Saturday, April 05, 2008

There Is No Darkness In This Town......

...The Night Before All The Fools Of April Rush Down!



Part one of the first part.......
(please forgive the indulgence and/or skip this one if you don't want an opus)

The whole thing started on a dreary Saturday morning last November.

I was up early, as is my want, noodling around down in the Subterranean Blues Room (ie. the basement office where I thumb through old newsprint, scour books with yellowing pages, and throw stuff up on the Internets) when I was suddenly overcome by the urge.

So I went online, paid all the ridiculous add-ons on top of the already steep base price, and bought four tickets to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band four months hence on the last day of March.


I first discovered Bruce at the time of the turning.

My turning, not his.

I was 18 years old and, if truth be told, I think it was the cover of that bloody 'Darkness' album above that got me.

After all, this was 1978, and we were neck deep in the Disco Age, which was a time when just about everything, but especially music, was glitter-domed, gilt-edged, and all-smoothed-over in the extreme.

And here, suddenly, was this guy who was willing to show his dishevelment and the ravages of what was clearly no smoothed-over teenagerhood right up front, on his face, on the album cover.

Of course, in reality, by that time Springsteen had already reinvented himself a whole bunch of times.

But when I actually listened to the thing, none of that mattered.

And neither did the musicality, the talk of the legendary 'showmanship' amongst my friends, or even the high-falutin' critic-talk about rock-and-roll's 'future'.

Instead, what got me was the imagery.

And as I went backwards, rapidfire, right through 'Run' and the 'Shuffle', all the way back to 'Asbury Park', it was the plethora of images driven by the rush of the words that came in ever more grandiose whooshes that generated mind-movies in my head that shimmered and shone and just would not stop.

And as for those young man dreams that backstopped all the images? Well, to my mind's eye at least, they were nothing short of exhilarating in their completely unjaded and wanton openness.

It was, to put it mildly awe-inspiring.

Which I've since come to learn, is the only thing that real art, regardless its form and/or its supposed function, can give you.

The inspiration, I mean.


Now, despite all I've said above, for some completely unexplicable reason , I never went to see him play.

Maybe it had something to do with the fact that soon after this time all the Westcoast DIY stuff hit, hard.

As a result, my friends and I started a garage band of our own that led us to spend a whole lot of our money, and even more our time, chasing around after local heroes like DOA and the Pointed Sticks such that, for me at least, bigtime acts like Springsteen quickly became kind of passe.

Then came 'Nebraska'.

That album was a shot to both the head and the gut that plunged everything it touched into a real darkness before it pulled just a touch of it all back out into a guarded light that might, or might not, have been a false dawn.

I mean, listening to 'Open All Night' back then could keep me up all night - literally - as my other (ie. non-garage band) friends at summer camp (which is where I also met my wife C., by the way) played and played and played the thing over and over and over again in wrist-breaking excruciation trying to get it just right.

Now, it's 'Reason to Believe' that does the trick - especially the wail of the harmonica.

I heard an interview with Springsteen much later in which he explained that the entire thing was the work of a guy on the downside of twenty-five who is suddenly struck by the realization that maybe all those wild and innocent dreams of his youth just might not come true.

And that struck me as more real, and more inspiring, than ever.


So, why go see him now, all these years later?

Well, I guess I could explain it all away as some sort of nostalgia trip for a middle-aged, now-comfortable guy who just wants to conjure up a time when all the dreams of all the tramps like all of us really could come true - even if only for a couple of hours.

And then there's the fact that Springsteen is now 58 years old, and the rest of the E Street Band is just as old, if not older.

So, in the back of my head there was a tiny nagging thought that this might be the last chance to see the really big travelling show.

But mostly, I think, it was the chance to give my kids, kids who themselves are starting to get caught up in all that glitters and glistens in today's smoothed-over musical world of pop-music, a chance to see what I had been telling them was the real thing.

So I shelled out the 350 bucks for C., me, and the two E's - our two daughters littler e., age 9, and Bigger E., age 15.

And then the preparations began.


Now there's one other thing I have to tell you before we get to the heart of the matter.

Which is that, even before I bought the tickets, I already had the 'Tabs' to a big basket filled to busting with Bruceian stuff.

And I've been playing all sorts of tunes from Nebraska at bedtime for as long as either of the two E's can remember.

In fact, I have long found that the title tune, if changed into pure travelogue from the original killer's rampage/Charles Starkweather version can put any kid to sleep by, say, the 37th verse no matter their state of excitement, anxiety, or even sadness.

But, after the tickt buy, building through the Christmas season and into the New Year, a whole new onslaught began.

