A Class on Bruce Springsteen Will Be Offered at Monmouth University

Bruce_Springsteen_and_the_E_Street_Band_1977

Springsteen and the E Street Band, 1977 (Wikipedia)

Monmouth University in Freehold, New Jersey is the home of the Bruce Springsteen Archives.  It thus makes sense that the university is offering a course on the life and music of The Boss.  In the Spring 2020 semester history professor Kenneth Campbell will offer “Bruce Springsteen’s America: Land of Hope and Dreams” (HS-398-01).  Here is a taste of Mark Marrone’s article at the Monmouth University student newspaper:

As universities across New Jersey offered classes on Springsteen, Eileen Chapman, Director of The Bruce Springsteen Archives, felt that we were long overdue for a course on The Boss.

“Over the past eight years many professors who teach Springsteen courses have visited the archives to conduct research and prepare course materials. They have come from various colleges and universities throughout New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania but also from Rome, Italy and Canada,” said Chapman.

Chapman brought this up to Campbell, which left him, “dismayed to hear that,” said Campbell. “I have been a huge fan of Bruce for many years and given our location and his generosity in donating his archive to us, I certainly think he (and our students) deserve a course dedicated to his musical legacy.”

Luckily, Chapman mentioned the idea to the right person who could ‘Prove It All Night.’ “Having taught courses on the Beatles for the past ten years, people had frequently asked me why I didn’t teach a course on Bruce Springsteen. I finally decided I needed to do it, if no one else on the faculty is interested,” said Campbell.

Campbell has been a fan of Springsteen’s work throughout most of his life and he wants to share this appreciation to students in the course.

He stated, “[Springsteen’s] music has accompanied me on my life journey for the past 45 years and been a constant through all the growth and experiences of my life.”

Campbell continued, “It has influenced me, informed me, taught me, made me think, and inspired me. I am sure I am not alone in this feeling and think it must be very rare for an artist to have that kind of effect on people’s lives over such a long period of time.”

Campbell intends to teach the course through a historical lens. “I decided to develop a history course because of how much Bruce’s lyrics focus on the history of the United States and how much his life reflects and relates to the past 70 years of that history,” he said.

The course will focus on a wide range of historical events and will feature materials you can buy at your local record store.

“In my syllabus, I intertwine units on past history and topics such as the Great Depression or the American West with units on recent history related to Bruce’s life and music. I have built the course around Bruce’s own songs and writings, including his autobiography, Born to Run, and books about Bruce and his connections to the American tradition,” Campbell stated.

Read the entire piece here.

Angela Merkel Once Dreamed of Driving Around the United States Listening to Bruce Springsteen

President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the G7 Summit, Krün, Germany, June 2015

Two Springsteen fans: President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the G7 Summit, Krün, Germany, June 2015

Here is Angela Merkel, in an interview with Der Spiegel, reflecting on her life in East Germany before the Berlin Wall fell:

DER SPIEGEL: Germany is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Imagine, if you will, that the wall had never come down and East Germany (GDR) was celebrating the 70th anniversary of its founding this autumn. What do you think would have become of you?

Merkel: We certainly wouldn’t be here talking to each other. That much is clear.

DER SPIEGEL: And what would you be doing?

Merkel: I would have at least been able to realize my dream. In East Germany, women retired at 60, so I would have picked up my passport five years ago and traveled to America. Pensioners were allowed to travel outside of East Germany. Those who were no longer needed as socialist workers were allowed out.

DER SPIEGEL: The United States was your dream destination?

Merkel: Of course, I would also have spent some time looking around West Germany. But I wanted my first longer trip to be to America because of its size, variety and culture. I wanted to see the Rocky Mountains, drive around in a car and listen to Bruce Springsteen. That was my dream.

DER SPIEGEL: In a huge American cruiser?

Merkel: No, I prefer smaller cars. But it would certainly have been something better than a Trabant.

Read the entire interview here.

Did Bruce Springsteen Bring Down the Berlin Wall?

 

Of course he did. 😉

Here is Erik Kirschbaum’s piece at the Los Angeles Times:

Springsteen’s July 19, 1988, concert, the largest in East German history, reflected the growing thirst for freedom of young people inside East Germany, which, unlike other Eastern European countries warming to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms, had continued to clamp down on its citizens.

Some 160,000 managed to get tickets to see the Boss, but more than 100,000 stormed the gates, Woodstock style, shortly before the show — an astonishing act of defiance at a time when East German police still routinely used force.

“The show in East Berlin was a major moment for us…. It was one of our greatest shows,” Springsteen said in an interview with German TV network WDR in 2016. “It was just the stakes involved. The band tends to play well when the stakes are very high. We knew going into East Berlin at that time that we were rolling the dice quite a bit. And then the amount of people that showed up … it was an epic evening for us. It just seemed like a very important show to play….”

In any case, authorities hoped Springsteen’s appearance would pacify restless East Germans clamoring for more reforms, freedoms and rock ’n’ roll.

