What Do Steven Spielberg, Kate Capshaw Barack Obama, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Scialfa, David Blight, and 25 Cent Wings Have in Common?

BlightThis:

Former President Barack Obama was meeting with Steven Spielberg on Monday night, sources exclusively told Page Six, months after Obama’s production company with wife, Michelle, unveiled a slate of films with Netflix.

Obama and the Oscar-winner were at upscale seafood eatery Marea, spies said.

“Spielberg walked through the front and no one noticed,” said the source, while Obama arrived through a side entrance.

“They were with a group — with lots of Secret Service,” said the source. “But it was still pretty low-key with no disruptions to other diners.”

The Obamas have seven planned Netflix projects via their Higher Ground Productions, including an adaptation of David W. Blight’s 2018 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom,” as well as a series called “Bloom,” set in the fashion world of New York after WWII.

In 2015, it was reported that Spielberg — whom Obama awarded a Medal of Freedom the same year — was helping the ex-pol create a “narrative” for post-presidential life….

On Monday, the director’s wife, Kate Capshaw, was spotted having 25-cent wings with Bruce Springsteen and wife, Patti Scialfa, at Henry at Life Hotel.

Read the whole story at Page Six

 

*Rolling Stone* Review of Springsteen’s New Album

Western Stars

Here is Will Hermes:

There have been times throughout Bruce Springsteen’s career when California has called. He named a song for the state after his parents moved there in 1971, and he’d return to it, in life and writing, repeatedly, chasing his dreams like Steinbeck’s Tom Joad. Western Stars (out June 14th) is the latest visit: a lushly orchestrated set of throwback, country-tinged folk pop that, despite some resemblance to previous works like Nebraska and The Ghost of Tom Joad, sounds like little else in his catalog. Frankly, its sheen is off-putting at first. But once you settle in, the set reveals some of Springsteen’s most beguiling work ever.

Read the entire review here.

Like most Springsteen fans who are not music critics, I have only listened to the three songs that have been released.

At first, I thought “Hello Sunshine” was okay, but the more I listen to it the more I like it.  As many Springsteen songs, it strikes a nice balance between the themes of “Born to Run” and “My Hometown”  (“miles to go is miles away”).  This is a tension I explored earlier this year in a piece at Religion News Service.

I liked “There Goes My Miracle” almost immediately.  I love the big sound and the orchestra. Do I hear a little Burt Bacharach in this song?

When I heard “Tuscon Train” for the first time I was not a fan.  The whole thing seemed like a mess.  But after watching the video (Springsteen’s music is always better when seen), thinking more deeply about the lyrics, and listening to it about 100 more times, I think it is my favorite song of the three releases.  More than the other two songs, the lyrics of “Tuscon Train” celebrate work, lost chances, the hope of redemption, and the plight of ordinary people–all Springsteen staples.

Jersey Girls

I am reading Mark Lender’s and Garry Stone’s outstanding book Fatal Sunday: George Washington, the Monmouth Campaign, and the Politics of Battle (University of Oklahoma Press, 2016).  In 2017, the book was a finalist for the George Washington Book Prize.

Lender

In the authors’ discussion of Brigadier General Charles Scott’s march through Princeton on June 24, 1778, they write:

As it marched, Scott’s column found the public enthusiastic about the unfolding campaign; there was a perception that affairs were building toward a climax.  As the troops passed through Princeton–a town that suffered its share of pillage in 1776 and 1777–residents gave the soldiery a warm welcome.  As Private Joseph Plumb recalled, they dealt out ‘”toddy” to the men as they marched by, “which caused the detachment to move slowly at this place.”  Cheerful young ladies watched “the noble exhibition of a thousand half-starved and three-quarters naked soldiers pass in review.”  In this, the private’s memory lapsed a bit: the troops were actually in reasonably good condition.  But he remembered the “ladies” well enough.  “I declare that I never before or since saw more beauty,” he wrote.  “They were all beautiful.”  With sectional loyalty, the Connecticut soldier allowed that “Yankee ladies” were perhaps smarter, but he insisted that “New Jersey and Pennsylvania ladies” were “handsome, the most so of any in the United States.”  We can never know if his comrades shared his infatuation, but his paean to the Princeton belles suggests that on that evening, they were as much concerned with Venus as with Mars.”

Lender and Stone source this paragraph with footnote 54.    Here is what that footnote says:

J.P. Martin, Yankee Doodle, 123.  Joseph Plumb Martin’s rhapsody on Jersey girls predates that of Tom Waits by two centures.  And for those mystified by the reference, Tom Waits released the popular song “Jersey Girl” in 1980 on his Heartattack and Vine album; the Bruce Springsteen cover of 1981 made it even more popular.  Waits was clearly of the same opinion  as Private Martin.

