The pending release of Bruce Springsteen’s seven-disc “The Ties That Bind: ‘The River’ Collection,” stirred up memories of a close encounter — of sorts — with the album’s unveiling 35 years ago.
|Photo by Richard McCaffrey-Getty Images|
One of my favorite studio recordings, “The River,” is a double album with a diverse 20-song set. I purchased it days after its debut on October 10, 1980, and it ranks as the third favorite in my Springsteen collection. It is preceded by “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” in 1978, and, at the top of that list is 1975’s “Born to Run,” which thrust him into the national spotlight. Incidentally, within a month of its release, “The River,” became Springsteen’s first recording to chart Number One.
Before the long-delayed album was unveiled, Springsteen performed the title track at one of the No Nukes shows, The MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy) concerts for a Non-Nuclear Future, at Madison Square Garden in September 1979, shortly after recording it in the studio with the E Street Band. The track was excluded from the event’s subsequent two-record soundtrack — the highest-charting benefit album ever — on which Springsteen only performs two cover songs. However, “The River” was featured in the 1980 documentary film version, which features songs from other rock icons of the day, including Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Carly Simon, Crosby, Stills and Nash and Bonnie Raitt. To date, it is only available in the hard-to-find, nearly extinct, VHS format.
My “close encounter” with Steve Van Zandt occurred when I worked in the music department of the entertainment publicity firm, Solters & Roskin (later to become Solters/Roskin/Friedman, but my connection to the new partner was in name only).
Five months before “The River” debuted, I stopped by Disc-O-Rama, a popular Broadway record store, after work, to socialize with the store’s manager with whom I had recently become acquainted.
While hanging out, a young black man on crutches came in and told my friend he worked at the Power Station, where Springsteen and the band were laying down tracks, and handed him an audio cassette. I thought nothing of it, at the time, though my ears perked up when I heard the music and Springsteen’s voice, singing songs I’d never heard, emanating over the sound system.
After we listened to the tracks, we asked him how he got the tape and he said he found it in the trash. Springsteen was, by then, legendary for habitually recording more tracks than possible for a finished product. Nonetheless, tossing them in the trash sounded highly unlikely.
At work, the next morning, I related the episode to a co-worker, who knew Steve Van Zandt. I was unaware she called him and repeated my account to him. While he was on hold, she approached me and said Steve wanted to talk to me.
After picking up the phone and pressing her extension, I said “Hi,” then, acting like a fawning, naïve adolescent, I asked, “Is this really Miami Steve (the nickname he sometimes used)?”
He acknowledged and asked me to tell him about the previous evening. I repeated the story, he expressed his gratitude and hung up.
I later learned the young man had stolen the cassette from the studio, was confronted and subsequently fired. The episode is briefly described — with no reference to my involvement — in Dave Marsh’s first Springsteen biography, Born to Run. He wrote, “within a few days the situation was corrected – dramatically” and security tightened with more precautions taken to avoid any future troubles.
A few weeks later, a grateful Van Zandt called and said that Bruce was appreciative, then offered me complimentary tickets to two upcoming scheduled New York City “River” tour performances, which I gladly accepted.
I saw Springsteen and The E Street Band three times on the first leg of the “The River” tour in 1980 — Thanksgiving night, November 27, again on November 28 and the last MSG show on December 19. When they played a six-night homecoming stand at the Meadowlands Arena the following summer, I went to the July 8 show. By the way, the tickets for that concert were not gratis.
|Cover of 1979's 2-record set|
Though I subsequently met Van Zandt at a New School seminar, I didn’t meet Springsteen until nine years later when I was working on the Rolling Stones’ “Steel Wheels” tour. On opening night, in Philadelphia, the Jersey native stopped backstage and as he was speaking with tour personnel, I waited for a pause and instantly introduced myself, telling him I enjoyed his music and extended my right hand. He shook it and thanked me.
I never had an opening to tell him I was the one who reported the stolen cassette incident, though meeting the man whose music I’d come to value and appreciate was sufficient.
Despite that fleeting encounter, it remains a unique moment and, along with my modest collection of Bruce Springsteen music, reinforces the ties that bind me to him.