Springsteen Course at Monmouth University

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Check out Steve Strunsky’s NJ.com piece on historian Kenneth Campbell‘s Monmouth University course “Bruce Springsteen’s America: Land of Hope and Dreams.”

A taste:

The class, as the syllabus states, “explores the history of the United States in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries through the lens of the life, music and lyrics of Bruce Springsteen.”

Campbell and his 21 students meet Monday and Wednesday afternoons in a nondescript classroom in Rechnitz Hall bereft of any signs of Springsteen-mania but equipped with an overhead sound system that Campbell uses to play snippets of the songs, like the sparse piano and harmonica intro to “Thunder Road,” the opening track to his critically-acclaimed commercial breakthrough album from 1975, “Born to Run.”

The main textbook is Springsteen’s 2016 autobiography, also titled “Born to Run,” which Campbell used to validate the course itself and his academic discipline.

Read the entire piece here.

Avett Brothers Bassist Bob Crawford Talks History

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Check out Ashley Layne‘s Substream Magazine interview with Bob Crawford, bass player for the Avett Brothers.  Then go to Episode 53 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast and listen to our interview with Crawford.

Here is a taste of Layne’s interview:

So the band definitely has southern roots and deep ties to an historically conservative state, was there hesitation at all to include songs like “Bang Bang” and “We Americans” on the album? Were you scared of being too pointed and divisive?

Well, no. There was a conversation about “Bang Bang” with Scott and Seth. You know what’s great about it is, it’s a conversation starter. So, I think that needs to be pointed out. I think it also needs to be pointed out that the song is written from a personal viewpoint of a real-world situation. So, I think that is important to recognize, as well. This is a song that was good for us as a group, mainly Scott and Seth, because it allowed them to engage in a difficult conversation.

I look at “Bang Bang” and “We Americans” differently. I fell in love with American History in 2004, and I began just reading. I started with the David McCullough books. I had a curiosity about American history that I still have to this day. I have a history podcast called The Road to Now; it’s something I am very serious about. I am getting my masters in history, so when I heard “We Americans” that Seth wrote, I knew Seth was reading Henry Adams so I was like, ’Oh, this is the natural result of Seth reading Henry Adams.’ Henry Adams has the greatest prose of any historian on the face of the planet. To read his historical text is to read literature it’s so beautifully written. Seth also writes beautiful prose and he’s a wordsmith, so, yeah, of course (Seth) nailed the content.

When you read history there were narratives that were, until the past 50 years, not told, but were real narratives. “We Americans” checks out. I often said to Seth, I hope you have a bibliography for this song because historians are gonna want to see it.

I put “We Americans” in the bucket with “This Land is Your Land.” And I think what’s great about “We Americans” is it goes from the idea of patriotism to paying tribute and respect. So the saying I always have is: the good, the bad, the ugly of American History. Being an American, you need to be able to recognize and somehow deal with the good, the bad, and the ugly of American history. I think what “We Americans” does, it recognizes that we need to have a certain love of our country and patriotism, but the song ends with recognizing love of God as being greater than love of country and love of one another as being greater. That’s what it means to me. I think it’s a great song. And, I think it’s a lot different than “Bang Bang” in terms of what’s controversial about it. I don’t think the subject matter of “We Americans” is controversial at all, I don’t think it should be.

Read the entire interview here.

Happy Birthday Bruce Springsteen!

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.

The *Western Stars* Documentary is Coming

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.

Naples

Historian Louis Masur on Teaching Springsteen

a3af1-masurMasur 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.

Song of the Day: Nostalgia Upon Nostalgia

Naples

I found Springsteen’s new album in a bookstore in the Naples train station.  Napoli loves Bruce!

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:

There’s a place on a blank stretch of road where
Nobody travels and nobody goes and the Deskman says these days ’round here
Two young folks could probably up and disappear into
Rustlin’ sheets, a sleepy corner room
Into the musty smell
Of wilted flowers and
Lazy afternoon hours
At the Moonlight Motel
Now the pool’s filled with empty, eight-foot deep
Got dandelions growin’ up through the cracks in the concrete
Chain-link fence half-rusted away
Got a sign says “Children be careful how you play”
Your lipstick taste and your whispered secret I promised I’d never tell
A half-drunk beer and your breath in my ear
At the Moonlight Motel
Well then it’s bills and kids and kids and bills and the ringing of the bell
Across the valley floor through the dusty screen door
Of the Moonlight Motel
Last night I dreamed of you, my lover
And the wind blew through the window and blew off the covers
Of my lonely bed, I woke to something you said
That it’s better to have loved, yeah it’s better to have loved
As I drove, there was a chill in the breeze
And leaves tumbled from the sky and fell
Onto a road so black as I backtracked
To the Moonlight Motel
She was boarded up and gone like an old summer song
Nothing but an empty shell
I pulled in and stopped into my old spot
I pulled a bottle of Jack out of a paper bag
Poured one for me and one for you as well
Then it was one more shot poured out onto the parking lot
To the Moonlight 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.

Listen: