The Hitter 
An Online Springsteen Commentary - Version 2.06 - 3 August 2000 -
Dave Marsh!  Phone Home!
Bruce Backs a Presidential Candidate... And No One Notices.

A friend of The Hitter e-mailed us the other day and asked if we knew that Bruce Springsteen had given money to Bill Bradley's Presidential campaign.

Can't be, we said.  The Hitter followed Bradley's campaign especially closely (and with enthusiasm); we would have known.  Besides, Bruce doesn't support candidates ... does he?

Apparently he does.  And so does Patti.  The proof can be found on the Federal Election Commission's web site.

Contest Update

Thanks to all who entered our Born In The U.S.A. contest.  We're sitting on the beach, judging the entries over a leisurely Pina Colada!

Read Past Issues

Version 2.05, 12 June 2000
Version 2.04, 22 May 2000
Version 2.03, 9 May 2000
Version 2.02, 12 February 2000
Version 1.3, 19 December 1999
Version 1.2, 24 November 1999
Version 1.1, 15 November 1999

You may e-mail us at


Boot Camp
The Boots
Erik Knevelbaard's Links Page
Greasy Lake
Point Blank 
Where the Rivers Meet


Four "Truths" About Bootlegs That Just Aren't True.

Bootlegs are a messy subject.  Collecting the evil little plastic discs is like a lot of other things in life, whether it's doing 70 in a 65 zone, or telling your boss that, yes, you have indeed started on that project that is actually growing mold at the bottom of your inbox.  While you don't really think you've done anything seriously wrong, you're not exactly going to brag about it to Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates, either.

The Springsteen community copes through a series of arguments that we all know by heart.  The writing of collectors such as Clinton Heylin and Erik Flannigan has fostered a consensus of sorts on the subject.  It tolerates bootlegs and wholeheartedly endorses live tape trading.

The only problem is, this conventional wisdom often relies on a number of arguments that simply aren't true.  They don't reflect the actual practice of collectors -- at least the people we know.  And they dodge the hard questions that the collection of unreleased material raises.

So join us as we take a look at a list of truisms about bootlegging that just aren't true.  Because, like the man said, to live outside the law you must be honest.

"Truth" 1: Collecting bootlegs doesn't hurt Bruce, because the people who do already own all his officially-released CDs.

This is the you-haven't-eaten-your-meat, how-can-you-have-any-pudding? argument.  And it makes no sense at all. 

First, people don't actually collect this way.  They judge an artist's catalog in its entirety, released and unreleased together, and choose what's worthwhile.  How many people own both The Genuine Basement Tapes and Self-Portrait?  Sea of Tunes's Smile Sessions and Spirit of America? The Burbank Sessions Vol. 1 and Having Fun With Elvis on Stage?  Not as many as you think.  And not this collector, lemme tell you.

Nor should people collect this way.  You shouldn't have to suffer through a bad product to own a good one.  The idea that one should buy the pathetic, tinny-sounding domestic CD issue of The River as some weird penance for buying the superior-sounding The Ties That Bind, after having already owned it on LP, cassette and/or 8-track, undercuts the whole main idea in support of bootlegging, which is that listeners should not be made to suffer for the short-sighted and, dare we say, greedy thinking of artists and record companies.

Finally, maybe Bruce himself doesn't lose any money from bootlegging.  But his record company almost certainly does.  It's basic economics: if I have $25 to spend on CDs this month, and I buy Loose Ends on Scorpio, I'm not going to buy the new Steve Earle album.  This actually raises a serious argument against bootlegs, which is that they distract collectors from a more diverse and rewarding range of music by allowing them to obsess over a single artist.  Not that there's anything wrong with that ...

"Truth" 2:  There is a difference between collecting "bootlegs" of wholly unreleased material, and "pirates" of officially released material.

Ever heard Another Side of Bruce Springsteen?  The Japanese mono CD of Revolver?  'Nuff said.

Seriously, though, the justification for buying these "pirates" is the same as the one behind most bootlegs.  The record company has failed to meet a legitimate demand, this time for material that was once available on vinyl but cannot properly be found on CD.  Maybe I'd like to hear "Held Up Without a Gun" on CD.  Maybe I'd like to hear Revolver the way John Lennon intended.  Maybe I'd like to hear Buddy Holly's last recordings, with just him on guitar, without that bunch of posthumously dubbed lame-asses who recorded "Sugar Shack." 

To give this argument its due, it is true that the RIAA and their ilk continually try to lump those who bootleg unreleased material in with the people who press cheap Britney Spears CDs in Saipan.  And of course there's a difference.  It's just that the mere distinction between unreleased and previously released material, standing alone, is not it.

"Truth" 3: There is a moral difference between collecting live concerts and studio outtakes.

This is an argument that makes some logical sense--Bruce intended his concerts to be heard by somebody, while he intended "Child Bride" (or for that matter all of The Lost Masters 9) to be heard by nobody.

But hardly anybody pays attention to this distinction in practice.  People bought Murder Incorporated: The Lost Masterpiece as happily as they bought Oh Boy!  And while Charles Cross was wringing his hands repeatedly in Backstreets about bootlegs, he was apparently listening to his rare tape of Darkness outtakes, while dropping hints in his book about unheard Born in the U.S.A. material. ("Wages of Sin ... a country-influenced mid-tempo song ...")

"Truth" 4: Bootleggers are always worse than tape traders; it's the money that makes them bad.

One of the dirty little secrets about high-level tape trading is that there's a lot of money involved there, too.  There comes a point in the collecting food chain where, to get a certain quality of material, you either have to have extraordinary access (and few scruples) or cold hard cash.  You think the guys who obtained the tapes for The Lost Masters didn't lay some money on the table?  Heh.

In a way, you could argue that the bootleggers are acting more morally than the ubertraders, because at least they are making the material available to the public at large.   Let's be honest.  Nobody is going to lay out $10,000 for Born in the U.S.A. outtakes and then tree them on RMAS.  It'd be nice if they did, but ...

Another way of looking at the bootleg question?

All of this doesn't mean that we fans shouldn't take these "truths" seriously at some broader level of generality.  For example, almost everyone agrees that people should not buy the Backstreet Boys' CD at Best Buy, clone it repeatedly, and then sell the clones in Xeroxed packaging. (By the way, it is the official position of The Hitter that people should not buy Backstreet Boys CDs at Best Buy at all.)  But we do mean to suggest that a lot of the justifications upon which people have traditionally have relied do not make a lot of sense, or at least tend to be honored in the breach. The truth is, we buy -- or clone or tape or burn -- what we like and what we feel has value. 

We would suggest a different moral framework for the bootleg question.  Maybe we should presume that worthy music ought to be heard by the widest possible audience, with the least necessary infringement of the artist's prerogatives.   Under this framework, we would object primarily when people who have economic power take advantage of people without it.  This framework allows us to rail at (a) people who sell bad bootlegs at inflated prices; (b) people who sell material that trades freely; and (c) people who hoard tapes only to sell them later at a price far outstripping their original investment, if they ever cut them loose at all.  It would also allow us to let some bootleggers off the moral hook.  For example, no one who buys Alpine Valley Night is ever going to feel ripped off. 

The bootlegging debate will always be with us.  Somewhere, there may be an honest, consistent argument for collecting important unreleased work.  In fact, we think there is.  But it can't be found in most of the arguments that get parroted every day.