Greasy Lake

To listen or not to listen, that is the question

Published 2012-02-19
Karsten S. Andersen
By Karsten S. Andersen

If you’ve already played “We Take Care of Our Own” to death and you’ve had the four song snippets from the Paris press event video on repeat all weekend (unfortunately, that video now seems to be gone from YouTube), and you just can’t wait any longer for new Bruce juice, now there’s hope for more. Absolute Radio has announced that they will be playing a new song from the Wrecking Ball album every day over the next 1½ weeks, starting Monday with “Easy Money”.

The same strategy of gradually unmasking a new album was used for the release of both Magic and Working on a Dream and will probably once again divide fans into two camps: those who can’t get their hands on new stuff fast enough, and those who feel that peeking at their Christmas presents prematurely will spoil the moment of the actual event. Often it’s a question of generations.

Those of us who remember what buying a new Springsteen album was like in the Seventies, Eighties or Nineties tend to belong to the latter camp. We think of way back before the Internet when all we’d heard from the new album was the first single, and possibly only when it was played on the radio, if we happened to be listening. We think of how we’d scramble for the red record-button of the cassette player and try to record as much of it as we could, and then listen to those last two minutes of a song over and over. And then, after weeks and months of waiting, release day itself... How we would go to midnight sales at the local record store, hand over the money like a holy ritual, carry that physical manifestation of Bruce’s state of mind home with us, fix a cup of coffee, arrange the cushions on the couch just right before finally, when the moment was just right, sit down - lyrics and artwork in front of us - for that very first listen of something we knew would be an important part of the rest of our lives. It was grand. It was epic. It was like experiencing babies being born or when our sports team finally wins the cup after 30 years.

Fast forward 20 years. Release day is here. You’ve already heard all or most of the album, because it was leaked online, or they decided to stream all the songs in advance. Owning the CD is merely a matter of form. You sort of owe it to Bruce. Maybe you won’t even listen to the CD because you also already downloaded it from iTunes and put it on your portable player. Or you’re streaming it via Spotify. Of course, not before agreeing to the terms that you don’t really own the music. They’ll just let you listen to it until possibly they’ll change their minds or go out of business. And listen you will, of course, but not on your couch in serene surroundings, wife and kids out of the house. No, since you already heard it, you’ll just give it another listen while you do your workout or drive your kids to soccer practice, and maybe you’ll skip a few songs here and there because you already heard them too many times, and besides, all your online buddies say they suck.

Of course, going back to the way things were is a hopeless task. And it’s not like there aren’t advantages to modern times, or society probably wouldn’t have gone that way. But think about it in the next couple of weeks as more of the new songs are revealed. What does it mean to your overall enjoyment of music and Bruce? Is instant gratification always the best gratification?

Hearing Bruce at that press conference in Paris, you realize he’s still putting as much thought and effort into tiny details as he always has. You may not always like his choices, but there’s nothing sloppy about them. So why should our listening experience be sloppy? Just because music has turned into zeroes and ones, and just because you can delete it or skip it with a slight movement of your index finger, doesn’t mean it can’t change your life and set your soul free. If you let it.

See also this week's poll.

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Derek Flynn writes: I agree with every word of this post! Times change, yada, yada, but the fact is I will sadly never listen to a new Springsteen album in quite the same way as I did listening to the actual LP (Vinyl) all those years ago.
BernieMSY writes: Actually, that's not the way I remember it. If you were lucky enough to grow up in the New York metropotan area during the heyday of WNEW-FM, you will recall that they would often play all the songs from new releases before they went on sale. I can recall listening to cuts from "The River" and excitedly calling friends (land line, of course) to share our reaction. Each DJ would note what their colleagues had played earlier that day or evening, and together they would make an effort to play all the cuts from the album. A day or two later the album went on sale and we would rush out to buy it. Anyone else have a similar experience!
Colby writes: I have the single and I also have Wrecking Ball from the 2009 release of when it was first performed live at Giants Stadium but like any other ritual music lover I am waiting till release date. It's tempting to stream online now but the whole glory of listening to a new album is to wait all those weeks and months, to bus to and from the mall, spend that 20 bucks and then put the CD in your surround sound stereo or DVD player and listen to the whole thing from start to finish as in my opinion, was designed for.
Bill Lane writes: I have not gone out of my way trying to hear any new songs from Wrecking Ball. There are probably websites where you can hear the whole thing by now. I can wait for my CD to arrive. Tom Cunningham played a few of them on the Bruce Brunch this past Sunday morning. I really liked "Jack Of All Trades" which has become a rarity for me to like new Bruce on 1 listen.

But I absolutely do MISS going to my Indie record store that is closed for 5+ years now and buying the lastest Bruce release. It was a sense of anticipation and excitement that is gone too. You might catch another customer there buying the new Bruce. They might be playing it as well. It was a vibe thing that added to the new release.

The whole music industry is just so screwed up now it has greatly affected my enthusiasm for music. I used to be rabid but I am by far **not** now. I don't even have tickets for the new tour & for the first time since 1978 might not go if Bruce does not come back to Phila in the fall.
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