Springsteen’s Masculinity

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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.

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.”

Historicizing “Sweet Home Alabama”

Most of us know Lynyrd Skynryd’s southern anthem “Sweet Home Alabama.”  I used to teach the song in my Civil War America course using Jim Cullen’s book The Civil War in Popular Culture: A Reusable Past.

But what is this song actually about?  I thought it was obvious.  I still think it’s pretty obvious. But Felix Contreras’s piece at NPR made me think in a more nuanced way about the song.  Here is a taste:

In a way, the song began as a contradiction: It was written by two guys from Florida and one from California, none of whom ever lived in Alabama. So where did members of Lynyrd Skynyrd get the gumption to write about a state they had only driven through? In part, it was because a Canadian got there first. Neil Young’s song “Southern Man,” released in 1971, took the entire South to task for the bloody history of slavery and its aftermath.

In the Showtime documentary If I Leave Here Tomorrow, one of the song’s composers, lead vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, explained that the musicians wanted to counter what they saw as Young’s one-dimensional stereotype.

“We knew that by doing that song, just writing those lyrics, we knew from the beginning that we’d get a lot of heat for it. And I did attack Neil Young in that song,” Van Zant said, referring to a verse that called Young out by name:

Well I heard Mister Young sing about her
Well, I heard ol’ Neil put her down
Well, I hope Neil Young will remember
A Southern man don’t need him around, anyhow

“What are you talking about, you know?” Van Zant said. ” From what I’m told you were born in Canada.”

Even as the song was positioned to dispel some stereotypes of the South, the band was embracing others. Back then, Lynyrd Skynyrd performed in front of a large Confederate flag — at the suggestion of its record label. And in the documentary, Van Zant offered this: “Everybody thinks we’re a bunch of drunken rednecks … and that’s correct.” So which is it?

Read the entire piece here.

*The Devil’s Music* Playlist

StephensOn Episode 38 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast, we talk to University of Oslo historian Randall Stephens about his new book The Devil’s Music: How Christians Inspired, Condemned, and Embraced Rock ‘n’ Roll.  Randall talks about his new book and I reflect on my own experiences at the intersection of evangelicalism and rock music.  The episode will drop next weekend.

In the meantime, head over the the website of Harvard University Press and listen to a Spotify playlist of songs and artists that Stephens considers in The Devil’s Music.  It includes music by Sam Cooke, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Haley & the Comets, The Beatles, Cliff Richard, Larry Norman, Phil Keaggy, Andre Crouch, Sha Na Na, Bill Gaither Trio, Bob Dylan, Amy Grant, Keith Green, DeGarmo & Key, Michael W. Smith, Stryper, DC Talk, and Sufjan Stevens.

And if you are a Randall Stephens fan, don’t forget to check out “The Randall Stephens Collection.”

Episode 28: That Memphis Sound

 

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Otis Redding. Booker T and the M.G.s. Eddie Floyd. Isaac Hayes. The Staples Sisters. What do all of these classic soul and R&B artists have in common? Stax Records. As he toured the history of the Civil Rights Movement this summer, host John Fea included a stop at the Stax Museum (@StaxMemphis) in Memphis, Tennessee. Eager to relive the experience and share such attractions as a floor-to-ceiling record room and Isaac Hayes’s gold-plated Cadillac, Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling are joined by the museum’s executive director, Jeff Kollath. They discuss the importance of that “Memphis Sound” for the city as well as creating a “usable past” with popular music history.

Take a History Course on Dolly Parton

Dolly_Parton_with_Larry_Mathis_and_Bud_BrewsterJacey Fortin of The New York Times reports on a history course at the University of Tennessee focused on the life and times of country singer Dolly Parton.  The course is taught by historian Lynn Sacco, author of Unspeakable: Father-Daughter Incest in American History.

Check out Sacco’s course website here.

Here is a taste of the course description:

History honors students look at how a “hillbilly” girl from Appalachia grew up to become an international one-word sensation. The course pulls students in to study someone they thought they already knew and familiarizes them with analyzing popular culture as a historical source. Reading about how hillbillies and feuds began as made-up characters and tropes in novels and cartoons to the rise of hillbilly music to Christian entertainment and the thread of tourism, students see the processes by which fiction often becomes fact, and how heritage is a blend of the real and the imagined.

Here is a taste of Fortin’s article:

According to Dr. Sacco’s syllabus, the seminar looks at a history of the 20th century not from the vantage point of elites, but through the eyes of Ms. Parton, “a poor white girl born in midcentury Appalachia.”

It has a wealth of reading materials, including Ms. Parton’s own 1994 book, “Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business,” and a slew of contemporary articles from periodicals such as The Tennessee Magazine, The Knoxville News Sentinel and The New York Times. Their topics range from child labor in the early 20th century to the Kennedy-era Appalachian Regional Commission and modern economic anxiety in the region.

Read the rest here.