America is. 
Piano begins like a musical box before in anchors and builds the song til it explodes with the worlds best bar band. A tale of "ver kids" struggling to have fun and survive against a backdrop of police harassment and the hopelessness of their situation. Dreams are made, lives lost and friendships fail. Yet in amongst the tragedy is a sense that the human spirit will prevail and those prayers will be answered. The final moans of defiance stay with you.

I was lucky enough to be at the last show in the capital that The E-Street Band played with Clarence 'Big Man' Clemons. This was years before such indignities as turned down the sound and cutting off the power on one of the greatest live performers ever to slide across a stage. Luckily the night (what a night) was captured for DVD release and the performance of 'Jungleland' is pure undiluted Springsteen. If it fails to move and impress then I'm afraid I can't help you. The Big Man's solo is so achingly full of sadness and hope which is the key to the song and so much of The Boss's work. We discovered later how much physical pain and so uncomfortable he found this final tour yet his playing remained as heartfelt and majestic as ever  (amazingly early takes of the song reveal that a guitar solo was the initial choice and Clarence only showed up in an ill advised jazz interlude)

Jungleland - Live in Hyde Park, London 28th June 2009

I realize that there are some that just won't get why this music is so cathartic and engaging but for me its the aural equivalent of a widescreen movie - rich Technicolor tones, perfectly lit with that elusive something hidden in the shadows. Its a ready made film treatment dropped from the heavens wrapped in the very spirit of rock n roll. One man's cheese is another man's juicy fillet steak. 

And listening to my 6th copy of the album - a half speed mastered vinyl release from 1980 - it all sounded fresher and with more atmosphere than before. I was noticing new things which may well have been there before but to me it was like seeing an old friend. And as the final moments of Jungleland melted away I wiped away a tear. There was a life in that slab of shellac that digital downloads just can't recreate. Other opinions are available but you'd be wrong. 

If this masterpiece has evaded you so far I think the 30th anniversary version - which comes with feature length making of documentary and film of their legendary Hammersmith Odeon 1975 show as well as a remastered version of the album - is available for mere pounds in Fopp or online. It's worth a go and will make a nice Xmas pressie if you hate it if nothing else.

The Rangers had a homecoming in Harlem late last night
             And the magic rat drove his sleek machine over the Jersey state line
Barefoot girl sitting on the hood of a dodge
Drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain
The rat pulls into town rolls up his pants
Together they take a stab at romance and disappear down Flamingo Lane

Well the maximum lawman run down Flamingo chasing the rat and the barefoot girl
And the kids round here look just like shadows 
always quiet, holding hands
From the churches to the jails tonight all is silence in the world
As we take our stand 
down in Jungleland

The midnight gangs assembled and picked a rendezvous for the night
They'll meet `neath that giant Exxon sign that brings this fair city light
Man there's an opera out on the turnpike
There's a ballet being fought out in the alley
Until the local cops, cherry tops, rips this holy night
The streets alive as secret debts are paid
Contacts made, they vanished unseen
Kids flash guitars just like switch-blades hustling for the record machine
The hungry and the hunted explode into rock n roll bands
That face off against each other out in the street down in Jungleland

In the parking lot the visionaries dress in the latest rage
Inside the backstreet girls are dancing to the records that the DJ plays
Lonely-hearted lovers struggle in dark corners
Desperate as the night moves on, just a look and a whisper, and they're gone

Beneath the city two hearts beat
Soul engines running through a night so tender in a bedroom locked
In whispers of soft refusal and then surrender
 in the tunnels uptown
The rats own dream guns him down 
as shots echo down them hallways in the night
No one watches when the ambulance pulls away
Or as the girl shuts out the bedroom light

Outside the streets on fire in a real death waltz
Between flesh and what's fantasy 
And the poets down here
Don't write nothing at all, they just stand back and let it all be
And in the quick of the night they reach for their moment
And try to make an honest stand 
but they wind up wounded, not even dead
Tonight in Jungleland

1 comment:

  1. Nice. My first ever Springsteen show was that Hyde Park performance and it grieves me that I'll never get to see The Boss for the first time ever again.