Sunday, August 13, 2017

And Now for Something Completely Different

That's right. No anti-Trump rants. No dissertations on the evils of business. And not a word about gun control. Just me writing about something I enjoy. Well, mostly.

While it is my belief that the form of communication enabled by the computer will undermine civilization as we know it, the computer-beast does offer one saving grace in exchange for our humanity: the glorious availability of concerts captured illicitly.

Introduced to bootlegs in the mid-seventies, I partook whenever an appealing release intersected with a full wallet. But there was a serious downside—the expense. By the time the vinyl era was drawing to a close, the purchase of bootlegs practically required a bank loan.

And then there was the collateral damage, which consisted mostly of girlfriends and their burgeoning expectations.

Well, yeah, honey. I did drop seventy-five bucks on that four-record Springsteen boot. But um, I thought it'd be a great way for us to spend some time together. You know those nights where there's nothing on TV? We could cuddle up on the couch and...” 

Thud. 

By the time the CD had taken over, discretionary income barely allowed for legal CDs, much less illegal ones. And let's face it, priorities were changing. The beautiful soul who swallowed her frustrations because she just wanted me to be happy deserved a commitment to financial austerity.

So if I didn't capture it on the radio via the BBC's In Concert series, the King Biscuit Flour Hour, the odd simulcast or WXRT's UnConcert, I did without.

But then the Internet happened. And not far behind, the ability to digitize music and share it.

To my delight, there were more hard-core musiholics out there than I ever imagined. Music blogs were everywhere. And more often than not, so was someone's covert recording.
Thanks to the computer, I had been reunited with an old flame. I was able to re-visit the shows of my youth, and attend ones I had missed.

You'd have to go to Wall Street to find a bigger glutton than I.

How to explain the sublime torture of hearing a luminous April, 1987 performance by U2 I had come thisclose to scoring tickets for, or the joy of having my all-time favorite KBFH show (Rockpile New York City 1979) re-enter my life long after the cassette had paid a visit to Jack Kervorkain?

But neither could compare to the once-unimaginable act of going back in time and hearing a favorite concert for a second time.

Bob Seger at the Chicago Stadium on the Stranger in Town tour. All four of the Springsteen shows I saw in support of The River (including the one that so excited me I was unable to fall asleep afterwards and instead drove back to the Rosemont Horizon where I was able to meet and chat with Mr. Springsteen as well as have him sign my copy of Born to Run).

Then there's Neil Young & Crazy Horse on their metallic, amp-shredding Chicago stop for Ragged Glory. U2 on their smoldering 1984/85 go-round for The Unforgettable Fire. And again on their epic, multi-media extravaganza for Achtung Baby.

Siouxsie & the Banshees at the Riviera. Pink Floyd at Soldier Field. Aerosmith, the Clash, Keith Richards and REM—all at the venue we affectionately called the Aragon Brawlroom. OMD at Metro. Led Zeppelin the night Jimmy Page fell ill and couldn't continue. The Dave Alvin-era Blasters and John Hiatt, both at Park West. And the Rolling Stones on their 1981 visit for Tattoo You.

Each was either as buoyant or as ethereal or as fiery as I remembered, a fact attributable to my habit of never imbibing or inhaling before a show. My concert-going mates referred to me as Buzz Kill, which I suppose was better than Stinky.

Apologies to Brooke Shields, but nothing was going to come between me and the music I was about to hear.

Yeah, it was that important to me.

Bootlegs took me all over the globe. I went to London for an otherworldly 1971 performance by Pink Floyd. Belgium for a shimmering and ephemeral one by Dire Straits. (A pox on the house of the person who mistook them for Parliament-Funkadelic, and in the course of remastering the thing pushed the bass up absurdly high.)

I went to Zurich to hear Genesis in 1977. New York City for a wonderous 1997 concert by Bob Dylan. Naples to hear the Rolling Stones in 1982. The same year, I heard the unofficial Tom Petty live album, recorded in Utrecht.

And on and on and on it goes: Bruce Springsteen, Buffalo 1984. Neil Young, Frankfurt 1989. The Cure, Leipzig 1990. Mogwai, Reading 2001. Van Morrison, San Francisco 1974. New Order, Barcelona 1984. And the molten fury of PJ Harvey in London on April Fool's Day, 1999.

Ultimately, I think the thing that most appealed to me about bootlegs is that they were genuine. There was no studio sweetening. No overdubs. No glossing over of bum notes or fumbled passages. They were audio verite. Bootlegs laid it all out there as it happened—documentary-style.

And to their eternal credit, my heroes could go out there and do it. A couple of guitars, a bass, a drum kit and a good voice and they could set an audience on fire. And a bootleg didn't require corporate America's approval to hear it all go down.

Inevitably, there is a downside to this cornucopia of joy and time-travel. To date, I have downloaded in excess of three-thousand shows, performed by over four-hundred musical aggregations.

It poses a question: when did I become a collector and stop being a listener? Despite prolonged underemployment, I find myself with more music than I could ever listen to. And isn't unheard music a kind of crime?

Despite this, I continue to download. I continue to seek unheard doses of musical ecstasy; new-to-me discoveries that stem the contractions of my shrinking world.

To those of you who continue to share the glories of live, uncensored rock and roll, my heartfelt thanks.

People who listen to Justin Beiber on cell phones will never understand.


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