Rock ‘N’ Roll was in transition in the late 1970s and back in the old days, all the good new music, as usual, was coming from African-American artists and I was totally into ‘black music’ and listening to DJ Ré Antoine and the Quiet Storm at the end of the FM dial on WMBR 88.1, MIT’s awesome college radio station (helping nerds be cool for over fifty years). I remember one of my best friends back then, Mike, who had relatively mediocre taste in music and was kind of dim, had adopted Bruce Springsteen as his very own (as many of our friends have through the years) walling Bruce off and jealousy, weirdly attacking anyone who didn’t like Springsteen as much as he did. Many years later I found out that my stupid friend Michael was actually right about Bruce after all and that I was the dumb one. A note here about my last post (trying to keep these to a minimum) about using mean and pejorative terms on this here blog such as stupid, dumb, moron, imbecilic, Trump Cuck, etc. I’m sorry if they offend anybody and I’m sorry that I use these bad words, but I just can’t help myself, so I sincerely apologize to Mr. Broidy that I called him ‘fat’ in (every) reference to him, however I’m not sorry that I called him sleazy. Watching Aidy Bryant on Saturday Night Live recently, I thought to myself that this funny and delightful (pleasantly plump?) woman probably doesn’t like that word ‘fat’ very much and even when I’m insulting Elliot Broidy, I shouldn’t be calling him that bad word. I should say he’s big-boned. A big-boned, sleazy scumbag. “There I go again” as Ronnie Reagan used to say.
Where was I, oh yes, I’m stupid because I didn’t realize that Bruce Springsteen is the greatest performer alive. I’m only half-stupid, though, because I was walling off anyone from claiming Prince as their own, thinking anyone who didn’t like him was stupid. From the vaults, there’s some incredible stuff on YouTube, available to anyone right now for FREE, that you can listen to from Prince’s first band in Minneapolis, 94 East, that took me years find out even existed. And yes, it turns out to be great music as well. It’s amazing what you’ll find on YouTube lately and I think that they’ve finally figured out how to get all of this content up and available to the people; and it turns out that it’s all because of this little thing called advertising, as well as the best copyright attorneys and lobbyists money can buy. Now you can listen to the song that Springsteen performed for the great talent-scout John Hammond in his ‘off the cuff’ tryout for Capitol Records (at around 10:30 in the morning in Hammond’s office at the A & R Department in New York City), the legend presented to the legend by Springsteen’s manager Mike Appel because, he says, “They tell me you know everything about music.” Springsteen played If I Was the Priest after Hammond challenged him to play something that he wouldn’t ever play live, choosing this sacrilegious (for a Catholic) tune with Jesus portrayed as a gunslinger out in the Wild West and after hearing that, Hammond says “Capitol Records has to have Bruce Springsteen.” Listen to a bootlegged recording of the song from 1973 here.
Springsteen was in Boston earlier this year, making a surprise appearance at a new Irish pub with a growing reputation for good music. A new Irish bar in Boston, you say? The times, they’re a not-changin’ in the Hub, that’s for sure. Now that Prince has left the building in 2016, Springsteen is the greatest living American musician, IMHO and back when I was working at one of my many jobs in Harvard Square through the years, I took a gig as an usher at the Harvard Square Theater in 1985 where late at night, after the midnight shows on the weekends were seated, the theater projectionists would tell me hushed, ‘on the qt’ stories (fueled by rails of blow and beers from the cube fridge next to the Lazy Boy) about Bruce’s legendary appearance at the old theater back in ’74, but isn’t every performance of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band legendary?
Among other rants I heard from the wired and weird projectionists I idolized — me a goofy usher in an oversized red shirt, slinging popcorn at the greatest markup in history — them hidden away in their locked castle keeps (with peepholes) where the films unspooled upstairs, proving to look exactly as I had imagined. Accepted as cool enough to enter the inner sanctum, projectionists ‘Mike’ and ‘Tim’ told me about the time the great John Wayne visited the theater during the height of the Vietnam War. I learned later that this boast was only partly true because Wayne was in Cambridge almost one year prior to the Fall of Saigon, the same time an unknown Bruce Springsteen and his band were playing at Joe’s Place, a gritty blues bar in Inman Square. The reevaluation of John Wayne as an asshole recently has me thinking that I’ve heard all of this before and this is settled business in my house. In fact, this particular issue was settled in my home when my mother, in another tit-for-tat about a ‘woman’s place in the home,’ decided to end the discussion once and for all, after which my dad fled to the local YMCA. Obviously, my father wasn’t prepared for any ‘wife liberation’ in the 70’s and thereafter my mom was playing Helen Reddy on the stereo at full blast for everybody to hear, ‘I am woman, hear me roar.”
