Jingle boots

As I walk along I wonder: What went wrong? With our love, that is. My beautiful young bride split after walking in on me unexpectedly last night and discovering my dirty little secret. There I sat, slack-jawed and drooling, in front of the computer, pants around my ankles and typing in my credit card number. …

“You’re ordering bootlegs again!” she shrieked.

But honey, they were all gonna be Christmas gifts, I swear! Oh, well. Maybe someone else, possibly seeking the perfect gift for the record collector in their life, can benefit from my, er, online research.

If you’re a Bruce Springsteen tramp like me, baby you were born to run — straight to Europe’s Crystal Cat label, which just dropped a litter of high-quality, exquisitely designed triple-disc sets, all from 2003. There’s Doubletake Night (Feb. 19, Somerville, Mass. — a solo show, not an E Street Band concert), Atlantic City Night (March 7), Night After Night (May 26, London), Midsummer First Night and Midsummer Second Night (June 21 and 22, Gothenburg, Sweden) and Feyenoord Stadion Night (May 8, Rotterdam, Holland). Or if the visual end of collecting’s your thing, the sprawling four-volume, eight-DVD-R Springsteen set, Video History (on the Hot Stuff label), presenting three decades’ worth of clips ranging from professional promo clips to varying-quality audience videos, is more fun than a boxed set of Traci Lords tapes.

I dunno if the Lord ever told Bob Dylan exactly where out on Highway 61 he wanted that killin’ done, but I do have proof that Zimmy eventually hit the road with his Rolling Pulpit Revue during his brief but notorious dalliance with Christianity. The Gospel Years 1979-1980 (Watchdog) is a silver-disc DVD (not a DVD-R) that presents, in stunning quality, a Toronto concert from April 20, 1980, plus Dylan’s October ’79 appearance on “Saturday Night Live” where he publicly unveiled his new metaphysical outlook. If all the solid rock/gotta serve somebody stuff gets too thick for ya, dip back a year or so with the six-CD set, 1978 World Tour Anthology (White Bear), an exhaustive examination of what wags dubbed “The Alimony Tour.” Gee, to be a fly in the wall in Dylan’s dressing room back then: “There must be some way out of here, damn it. I can’t get no relief! Wait, I got it — I’ll convert next year to Christianity! That’ll show my bitch ex-wife Sara!”

The Rolling Stones’ ’72 tour of America has always been a source of intense fascination, as two key visual artifacts reaffirm. The Rollin Binzer-directed tour documentary Ladies And Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones, released in theaters but never on video, is out on DVD on the 4-Reel label, while the so-seamy-even-the-Stones-ordered-it-shelved Cocksucker Blues, directed by Robert Frank, is out now on DVD-R courtesy Glim Twins. Want some hot groupie-roadie gang-bang action without having to suffer through one of those horrible Backstage Slut videos by Matt Zane? Here’s your chance. Contrastingly, for good clean family entertainment there’s Toronto Rocks! The 2003 SARSstock Concert (Bully), a two-DVD set featuring the complete performances of the Stones, AC/DC and Rush at the July 30 SARS benefit bash. All this and Justin Timberlake guesting on “Miss You”? Paint it black, you devils!

For the hard-to-shop-for lapsed hippie, the Silvertone DVD-R label has the perfect gifts. The Haight Street Chronicles Volumes 1 & 2, contain rare live, promo and TV clips of Moby Grape, Grateful Dead, Steve Miller Blues Band, Big Brother & the Holding Company, Country Joe & the Fish and Quicksilver. Glastonbury Fayre captures Terry Reid, Fairport Convention, Family, Melanie, Arthur Brown, Quintessence and Traffic at the June 20-24, 1971, UK rock festival. And The Day The Music Died: New York Pop! documents the July 17-19, 1970, Randall’s Island, N.Y., festival with Grand Funk Railroad, Steppenwolf, Jethro Tull, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Mountain, Ten Years After and more.

In its time the Clash was “the only band that matters,” and Clash specialty label Snotty Snail keeps that sentiment alive with high-quality, elaborate (typically, with booklets that fold out into posters) archival collections. Pick o’ the litter: This Is Radio Clash, a two-disc set taken from the group’s June ’81 residency at Bond’s Casino in NYC; and I Fought The Law, the Jan. 3, 1979, concert recorded by a 16-track mobile for the Rude Boy film. Let’s hope Snotty Snail never gets the “clampdown” from the “police and thieves” mind-set of the anti-piracy authorities, eh?