But Springsteen decided he would try to set the record straight about his motive with a short, powerful speech in German, which he had scrawled on a piece of paper: “I’m not here for or against any government. I’ve come to play rock ’n’ roll for you in the hope that one day all the barriers will be torn down.”

The crowd erupted in joy, fully understanding Springsteen’s reference. Some later said that it was a message they had been waiting their whole lives to hear.

Read the entire piece here.

*Western Stars*: A Brief Review

I”ve now seen Bruce Springsteen’s new movie Western Stars twice.  Last Wednesday night I attended one of the advanced showings with Joy and on Saturday night I saw it with Joy and my daughters (and my daughter’s roommate’s boyfriend) in Grand Rapids.  I’m not sure how to describe the genre of this movie.  Producer Thomas Zimny called it part concert and part documentary.  Springsteen plays through the entire “Western Stars” album from the top floor of a horse barn on his family farm.  It is an incredible space.  There is room for a small audience, a bar, a full band, and a 30-piece orchestra.  I want one of these barns! 🙂

Following the performance of each song on the album the scene shifts to Joshua Tree National Park in California where Springsteen sets-up the next song through his trademark storytelling.  In one interview he described these as short movies.   Looking weathered from the sun and occasionally wearing a cowboy hat, Springsteen wonders around the desert leading a horse through the shrub or staring into the sunset. In some scenes he drives a blue El Camino along the park’s dusty roads.  Many of them are integrated with old Springsteen family movies.

The desert provides the backdrop for Springsteen’s musings on family, roots, marriage (his relationship with Patti Scialfa is featured prominently), aging, depression, and his own journal of personal transformation.  There is something deeply spiritual about this movie.  Springsteen spent most of his earlier career running, but for the past three decades he has been on a journey home.  In Western Stars he describes, in a way that goes deeper than even his memoir and Broadway show, his daily struggle to come to overcome the “destructive parts” of his character and his quest to live a life of integrity and honor.

This movie is not only entertaining, but it will feed your soul.  It is a gift.

Springsteen on Learning to Let Go of the “Destructive Parts of My Character”

I saw Western Stars last night and I hope to blog about it soon.  I am still getting my thoughts together.  In the meantime, here is the first part of Springsteen’s conversation with CBS’s Gayle King:

In the second part, scheduled to run tomorrow morning, Springsteen comments on Donald Trump: “The stewardship of the nation…has been thrown away to somebody who doesn’t have a clue as to what that means …And unfortunately, we have somebody who I feel doesn’t have a grasp of the deep meaning of what it means to be an American.”

Springsteen: Movie Maker

I am really looking forward to seeing Bruce Springsteen’s movie Western Stars next week.  Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post has a nice long-form piece about the film.  Here is a taste:

COLTS NECK, N.J. — “Ahh, it’s early!” Shortly after 9:30 on a warm autumn morning, Bruce Springsteen walks into the cozy kitchen-sitting area of Thrill Hill, the recording studio nestled into a corner of his Monmouth County farm. “For the first interview of my 70s, it’s early!”

A few days after turning 70, Springsteen looks tan and fit as he settles into a leather slingback chair, stretches his arms and runs his hands through brush-cut hair the color of steel shavings. This is the same room where “Western Stars,” a movie based on his recent album of the same name, was in postproduction over the summer, with co-director Thom Zimny editing at a nearby dining table as he listened to Springsteen working on the score in the next room. The movie had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September; it opens in theaters on Oct. 25.

Springsteen makes his feature directing debut with “Western Stars,” sharing a credit with Zimny and making official a fact that has been obvious to anyone who’s ever listened closely to his music: Bruce Springsteen — singer, songwriter, rock star, consummate showman, American icon — has always been a filmmaker. Whether in the form of widescreen, highly pitched epics or low-budget slices of daily life, Springsteen’s records have been less aural than immersive, unspooling with cinematic scope, drive and pictorial detail. Phil Spector might have built a wall of sound, but Springsteen used sound to build worlds.

He greets the suggestion that he’s an auteur with one of his frequent self-effacing chuckles. But Springsteen admits that a cinematic point of view came naturally to him. “Movies have always meant a lot to me,” he says in his familiar rasp. “It’s probably just a part of being a child of the ’50s and ’60s and ’70s, when there was so much great filmmaking.”

He grew up in a blue-collar, Irish Italian family at a time when the local bijou was still a vital community hub. “The Strand Theatre in Freehold, N.J., was dead in the center of town,” he recalls. “It was your classic old, small-town movie theater. Its main attraction was, ‘Come on in, it’s cool inside.’ ”

He laughs again.

Read the rest here.

*Forbes* Reviews Forthcoming Springsteen Documentary *Western Stars*

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Yesterday we gave you a glimpse of a song from the new Springsteen documentary Western Stars.  It will be out in theaters later this month.

Over at Forbes, Steve Baltin reviews the film.  Here is a taste:

Western Stars, (co-directed by Springsteen and Thom Zimny, who worked with Springsteen on The Promise documentary and directed Springsteen On Broadway) is the companion film to the album of the same name this year. But it feels as much as a continuation of his best-selling memoir Born To Run and the Springsteen On Broadway run, as if this is Springsteen sorting that baggage in his art and in front of the world.