All I ever wanted to do back then was watch my favorite TV show, Zoom on PBS, dutifully writing to the show runners with my SASEs (self-addressed, stamped envelopes) and begging to get onto the show while doing Zoomer Bernadette’s ‘arm thing’ far too often, while singing, dancing and talking openly and honestly about my feelings. Koom bah yah. Wayne was in town back in ’74 when the scrawny troubadour was also bouncing around Cambridge and Boston, fresh off the release of his second album with the band, The Wild the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle, signed to his first contract by the legendary Clive Davis and the legendar-ier John Hammond of Columbia Records, who’s first find was a big band virtuoso named Benny Goodman. Bruce Springsteen drew much smaller crowds than the Duke back in those days and he was turned down to play Club Passim — the storied jazz/blues/folk club formerly known as Club 47 (Mt. Auburn Street) in Harvard Square, started by Joyce Kalina and Paula Kelly in 1958 as a jazz coffeehouse, the name change in 1969 signifies when it became pretentious. Famed bookers Rae Anne and Bob Donlin were extremely gun-shy after the club was repeatedly shut down by the Cambridge Police in its first few months in business because of the so-called ‘blue laws’ of the time, which prohibited the sale of food while music was played at the same establishment, believe it or not. The club became a ‘private,’ non profit institution to get around the ridiculous laws, undoubtedly contributing to it’s snooty reputation, but in 1964 Club 47 was the very nexus of folk, jazz and blues — and the mystery train running beneath folk music runs directly beneath the place.
It’s a shame that Bruce wasn’t allowed to play Passim (to be bootlegged) in this little room, where blues and jazz artists were curated for the enjoyment of hip Harvard students with a little ‘walking around money’ the club became an adopted home for blues masters escaping the drudgery of the so-called ‘chitlin’ circuit’ down South and from the over-saturated, talent-heavy Chicago and Detroit scenes who came to Boston and Cambridge in the late 1950’s and early ’60’s, bluesmen such as the great B.B. King; Bo Diddley; Son House; Hound Dog Taylor; Albert King; John Lee Hooker; Muddy Waters; Mississippi John Hurt and many others played the club. Joan Baez’s performances there were the most legendary for the ‘folkies,’ yet Jimmy Buffett; Judy Collins, Pete Seeger, Taj Mahal; Shawn Colvin; Suzanne Vega; Tracy Chapman and many other great folk artists also played this intimate club (30 x 40 / 125-seat capacity) at one time or another. Bob Dylan played for free between Baez sets (they were an item at the time), however Dylan never actually took an official gig at the joint, but blues great Bonnie Raitt played there after 1969, making the decision to ban Bruce even more stupid in retrospect.
Baez’s first album cover of her in Harvard Square, sitting on a bus stop bench with a guitar in her hands, is a piece of history and I came to sit on that very same bench myself, you see it was just outside the old Harvard Square MBTA subway station kiosk, a beloved building for all so-called ‘Cantabridgians.’ Sheldon Cohen started the Out of Town News kiosk in 1955 in the heart of the Square at the underground ‘T’ station where a young Sheldon hawked newspapers for his father back into the 1920’s. Today he’s almost 90 years of age and at his retirement party way back in 2006, he was rightly honored as the one and only “Mayor of Harvard Square.” He gave many kids like me their first jobs and was the definition of the word ‘mensch,’ where my mom made sure that my first boss was a legend in his profession. I later worked in the old kiosk at the newsstand in 1974-ish, yet only the iconic copper roof has remained original. I remember the worn, angled wooden ’stairs’ on the escalators to the subway (the oldest subway line in America) and the entrance beside the bench made famous by Baez was a mysterious portal to the underground, the ancient escalator pulling travelers into the depths with a loud ‘click-click-click’ (the stairs really just wide slats of wood that you would try and balance on) and as a kid, nothing was more fun (and free) than riding the Harvard Square escalators.
