Saturday, July 17, 2010

Songs for the Matthew Comp: The Obligatory Bruce Tracks

Back when I haunted the Cedar like an alcoholic poltergeist (which would be a Jägergeist, right?), I’d make up a birthday mix every year and have them throw it on the CD player while I slowly but pleasantly obliterated every single brain cell I had accumulated in the prior twelve months. The past few years I’ve done that without any musical accompaniment to speak of, but this year will be different. Or the same. Depending on how you look at it. (And don’t expect me to look at it and see less than double a week from now, okay?)

But while gathering up a bunch of songs that mean the year to me, I’ve also been digging up songs that mean me, period: songs that my ghost will dance to when I’m gone, if you will. Or if not dance to, then at least whistle along with. That’s going to be a little more of an ongoing project, something I will be working on as I approach the conclusion of my sixth decade and the beginning of my seventh.

Believe it or not, there’s actually an obvious first choice. It’s a piece of Erich Wolfgang Korngold music, no more than two minutes in length, from the score of Captain Blood. What makes it the first choice is that it is the one piece of music I find myself whistling when I’m not thinking. You’ve probably all heard me whistle it at some point and wondered, “What the hell is that he’s trying to whistle? Does it have a tune? Or is he just making it up?” What makes it the second post is that the damn Captain Blood CD is in storage somewhere, along with the damn Captain Blood DVD, so the world is going to have to wait until I get corporate funding for the archaeological expedition that is digging through my stuff in storage before it sees the light of day.

This post is about the second and third songs, the two pieces of music I sing to myself more often than anything else. (Yes, even more than Marshall Crenshaw’s “Cynical Girl.” I know, I know -- hard to believe, huh?) The songs are "Point Blank", which I heard for the first time on September 25, 1978, during the Darkness Tour; and "Racing In The Street." Of the two of them, "Point Blank" is the killer. Hearing it for the first time was like getting, well, shot right through the heart. It still gives me chills. And as for "Racing in the Street?" Here’s how memory plays tricks on you. The River tour show I saw in Boston was on December 16, 1980. I know this because three of the clearest memories I have of this night are (a) seeing the band wearing black armbands because John Lennon had been shot the week before, (b) worrying, really worrying that some nut with a gun -- well, we didn’t want to put it into words, but the worry was there -- and (c) Bruce throwing himself into the crowd during "Spirit In The Night," which literally picked up all those worries and threw them away. And of the two Boston shows he did in December 1980, he only did Spirit in the Night on the 16th, not the 15th, according to this database. But that conflicts with one of my other clear memories of the night: the fact that they did "Racing In The Street" followed by "The River," one right after the other. Which they did on the 15th, but not the 16th. Proving that memory, like so many human activities, always aspires to the condition of art.

(My other big memories of that 1980 show? Hearing "Point Blank" again. And the very end of 'Wreck On The Highway," where Bruce just stands on stage looking at a spotlight as the song plays out, like a bystander staring down at a wrecked car with a hard, unreadable look on his face.)

Luckily, there’s a real world relic of that fake memory of mine, from a show the band did earlier on the same tour in Tempe, Arizona. As well as a great version of "Point Blank," one in which the piano introduction alone breaks your heart. So let these be the first cuts on the Matthew Comp.

Racing to the River

Point Blank

Play them and think of me.

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