Springsteen, who is one of the greatest chroniclers of characters in the rock era, seems to be, in a sense, deconstructing the myths of his greatest character — Bruce Springsteen, the rock legend.

There is that brilliant monologue in Springsteen On Broadway, where he confesses with tremendous humor, about how he had spent his whole career writing about guys with blue-collar jobs in factories and he had never set foot in a factory. He continues to debunk those myths in Western Stars. But this time it’s without the humor or the audience laughing, so the depth of his revelations often seem startling.

Every story and admission he makes is tied to a song on Western Stars. In the framework of the film there is him talking, then a live performance, and that repeats for every song on the album.

So as he talks about change he discusses how he had spent the last 35 years of learning to let go of “my destructive side,” with the help of his family. But talking about what he was like before he learned to let go of that side he says, “If I loved you, I tried to hurt you.”

Read the rest here.

“This is totally non-history, but what’s the name of that song you referenced today in lecture?”

Yesterday in my United States History to 1865 survey course, I lectured on the colonial responses to the Stamp Act.  I also use this lecture to introduce students to the Whig vocabulary of the Founding Fathers.  I try to historicize words like “power,” “liberty,” “slavery,” and “tyranny.”

When I talk about “power,” I note that Whig political thinkers believed that power was not only the antithesis of liberty, but it also had an encroaching dimension to it.  In other words, British Whigs, and by extension the American founders, believed that those with power will always want more.

In order to illustrate the encroaching dimension of power, I use a line from Bruce Springsteen’s song “Badlands”:

Poor man wanna be rich

Rich man wanna be king

And a king ain’t satisfied

Till he rules everything

Sometimes I even sing the lyric.

Usually this part of the lecture is met with blank stares.  The same thing happened today.  My students just don’t appreciate The Boss.

But when when I returned to my office later in the day I received an e-mail from a student.  It read:  “This is totally non-history, but what’s the name of that song you referenced today in lecture?”

My day was made!

Eric Alterman on Springsteen: “World-famous rock stars don’t come any menschier”

Long Walk HomeEric 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.

Is This Springsteen’s Greatest Performance?

Rolling Stone thinks it is.  Here is a taste of Andy Greene’s piece “Is This Bruce Springsteen’s Single Greatest Live Moment?”:

With all of this in mind, naming his single greatest concert is a very difficult task. And zooming in even further to pick out his best performance of a singular song is just absurd. After all, he’s played “Born to Run” 1,744 times, “Thunder Road” 1,424 times, and “The Promised Land” 1,375 times. Hell, he’s even done the 1984 B side “Shut Out the Light” 35 times, and “Jump” by Van Halen” twice. One time he even did Bon Jovi’s “Bad Medicine,” though nobody is going to pick that one.

But in honor of the man’s 70th birthday yesterday, we’re going to go ahead and pick our choice for his best live performance anyway. It was “Prove It All Night” at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey, on September 19th, 1978. The show was broadcast on the radio and released as the famous Pièce De Résistance bootleg that Springsteen fans have cherished for years. Springsteen finally released it himself earlier this month as an official download. The Capitol Theatre also had a camera running and you can watch the whole thing right here.

It begins with a four-minute piano and guitar duel between Springsteen and E Street Band keyboardist Roy Bittan before the vocals kick in. The version of the song that follows makes the “Prove It All Night” on Darkness on the Edge of Town sound like a limp, lifeless demo by comparison. The group had been touring the album for four months at this point and were in absolute peak form as a live band.

To be fair, there were 115 shows on the Darkness on the Edge of Town tour and only a tiny handful survive in crystal-clear audio like this show. Even fewer were caught on film. It’s quite possible that other shows had a “Prove It All Night” even better than 9/19/78. It’s actually quite likely. But based on what we have access to at the moment, we stand by our choice.

Springsteen kept “Prove It All Night” in his live repertoire after 1978, but the extended version from the Darkness tour vanished. The fans never gave up on hearing it again, though, and one even managed to ask Springsteen about it during a 2010 appearance on E Street Radio. “You’re one of the ’78 piano intro guys!” Springsteen said. “There are clones of you in various places throughout the United States. … It was just a device that worked nicely at the time. If you’d like to hear it again, that’ll probably never occur, my friend. But it was good while it lasted.”

Springsteen’s Only #1 Song on the Billboard Charts

He wrote it, but the Manfred Mann cover went to #1 on February 19, 1977.  “Blinded by the Light” ended Marty MacGregor’s two-week run for “Torn Between Two Lovers” and stayed at #1 for one week before it was overtaken by the Eagles “New Kid in Town.”

“Dancing in the Dark,” which was written and performed by Springsteen, made it to #2 on June 30, 1984 and stayed in that spot for five weeks.  It was unable to overtake Prince’s “When Dove’s Cry” and Duran Duran’s “The Reflex.”