- Born to Run
- Thunder Road
- Promised Land
- Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
- Dancing in the Dark
- Born in the U.S.A.
- The Rising
- Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
- Hungry Heart
Eric Alterman, a professor of English at Brooklyn College, is a contributor to the recently released collection Long Walk Home: Reflections on Bruce Springsteen (Rutgers University Press, 2019). His essay in the book is titled “Growing Up With Bruce Springsteen: A Fan’s Notes.” Here is a taste of an excerpt of that essay published in today’s New York Times:
Bruce Springsteen is the son of Catholic parents and grandparents. There is no ambiguity on this point. And yet, in much the same way that New York football fans have casually annexed the stadium across the river to root for what they like to pretend is their “home” team, some Jewish Springsteen fans are devoted to proving that New Jersey’s favorite Irish Italian son is, if not actually Jewish, nevertheless somehow Jew-ish. Perhaps you thought young Bruce was mostly singing about cars, girls, and getting the hell out of town before he switched gears to focus on the dignity of working folk, the broken promises of the American dream, and more cars and girls. But amid the empty factories, crowded barstools, and swimming holes that constitute the foundation of the Springsteen oeuvre, some detect a whiff of the Chosen.
Read the rest here.
The Boss turns 70 today.
I don’t have time today for original commentary, so here are a few good things online:
The 50 best Springsteen covers on his 70th birthday. (TWOILH reader Barton Price contributed to this list!0
Brian Hiatt, author of Bruce Springsteen: The Stories Behind the Songs, offers seven thoughts.
National Public Radio features a new edited collection on Springsteen out with Rutgers University Press.
Billboard offers 18 reasons to celebrate Bruce’s birthday.
Nj.com has completed its list of the 70 greatest Springsteen songs.
Jonathan Cohen, editor of the aforementioned edited collection, shows how Democratic presidential candidates are using Springsteen’s music.
Springsteen’s most recent album, Western Stars, will be the subject of a music documentary that Warner Brothers will release this Fall. Here is Variety:
Warner Bros. has nabbed global rights to “Western Stars,” the upcoming music documentary co-directed by Bruce Springsteen. The film will be released on the big screen and will open in theaters this fall after its world premiere at September’s Toronto International Film Festival.
“Western Stars” is Springsteen’s first studio album in five years and the film marks his directorial debut. It weaves in archival footage along with Springsteen’s narration, and shows him performing all 13 songs on the album, alongside a band and a full orchestra, in a nearly 100-year-old barn on the singer’s property.
The film was also overseen by Thom Zimny, a frequent Springsteen collaborator. Zimny directed the Boss in “Springsteen on Broadway” and “Bruce Springsteen: Hunter of Invisible Game” (2014), and picked up a Grammy Award for “Wings on Wheels: The Making of Born to Run” (2005).
“Bruce lives in the super rarified air of artists who have blazed new and important trails deep into their careers,” said Toby Emmerich, chairman of Warner Bros. Picture Group. “With ‘Western Stars,’ Bruce is pivoting yet again, taking us with him on an emotional and introspective cinematic journey, looking back and looking ahead. As one of his many fans for over 40 years, I couldn’t be happier to be a rider on this train with Bruce and Thom.”
Read the rest here.
Look, if there’s one thing I don’t even try to “play it cool” about it’s my unadulterated love for Bruce Springsteen. I’m sort of partially serious when I claim that back in 2004 I moved to New York City for more access to Springsteen concerts. (My number of shows attended has ballooned substantially over the last 15 years.) Anyway, somehow, in all this time, I have never been to Asbury Park, New Jersey. On Wednesday night, Blinded by the Light – a love letter of a movie about the music of Bruce Springsteen that I first saw back at Sundance and adored – was having its premiere in Asbury Park. This seemed to be a good time to go to Asbury Park.
So, here’s a little bit of backstory about Bruce Springsteen and this movie: Blinded by the Light, directed by Gurinder Chadha, is based on Sarfraz Manzoor’s book about growing up in a Pakistani family while living in English town of Luton and falling in love with Springsteen’s music. Springsteen pretty much gave this production full access to his catalog – using a Springsteen song in a movie usually costs a pretty penny – and, boy, Blinded by the Light did not skimp on the Springsteen music. So, of course, when Blinded by the Light premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, there were countless rumors Bruce himself would be making the trip to Park City, Utah.