On January 15th, 1974, during the impeachment of Richard Nixon and when the Watergate hearings were really heating up in Washington, here in Harvard Square the Duke himself, John Wayne caused a scene that would make for one of the last, splashy war protests before the Native American Indian movements to follow, which would transition into the various protest movements that we see now: far less violent and impulsively radical, thank the Good Lord. The Duke, looking for some cheap publicity for his latest (boring) film McQ, (1974) took up a snotty offer from the comedy stylists at the Harvard Lampoon for their annual, sexist (at the time, but we now have a ‘Woman of the Year’ too!) ‘Man of the Year’ award for 1974 and afterward the ‘Poonsters’ held a mock political debate at the old theater. Wayne, as controversial a figure then as now, filled the villain role magnificently as he arranged to be made an honorary Colonel in the Massachusetts National Guard, befitting him two armored personnel carriers to transport him to the event, commandeered from Fort Devens in Ayer, about fifty miles outside of Boston (causing a few problems of their own during wartime). Cronkite’s nightly report of Wayne on the top of the ‘tank’ (as the projectionists remembered) turned out to be fantastic guerilla marketing for the film, where Pauline Kael dismissed it as ‘prostratingly dull,’ it still managed to pull down $4 million, helped no doubt by the wild stunts performed by the legendary Hal Needham’s exploding and flipping cars and ‘Green Hornet’ Trans Am car chase sequences, one of which nearly killed him. Asked during the ‘debate’ performance about his thoughts about women’s liberation Wayne said, “I think they have a right to work anywhere they want to… As long as they have dinner ready when we want it.” Proving a quick study, when asked if President Nixon had ever given him any suggestions for his movies he answered, “No, they’ve all been successful.”
On a snowy day in December in 1974, Microsoft’s Paul Allen (gone too soon) ambled from his dorm to the Out of Town News kiosk one day. I vaguely remember seeing this geeky Harvard kid nearly dropping his socks after staring at the cover of some magazine on the rack and he (rudely) shoved three quarters into my hand before running away in a huff. Just another Harvard weirdo as far as I was concerned, but little did I know at the time that the issue of Popular Electronics I sold Paul Allen meant that he had Bill Gates dead-to-rights, because Bill had promised Paul that he if he ever saw an 8080 computer on the market, they would both be the ones to design the operating system for it — so basically I started the largest company in the world. I’m pretty sure I sold the mag to him, but those days is pretty foggy, you understand. I lived a charmed childhood, just a #72 bus ride away from anything that I needed that was cool and unique. For the mundane stuff anyone else required then, you went to MIT’s shopping area, Central Square or Kendall Square, to Woolworth’s and Kresge’s in the olden days (you could also get hip, used clothes from Bernie’s Consignment) but if you needed anything newfangled, weird or just plain hard to find, you probably went to the Square to find it. There were more bookstores in Harvard Square (per square mile) than any other place on earth and my favorite bookstore, the beloved Book Case on Church Street, was the best used bookstore that has ever existed. Period. You could also buy used stereo equipment at a funky store on Bow Street and I also remember that there was a store on JFK Street called the Needle Exchange that sold LP needles for that arm thing that used to drop down on the spinning vinyl on all those old stereos. That’s all they sold. Stereo needles.
Buddy’s Pit (also called the Steak Pit) used to be across from Cardell’s, a cafeteria-style place that I absolutely loved going to with my mom back in the day, as well as the Brigham’s ice cream shop you see in the picture on top, the old-timey ice cream parlor that used to be all decked out in red, white and blue, complete with marble floors, steel chairs and real soda jerks slinging my mother’s favorite concoction after a long day of shopping the Square, the famous (to her) Brigham’s Lime Rickey. I would head over to J. August or Brine’s for cool clothes or to the venerable Harvard Coop for music and posters and later, hazy memories of the Square, brought on by alcohol instead of lack of memory, of random nights drinking late at the Boathouse Bar, the Piccadilly Philly, the Hong Kong, the Wursthaus or Club Casablanca (The Casa-B) and then hanging out weekends at The Garage on JFK and Dunster Streets or getting a croissant at Au Bon Pain, or to Cahaly’s, Tommy’s Lunch or to Elsie’s for a proper triple-decker sandwich over on Bow Street (adjacent to 47 Mt. Auburn Street, the original location of Club 47) and we’ve had damn good pizza in Harvard Square for generations, for the thin crust people there was the North End’s own Pizzeria Regina on Holyoke Street (the original since 1926) and for the Sicilian-style, thick crust folks there’s Pinocchio‘s tucked into Winthrop Street over by the corner of JFK Street, still going strong after fifty years in business, the best Sicilian slice in America, IMHO.
