“I Don’t Know What You Did, But We Got Real Weird”

(Slightly edited.)

I don’t have very much on my Bucket List. I’d like to see the hill where Wordsworth wrote about the daffodils, but if I never get there, I don’t expect to lie on my deathbed lamenting it. Most of what’s on these lists, mine and yours, is unattainable anyhow.

On the rock ‘n’ roll segment of the list, there’s not much left. I’ve seen Steely Dan (twice), Paul McCartney, Steve Winwood, Ray Charles, Merle Haggard (yup), the Temptations (latter-day edition), and Boz Scaggs (with the Dukes of September—a full Boz concert remains on the list). We’re seeing Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers this summer. About all that’s left is Fleetwood Mac (but only if Christine McVie comes out of retirement) and Bruce Springsteen.  But even if I manage to see Springsteen do more than two songs at a political rally on some future day, it won’t be quite what I want, because it won’t be 1975, with Born to Run just coming out and the Time and Newsweek hype just beginning.

In my library, I have a Springsteen bootleg from September 26th of that year, recorded in my much-missed former home of Iowa City. It’s easy to hear why and how the young Boss blew peoples’ minds back then. Jon Landau’s famous quote about “I have seen rock’s future and its name is Bruce Springsteen” could have been an albatross around the man’s neck, but it’s more accurate than anyone could have known: rock as spectacle, rock show as religious experience—Springsteen may not have invented either one, but he might as well have. By the evidence of those 1975 recordings (from Iowa City and elsewhere, bootlegs and official releases), nobody has ever sounded more glad to be alive than he did then, and his enthusiasm for being in that moment is irresistible. You find yourself damn glad to be there too, even vicariously, even at 40 years’ distance.

One week after the Iowa City show, Springsteen played the Uptown Theater in Milwaukee. It would become one of those shows that couldn’t possibly have been attended by everyone who claims they were there. About 45 minutes in, somebody phoned in a bomb threat, reportedly an anti-Semite irked at Springsteen’s “Jewish-sounding” surname. Local DJ Bob Reitman went onstage and asked fans to clear the theater. Springsteen and his bandmates repaired to the nearby bar of the Pfister Hotel, returning to the stage three hours later, at midnight.

People who were there contrast the relatively restrained pre-threat portion of the show with the balls-out blast that followed (although Springsteen had crawled up and down the aisles during the pre-threat “Spirit in the Night”). Springsteen was, and is, a noted non-user of drugs, but the Milwaukee show was one of the only times he is known to have gone onstage under the influence—he and the band didn’t go to the Pfister Hotel bar to watch TV. The set opener, “Little Queenie,” features Springsteen telling the story of the band’s trip to the bar (“someone tried to blow us up tonight!”), and throughout the second set he repeatedly asks the crowd, “Are you loose?” To this day, when he plays Milwaukee, he asks the audience the same question.

The “bomb scare” show has been widely bootlegged. The pre-scare portion of the show is an audience recording, and the quality of the existing copies is terrible. You can’t really understand Springsteen’s stage banter or Bob Reitman’s announcement of the bomb threat, and it’s the melodies alone that tell you what you’re hearing. The post-scare portion has been available as a soundboard recording for a long time, but what’s reputed to be the best-quality version yet surfaced recently at the fabulous ROIO. Even if you’re not interested in the show itself, click the link for the story of how the bootleg survived from then to now.

3 responses

  1. I agree that ’75 Springsteen is a wonder, even on so-so audience tapes.

    My favorite part of the post-bomb-threat tape: Hearing somebody just off-mic (I’m guessing Little Steven) cackling maniacally after the third or fourth “Are you LOOSE?”

  2. […] show that was full of superstars-to-be, although no one could have known it then. A decade later, Bruce Springsteen played the famous “bomb scare” show in Milwaukee. And in the middle, Cream toured America  and we went […]

  3. My husband, his brother and sister, and my brother (though we didn’t know each other then) were all there.

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