To fellow Jersey boys Lender and Stone:  Thanks for making my Saturday afternoon with that footnote!

“Down the shore everything’s all right.”

Martin Joseph

 

When the Way of Improvement Can’t Lead Home: A Brief Review of Tara Westover’s *Educated*

Educated Tara Westover

Sometimes the way of improvement leads home. It did for Philip Vickers Fithian, the eighteenth-century son of New Jersey farmers who got an education at Princeton and spent the rest of his short life wrestling with what that meant for his relationship with friends and family in his “beloved Cohansey.”  Fithian eventually returned home, but since he died in the American Revolution we will never know how long he would have stayed.

Wendell Berry left home to become a writer.  He eventually returned to Port Royal, Kentucky and never left.  The conservative writer Rod Dreher went back to LouisianaBruce Springsteen came back to New Jersey.

Sometimes the way of improvement does not lead home, but the newly educated traveler finds ways to stay connected and deal with the psychological and emotional challenges that come with displacement.  Richard Rodriguez’s education led him away from home on a variety of levels, but he spent the rest of his career writing about his family and his “hunger for memory.”  Sarah Smolinksy, the fictional character in Anzia Yezierska’s Bread Givers, got educated and left the tyranny of her father’s immigrant Jewish household in New York City.  Yet she figured out a small way to honor her father and sustain a relationship with him, even inviting him to live with her.

But sometimes the way of improvement can’t lead home.  When Frederick Douglass learned how to read he was exposed to a world of abolitionism and anti-slavery that he never knew existed.  Education led to liberation. (This is why we call it “liberal arts education”). There would be no going back to the tyranny of slavery.

We see all three of these models in Educated, Tara Westover’s memoir of growing up among fundamentalist Mormons on a mountain in Idaho.  Westover had no formal schooling, but managed to educate herself well enough to score a 28 on the ACT and win a scholarship to Brigham Young University.

At first, Westover never imagined that her education would take her somewhere beyond the mountain.  She came home every summer and seems to have fully expected a return to her family.  But education changes a person.  Sarah learned that she was becoming something different–something very unlike her physically abusive older brother, her spiritually abusive father (in this sense, her story is most similar to Smolinsky in Bread Givers), and her mother who rejected science and medicine in favor of “essential oils.”

Through the study of psychology Westover learned that her father and brother might be bipolar.  Through her study of history she learned that her father’s conspiracy theories were built on a very shaky historical foundation.  With the help of roommates, boyfriends, and a Mormon bishop in Provo, she learned that doctors and medicine are good things.  With the help of BYU history professor Paul Kerry (a professor who once showed me around Oxford University), she encountered a world of ideas and learning that she never knew existed.  Kerry, with the help of Cambridge historian Jonathan Steinberg, convinced her that she belonged in this world.

Westover not only survived in this world, but she thrived in it.  She won numerous academic awards at BYU, including a Gates Fellowship to Cambridge.  Her way of improvement led her to a visiting fellowship at Harvard and a Ph.D in history from Cambridge.

Yet the longing of home–of family, of place, of roots–continued to pull her back to the mountain. She spent long months during her doctoral program in a state of depression as she came to grips with how education was uprooting her.  When she to tried to bring light to the dark sides of her childhood, address the tyranny, abuse, and superstition that took place everyday on the mountain, and somehow try to bring the fruits of her liberal learning to the place she loved, her family ostracized her.  The way of improvement could not lead home.  There would be no rural Enlightenment.

Westover’s story is a common one, but rarely do we see the tension between “the way of improvement” and “home” play out in such stark contrasts.

Bruce on the Loose

bruce-springsteen-on-broadway-photo-by-rob-demartin

Springsteen has been out and about lately–making unannounced appearances along the Jersey Shore.  Chris Jordan of the Asbury Park Press suggests some places where Bruce could possibly show up this summer:

  1. Tom Morello appearance at the Stony Pony in Asbury Park
  2. Steven Van Zandt’s appearance at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park
  3. Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band concert at the  PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel
  4. Brian Wilson concert at the Count Basie Center of the Arts in Red Bank
  5. Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers appearance at the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park
  6. Social Distortion and Flogging Molly concert at the Stony Pony Summer Stage
  7. Unveiling of a Springsteen exhibit at the Bruce Springsteen Archives at Monmouth University.