Now, I’ve seen Bruce roughly 26 (maybe 27, I haven’t counted recently) times but I’ve never caught one of his “secret” or “rumored” shows. Basically, let’s say, oh, Joe Grushecky is playing a gig at The Stone Pony or Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, there’s maybe a five percent chance Bruce shows up to just jam. This will never, ever be announced. And most of the time you’re just going to wind up getting a full Joe Grushecky set. But, on those rare occasions, the lucky people there will get to basically be transported back in time to the early 1970s, before Born to Run, where they get to see Bruce Springsteen just hanging out in a bar playing guitar. It’s every Springsteen fan’s dream.
Read the entire piece here.
And here is a glimpse of Springsteen’s mini-concert with Southside Johnny on Wednesday night:
Masur teaches history at Rutgers University and is the author of Runaway Dream: Born to Run and Bruce Springsteen’s American Vision. This Fall he is teaching a course titled “Springsteen’s American Vision.” In this short interview, Masur talks about the course:
What can students learn in your course about why Springsteen’s music is so important?
“I begin the course with Elvis Presley, then go into Bob Dylan, and then most importantly, Springsteen. I want students to understand how each musical icon was directly inspired by the greats before them. I also want them to see how music plays a vital part in protest and activism as each of these musicians have inspired and created change. I have to push against the idea that this course will be easy, so I assign lots of reading and writing assignments that force students to engage the work and make critical arguments about its meaning.
“Great musicians are always in conversation with what’s going on in the culture and in individual lives. Springsteen once said his life’s work was “judging the distance between American reality and the American dream.” Springteen’s album “Wrecking Ball,” for example, was about the recession of 2008, and it told the stories of people who lost their homes and their path on the American dream. His album “The Rising” offered a reflection on the 9/11 attacks. His music helps us answer questions like “how do we survive?” and “how do we go on?” Good music inhabits the lives of others and tells moving stories like great fiction. Every generation will go through a deep hardship where they search for meaning, and great music will help them get there.
“There is also the other side of Springsteen I want students to know and that is what rock n’ roll is all about. Rock n’ roll offers release and works as a catharsis during tough times. It brings people together and it forms a community. That’s the side of him that explains why he has so many fans who return to his work time and again. At live shows, they feel transformed. I want my students to understand that and to experience it.”
Read the entire piece here.
And he has also released some live performance footage form 1973. Here is Spirit in the Night:
Here is a taste of a Scott Bernstein’s coverage at JamBase:
Bruce Springsteen dug into his archives and has started to upload live performance footage filmed in 1973 to his YouTube channel. Additionally, Springsteen called into SiriusXM’s E Street Radio and revealed a film based on his recently released Western Stars studio album is coming by the end of 2019.
“We made a film of us playing the Western Stars album start to finish, plus some other things,” The Boss said as per Variety. “I knew we weren’t going to tour, so I figured this was the best way to do it.” Springsteen explained the film was directed by longtime collaborator Thom Zimmy. “[The film] is looking good — that will be exciting,” the 69-year-old musician said.
On May 1, 1973 Bruce Springsteen and his band played the 2,000-capacity Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles as the opening act for Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show and New Riders of The Purple Sage. The band, which wouldn’t be known as the E Street Band until September of 1974, featured original drummer Vini Lopez as well as saxophonist Clarence Clemons, bassist Garry Tallent and pianist Danny Federici. The Boss unveiled professionally-shot footage of “Spirit In The Night” and “Wild Billy’s Circus Story” from the Ahmanson Theatre concert on YouTube.
“Spirit In The Night” features Springsteen on piano, while “Wild Billy’s Circus Story” sees Bruce playing acoustic guitar. Bruce Springsteen recorded a studio version of the former for inclusion on his 1973 debut album, Greetings From Asbury Park, which came out four months before the concert in Los Angeles. A studio version of “Wild Billy’s Circus Story” would make it onto The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle when the LP was released in November of 1973.
I am really enjoying Bruce Springsteen’s new album Western Stars. Like I usually do when Springsteen releases a new album, I have been listening to Western Stars on repeat. (It has been nice to take a break from the Hamilton soundtrack). Last week I was walking and riding around Rome, Positano, San Felice-Circeo, Sorrento, and Capri listening to the album. Western Stars was released on June 14, 2019. I am guessing I have listened to it about 100 times so far. In fact, I am listening to it as I type these words.
