Saved By Bruce

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Earlier this week I saw Blinded by the Light, the feel-good movie about a Pakistani teenager named Javed Kahn living in Luton, England during the Thatcher years.  Javed’s depressing life is transformed after he is exposed to the the music of Bruce Springsteen.  I wrote about the movie here.

I really enjoyed Richard Brody’s review of Blinded by the Light at The New Yorker. Here is my favorite paragraph:

Yet what’s heartwarming about “Blinded by the Light” is its pursuit of easy unanimity, which it achieves by borrowing plot elements that have the ring of authenticity and then sweetening and contrivedly assembling them so as to denature them. Javed’s life is changed one day at school, when a classmate named Roops (Aaron Phagura), who’s Sikh, approaches him and, in an encouragingly friendly gesture, offers him cassettes of two albums of his musical hero: “the Boss.” Javed is puzzled. Roops clears up the mystery: “The Boss of us all.” When Javed listens to Bruce Springsteen, the lyrics swirl around him on screen and he is transformed. What’s odd about the way that the movie handles Javed’s awakening is that its result is a monomaniacal fixation on Springsteen. Javed’s discovery of the Boss’s music doesn’t unlock the door to music for him, or to rock music, or to personal poetic rock at large, the way that a discovery of Beethoven might open up a world of classical music, or a discovery of François Truffaut might spark the discovery of cinema, or that of Virginia Woolf might ignite the discovery of novels. Rather, the movie looks benignly, even beatifically, at Javed’s cult of personality, as he fills his room with Springsteen posters, imitates Springsteen’s way of dressing, and seemingly listens to nothing but Springsteen’s albums. Far from sparking Javed’s curiosity, Springsteen sparks his incuriosity.

Read the entire review here.

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

*Blinded by the Light*: A Review

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I saw Blinded by the Light last night at a special “Fan Event” premiere.  (The movie officially opens tomorrow night).  While I don’t think this movie will win any Academy Awards (at least in the major categories), it was a lot of fun to watch.  Blinded by the Light is the very definition of a “feel good movie.”

The film explores the tensions between the Old World and the New World through the life of Javed Khan, a sixteen-year-old Pakistani boy in Margaret Thatcher’s England.  Javed wants to become a writer.  He feels oppressed by the traditions of his Pakistani home and his authoritarian father who is struggling to provide for his family during a period of recession.

This is all a pretty standard story line for immigrant movies until Javed encounters (through a Sikh friend) the music of Bruce Springsteen.  (He listens to Born in the USA and The River on cassette via his Walkman).  Springsteen speaks directly to Javed’s circumstances, but in the end Javed also realizes that the sense of longing and ambition in the Boss’s music must be balanced with roots, tradition and place.

The script is corny at times, and the plot is a pretty tired one, but the characters (especially Javed’s father) are very likable and the Springsteen soundtrack is worth the price of a ticket.  If you are Bruce fan, you will leave the theater with a smile on your face!

 

Blinded

Caroline liked *Blinded by the Light*

Gurinder Chadha Talks About the Making of *Blinded by the Light*

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I will be doing my best to see “Blinded by the Light” this week.  In the meantime, here is a great interview with director Gurinder Chadra:

Bruce Springsteen was born to run. Luckily, so was English film director Gurinder Chadha.

She ran into the Boss on a red carpet several years ago. When you want to make a movie using all his early music and then see him in the flesh, you don’t walk up to him. You sprint.

“I ran over and seized the moment. I said, ‘Hi Bruce! You gotta help us out. My name is Gurinder. I’m a film director. I made ‘Bend It Like Beckham,’ ” she recalled. ‘I said, ‘We really want to make a film of the book written by Sarfraz Manzoor about his life and how your music inspired him.’ ”

“To which, Bruce looked at Sarfraz who was there with me and said, ‘Sounds good. I read that book. It’s beautiful. Talk to my manager,’ ” said Chadha, 59, one of the few female film directors of Indian origin.

The end result — “Blinded by the Light” — is one the biggest deals coming out of the Sundance film festival this year, as the film sold to Warner Bros. for $15 million. Early reviews are calling it “the feel-good movie of 2019.”

“Blinded” revolves around a British-Pakistani teenager named Javid (Viveik Kalra), an aspiring poet who meets with the disapproval of his strict father Malik (Kulvinder Ghir). Life is bleak in their small town in England circa 1987. Dad has been laid off from the local plant and to cope with the despair and local racism, Javid becomes obsessed with the rocking music and inspirational lyrics of Bruce Springsteen….

What happened after you encountered Springsteen on that red carpet?

Sarfraz and I went away and wrote a script just for Bruce. We sent it to his manager and then came the waiting period. Finally, Bruce sent this message to his manager and it read: “I’m all good with this. Give them what they want.” Our timing was good because he has really been looking at his legacy and the impact of it.

Read the entire interview at Las Vegas Review-Journal.

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.

Springsteen’s Top 70 Songs of the Last 30 Years

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Bruce Springsteen turns 70 on September 23.  Writer Jay Lustig is celebrating the Boss’s birthday with short pieces on Springsteen’s best seventy songs from the past thirty years.  Here is Lustig describing the project at NJArts.net:

Bruce Springsteen will turn 70 in 70 days — on Sept. 23 — and in honor of that, NJArts.net has created a special project: A list of his Top 70 songs, restricted to songs recorded and released after his 40th birthday (Sept. 23, 1989).