It was an amazing time for movies and music back in ’74, with Van Morrison and the New Caledonia Express performing in Cambridge in March (with echoes from the mystical Astral Weeks still in the air from his forgotten (by him) performances at the Catacombs on Boylston Street in Boston (over the Mass Ave bridge, near the Berklee School of Music) in 1968. Roger McGuinn played two sets on March 11, 1974 at the Performance Center in Cambridge, he of the Byrds and the hit So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star. My sister’s LP collection was immense and I especially remember the Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers, with Mick’s metal zipper actually sewn right into the album cover (awesome marketing) was also sticky with stuff that wasn’t part of the merchandising. My house, with my mom working nights and my dad transitioning from the ‘Y,’ was a veritable popup nightclub tucked neatly into one of the quietest little Cambridge neighborhoods where my sister was the ‘hostess with the most-est’ to offer her discerning friends looking for some ‘Keep On Truckin’ fun — complete with a stocked fridge and bar with rock & roll blasting through the living room console speakers under black light hiding a whole lot of heavy petting. This should have been awesome news for me, but it just seemed all so chaotic and random back in those bell-bottomed days, with puking lightweights over here and the cool kids over there passing a ‘joint’ to me, which didn’t have any appeal to her dorky younger brother, nicknamed ‘Poindexter’ for reasons that were obvious to everybody at the party but me. I just wanted to go to bed and think about Barbi Benton, but the thumps in the night that kept me up late on school nights weren’t just humping teenagers, there was also the backbeat of Grand Funk Railroad, Nilsson, Donovan, Bowie, Boston, Frampton and Aerosmith, always Aerosmith — my sister’s favorite band (still is) — and her favorite performer is Steven Tyler, of course.
I never really understood the androgynous/feminine look back then (I was into Prince soon after so, okay I get it now) and I certainly didn’t get her attraction to this guy Steven Tallarico (his real name) and it turns out that he’s actually a regular guy (as much as possible for a rock star) underneath all of that hair and flowing silk and you could call him a regular townie. Here’s a nice YouTube clip of Steven stepping in with local favorites the James Montgomery Blues Band recently. My sister still spreads some mythology about catching Aerosmith at Pugliese’s dive bar on Cambridge Street, way up in deep East Cambridge (past the train tracks, as any Cantab knows where Eastie begins and Inman Square ends.) I’ll remember forever when my sister dragged me to a New Year’s Eve concert at Boston Garden in 1989 that was one of the best rock shows that I’ve ever been to, even though we were in the nosebleed seats, looking down on the Garden banners and the best band to ever come out of Beantown. Iggy Pop and David Bowie would play at the Harvard Square Theater a few years after Bruce, in 1977 during the Idiot Tour, and the Clash also held a raucous show there in 1979, but by the time I worked at the HST, the music had died and the place was reconfigured as a multiplex. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) moved their live review from their long-time home at the Exeter Street Theatre in Boston after it was shuttered, bringing the entire weird performance cast to the HST, some of which even became friends of mine. The drunks and weirdos that lined up outside of the theater every Friday and Saturday night to watch? Not so much. I was actually paid money to use a loudspeaker out on Church Street on weekend nights, sent into the wild when the cars and crowds mingled too closely out on the street and I’d have to use my bullhorn to tell all the freaks where to go: “Those here for the midnight show of Caligula, collect your lotions and line up to the left. Those lost and hungry, Young and Yee is across the street.” I sure miss that bullhorn. Had a sweet, little CB-radio handset attached to it and it went to 11. The best concert movie of all time, next to Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz (1976) played on the weekends back then as well, Jonathan Demme’s perfect film, Stop Making Sense (1984).
