Since today’s my birthday, I thought I’d bring y’all a little somethin’-somethin’: an example of how things end up the way they do in novels, along with an absolutely kick-ass song.
It used to be a lot of work being a Bruce Springsteen fan. He notoriously wrote many more songs than he put on his albums, and if you wanted to hear those, you had to track down bootlegs. And that was a total crap shoot; the sound quality of many (most?) were atrocious, and since they were illegal, you couldn’t complain. Occasionally you struck gold, as with Fire on the Fingertips, which was all unreleased songs, all of them completely mis-titled (see above), but containing two of my favorites, “Seaside Bar Song” and “Thundercrack” (on the jacket called “Get Your Wheels and Roll” and “Angel from the Inner Lake/Heart of a Ballerina”).
The greatest version of the hard-rocking “She’s the One,” better than the official one on the Born to Run album, better than any other live version I’ve heard, was one I first found on a bootleg. Recorded in 1976, it starts out as a slow version of Bo Diddley’s “Mona,” and then transitions into a section from Springsteen’s “Preacher’s Daughter,” before becoming the song we all know. And it’s so good, y’all, that I could accept the argument that this might be his greatest live track ever, except that I remember the twenty-minute explosion of “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” on the 1999 reunion tour.
Still, I can’t tell you how many times I listened to a cassette of this version of “She’s the One” during the late 80s, when I worked for Olan Mills Portrait Studios tooling around Alabama, Mississippi and Florida in a Chevy with no air conditioner. Unfortunately, somehow I misplaced the album in those intervening years, and so the song became a vivid memory.
Now, we jump ahead fifteen years or so. While writing the second Tufa novel, Wisp of a Thing, I had my protagonist, Rob Quillen, play one of his own songs at the Tufa barn dance. In my head, and in a perfect world, there was no question what that song would be: that long-lost, blistering version of “She’s the One.” But of course I couldn’t use that song in the book, and even if I could, I’d never convey the sheer excitement of it. But I did structure my scene after that song, most obviously in the way Rob says “Wait a minute!” exactly the way Bruce does.
Like I said, I thought I’d never find that track again. But I reckoned not with the awesome power of the internet, and some idle surfing on YouTube last night actually turned it up. Here’s the Boss, just starting to really show what he, his band, and his songs could really do. And you’ll find, I hope, a tiny little piece of that excitement in chapter 16 of Wisp of a Thing.