I will be revealing the songs, one per day, between now and then, starting at the bottom of the list. The No. 1 song will be posted on his birthday. Each song will have its own post, and I will add the links here as they are revealed.

I know, I know: There are already too many Springsteen lists in the world. But I thought this one would be different, and worth doing, because it could shed light on some gems Springsteen has created over the last three decades that have not received much attention or, in some cases, have been almost totally forgotten.

Read the rest here.

Number 65:

Springsteen Will Release a Film Featuring *Western Stars*

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.

Are You Blasting Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” Today?

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Here is Slate writer Ruth Graham:

Graham is correct.  The song is really dark.  Here is a piece I wrote a few years ago for Real Clear Politics after former Texas governor Rick Perry used this song at a campaign rally:

If the last several GOP presidential primaries are any indication, nearly every candidate for the Republican Party’s nomination in 2016 will claim to be a follower of Ronald Reagan.

Rick Perry, should he decide to run, will be one of those candidates. The former Texas governor has even decided to use one of Reagan’s old campaign theme songs.

Last Thursday, at an event in Washington D.C., Perry walked onto the stage to Bruce Springsteen’s iconic 1984 single, “Born in the U.S.A.” About thirty years ago this song peaked at #9 on the Billboard charts and it continues to be a quintessential American anthem and a crowd favorite at Springsteen concerts.

Like Reagan in 1984, Rick Perry and his staff seem to have no clue about the song’s meaning. Anyone who listens carefully to the lyrics of “Born in the U.S.A.” will quickly realize that there is little about the song that reflects conservative values.

“Born in the U.S.A.” is about veterans living in the wake of Vietnam War. The first verse describes a veteran who can’t find a job when he returns home. He is rejected by potential employers so many times that he ends up like a “dog who has been beat too much” until he “spends half his life just covering up.”

Springsteen also sings about a fictional “brother” who was killed while fighting the Vietcong. He’s dead, but they’re “still there,” while the woman who he loved is left only with a picture.

Like most Springsteen songs, “Born in the U.S.A.” is a lament for the American working class. It reminds us that Vietnam was a “rich man’s war” and a “poor man’s fight.” This is a protest song. It is a song of tragedy. It tells stories of young men who sacrificed themselves for their country and got nothing in return.

On Sept. 19, 1984, a few months before his overwhelming victory over Walter Mondale, Reagan made a campaign stop in Hammonton, New Jersey, a rural and hardscrabble community with a large Italian-American population. It was a perfect place to test out his new theme song, “Born in the U.S.A.”

After the song blared over the loudspeakers, Reagan stepped up to the podium and said: “America’s future rests in a thousand dreams inside your hearts; it rests in the message of hope in songs so many young Americans admire: New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen. And helping you make those dreams come true is what this job of mine is all about.”

On one level, Reagan interpreted Springsteen correctly. A lot of his music is about the way ordinary Americans yearn to live the American Dream. This theme in Springsteen’s music is what attracted conservative columnist George Will to bring The Boss’s songs to the attention of the Reagan re-election team in the first place.

But “Born in the U.S.A.” is also a song about what Springsteen has recently described as the large gap between American reality and the American Dream. The song is more about the tragic side of American life than the sunny pursuits of happiness that politicians, especially conservative politicians, like to talk about on the campaign trail.

“Born in the U.S.A.,” with Max Weinberg’s drum blasts and Springsteen’s rugged voice, is a musical assault on the purveyors of the American dream. It reminds us that for many people in American history the dream has been more like an illusion.

Springsteen heard about the way Reagan was using his song and he lashed back. Two days later, while playing a concert in Pittsburgh, Springsteen paused from the music to say few words of introduction for “Johnny 99,” a song about an unemployed New Jersey autoworker. “Johnny 99” is a cut from Nebraska, one of Springsteen’s darker albums. It is filled with songs that are about brokenness, hardship and death.

Before he played “Johnny 99” that night, Springsteen referenced Reagan’s Hammonton speech: “The President was mentioning my name the other day, and I kinda got to wondering what his favorite album must have been. I don’t think it was the Nebraska album. I don’t think he’s been listening to that one.”

The chorus of “Born in the U.S.A.” may send chills of inspiration up the spines of Rick Perry supporters, but the former Texas governor should probably think twice about using it in any more appearances. 

 

Caryn Jones Updates Her Ranking of Springsteen Songs

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With the release of Western Stars, the songs in the Springsteen songbook has risen to 327.  Over at Vulture, critic Caryn Rose has added the Western Stars songs to her rankings.  The highest ranking  Western Stars song is “There Goes My Miracle.”  It comes in at number 142.

“Born to Run” maintains the top spot, followed by “Thunder Road,” “Born in the U.S.A.,” “Badlands,” and “The Promised Land.”

Jones ranks the Western Stars songs this way:

142. “There Goes My Miracle”

146. “Western Stars”

156. “Hello Sunshine”

173. “The Wayfarer”

182. “Hitch Hikin”

204. “Sundown”

214. “Tuscon Train”

225. “Moonlight Motel”

233. “Chasin’ Wild Horses”

241. “Drive Fast (The Stuntman)”

248. “Stones”

267. “Somewhere North of Nashville”

276. Sleepy Joe’s Cafe”

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:

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

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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