CHICAGO -- Like any self-respecting, diehard Bruce Springsteen fan, Matt Springer knows it's important to plan ahead.
As soon as he found out last month that the Boss' career-spanning, four-CD box set, Tracks, was set for release Nov. 10, he called his own boss and requested the day off.
"I'm going to stay up all night listening to it," Springer, a 22-year-old journalist, said as he waited in line at Tower Records on Clark Street just after midnight Monday.
Whether he would actually hear all of Tracks' 66 rare and unreleased cuts when he got home was another story. "I'm going to listen as far as I can make it before dozing off," he said. He planned to start all over again when he woke up Tuesday (Nov. 10).
Springer was one of about 40 people who showed up at the Clark Street Tower at midnight to pick up the New Jersey blue-collar rocker's much-anticipated release, which as expected sold briskly in its first few hours on store shelves around the country. The Windy City store moved 18 copies of Tracks at $49.99 each before closing about 15 minutes later. (It also sold seven copies of R&B singer R. Kelly's two-CD R. and six copies of pop-singer Cher's new Believe.)
Meanwhile, stores in New York and Los Angeles reported slightly higher numbers. The Virgin Megastore in New York's Times Square moved 35 sets at $52, according to an employee who asked not to be named; about 40 blocks away, Tower Records on Broadway sold 25, supervisor Eric Hogan said.
Bob Rossetti wore his Boss obsession on his sleeve. "Bruce Springsteen is my god," said Rossetti, an 18-year-old film student at New York University who came to the Tower Records sale with friend Joe Leonard, also a film student. "His lyrics are my bible. We'll stay up all night to listen to the album."
On the opposite coast, the Tower on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles also moved about 35 copies, according to manager Mario Cruz.
Avid fans of the singer/songwriter say they've been waiting for the rarities collection for years. While several of its songs -- including the early sing-along "Bishop Danced" (RealAudio excerpt) and the desperate plea "Loose Ends" (RealAudio excerpt) -- have been bootlegged over the years, many fans are eager to replace their hissy boot tapes with newly mastered CDs.
Others, like Chicago's Brad Kaplus, were most excited to hear new songs such as "Gave It A Name" and "Happy," which were never leaked onto bootlegs. Kaplus' sole disappointment early Tuesday morning was that Tower wasn't stocking the cassette version of Tracks, so the 28-year-old will have to complement his CD version with tape and vinyl issues from mail-order houses.
Despite the devotion of supporters such as Kaplus, Tower staffer Jim Bornzin said he was disappointed by the turnout at the Chicago store. By comparison, he said 150 people showed up at midnight the week before to buy a limited-edition two-disc version of U2's Best Of 1980-1990. He blamed the comparatively small Springsteen crowd on lackluster promotion by Columbia Records.
"The U2 album had lots of ads -- everybody wants this collection," Bornzin said. "Tracks is a better album, but there hasn't been a lot of publicity. It's unfortunate, because Bruce Springsteen is such a great American rock 'n' roll artist."
Of course, hard-core fans such as Steven Cohen were counting the days until Tracks' release long before Columbia Records officially announced the album on Oct. 6. Cohen, a 36-year-old L.A. transplant from London, said he's been following the Boss for two decades.
"My girlfriend and I have been living very safe lives so we wouldn't die before Tracks came out," he said.
Now that Tracks is out, Springsteen's fans are already looking forward to his next records.
In an interview in the current issue of Time magazine, the rocker is quoted as saying he's nearly finished with two albums -- one acoustic and one electric -- and he has two more in the can: a country-influenced record and one with a hip-hop flavor.
"He says he wants to get them out," said 28-year-old Jason Chart of Chicago. "Hopefully it won't take 25 years, like some of Tracks did."
(Contributing Editors Teri vanHorn and Dakota Smith and Editorial Director Michael Goldberg contributed to this report.)