Read more about these appearances  and get the dates at Jordan’s piece.

I Can’t Wait to See This Movie!

Blinded by the Light is a new movie featuring the music of Bruce Springsteen.  Here is a description of the movie from Wikipedia:

Blinded by the Light is a 2019 British drama film directed by Gurinder Chadha. Inspired by the life of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor and his obsession with Bruce Springsteen, the film is set in Luton in 1987. Manzoor co-wrote the script. It premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and will be released in the United Kingdom on 16 August 2019, by New Line Cinema.

The official synopsis reads “Blinded by the Light tells the story of Javed (Viveik Kalra) a British teen of Pakistani descent, growing up in the town of Luton, England, in 1987. Amidst the racial and economic turmoil of the times, he writes poetry as a means to escape the intolerance of his hometown and the inflexibility of his traditional father. But when a classmate introduces him to the music of “the Boss,” Javed sees parallels to his working-class life in Springsteen’s powerful lyrics. As Javed discovers a cathartic outlet for his own pent-up dreams, he also begins to find the courage to express himself in his own unique voice.”

Here is the trailer:

 

Springsteen Shows Up at the Asbury Park Film Festival

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The Asbury Park Press has it covered.  Here is a taste:

“I’ve lived many lives,” Springsteen said on stage during a Q&A with Zimny moderated by Chris Phillips of Backstreets Magazine. “I never saw any of that myself.”

Springsteen added that the band was “superstitious about being filmed in the early days” — a reason they never did television appearances.

“You either think you are more handsome than you actually are, or you think you sound better than you actually do,” he said.

But after watching what was preserved — particularly David Sancious at the keyboards for “New York City Serenade” in 1973 and Clarence Clemons’ last-ever performance In Buffalo — he said he is thankful a camera captured it all.

Springsteen fondly recalled the 1975 Bottom Line shows as the time the band was first considered “a contender” and reminisced about writing “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” as a goodbye song as he knew his life was about to change. (In a moment of candor, Springsteen admitted that he was falling asleep watching himself sing a subdued version of “4th of July.”)

In particular, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer was pleased with the impact of a performance of “My City of Ruins” at Jazzfest in 2006. He hinted that he would love to see a full video of that show be released.

Also chronicled: a 1996 acoustic version circa 1996 of “The Promised Land” in Freehold and wife Patti Scialfa singing “Tell Him” at the Stone Pony in 1984. Springsteen recounted this performance — which also features former Bon Jovi touring guitarist Bobby Bandiera — nightly during his Broadway show, “Springsteen on Broadway.”

He remarked on a clip of Jake Clemons’ first-ever appearance at the Apollo, with Springsteen later climbing the walls and then shimmying down a pipe to get back to the stage. “I don’t know what I was thinking,” he laughed.

He also said he a resurgence of the Seeger Sessions Band may be in order.

Read the entire piece here.

It’s Official: Springsteen’s New Album Drops in June!

Western StarsIts title is Western Stars.  Here is Rolling Stone:

After dropping hints on his social media accounts all week, Bruce Springsteen has finally announced details about Western Stars, his upcoming album out on June 14th. “This record is a return to my solo recordings featuring character-driven songs and sweeping, cinematic orchestral arrangements,” Springsteen said in a statement. “It’s a jewel box of a record.”

According to a press release, “the 13 tracks of Western Stars encompass a sweeping range of American themes, of highways and desert spaces, of isolation and community and the permanence of home and hope.”

Read the entire piece here.  Springsteen says the record is influenced by Glenn Campbell, Jimmy Webb, and Burt Bacharach.  The first video from the album, “Hello Sunshine,” will be released tonight!

Here is the track list:

1. “Hitch Hikin’”
2. “The Wayfarer”
3. “Tucson Train”
4. “Western Stars”
5. “Sleepy Joe’s Café”
6. “Drive Fast (The Stuntman)”
7. “Chasin’ Wild Horses”
8. “Sundown”
9. “Somewhere North of Nashville”
10. “Stones”
11. “There Goes My Miracle”
12. “Hello Sunshine”
13. “Moonlight Motel”

Springsteen’s Masculinity

bruce-springsteen-on-broadway-photo-by-rob-demartin

This is a great piece by Canadian writer and poet Carter Vance.  Here is a taste of his The Smart Set piece, “Walk Like a Man: What I Learned from Bruce Springsteen“:

For all the working-class power bona fides in Springsteen’s music, though, I still come back to the men that populate the stories he tells. In many ways, they are traditional masculine archetypes, guys who work physical jobs during the day and burn rubber in big cars at night, but they are also so much more. By turns, they are sensitive, loving, defeated, angered, worldly enough to know they cannot speak for everyone but trying to better their empathy nonetheless. With the modern search for a model of masculinity which is untainted by toxicities of misogyny, homophobia, and other forms of bigotry, the greatest hope that the men in Springsteen’s songs give us is that this is possible. They are still distinctly masculine, but in a way that allows in complexity of feeling, solidarity with those different from them (not for nothing was Springsteen drafted to write and perform the title song to Philadelphia, the first mainstream American film to deal sympathetically with the AIDS crisis) and loving, loyal connection to their families and communities.