Once upon a time, according to Paul Westerberg, “Gary got a boner.” You’ll get one too when you glom the triple-CD-R Replacements/Hüsker Dü/Soul Asylum set titled Fuck Seattle, Screw Asbury Park, Go to Hell Seattle. This is Minneapolis! Volume One (Hot Stuff). Each group gets its own disc to prove its mettle: The ’mats burn down CBGBs in ’84, the Hüskers do the dü at 1st Avenue in ’85, and the Winona Ryder fan club blitzkriegs Milan, Italy, in ’94. Westerberg himself is presented in fine voice on Live At The Tralf (Hot Stuff), a CD-R booting of a radio broadcast from Buffalo last August. In addition to solo and ’mats nuggets, Paulie covers Neil Young’s “Don’t Cry No Tears” and a song Johnny Cash made famous, “Long Black Veil.”

Bootlegs may viewed by some as an “albatross” around the neck of the recording industry but record collectors think otherwise, particularly those of us always hungering for choice excavations of old favorites. To wit: Fleetwood Mac, which in its pre-Buckingham/Nicks era, could do the (oh, stop me, please!) “rattlesnake shake” with the best of ’em. To wit: Dead Bust Blues and Helsinki Carousel (Hiwatt). Both double-CD sets, the former presents two pristine soundboard tapes — recorded by the Grateful Dead’s sound crew, no less — from New Orleans on Jan. 30 and Feb. 1, 1970, while the latter pairs a ’68 San Francisco show with one from Finland in 1970.

Got Beck? British guitar god Jeff Beck, that is — not the monosyllabic mope of “Loser” fame. Reel Masters (Big Daddy) assembles a brace of studio outtakes recorded in ’71 by the Beck Group Mk. II (the one with vocalist Bobby Tench, drummer Cozy Powell and pianist Max Middleton) for the brilliant Rough And Ready album. Rocking yer plimsouls even further, the 2-CD set includes a vintage Beck BBC radio broadcast from 1972. And a no-name label submits its own 2-CD collection, Beck To The Future. Disc No. 1 goes all the way back to the first Beck Group (when Rod the Mod was handling mic chores) with a ’67 Marquee Club (London) show, while disc No. 2 touches down in contemporary territory via a pair of September ’02 Royal Festival Hall concerts that found the White Stripes helping Beck keep the train a-rollin’ across assorted choice Yardbirds songs.

Lastly, and speaking of the Stripes, a DVD-R called Texas (Coffee, Tea Or Me) just surfaced that includes decent-quality (audience-filmed) footage from two shows, Houston Sept. 14, 2001 and NYC Aug. 16, 2001. And Jack White has a walk-on in a new Strokes DVD-R, Radio City Music Hall (Take It Or Leave It Productions) for the “New York City Cops” encore. Sister Meg can be spotted standing in the wings. Say what you will about bootleggers and their shady, copyright-flaunting ethics — it’s still a badge of honor when a young band is given the bootleg treatment. And as we all know — c’mon folks, you know you wanna say it — not even a seven-nation army can keep a group’s rabid fans from tracking down underground artifacts such as these.

To be a record collector means, indeed, to harbor dark fantasies of illicit musical wares, to fetishize sonic artifacts that neither the artist nor their record label ever intended you to acquire. The pursuit of such exotica can be all-consuming, and at quite a cost both monetarily (25 bucks for a single silver-disc bootleg) and in shattered relationships. (Let’s face it: No spouse is ever going to buy the argument that you need that 17-CD boxed set of Beatles Let It Be outtakes, that two-disc boot of unreleased 1978 Mike Love solo albums — or anything at all by Ryan Adams.)

But you know what? Screw it. Right now, I’m a-walking in the rain. Tears are falling, and I feel the pain. I just learned that Watchtower’s Eat The Document Dylan DVD (the commercially unreleased D.A. Pennebaker documentary from ’66) sold out its entire pressing before I snagged a copy. Bah. Merry Christmas.


Check out more Holiday Survival Guide stories:

Family matters
Surviving the gatherings of the clan.

Season for sharing
How to help those in need survive the holidays.

Giving on the cheap
Or should we say "inexpensive?"

Pass (on) the stuffing
Ways to keep the holidays from becoming too weighty.

Blue for Christmas
How to battle the holiday blahs.

Presents from tinsel town
What would the season be without its flicks?

Avoiding Xmas bling bling
You needn't sell out to the corporate juggernaut.

Oh, holy naught
This year's Xmas sounds like the hour 13 lineup on the Jerry Lewis Telethon.

Overcoming hangovers
A dilettante's guide to holiday imbibing.

Silent night, sober night
How to stay on the wagon.

Fred Mills is gettin’ a lump of coal from Columbia House. E-mail [email protected]