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Version 1.1, 15 November
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Is Bruce Cracking Down on Tapers?
As the 1999 tour draws to a close, the buzz among die-hard fans is not just about how extraordinary the performances have been. It's about the remarkable and unprecedented crackdown by the Springsteen Organization during the last leg of the tour on tapers and photographers.
From the Asbury Park warmups through Europe and the Meadowlands, security from a taping perspective seemed perfunctory at best. All signs pointed toward a Zen-like attitude toward taping. The message seemed to be, "we're not going to let you do it, and if we catch you we'll take your tape, but we're not going to worry a whole lot about it either." In fact, this seemed characteristic of the Organization's attitude in recent years toward taping - not permissive, but nowhere near as severe as many contend.
Yet by all accounts, things changed radically when the tour left New Jersey in August. There have been several stories of arena staff catching tapers, taking their gear, and allowing them to return to the show, only to have Bruce's personal staff come back and eject them for the duration. The same thing has happened with photographers, even those without flashbulbs. The unavoidable conclusion is that the Organization -- and maybe Bruce himself -- have taken a new interest in tapers and photographers.
At least one taper has been hauled into an arena office for a menacing lecture by one of Bruce's closest aides. There have been rumors of efforts by Bruce's staff to take away the receipts that arena security give tapers after confiscating their gear, which they need in order to get it back after the show. There have been other reports that the Organization has tried to make tapers surrender their driver's licenses for photocopying and is now keeping a "facebook" of known tapers to give to arena security before the shows.
All of these events are said to have occurred after the end of the Meadowlands stand. By all accounts, they are the brainchild of Bruce's closest personal staff - not arena security, who worry chiefly about the physical safety of Bruce and the audience.
So what the heck is going on? There have been a number of theories floated within the fan community.
1. There's a live album coming out, and the Organization wants to protect sales. Shows following the Meadowlands stand are said to have been professionally recorded, and Jonathan Demme reportedly has filmed a video for "If I Should Fall Behind." But given all the excellent tapes of this tour that circulated long before Bruce ever hit stateside, you gotta think that this horse has long left the barn door. Besides, Crystal Cat on their best day cannot hope to compete with Toby Scott. If there are fifteen people in the whole wide world who would pass up an official live release because they own Arnhem Night, we'd be stunned.
2. The Organization saw the extraordinary flood of bootlegs from the European tour and decided that something must be done. How is this argument flawed? Let us count the ways. For one thing, it requires one to impute an extraordinary degree of naivete to Jon Landau and his able associates, who must have known that tapers would be out in force for the first E Street Band tour in a decade. (In fairness, perhaps Landau's view was skewed by the fact that no rational person would ever want to tape Shania Twain.) Moreover, this tour does not yet seem to have yielded the glut of bootlegs that followed the Joad tour.
3. Bruce is personally mad about this subject, for reasons all his own. This argument makes some sense because of the crackdown on photographers. Nobody seeing this tour has missed the concentration Bruce puts into the show, and flashbulbs are known to distract and irritate him.
Bruce is also well known for his concern for quality. He might fear that an audience tape will starkly reveal all of a show's flaws. But each of these shows has been seen by 20,000 people. If Bruce is afraid that they aren't up to his standards, then he shouldn't charge $75 a ticket.
4. The Organization is alarmed by the easy availability of CD-Rs and MP3s. There used to be huge barriers to entry in the bootleg business. You had to generate tapes, and you had to have access to one of the world's relatively few pressing plants. Now all you need is a DAT deck, some mikes, and a home computer.
Moreover, the increased use of the computer as a home stereo makes useless all of the taxes and technological fixes that the record industry has extracted from governments to put the brakes on digital recording. Copycode protection is meaningless when digital media is copied with computer hard drives and CD writers.
This leaves the record industry with only one remaining tool to stop the unauthorized distribution of music - cracking down on the demand side. In other words, by making high-profile examples of individual tapers and traders, the industry can scare others who would dare follow their lead.
But this approach overlooks the promise of the consumer CD burner, which is to take music from the hands of the bootleggers. It also threatens to strain the ties between artists and fans who genuinely love the music and have no interest in making money. These points have been made by none other than Dave Marsh, who flamed the RIAA after a college student was prosecuted for allegedly running an illegal MP3 server in the Pacific Northwest.
We understand why Bruce would have a problem with the sale of bootlegs or flash photography. A bad bootleg can indeed be a ripoff for the fans. And a flash camera in the front row can detract from a good performance.
But we think the Organization has gone too far. We cannot help but think that Bruce fundamentally misunderstands why some people tape shows and others collect them. Generally, they do so because they love the music and want others to hear it.
We can think of dozens of moments in Springsteen concerts over the years that our grandchildren deserve to experience, and yet which would be lost to the ages had it not been for a taper. Maybe it's that extraordinary version of "Spanish Harlem" on All Those Years. Maybe it's the crescendo of applause when Bruce finally remembers the words to "Thunder Road" at the first Christic Institute benefit. Maybe it's that moment during "For You" at the second Convention Hall rehearsal this year, when two thousand people are singing the bridge along with Bruce.
Moments like these help people understand why Bruce Springsteen is the greatest live performer of our generation. They show the remarkable connection with an audience that only Bruce can create.
As a fan himself, Bruce must understand this. He must have seen the color footage of Elvis Presley in June 1955 that was shot by somebody attending the show with another fan named Buddy Holly. (Rumor has it that the Organization has been ejecting not only tapers, but also those who attend the show with them. One shudders at the thought of how different the world might have been if Buddy Holly had been kicked out of that Elvis show in 1955.)
Bruce must have heard the remarkable four bootleg CDs of Holly outtakes that Vigotone released in 1995, rescuing the tapes from the absurd legal wrangles that to this day keep an official CD boxed set out of fans' hands. (If he hasn't, his staff can e-mail us here, and we'll send him some DATs.) He must have heard the Hank Williams Grand Ole Opry performances that Polygram just released.
Bruce should be pleased -- not dismayed -- that people
want to tape his shows and give them to their friends. He should try to
understand what motivates these fans, and he should treat them with the
respect they deserve. Dragging them out of the hall and copying their driver's
licenses ain't it.