Perhaps the greatest concert film of all time wasn’t a movie at all, it was an impromptu live television broadcast from Boston at one of the darkest hours in American history, the awful night that Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968. The powerlessness, sadness, anger and hatred that most people felt when they heard the news was for many a life-changing experience, where the peace-loving Dr. King was murdered by a white supremacist with a long gun in an act of pure, unadulterated evil. Kevin White, the enigmatic Mayor of Boston in 1968, was fearful that his city would burn like the rest in America that night, but with James Brown scheduled to perform at Boston Garden later in the evening, he came upon an idea. He asked the hardest working man in show business to go on with the show despite the bad news and also to allow the live show to be simulcast to a local viewing audience on Channel 2, WGBH-TV Boston, (the best public television station in the country.) James Brown performed one of the most legendary concerts in history that night and if you watch some of the free concert shown to the people of my fair city on the awful night of Dr. King’s murder, (watch on YouTube) you saw greatness. And you danced and sang and celebrated life. In 1968 you also weren’t out on the streets, wilding all around the old town and burning it down like everywhere else in the country. I mean, after all, if James Brown is LIVE on TV, where the hell else ya gonna be? To see the film footage of the legend literally begging the crowd to remain peaceful and loving, (with fights and charged emotions sparking everywhere around him) reaching into the crowd after the emotionally exhausting night, touching all the hands, of all colors and faiths, wading into the front rows that tense night at the Garden, before his handler carefully placed his robe around him and escorted him off the stage until the next electrifying performance.
In one of my other jobs working in the Square, I met the actor William H. Macy (in the news recently) when he was attending a production at the Hasty Pudding Theater on Holyoke Street where I was helping out a baseball fan-turned writer named Steve Kluger stage a play about the Red Sox relief staff called Bullpen. I couldn’t remember Bill Macy’s name back then (ten years before he would star in the great Fargo (1996), yet I knew he was going to be someone to watch in the future and I said “Remind me your name,” to which he said “William H. Macy” and I promised him that I would never forget his name ever again — and I haven’t. He’s a cheater. And a great actor. The reason I wanted the job back then, frankly, was that I was (am) a HUGE Red Sox fan and the closest I could ever get to the real team — short of paying for a ticket at Fenway — was something like this, so I took this part-time job helping Steve (Cubs fan, it turned out) put on this shoestring-budgeted show twice a day, featuring actors Brad Burlingame, Peter Fox, the super nice Bobby DiCicco; Vince Lucchesi, Wesley Thompson and especially the awesome Eddie Frierson (now a voice over artist), yet my fondest memories are of the late, great Jerry Orbach, another mensch that I’ve had the great fortune to meet in my life. Remind me to tell you about meeting John Malkovich sometime, dear readers. It’s surreal, of course.
Anyway, I had also heard a few rumors that Bob Dylan had played the Harvard Square Theater back in the day and I was imagining Dylan (also first signed by the legend John Hammond) all in his black and white glory, playing Blowin’ in the Wind or something such back in the 60’s — but he actually performed at the theater with his colorful Rolling Thunder Revue in October, 1975, when the star-studded tour rolled into Plymouth, Massachusetts, just South of Boston, where Dylan’s film concept for Renaldo and Clara (1978) was born as cinéma vérité director John Cassavetes’ weird and boring film, where Tangled Up in Blue is supposed to have debuted during the second set of the November 21st show in Boston, preserved for history in the pretentious, bloated (like this blog post!) Renaldo and Clara, explaining why Dylan had that weird face paint thing going on in this amazing clip. A straight-ahead, driving version of the great tune, with Cassavetes’ camera keeping a close-up of Dylan’s searing blue eyes through the entire song, only occasionally shadowed by the brim of his big, fabulous 70’s hat, his voice hoarse back then but still clean and it’s the last time Dylan had all of his power in full force.