So far my favorite song–the last on the album–is “Moonlight Motel.” Springsteen tells the story of an old roadside motel somewhere in the west. The narrator spent a lot of time at the motel with a woman he loved. The relationship is now over (did she die?) and the man reflects nostalgically on the old motel:
I am struck by the layers of nostalgia in this song. Obviously the Moonlight Motel was new once. The pool was filled with water. The fence was not rusted. Children played on the property. One could easily write a song about how the motel has faded and become just another run-down stop in a place on a “blank stretch of road.” That would be one kind of nostalgia.
But Springsteen longs for the run-down days of the Moonlight Motel, when the pool was empty, the flowers were wilted, and the rooms were musty. This was the motel where he fell in love. Springsteen likes to write about things that are in ruins.
And let’s not forget that the entire album draws upon a 1970s California sound that is not around anymore and for which Springsteen seems nostalgic. This is the music of Glenn Campbell (listen to “Sundown”), Jimmy Webb, and Burt Bacharach (listen to “There Goes My Miracle”).
So many layers.
Also, why is Bruce wearing an Eagles hat?
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.
I 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.
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.”
Earlier this week we posted about the power of the key change in evangelical praise songs. Read the post here.
Fred Clark noticed our post at his popular Patheos blog “Slacktivist.” He has obviously thought more about this. Here is a taste of his wonderfully-titled post “When will this strong yearning end?“:
I call this the Manilow Effect. The fact that a well-timed key change may be predictable, cheesy, and transparently manipulative won’t prevent it from working. You don’t have to like the song or to admire the song or to enjoy the song. You can even viscerally resent its contrived schmaltz. But none of that will prevent you from experiencing a brief sensation of exultation that you have, at last, made it through the rain and found yourself respected by the others who got rained on too and made it throooough.
That is what it is, but it shouldn’t be confused with an experience of actual worship any more than it should be confused with actual heartbreak for Mandy, who came and who gave without taking before you sent her away.
On a related note, I’d bet that in the hands of a talented worship band “Weekend in New England” could — with very few changes to the lyrics — inspire a very successful altar call. That’s partly because of the genius of Barry Manilow’s key changes, but mainly it’s because we haven’t really understood or examined what it is we’re doing or measuring when we think of “a very successful altar call.”
Read the entire post here.
A friend on Twitter sent this along:
I am sure someone has written on the phenomenon of the key change in evangelical praise songs. If not, it would make a great scholarly study at the intersection of anthropology and music. Whenever a praise band makes a key change I notice that the number of raised hands in worship rises significantly. Any thoughts?
Before the key change:
After the key change:
Here is a description from the LSU Press website:
American Lonesome: The Work of Bruce Springsteen begins with a visit to the Jersey Shore and ends with a meditation on the international legacy of Springsteen’s writing, music, and performances. Gavin Cologne-Brookes’s innovative study of this popular musician and his position in American culture blends scholarship with personal reflection, providing both an academic examination of Springsteen’s work and a moving account of how it offers a way out of emotional solitude and the potential lonesomeness of modern life.
Cologne-Brookes proposes that the American philosophical tradition of pragmatism, which assesses the value of ideas and arguments based on their practical applications, provides a lens for understanding the diversity of perspectives and emotions encountered in Springsteen’s songs and performances. Drawing on pragmatist philosophy from William James to Richard Rorty, Cologne-Brookes examines Springsteen’s formative environment and outsider psychology, arguing that the artist’s confessed tendency toward a self-reliant isolation creates a tension in his work between lonesomeness and community. He considers Springsteen’s portrayals of solitude in relation to classic and contemporary American writers, from Frederick Doug-lass, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Emily Dickinson to Richard Wright, Flannery O’Connor, and Joyce Carol Oates. As part of this critique, he discusses the difference between escapist and pragmatic romanticism, the notion of multiple selves as played out both in Springsteen’s work and in our perception of him, and the impact of performances both recorded and live. By drawing on his own experiences seeing Springsteen perform—including on tours showcasing the album The River in 1981 and 2016—Cologne-Brookes creates a book about the intimate relationship between art and everyday life.
Blending research, cultural knowledge, and creative thinking, American Lonesome dissolves any imagined barriers between the study of a songwriter, literary criticism, and personal testimony.