In short, the Springsteen man, if not necessarily Bruce Springsteen himself, is someone I keep aspiring to be.

Read the entire piece here.

Springsteen’s Harry Potter Song Will be Released in an Upcoming Movie

I’ll bet you didn’t know that Bruce Springsteen wrote a song for a Harry Potter movie.  His song “I’ll Stand by You Always” did not make the cut, but it has now found its way into a new Springsteen-inspired movie titled “Blinded by the Light.”

Here is a taste of Steve Pond’s piece at The Wrap:

Almost 20 years after he wrote the song for a “Harry Potter” movie, Bruce Springsteen has finally found a home for his unreleased ballad “I’ll Stand by You Always.” The song has been added to the end credits of “Blinded by the Light,” an upcoming, Springsteen-heavy New Line/Warner Bros. film from “Bend It Like Beckham” director Gurinder Chadha.

The song did not appear in “Blinded by the Light” when the film screened at Sundance in January, where its $15 million deal with New Line was the festival’s biggest. But it was added before this week’s screenings in Los Angeles and at CinemaCon in Las Vegas, and will now follow the song “Born to Run” during the end credits.

“Blinded by the Light” is based on the memoir “Greetings From Bury Park” by Sarfraz Manzoor, who was born in Pakistan but came to Great Britain as a child. Manzoor wrote about his teenage years in a small British town where his desire to become a writer was inflamed by a passion for Springsteen’s songs.

Read the rest here.

Alterman: Democrats Must Win the Springsteen Vote

bruce-springsteen-on-broadway-photo-by-rob-demartin

Bruce Springsteen’s music appeals to white working people.  It always has and it still does.  But many of the young working-class baby boomers who connected with Springsteen in 1970s and 1980s are no longer young working class men and women.  Many of them are white middle class and upper middle-class folks who can afford to buy a ticket to see Springsteen in concert or on Broadway.  When I go to a Springsteen concert I see a lot of guys in blue dress shirts and khakis. When I saw him on Broadway I am not sure how many working-class people were in attendance–it was hard to see everyone from the cheap seats in the back row of the Walter Kerr Theater.  (I did, however, see New York Times columnist David Brooks).

While I am sympathetic to Eric Alterman‘s piece calling the Democrats to appeal to the kind of folks who came of age with Springsteen’s albums, and I am a fan of his written work on the Boss,  I also think that a lot of Springsteen fans are conservative (there are a lot of Chris Christie-types out there) and a good number of them may have even voted for Donald Trump.

I will never forget what I witnessed on the night of September 11, 2016 at a Springsteen concert in Pittsburgh. Here is part of what I wrote about that show:

In another revealing moment a fan in the front row threw a copy of the United States Constitution onto the stage.  Bruce picked it up and showed the crowd that it had the words “F… Trump” written on it.  The crowd cheered and the woman next to me lifted her hands in agreement, but a significant number of people in my section began yelling similar derogatory things about Hillary Clinton.  Despite Springsteen’s outspoken progressive politics, his fans remain a politically eclectic bunch.

Here is a taste of Alterman’s piece in the Los Angeles Times:

With Sherrod Brown out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, a crucial question arises: Who will be the Bruce Springsteen candidate?

Who is the one that can win back Trump voters and Clinton-sitter-outers who feel forgotten by the Democrats? They’re the guys who worked the assembly line for decades but now get minimum wage at Walmart; the women feeding their families cold cuts for dinner and trying to make ends meet by selling vitamins from home; the manufacturing employees filled with xenophobic rage because the companies that used to employ them have moved their operations abroad.

Part of the reason Hillary Clinton lost working-class Democrats in 2016 was that she was seen as a representative of the very class of folk who profit from the troubles of American workers. Donald Trump’s braggadocio that he “alone” could reverse the trends that had harmed them was music to their ears.

