Thursday, December 22, 2011

Bruce Springsteen "The River" (Live)

Christmas, 1986. My parents had been building up the hype of a holiday surprise. Which was kind of a joke. The opposite of the usual joke.

Usually every year, my folks would spend more money than they meant to, and starting in October, they'd say to us kids, "You know, we had a big Christmas last year, but we're just not going to be able to do that this year."

And we'd all say, "Yeah yeah yeah," because we knew that, despite their effort to downplay things, they'd still probably spend more than they meant to and we'd feel spoiled.

But this year was different, because they weren't underselling it.

Not that they were overselling it, either.

It's just that they kept alluding to the fact that they had come up with some special things for me, my sister Julie (the "forgotten" middle child) and my sister Amy (the precocious pain-in-the ass youngest).

Of course I was curious. But I wasn't the kind of kid who peeked, either.

Or, I hadn't been.

My sister Amy WAS the curious type. Also nosy. Persistent. Impatient. And not easily thwarted.

I knew where my parents hid the presents. And so did Amy.

If you are not a sibling, then I can't adequately explain to you the weird kind of sibling rivalry not-to-be-outdone feeling that came over me, when I found out that, Yes, Amy had climbed into the recesses of my parents' closet, to sneak a look at what "Santa" was bringing.

I didn't want to look. But shit, if my 9 year old sister was looking, well then hell, I wasn't gonna not look!

I got home from school early one day, before my folks were home from work, and I wormed my way through the narrow passage that was the long closet in my folks' bedroom. Under some coats and clothes was a big black trashbag, with unwrapped boxes inside.

It was dark and hard to see inside the closet, and honestly, I don't remember what else was in the bag, but I know that I reasoned out which present was for me:

Bruce Springsteen's "Live 1975-85" Boxed Set.

Was this my "big" present? Nah.

I only owned one Bruce Springsteen album, "Born In The USA." I doubted my parents even knew that. And I had certainly never professed any interest in Bruce, in front of them.

I mean, neat. They got me some Springsteen. But surely there was something else that qualified as my surprise present. Something so big that it couldn't be contained in the closet. So big, they hadn't gotten it yet . . .

Christmas morning.

After cracking open the stockings (which invariably contained the mixed message of lots of chocolate and a new toothbrush), we awaited the big announcements.

It was announced that Julie, who's best friend had just moved to Louisiana, would be going to New Orleans, during Mardi Gras season, for a week's vacation at her friend's house. Plane tickets and everything. And she'd get to miss school.


This was bigger than anything my folks had ever done.

Just, Wow!

Me next!

Hmm. The wrapped box sure looks a lot like that box I saw . . .

It was. Bruce Springsteen's "Live 1975-85" Boxed Set. On cassette.

Thankfully, my folks had really ingrained in us, the importance of being gracious. Because I felt like being a whiny little shit.

Bruce Springsteen? I don't even really like him.

And it sure as hell is not a trip to f-n Mardi Gras!

As I'm writing this, I'm wracking my brain, trying to think of what Amy might have gotten. No idea. I'm sure I was deep in my non-Christmas-spirit fugue and didn't even notice whatever nice and thoughtful thing my folks had done for her.

I understand a few things, now, as an adult.

First, I realize that my folks did something really big for Julie that year, but did big things for me other years, and Amy other years. They couldn't afford to go big for all of us at the same time, so they took turns.

Second, I realize that they realized that, to a kid, this seems like some kind of inequity. So they set about trying to come up with a wowzer of a present. It's hard, here in 2011, to remember a time when Boxed Sets were not a fact of musical life, but a whole blessed event (see the TV commercial below). "Live 1975-85" was the IT gift of 1986. Hard to come by, and considered very hip. I can give my parents credit for trying to be hip and cutting edge (something that, both then and now, they are decidedly not).

I can give them credit for something else too: My lifelong love of Bruce Springsteen.

I brought those cassettes to my room and put them in the little boom box I had, vowing to get some enjoyment out of them, even if I didn't recognize most of the songs.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Bruce won me over.

I was just wowed by those songs, his stories, the energy, the Sound. Discovering the songs that had appeared on albums 10 years previous ("before my time"), was like discovering a secret world. I couldn't believe something so fantastically well done existed, and I didn't even know about it.

Within 2 years, I would go out and buy each past Springsteen record, and get "Tunnel Of Love" on the day it came out. And then go to my first big, Arena rock show---Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band at the Worcester Centrum.

Sometimes I refer to that year as my worst Christmas. Peeking replaced the experience of being excited and surprised, with awkward expectation and anti-climax. I have never, ever again peeked, or tried to guess, at what a present might be.

But really, it was a pretty seminal Christmas gift, one that changed the way I approached artists, listened to bodies of work and integrated discovery into my habits.

So I didn't get to go to Mardi Gras. But I went down to The River.

This is the "Live 1975-1985" version, with the complete intro, where Bruce tells a story about his relationship with his Dad. Unfortunately, that means the end of the song gets cut off.

Hear it on Youtube.

See the commercial on Youtube.

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