The creation myth of Bruce Springsteen and the band was written by Bruce in two of his earliest and best songs, the E Street Shuffle and Tenth Avenue Freezout and these tunes have special power for the band and their fans. When a large figure walked in on Bruce and the band for the first time back in Asbury Park in ’71, storming in The Student Prince bar that they had performed in earler that night, at around 4 AM he entered the front door and a howling wind ripped the door from it’s hinges and it blew away down the street: enter The Big Man, Clarence Clemons. After that, the magic started happening. When Bruce performed the second set that famous night at the HST, opening for Bonnie Raitt, a writer for Boston’s Real Paper (as well as a contributor to Rolling Stone) was in the audience that night as promised, catching Bruce’s searching and soulful performances at Joe’s Place and then later at Charlie’s Place in Harvard Square after Joe’s place burned down. Rocker George Thorogood destroyed glasses and barware as a bar back at Joe’s Place at one time (so he could study the blues masters who played the joint) yet had nothing to do the the blaze that gutted the place. Bruce and the band did a charity night for poor ol’ Joe after the club was torched (I mean that the Chinese food restaurant next door, the Golden Horde, flared out of control) and after bar-hopping the scene and discovering that Springsteen and this band put on an unequaled show, night after night at those tender ages, a writer named Jon Landau ran back to his typewriter (!) and quickly tapped out everything that he was thinking after the great show, beginning the start of a beautiful friendship that was started with the opening lines of his review, where Landau famously wrote, “I saw my rock and roll past flash before my eyes. I saw something else: I saw rock and roll’s future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.” The whole review is really worth reading and is a lot better than anything Lester Bangs ever wrote:
I flipped for the Animals’ two-hour show at Rindge Tech; the Rolling Stones, not just at Boston Garden, where they did the best half hour rock’n’roll set I had ever seen, but at Lynn Football Stadium, where they started a riot; Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels overcoming the worst of performing conditions at Walpole Skating Rink; and the Beatles at Suffolk Downs, plainly audible, beautiful to look at, and confirmation that we — and I — existed as a special body of people who understood the power and the glory of rock’n’roll. Springsteen does it all. He is a rock’n’roll punk, a Latin street poet, a ballet dancer, an actor, a joker, bar band leader, hot-shit rhythm guitar player, extraordinary singer, and a truly great rock’n’roll composer.
He leads a band like he has been doing it forever. I racked my brains but simply can’t think of a white artist who does so many things so superbly. There is no one I would rather watch on a stage today. He opened with his fabulous party record “The E Street Shuffle” — but he slowed it down so graphically that it seemed a new song and it worked as well as the old. He took his overpowering story of a suicide, “For You,” and sang it with just piano accompaniment and a voice that rang out to the very last row of the Harvard Square Theatre. He did three new songs, all of them street trash rockers, one even with a “Telstar” guitar introduction and an Eddie Cochran rhythm pattern.
Landau was way ahead of his time with this review and we now know that the ‘Telstar’ guitar riff that he identifies is the very first live performance of Born to Run. Also, Landau took note of Bruce’s slowed-down, jazzy and rythmic reworking of the band’s evolving E Street Shuffle, it’s reason-for-being song and this gig is the first time the band is ever referred to as the ‘E Street Band’ in public. This incredible bootlegged recording is on also on YouTube where you can listen to some real-time musical genius in action, where Bruce and the band are working out the very sound that would become what my buddy Mike and millions of fans like Courtney Cox, going nuts for Bruce so many years later in Dancing in the Dark, loved so much. This bootlegged masterpiece is the very same sound that hit Landau’s ears that night and if you listen to it, you may find it strange to hear Bruce and the band in these earliest (bootlegged) recordings, their fiftieth or fifty-first live performance ever (including radio spots) without all the wild screaming and yelling and clapping that has accompanied almost every Springsteen performance since 1975. What’s lovely about this bootlegged recording (and the reason I’m in so much love with this little piece of sound) is because whoever recorded the bootleg was standing near or next to some chick who is clearly having a good time.
Her voice reminds me of my sister’s voice back then and her gentle laugh to begin the ‘hot’ recording sets the stage for an awakening for many people on that magical night. The slow, melodic notes rise to meet a bass line that Bruce explains, “down on E Street, things slow down sometimes.” This elicits the easy laugh from our 70’s chick, which had been played up-tempo, Motown-style in previous shows. Anyone who has been to a good concert knows what makes a bad one — there’s a vibe in the room (or open-air farm) that the greatest performers show their chops by communicating and then directing the crowd toward something bigger than the whole. Bruce’s phrasing, blues-tinged and playful that night, is an old sound but strangely, new and different from anything else I’ve ever heard before, that’s for sure. Back then, Bruce still couldn’t quite translate the sound he heard in his mind’s ear out into the world and back in early ‘74, before Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg were even in the band, people seemed to be having a damned good time at his show nonetheless, however his first album wasn’t selling all that well, and scrambling across the East Coast through 1973-74, the Midwest and down to Texas, Bruce and the band — then tied to the foundations of their sound by the greatest rock horn player of all time: Clarence Clemons, not just the greatest sax player, mind you, but the greatest horn player in rock history — were searching for more magic.
