A magnificent, boss, gift that keeps on giving.

December 24, 1986. My family had finished up giving our gifts to each other, the evening was open, and my girlfriend of a year and a half was over to give her present to me. She was excited and proud of it.

My parents that night had given me a CD player, a Very Big Deal. CDs were shimmering circles of beautiful, perfect music without the flaws, skips, nuisances of vinyl LPs and cassettes. CD players had been on the market a year or so, initially for about $2,000. Ever owning the technology seemed out of reach. Yet there we were, my younger brother and I, we each got CD players. This exceeded any concept we had for this Christmas, and we had greedy imaginations.

A new CD player in my happening teen bachelor bedroom, but no music to play on it. What to do? Wait until the next day? Christmas Day. Stores closed. Sorry, bub. TWO days before you can do boo with it.

Sweetheart to the rescue.

SIDETRACK! Ladies need to know that when high school women date college guys, it incurs resentment among high school men. We hate that situation. It renders us weak. We are forced to confront the possibility we have no mating appeal to a female peer of intelligence and self-esteem. To a lesser degree, this also applies to dating a peer outside of the high school. The resentment manifests as jibes about unsavory and anatomically impossible deeds. 25 years later, it occurs to me only now that at this phase of my life when dating a college gal I WAS THAT PERSON (she had graduated the high school the year before). Good golly, I hope that didn't lead to any aspersions about my sluttiness thrown at someone above my station. Gals are classier than dudes, though. Right? RIGHT? *Whew*

On the radio in 1986, they bragged about how with their high-tech CD deck they could play an entire album without having to pause to flip the disc over. They would dedicate an entire HOUR to let listeners admire a full album played with perfect CD clarity. What? Are we living in Star Trek? CRAZY! Albums were intelligently designed by pop culture gods to only be played one half at a time, in 22 minute bursts before needing to be flipped or followed by a disc suspended above it. Wanted to make out? Turn on the radio and deal with ad interruptions (ever get intimate during a radio spot for acne medication? Seksi time!), or a cassette that could run 30-45 minutes per side before going *click* whirrrrr to auto reverse or stop entirely which demanded a break from whatever was going on (usually homework, Ma, we were good students) to restart, flip (or pull out & replace), then play.

Sweetheart handed over her wrapped square box that was album-sized. Which LPs? Opened the box. It was the 3 CD set: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band: Live 1975/85. Wha? How? Whoah. WOW!

I didn't know Springsteen's music well. Had listened to Born in the U.S.A. a lot. Chortled as Reagan tried to co-opt the title song for his '84 presidential campaign. Listened to Nebraska a lot. The most melancholy album I had in a collection dominated by Prince, The Police, Air Supply, and ABBA (though given Air Supply songs were all about dreary apologies, maybe they were more depressing). But, THREE CDs? Now? Wasn't this boxed set, like, $75? How?

She simply did it. Full-time student, and spent most evenings working at a local radio station calling people asking them to rate prospective hit songs. Several friends were at the same job. I did a few shifts. Had some fun aspects, barely above minimum wage. And it meant dealing with getting hit on by sad sack radio d.j.s and managers who thought this little crew of clever young lasses held answers to fill their psycho-emotional chasms.

A $75 CD set meant a lot of work hours, when funds were tight. Having three CDs - where a few hours before having any seemed impossible - was a lot to take in. Considering the amount of time at work that translated to for her bowled me over even more.

The inaugural track we played was "Fire", a song I had sung to her before imitating Robin Williams imitating Elmer Fudd singing it. Yes, I was a catch. "Born to Run" promo video for the box set is below. No obligation to watch. The cut from Springsteen's wife at the time, Julianne Phillips, to the backup singer who became Springsteen's next (and still current) wife Patti Scialfa makes me wonder if the the editor knew a transition was happening. If your time is limited, save it for the second video at the end:

In following years, I collected a lot of music. When I needed scratch, I sold a lot of the CDs. But even when I had stopped listening to Live 1975/85 for months or years, I could never part with it. The music was good, the moment of its gifting even grander. And it has paid dividends each decade.

Many friends are surprised that I don't know much about Tom Waits. He's an interesting actor. I bought & liked his album Bone Machine when Peter Gabriel touted it and the single "I Don't Want to Grow Up" when hosting 120 Minutes on MTV. I watched him perform a few times on Late Night with David Letterman. But Bruce Springsteen's cover of Waits' "Jersey Girl" and the affection and enthusiasm in the crowd reaction first put Waits on my cultural radar. A proud song. Great. So, while not a Waits aficionado, I have never changed the music player when a Waits song comes on. Here he tells a charming, seedy story then gets to "Jersey Girl":

He's like a neighbor I've chatted amiably with a few times . Maybe we'll hang out some day. And for that prospect — the assurance of great art nearby ready to encounter when needing a sense of triumph or wail or growl (or all three) — I have a magnificent present from 1986 to thank. Still grateful. Still awed that even in 2011, $75 means a lot of money and time, yet that gift has trounced more expensive gifts that did not hit the mark so well.

"Jersey Girl" and "I Don't Want to Grow Up" are the only Waits karaoke songs I could do, but they would be done with feeling. And that is better than no Waits songs.

Cheers. Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you and yours.