Monday, 25 March 2013

25 March 2013 (Day 84) – Bruce

Over breakfast this morning, I read the first review of last night’s Bruce Springsteen’s show at Rod Laver Arena.  This was the first Melbourne show on his Wrecking Ball tour with another 4 shows to come over the next week, two of which will be outdoor gigs at the fabled Hanging Rock. 

As I read, I could feel my senses tingle and, to “M’s” dismay, found myself having to stifle a Bruuuuuuce roar.  “I’m not going to have to put up with that”, she asked forlornly, knowing somewhere in the house there is a ticket with my name on it.  I shoot her a look that confirms her worst fears.  She sort of knows what Bruce means to me.
Bruce Springsteen is the artist with whom I have felt the deepest connection.  It is a connection that includes novelists, painters, actors, comedians, journalists, you name it and its one that goes right back to 1975.  At that time I was studying, unsure about my place in the world, unsure about what I wanted to do with myself and unsure even if I wanted to make a mark on the world.  I’d gone along with my parents’ idea that I’d become a lawyer but I knew my heart wasn’t truly in it.  I’d assumed that I would get married and have kids but couldn’t actually envisage it; all I knew with certainty was that there wasn’t anyone special in my life.

My interest in music had been lit and I was obtaining and making tapes of music that I liked.  For the most part, my source was Melbourne Top 40 radio, what I’d read in the newspapers and what I’d seen on TV.  This was when I first heard of a bloke being hailed as the “New Dylan”.  This didn’t mean much to me at the time.  Bob Dylan was not someone you generally heard on Top 40 radio; my introduction to him, Hurricane, was still to be released but otherwise he was someone who had written hit songs for folk singers I’d been forced to learn in music class.  Articles started to appear about the hype surrounding Springsteen.  I had no idea what that meant and so dismissed it.
Then one day, I’m listening to 3XY on one of my taping quests.  A track had ended and this number I hadn’t previously heard came on.  Within 20 seconds of the start I had slammed on the recording button not exactly knowing what it was.  All I knew was that I was electrified by something I hadn’t previously heard, a supercharged piece of music that smashed through every idea I’d ever had about rock music.  Four minutes later, the DJ came on and said “Bruce Springsteen, title track of his album Born To Run”.  I’d like to think that was imprinted in my memory, but my tape recorder captured the outro and for the next few years those words were imprinted in my brain as I replayed the tape. But from that moment on I was hooked.  Apart from my birth family, my football team and my oldest friends he has been one of the constants in my life, or at least like the others, one of the constants I’ve cared about.

Now lots of things have been written by Springsteen over the years including a number of books by unabashed fans.  An American professor by the name of Louis P. Masur is one example and wrote a small volume entitled “Runaway Dream. Born To Run And Bruce Springsteen’s American Vision”.   In the final chapter of the book, he expressed his own connection to Springsteen and included this paragraph that sums up the impact of that album on him.  When I read it, I was absolutely floored.  Masur had perfectly encapsulated my own thoughts; there is only one word that I would remove if I wrote it and I’ll put that in [square brackets];
“As for me, Born To Run may not have changed my life, but it is central to it: The album expressed what I felt, articulated in words and music my own dream of escape and search for meaning.  On first listening, I do not think I heard the darkness and despair of songs such as “Backstreets” and “Jungleland”.  What I heard was a primal voice that gave vent to frustration, and soaring power chords that made me want to drive faster.  What I felt was that maybe I didn’t have to be trapped by the [American] dream, and that maybe in the midst of my worst despair and fear of failure there was hope.”

What makes this connection on my part all the more unusual is that Bruce is regarded as the quintessential American hero.  I don’t think this is due to the influence that some Americans exerted over a portion of my life.  As far as I was aware, none of them were likely to be Springsteen fans.  Like most of Springsteen’s worldwide (i.e non-American) fans, I think the mythology of the American Dream is largely irrelevant.  Rather it is because we could project our own lives onto that of the characters in his songs and draw our meaning, significance, call it what you like from that. In my own case I simply didn’t want to live a life that was dictated by what others thought or because of convention.  I didn’t want a job simply for money or prestige.  I didn’t want to get married just because it was expected.   I didn’t what to do anything that I couldn 't control (obviously excepting the rules and modes of behaviour need to be adhered to in certain contexts) unless it was something I wanted to do for my own reasons.  Most importantly, I wanted to live a life where I was comfortable with the choices I had made and not feel trapped in a life devoid of  meaning.  That is the connection that I’ve continually made with Bruce.  It is a sense of a life being led with everything that this entails as you try to make sense of the meaning of your existence.  In other words, Springsteen’s songs convey the essence of life - its joys, pain, doubts, love, failure, success, etc - as you proceed along life or as he puts it "on the road". 
And so I’ve decided that day is Bruce Springsteen Day and with that came the following program which ultimately allowed me to write the introduction you’ve just read.  The starting point is obviously;