It’s no wonder that Jon Landau was so awestruck back on May 9th in 1974, yet someone else took notice of Landau’s rave review and that was Springsteen himself. In one of the most fruitful and successful partnerships in American music (and business) history, Jon Landau and Bruce Springsteen (can you guess which one is Jewish?) formed the small, well-oiled team called Landau Management, delivering for the Boss since 1974, musically and otherwise. Such as shuttling him to his various ‘surprise’ appearances (as well as his not-so surprise ones) like the time Bruce visited the Harvard Coop in 2016 to sign copies of his new book Born to Run (2016) and schmooze with fans who lined up for blocks around the very buildings he played back in ’74 — this same complex of buildings fronting Mass Ave and bisected by Palmer Street that today houses Club Passim as well. The Harvard Square Theater drew it’s curtain for the last time in 2012 and the space, amazingly, has yet to be developed since then.
Bruce Springsteen; Stephen Van Vandt; Garry Tennant; Max Weinberg; Roy Bittan and Nils Lofgren make up the current E Street Band. No one could ever replace The Big Man, Clarence Clemons, but his nephew Jake does a damn good job. The greatest rock vibraphonist (he called it a glockenspiel), Danny Federici lives today through the power and love of the band — gone too soon in 2008. The Mighty Max met Bruce way back on April 7, 1974 (just after the HST gig) when Max’s band, The Jim Marino Band performed as Springsteen’s backup at Seton Hall. Max’s first public performance with the band came on September 19, 1974 and he’s been icing his hands and wearing tight gloves every night to prevent swelling since. Lofgren joined the band in 1984 after working with the great Neal Young and Crazy Horse for over a decade and has fit seamlessly into the E Street story as one of the greatest session players in history.
In October of 1974, Springsteen returned to Boston to play the Boston Music Hall and after Landau pitched him in a long discussion about how the Boss could transition into a true rock star and shortly afterward, Landau joined Springsteen’s management team as Co-producer with famed manager Mike Appel, leading to the epic musical landmark Born to Run, the first Bruce record to go platinum, yet strangely the 80’s Dancin’ In The Dark is Bruce’s only song to come close to a #1 hit for Springsteen and the band, winning the silver medal back in 1984. Jon Landau is a Boston native and an honors graduate of Brandeis University (my alma mater) and I have to admit that it’s my respect for Jon as a writer (and finding out later that he was Bruce’s manager) that I grew to understand and appreciate what Bruce Springsteen meant to modern American music. I had always respected Bruce, but Born In The U.S.A. just wasn’t my cup of tea back then and it turned out that it was Clarence Clemons himself who brought me back to Bruce and the band when a flash-in-the-pan VHF-TV channel I tuned in (look up VHF, millenials) V-66, Boston’s cute, little version of MTV in 1985 played a live concert video of Bruce and the band’s great Rosalita — over and over and over again. I guess they had run out of music videos of the Cars or Aerosmith or Aimee Mann to play and they rolled this clip of Rosalita, it seemed once an hour for the entire time they were on the air, which it turned out was only for about a year. This is a great song, of course, and I loved it because Clarence just goes off in this classic number, but in listening to it over and over and over again, I wanted to find out more about Bruce’s other earlier stuff and that’s where I came across Jon Landau’s story and Bruce’s first album, the raw genius of Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.
When John Hammond signed Bruce to Capitol Records, he perhaps sealed the deal as the greatest talent-scout in history and with the guidance of Landau Management, Bruce and the band’s God-given talent and love for the game is as strong as ever, bringing Rock ‘N’ Roll to a whole new generation of fans. Hammond’s bookend talents — Benny Goodman and Bruce Springsteen — helped shape American music more than any other two artists in history, where Goodman’s famous set of performances with Fletcher Henderson back in the 40’s in NYC are credited with ushering in the swing and big band sound to follow, Bruce Springsteen carries the banner of Rock ‘N’ Roll into the future. With Prince’s untimely death back in 2016, the public mourning was palpable and Bruce and the band gave Prince Rogers Nelson (love symbol here) a sendoff that was worthy of the great performer and song writer. The band opened the show that night bathed in purple, covering one of the few songs written by Prince that I actually didn’t like, Purple Rain and here Nils Lofgren steps up to provide a note-for-note performance of this none-too-easy guitar solo (BTW he reunited this year in Winnipeg for a two night gig with Canada’s national hero) paired with Bruce’s slowed-down pace and phrasing this tribute simply rocks and the performance demonstrates that this band is here to stay a little while longer, leading the way for us non-believers to join them, like Clarence running after the band, down E Street, with his horn on his back.
March 15, 2019