Throughout this period I followed the East Coast and European legs of The Tour's ever-changing set lists, which resulted in my transposing 'Badlands' into the key of 'C' so that I could play harmonica and littler e. could follow along on the keyboard while Bigger E. did most of the singing.

Best of all, after watching the YouTube of a Yuletide show from Armen in the Netherlands about a million times, we did our best to mimick the whole troupe while playing their version of 'Santa Claus is Coming To Town' endlessly for my students, office mates, and family members.

Needless to say, by the time the calendar flipped to 2008 I had become just a little, how shall I say it?.........


All of which ebbed and flowed a little through February and March until finally last week, I made a playlist of what I thought would be on tap at the Vancouver show and insisted that it be played everywhere - in the kitchen, in the living room, in the subturranean blues room, in the car, and, most importantly and most often, in the VW (notso)Microbus.


These days the E Street Band only plays weekends.

Three or four night stands in a region running from Friday to Monday and then out - ostensibly so that the band members can keep up with their day jobs, most notably Little Stephen's radio show and Mighty Max Weinberg's 4 minute bursts of skin bashing on late night TV.

So each of these stands tends to stand alone as a bit of a mini-tour, each with its own quirks in the set list.

I had staked everything on the previous weekend's run in Indiana/Ohio.

And then when they hit the left coast, everything changed.

But in a good way.

I mean who could have ever predicted that Jimmy Cliff's 'Trapped', which I have hidden away somewhere on an old 99 cent Concert-Tone cassette that was played over and over and over again, circa 1982, in the KennyVan, would hit the set-list suddenly, out of nowhere.

In the end, though, I took L-Girl's advice and tried to let it all pass, so that the last minute surprises could wash over me and mine.


Vancouver was the third of a three night trip to the Pacific Northwest/Cascadia on the Monday before 'April's Fools All Rushed In' that began with a Portland show the previous Friday (good, but not sold-out) and Seattle on Saturday (a 24 tune extravaganza egged on by a Key Arena Crowd that went berserk everywhere from pit to rafter).

So, unlike tha fateful evening in Jan 1993 when Bigger E was born down the coast in Oakland California, I actually got home from the lab early on Mar 31st 2008 so that we could be sure to beat the traffic on our way to the cheap parking which was pretty much a straight shot down Kingsway to Main and Science World.

As we hustled across the last remaining Concord Pacific wasteland on the Northeast side of False Creek we could see all the tour trucks lined-up all along Pacific directly under the SkyTrain tracks.

"Are those all for The Show?" C. asked?

"Yup." I answered, scanning the shadows around the SkyTrain's gunmetal grey stanchions searching for a furtive looking Crazy Davy and/or Killer Joe doing a last minute deal, wine in hand.

"Oh!" exclaimed a suddenly skipping littler e., "It's just like the circus."

"Sonny wanna try the big top?" I mumbled, grinning in spite of myself.

Only Bigger E. got the 'Wild Billy's Circus Story' reference, I think, as we got closer to the hockey arena that Little Arthur's family's credit built.

Suddenly, there were decisions to be made, the most pressing of which was - should we find a corner store to stock up on the required junkfood - or should we just get in there and get ready?

We hummed.....

We hawed......

And then, aided and abetted by my extreme ancieness, we rushed into the cavern as fast as we could.

It was 6:45pm - only 45 minutes before the showtime announced on the tickets - and the place was almost empty.

In fact, the only sign of a crowd were the folks huddled six deep around the tour souvenir table down on the one-hundred level.

It was all was very strange indeed.

Even stranger was the make-up of the crowd that was there.

Well-heeled in the extreme.

In fact, at the door, we were just about the only group that had a backpack that had to be checked and tagged with a red ribbon which signaled that we were kind of troublesome, but, apparently, OK (ie. it was filled with kids sweaters and small blanket for littler e. on the way home).


Our seats were on the upper level, which was not so good, but the saving grace was that they were directly off stage right (Section 326, Row 10, Seats 1-4).

While C. and bigger E. went off to buy stuff, littler e. and I got down to the business at hand - cataloguing everything on the stage.

Me, I was impressed by the huge stand-up bass stage-right behind where Garry W. Tallent would be standing for the duration and began to wonder if that smell in the air was maybe, just maybe, 'Jungleland'.

Littler e, of course, waxed ecstatic about the huge, ornate golden throne directly below us that, I informed her, was likely reserved for The Big Man, Clarence Clemons, when he needed a break from the festivities.

Littler e., like just everybody else I know who knows him, loves the Big Man.

At this point a bit of a furrow came to her brow for the first time that evening she also clued in to the fact that we wouldn't be down with the Lottery winners in 'The Pit' directly in front of the stage.

'Does this mean that we won't be going up on stage like the little girl in Indianapolis?' she asked.

