Album: The Agora, Cleveland 1978.
There was no doubt that Bruce Springsteen understood the power he was unleashing every single night on his 1978 tour. Compared to the relative dourness of Darkness on the Edge of Town, those 1978 shows were a celebration of everything great about rock ‘n’ roll, and maybe only Dylan’s UK ‘66 tour ranks higher in my personal pantheon.
I know that because Bruce was smart enough to allow several radio broadcasts of that tour, knowing that the resulting bootlegs would only increase his fanbase and – subsequently – his future sales. Those radio shows were what you kids today call “viral marketing.”
And I know damn sure it worked on me, via Larry’s tape of the Agora show in Cleveland.
As near was we can piece it together, Larry recorded the Cleveland show from the mighty KMET in Los Angeles while he was at UCLA. What I do remember is that he labeled “Bruce Springsteen Live in CLEVELAND?!?” because it somehow seemed so weird that something so potent came from Cleveland.
(Please note that I fact-checked the circumstances of that recording with Larry, because the 10 or so of you who will actually read this deserve to be told the truth. As does Larry. Though it’s actually a better story if I said he was there and bribed the soundboard guy with a bag of weed or something.)
That cassette was a key text in my burgeoning love of Bruce Springsteen, and we spent quite a lot of time over the next couple of years listening to it while driving around in his Dodge Colt, visiting other people we’d met on my first form of social media – the CB radio. And my favorite part of the whole cassette was the long story Bruce told in the middle of “Growin’ Up.”
On Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., “Growin’ Up” was a nice song, but a bit bloodless. In concert on the 1978 tour, while the details would change from show to show, it was essentially Bruce telling his own mythological origins. It’s keyed around his parents telling them that he need to stop playing music and do something with his life, and when they decide to consult a priest, they warn him:
“You tell him you want to be a lawyer. You tell him you want to be a author. But don’t you tell him nuthin about that god damn guitar!”
But the priest thinks it’s too big of a decision, and sends Bruce to talk to God. At that point, Bruce convinces Clarence to go see God with him. And so they do, after the priest gives him the same advice: “Don’t you tell him nuthin’ about this god damn guitar!”
It probably would have been insufferable had it not been so hilarious. All the way through, Bruce works in jokes, local references, self-mocking asides. So when he finally gets to talk to God, you’re fully invested in the outcome.
SPOILER ALERT For a 38-year-old song
“God, my father wants me to be a lawyer. My mother wants me to be an author. But I got this guitar, you see? And all of a sudden, I hear this thunder … I seen this lightning coming out of the sky.
It was real quiet for awhile. And then I heard just three words:
LET IT ROCK!!!!”
And led by Roy Bittan, the E Street Band comes crashing in and it is truly thrilling. Or at least it was for me.
Oh, and BTW, that bootleg is now – finally – available as an actual legit live album.