(239) Bruce Springsteen – Born To Run
The album that started it all and one of the finest albums ever released.  This is an album about people unwilling to accept their lot in life and attempting to find ways of escaping either legally or otherwise.  The opener, Thunder Road, is a marvellous statement of intent climaxed with Clarence Clemons’ sax solo.  The title track, Backstreets and Jungleland provide the necessary epic sweep and drama, whilst Tenth Avenue Freezeout appears to deal with Bruce’s own escape. 

(240) Bruce Springsteen – Darkness On The Edge of Town
Many Bruce fans cite this as his best album but I‘ve always been slightly put off by its production which makes it sound a bit thinner than it needs to be.  The brilliant one two opening of Badlands and Adam Raised A Cain and, later, Racing In The Street provide the necessary drama.  The Promised Land and the title track add to Bruce’s hopes of salvation.  Prove It All Night was subsequently to be raised to epic status in live performance.

(241) Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska
Prior to buying this album, I was finally able to buy the first two albums and understood what motivated the “new Dylan” tag.  Next I bought The River, a double album of mostly straight ahead good time rock but with others such as the title track, The Price You Pay, Drive All Night and Wreck On The Highway.  Most of these tracks were placed near the end of that album probably foreshadowing what was to come.  Nebraska is an acoustic howl from the darkest of places where almost everyone and everything is trapped in the most hopeless of situations.  Even then, Springsteen ends the album with probably his greatest tune and a statement of hope - Reason To Believe.  The sheer quality of the album and the bare bones nature of the songs have led to the songs here being his most covered  - Atlantic City, Johnny 99, Mansion On The Hill and State Trooper among them.

(242) Lucky Town
The next album was Born In The U.S.A., essentially a single disc version of The River which made Springsteen a superstar.  After this came the moves which nearly brought him undone – the bloated live box, the marriage to a model, the brave, but misguided decision to put The E Street Band on the back burner and the dual albums released on one day.  The studio albums ranged from the odd (Tunnel Of Love) to the truly abysmal (Human Touch, the worst album in his catalogue by a wide margin).  Lucky Town was the album recorded quickly when he had doubts about Human Touch and it effortlessly puts it to shame.  It is home to his most underappreciated tunes, Better Days, the title track and Leap Of Faith.  Pride of place goes to two of his finest ballads, If I Should Fall Behind and My Beautiful Reward, both of which show that he had emerged from the wreckage of his failed marriage with lessons learnt and appropriately applied to his new union with Patti Scialfa.  Really, all the album needed was The E Street Band.

(243) Bruce Springsteen – The Rising
Bruce’s next album was the mostly acoustic The Ghost Of Tom Joad, a fine record that consolidated his songwriting.  But the process was really completed with his reunion with The E Street Band on The Rising.  Although this was his response to the events of 9/11, many of the songs appear to continue the stories told on Darkness, The River and Nebraska.  This fine album, the work of maturing mind and written with his maturing audience in mind, is constructed around three masterpieces – the opener Lonesome Day, the title track and My City In Ruins in which he seems to point out people’s responsibility to the world around them.  Weaved around them are tunes that reinforce the joys of life (such as Waitin’ On A Sunny Day and Mary’s Place)  as well as its dangers (Into The Fire).  The Arabic sounding backing of World’s Apart curiously appears to also signal the subsequent enjoyable music on his Seeger Sessions project.

(244) Wrecking Ball
His latest album came after a trio of albums of varying quality ranging from the intelligent adult acoustic tunes on Devils And Dust, the epic album ruined by a sludgy production (Magic) and the flat out strange (Working On A Dream).  This is effectively a Springsteen state of the union address not just of his United States but of his characters, now all adults and struggling with marriages, children and mortgages. We Take Care Of Our Own, American Land and Land Of Hope And Dreams add to his list of classic songs.  

1 comment:

  1. I have been watching him perform for 42 years. Although every time is unique......the show is as good now as the BEST I have EVER seen.
    Savour the time you will spend with him/them. We will NEVER see his like again.
    ENJOY mate!