December 15th always makes me think of Winterland.
Back in 92/93, after I saw Bruce Springsteen live at Market Square in Indy, I became obsessed with not just owning all of his albums, but also collecting the hard-to-find bootleg recordings of his live shows. My favorite album was Darkness on the Edge of Town, and my favorite shows to collect were from that album’s 1978 tour. Sure, these days even a light scouring of the web will reveal all kinds of ways to download all this stuff (for “free”), but back then, you had to get access to the back room of the local record shop (in this case, Roscoe’s on Kirkwood Avenue in Bloomington). You had to hunt and hunt and hunt. You had to ask someone if they knew somebody who had heard something. And somewhere, you then found yourself immersed in a world you never knew existed. A secret society that loved music—live music—on a whole other level. And you’d finally feel comfortable in your own skin, maybe for the first time ever. Arguing about the best ever performance of “Thunder Road”? I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend a weekend. (It’s clearly The Main Point from February ’75, precisely three weeks before my first birthday, back when the song was still called “Wings for Wheels”—what, are you thinking the September ’78 Passaic versions were better, or are you one of those effusive ’75 solo-piano Hammersmith Odeon folks?)
Bootleg CDs ran about $30 a disc, and it didn’t help that Bruce’s ’78 shows were so epic that it took three discs to contain all the music. These things would go for $80, $90, for what was oftentimes a sketchy audience recording. I socked away food from the dorm cafeteria so I had something to eat on the weekend (literally carrying limp dorm food into Taco Bell while my roommates were in double-decker taco heaven) and cut out every extraneous expense in an effort to save every nickel, dime and dollar for the sole use of buying Bruce Springsteen bootleg recordings.
Fortunately, a few times on that ’78 tour, Bruce’s shows were broadcast on FM radio, and those shows became legendary in collector circles. It was hard to argue with the incredible power of 09/19/78—the undeniable fidelity of the recording, the transcendent performance and storytelling. But I was always more of a 12/15/78 Winterland (San Francisco) guy. There was just a touch more anger, a bit more passion and joy. To my ears, to this day, it’s probably the finest rock show I’ve ever heard. And it sounds like everything I like about life, love and living.
My life before I heard Bruce’s music is a foggy memory, like it belonged to another person and I can only partly remember the stories they told me about it. I was going to be someone other than who I was, doing something other than what I do.
This whole 1978 era was perfectly captured on last year’s The Promise box set, an absolutely incredible collection (which is deservedly up for a Grammy for packaging design, by the way). On the documentary in that set, Bruce said, “More than famous, more than rich, more than happy—I wanted to be GREAT.” Amen.
That’s quite the intro when all I really want to do is get you to watch the video below. While there doesn’t appear to be any footage from Winterland out there, here’s a version of “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” from a couple months earlier that perfectly captures the magic, the mystery and the majesty of rock & roll. Enjoy.
Finally, here’s an audio-only version of the Winterland performance, 33 years ago today: http://bit.ly/tndmGp
I can’t think of anything I’d rather know about you than what music changed your life. Feel encouraged to share in the comments section below. And have fun reflecting on it in the meantime.