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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

January 10, 2006

Scooter and the Big Man

Music subscription services, so we're told, are popular with the 18-24 year old market.

For some reason, this makes all the analysts say that Apple have got it wrong with their downloads-only model, even though the evidence to the contrary (iTunes outselling all the subscriptions services put together) is staring them in the face.

This is a case of so-called experts and pundits justifying their existence by basically making stuff up, creating a crisis out of thin air.

Marketeers think that this 18-24 year old market is the one to chase, don't they? They launch whole television channels and magazines aimed at it. This is because marketeers are mostly 18-24 years old, and they think they are important. The biggest market, with the biggest growth and the most disposable income, is the over-50s.

This is the age when you are finally free of your parasitic 18-24 year old children, and you can stop being an unpaid hotel and taxi service for them and start to dedicate time and money to yourself.

Downloads and subscriptions don't interest me terribly much, mainly due to the lack of quality, and also because I damaged my ears a lot when I was 14-21 with headphones. So I don't enjoy listening to music with 'phones or earbuds, and don't have a 'Pod. I play music mostly in my car, so I experience it through the filter of road noise (except on the bits they have that low-noise surface). As I've said before, I don't even have a hi fi anymore, and I can't imagine a time when I might buy one. If I had that amount of disposable, there are too many other things ahead of "hi fi" in the list.

The reason I've been thinking about this, I finally got around to playing the 30th anniversary edition of Born to Run. I watched the Hammersmith Odeon concert as soon as I got the box set, but it was only at the weekend that I put on the documentary Wings for Wheels on the making of BTR, and then thought to play the CD itself.

Which is black. A neat touch, they've made the remastered CD look like a miniature vinyl record. Black both sides, with grooves on the non-playing side. So black, in fact, that it wouldn't play on my old Sony DVD player (yes, TV speakers was what I planned to listen on), so I resorted to my wife's iBook and her little JBL speakers to play a couple of the tracks, and then I listened to it in the car this morning.

He divides people, Springsteen does, and I can understand that. To a certain British sensibility, Springsteen just sounds silly and overwrought. He's uncool, and he had a beard, in the early 70s. Crucially, his breakthrough came just on the cusp of the whole Punk Rock phenomenon, and the fashion in these islands was to for totally shit musicians playing one-chord-shape and giving it some attitude. Springsteen's background, as can be seen in the 1973 footage on the DVD, was as a road-hardened musician who played a kind of funky (if shambolic) fusion of rock and jazz, with extended instrumentals including volume swells and the like. The contrast between the British sensibility and that you need to have to enjoy Bruce can be exemplified by two songs which have something in common.

"Thunder Road," BTR's opener, seems as extraordinary to me now as it did when I first heard it, and even to someone who'd previously enjoyed Springsteen's records till then, would still have been completely unexpected.

Apart from repeating the title of the song a couple of times in the middle, "Thunder Road" is one of those amazing feats of writing - the song without repetition. It doesn't even tell a story, so it's not right to think of it as being in the ballad tradition. There's a structure that builds in steps, and an impassioned vocal performance, but you couldn't even compare it to, say, the Dylan's style of writing.

The only other song I can think of that doesn't repeat itself is "Up the Junction" by Squeeze, which if you think about it is a bit like the anti-Thunder Road, taking the cinemascope vistas of the Springsteen song and squeezing them down to black and white BBC Play for Today set on a London housing estate.

Anyway, give or take, Born to Run is how I damaged my ears. Because I'd stick on my Sennheisers and whack the volume on the crappy amp or radiogram up to not-quite-maximum, and I'd lose myself for hours in it.

Playing it this morning, every note, every syllable was familiar. I even remembered how, for me, BTR was sometimes a record of 4 tracks, as I'd skip from first and last track on each side, sucking in those "little symphonies for the kids" like a smack addict. The biggest charge for me was "Backstreets," in which Springsteen went from the sublime non-repetition of Thunder Road to the extreme repetition of the words, "Hiding on the back streets" (don't ask me to count, though I'm sure someone has) in the climax to Side One.

It takes a peculiarly focused and intense artist to engage the peculiarly intense teenager I was. It's easy for me to forget just how horrible a time I had back then, but this record serves as a reminder. In fact, it was a moment in the documentary, when Clarence Clemons is talking about his sax solo on the final track, "Jungleland," that brought it all back to me in a Proustian rush(!). He's talking about the painstaking process of recording the album, and in particular that solo. Springsteen was intense and knew what he needed, but didn't have the musical vocabulary to express what he wanted, so the gestation of BTR was painful and long for all involved.

The title track took 6 months on its own. As someone says in the documentary, 3 hours is more like the normal amount of time you'd spend recording a song. Two band members left at the end of it, so a different drummer (and drumming style), and pianist, feature on the rest of the album. Clarence's aforementioned solo ended up as 8 takes on 8 tracks, which were comped together as one by moving the faders on the mixer at the right moments - and that was the only way Springsteen had of demonstrating what Clarence should play.

But, Clemons says, in spite of the pain involved in creating it, he's proud of it now because people walk up to him and say, "That sax solo on Jungleland saved my life." When he said that, my eyes filled with tears, and I remembered just how completely buried I was in that music.

(I've grown to disdain saxophones with the years: like all brass instruments, they're basically the sound of someone blowing a raspberry into a metal tube, but I did love it at the time.)

So, you know, not something I'm going to play a hell of a lot in the car, because I'd end up with blurred vision. But at the same time, a long, long way from the idea of subscribing to a download service, which seems a curiously detached way of getting into music. I'm not prescribing my teenage years to anyone, but still have little respect for anyone who doesn't feel at some point that some record saved them.


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