Ever since Ronald Reagan misunderstood the lyrics to “Born in the USA,” candidates have sought to claim Springsteen’s aura as their own because of his rapport with a certain type of American voter. He has campaigned for Democrats in the past and shown particular affection for Brown, to whom he gave a shout-out while campaigning for Obama in 2012. The senator won Ohio in 2018 after Trump took it by eight points two years earlier. And while he was flirting with a presidential run, he traveled the country speaking about “The Dignity of Work.”

Read the rest here.

How Bruce Springsteen Created “Thunder Road”

Springsteen HiattI am really excited about reading music writer Brian Hiatt’s new book Bruce Springsteen: The Stories Behind the Songs.  (I would love to get a review copy so I can cover it here).

Here is a summary of the book:

The legend of Bruce Springsteen may well outlast rock ’n’ roll itself. And for all the muscle and magic of his life-shaking concerts with the E Street Band, his legendary status comes down to the songs. He is an acknowledged master of music and lyrics, with decades of hits, from “Blinded by the Light” and “Born to Run” to “Hungry Heart,” “Dancing in the Dark,” and “The Rising.”
 
In Bruce Springsteen: The Stories Behind the Songs, longtime Rolling Stone writer Brian Hiatt digs into the writing and recording of these songs and all the others on Springsteen’s studio albums, from 1973’s Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. to 2014’s High Hopes (plus all the released outtakes), and offers a unique look at the legendary rocker’s methods, along with historical context, scores of colorful anecdotes, and more than 180 photographs. Hiatt has interviewed Springsteen five times in the past and has conducted numerous new interviews with his collaborators, from longtime producers to the E Street Band, to create an authoritative and lushly illustrated journey through Springsteen’s entire songbook and career.

Rolling Stone magazine is running an excerpt from Hiatt’s book.  Here is a taste of “How Bruce Springsteen Created ‘Thunder Road‘”:

There were many revisions, including an amusing array of women’s names (In addition to Angelina, Anne, Chrissie and Christina all got a ride before Mary won out). The harmonica part in the intro was, at one point, played on sax instead. A handwritten worksheet from the sessions shows Springsteen’s focus on details like the fill Weinberg plays at the song’s “pulling here to win” climax – he wanted to try something a la the Dave Clark Five. Appel, whose relationship with Springsteen began to fray during the making of Born to Run, recalls a moment when the artist and Landau wanted to build “Thunder Road” more gradually, and replace the electric guitars that come in close to the two-minute-mark with acoustics – in Appel’s telling, he talked them out of it. As it was, Springsteen spent thirteen hours straight overdubbing electric guitar, Iovine recalls. And at some point in ‘75, Springsteen also recorded an eerie alternate version, a solo acoustic take that feels like a ghostly reflection of the released song, as if it’s being sung by a heartbroken narrator decades after its events.

As Springsteen wrote in his book Songs, “Thunder Road” offered a proposition : “Do you want to take a chance? On us? On life?” There was, however, an undercurrent of dread, as there almost always would be going forward. Springsteen was only 24 when he recorded “Thunder Road,” which makes the line “maybe we ain’t that young anymore” all the more striking. “The songs were written immediately after the Vietnam War,” Springsteen told me in 2005. “And you forget, everybody felt like that then. It didn’t matter how old you were, everybody experienced a radical change in the image they had of their country and of themselves. The reason was, ‘you were changed.’ You were going to be a radically different type of American than the generation that immediately preceded you, so that line was just recognizing that fact. The influences of a lot of my heroes from the Sixties and Fifties ended up on that record, but I realized that I was not them. I was someone else. So it wasn’t just a mish-mash of previous styles. There was a lot of stuff we loved in it from the music we loved, but there was something else, too – quite a sense of dread and uncertainty about the future and who you were, where you were going, where the whole country was going, so that found its way into the record.”

Read the entire piece here.  Or learn more about how Springsteen created “Badlands.”

“Songs That Matter Right Now”

The New York Times has put together a list of “The 25 Songs That Matter Right Now.”  Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” is at the top of the list.  Here is a taste of Hanif Abdurraqib‘s endorsement:

To live a long enough life in a place founded, in part, on violence and volatility is to know that long life may depend on someone else walking through a door you wanted no part of. Or to know that the heroes from your hometown never made it out because war got to them first. Stripped to its barest bones, “Born in the U.S.A.” asks a listener to recognize that human survival is not something we can count on. The song matters now in a different way than it did in 1984, largely because of the artist behind it: Springsteen, trying to wrestle not only with the song’s current legacy but also with how it might be co-opted decades from now, when he won’t be around to make sure people understand the ache behind the song’s fury.

Read the entire piece here.