'Afraid so, ' I answered, suddenly wishing that I had shelled out the extra $50 bucks a pop for floor tickets.

'That's OK,' she answered. 'I like Badlands better anyway.'

'Me too', I thought, but didn't say anything as I remembered how much I had hated that bloody 'Dancin' In The Dark' video with the young Courtney Cox when it first came out.

I'd always thought that that thing was the coming of the 'Anti-Bruce', not to mention an omen that brought on the debacle that was 'Julianne Phillips'.

Or some such thing.


By 7:15pm 'The Pit' was cheek-by-jowl and the rest of the floor was filling, but still the seats were only 10% occupied at best.

The time had come to start to canvassing the other early arrivers around us about what they wanted to hear.

The young kids behind us in their twenties wanted that bloody 'Dancin' In the Dark'.

I forced a smile.

The South Asian guy in the sports coat and loafers surprised me with a boisterous, two-thumbs-up-assisted, 'Forty-One Shots!'

Then there was the grey-haired and slightly grizzled looking middle-aged guy below us who had also brought a couple of 'Born after Tom Joad' kids of his own to the show. He just looked up non-plussed and mumbled 'Thunder Road', softly, almost under his breath. This was downright unnerving. Was it possible that I was looking at my own long-lost brother from 'Highway Patrolman' that I'd never known? Maybe? Just in case, I resisted the urge to ask him what he thought of that 'Wings For Wheels' documentary.

The weirdest response though came from the Wayne Newton look-a-like who slid in directly beside us while answering, "I dunno; I haven't had a chance to listen to the album yet!" as he flashed a copy of 'Magic' that his well-coiffed wife had just bought him at the souvy-table downstairs.


At 7:30pm Bigger E told me to calm down, because I was getting just a little 'too excited.'

She had a point.

Luckily, at that very moment her friend J. arrived with her own Dad and younger brother in tow.

And here's something you may not know.....

Back when they were in fifth grade, Bigger E., J., and their other friend C. were crazy about Springsteen in general and 'The River's' double-shot, specifically.

Their favorite track was 'Cadillac Ranch' which they used to run around the schoolyard at lunch screaming at the top of their lungs.

So, there was only one thing to do, of course......

We made a huge cardboard Black Caddy, talked to their teacher, had an audition, and then they ended up singing the thing, cardboard Caddy in hand (with their heads in the windows like they were riding in it, while I accompanied them on C's childhood guitar, the 'El Degas' at an assembly for the entire school.

I'm not sure if I won any cool-Dad points for that one or not but, regardless, at 7:52pm on concert night Bigger E. suddenly exclaimed that she wished we had brought the sign with us,
'because Cadillac Ranch is what I really want to hear!'

Unfortunately, the sign had gone down with our old house when the Greedhead Developer's wrecking ball killed our entire neighbourhood for condos in the spring of 2005.

There's a Crazy Janey-type tune in there somewhere, me thinks.

And I'm pretty sure Bigger E. will write it someday.

After all, it's not like she hasn't had the inspiration or anything.


At 7:55pm the Techs were done fiddling with the guitars and the Roadies had taped the setlists down.

Now, I've heard all kinds of stories about how Bruce sometimes needs help with the lyrics these days but there was absolutely no evidence of any of that here whatsoever.

And through it all the big stand-up bass just stood there as a ripple of anticipation suddenly went through crowd.

Could Anne Murray of Green Gables be in the house?

Or, even better, maybe Rosalita?

Because if I can't have 'Growin' Up', well, 'Rosie' will just have to do.

At 8:02pm the light-show guys head up into the rigging - 'It really is just like the Circus!' I shout, but nobody is listening to me anymore.


By 8:10 pm the suddenly late-arriving crowd is really weirding me out.

I mean, Holy Criminy, why are all these people that normally spend all their time and money at the Orpheum watching the Symphony interpret Nat King Cole tunes here anyway?

Luckily, there are two young women down the row that can't hold their liquor, otherwise I would be seriously worried that we are not actually at a Rock Concert.

And suddenly, nothing else matters because the show has begun.

After all the anticipation and all the build-up I am completely and totally surprised by the opening chords.

So much so, that for at least 20 seconds I can't tell what the opener actually is.

And then it hits me.

'Atlantic City'!

Is Bruce forewarning us Lotuslanders of the Boomtimes, the Easy Money, and all that brings?

I dunno.

But I do know this - it's time to hold on to my hat and get to my feet.

Because it's going to be a wild ride...........

(show blow-by-blow to come)


1 comment:

RossK said...

Thanks to everybody that commented, and apologies for the disappearance.

I just refused to pay the ransom to Haloscraeam.....