What kind of relationship can a music fan have with their idols? What do they owe us and in return, besides for buying their product or getting it somehow-what do we owe them?
I first saw Bruce Springsteen in the spring of 1975 in Austin, Texas. The experience was as freakazoid as they come. A positively archetypal East-Coast band performing in one of the most laid-back venues (The Armadillo World Headquarters) there ever was, in front of cowboys, hippies, and me, for as long as I could handle it.
I left midway. The guitars, the drums, the assault of the band on stage seemingly coming out straight for the audience was too much for my Joni Mitchell-honed ears. I was into Neil Young and all things mellow and ponderous.
The Bruce Springsteen experience was something I wasn’t quite ready for, yet.
Now, I’ve seen Bruce and his cohorts about forty or fifty times since that weekend so long ago. While I’ve left the house for most of the major album release tours, I’ve also been fortunate enough to see Bruce in small clubs (The Old Waldorf, SF and others) plus his departures and side-projects (The John Kerry concerts and showing up for friend’s gigs.)
So in a way, I feel like I know Bruce. Of course, I’ve never met the guy.
This past Tuesday, for the first time in years, I went down to my local record store and purchased Bruce’s newest CD, “Wrecking Ball.” It reminded me of the old days when Tuesdays were known for more than meeting with Morrie.
It was exciting and reminded me how much things have changed. While I walked the three blocks to the local record store, which happens to be one of the largest in the United States, my girlfriend downloaded the iTunes version to her phone. I was analogging it as my girlfriend’s digitized world barely blinked before her iThing was opening up with “We Take Care of Our Own.”
Okay, it’s been two days and here’s what I think…
On the initial listen, it sounds like a Greatest Hits package #6 or “Springsteen Essentials Vol. IV” from the very near future. The music is first rate and extremely likeable. That’s actually been the problem of some of Bruce’s music in the last decade, almost since the crucial mark of 9-11; his music is anthem-like and comforting in a very Bruce kind of way.
In the last couple of albums, the call and response that developed between Bruce and the live audience seemed a little forced. Maybe that’s not the correct usage. It felt like Bruce wrote songs to include the audience. That if there was a way to have the audience chime in, or figure out their part, it incorporated itself into that Parthenon of seemly endless other songs that connects Bruce to his audience and then back again to the stage. Besides for giving new life from the studio version, it further cements the bond between Bruce and his people.
I do not see any reason to write in the possible audience reaction when there are so many opportunities for that to happen organically with Bruce and his music. All Bruce has to do is with Oldsters like me is point the mic towards us and we’re singing the second verse of his old stuff when he says it is our turn.
The other noticeable drawback, if that is the correct choice of words, is the eclectic nature of the album. Again, here’s another example of not winning for losing. When Bruce does a session or theme album like the Depression Era-soaked “Nebraska,” we complain about how one-note it is. It becomes how we can’t get our little heads around what he’s trying to say unless each songs relates to one theme.
On Wrecking Ball, Bruce is all over the place, not really residing in one genre too long. I wouldn’t even attempt to break each song down and give my interpretation to what I think the author had in mind. I don’t think it is that kind of an album.
This is what it is like for me.
Being caught in the trappings of old age and what I bring to it.
With Bruce, it is like meeting an old friend whose first wife passed away from a long debilitating disease. We remember his previous life with reverence and the selfishness of our own thoughts of being a part of a young couple’s beginning journey and the times we shared together.
Not that our friend has remarried, to a great partner, we’re sure- we remain optimistic, happy for his happiness, and try not to let our feelings of missing something that’s not there, to get in our way of enjoying the moment.
With the passing of Clarence and Danny, there are shadows on the stage that may never go away for some of us. That we can’t enjoy what we’re seeing and hearing because of our love for what was, knowing that it is gone forever.
With Wrecking Ball, Bruce again is at the top of his game. It is really our problem with who he is that is the impediment. How can a rich guy sing about what’s it is like for the 99%? At one point a character in a song talks about if he had a gun, he’d shoot the bosses and bankers down. I believed him. And with much of the album, when Bruce sings and directs us to watch out for our own, and he has done consistently since he’s grown-up way down by the River, so many albums ago, I know he’s being serious.
I personally bring so much baggage now, I don’t even know if it is fair to review this album. I’d be remiss if I made snide comments about Bruce mostly just because I can?
Anyone can say he’s an old out of touch, a silk-collar guy pretending he’s blue. But is he?
As Bruce does his thing unceremoniously as he always has- playing locally in Jersey and can be seen with Tom Morello’s latest project, and going out on tours with his big band sound-we Tweet and talk about him like we know what we’re speaking about.
How about that Wrecking Ball is a diverse and complicated project where Bruce Springsteen picked out 12 songs that he wanted to share with his peeps to show them where he’s at.
Leave it there.
If you need to hear Thunder Road in another form, it ain’t going to happen. For some reason, Wrecking Ball, the song, sounds most like old Bruce and I’m not even sure what that is anymore.
I heard that Bruce wrote most of this before the Occupy Movement was happening. That makes sense. Bruce has been writing stuff like this since Darkness. His message isn’t new. Maybe that’s why old dudes like me stay so close to him. He’s consistent and reliable.
The Stones are celebrating their fifty year anniversary this year. Name one song you would like to hear slow, stripped-down, between you and the band.
With Bruce that’s a given and you never know which song is going to be that game-changer for you. That one he did with Born in the USA, draining the anthem rock out of it and playing blues-style the way it was meant to be heard.
The real question other people ask is-Can Bruce Springsteen at this point in his career, still be the voice of the Common Man?
I don’t think that’s fair to ask. I think what may be truer is- Can you relate to Bruce and his music as you once did, or have you changed too much from the person who first jumped into that Camero with the Hurst on the floor to go racing in the streets?
I didn’t get tickets for Bruce’s upcoming concert. I thought about it and when I decided to do it, the show sold out. Life moves pretty fast.
Yesterday it was reported that Lady Gaga has the most followers on Twitter than any other human being or animal or mineral on this Earth. What did her monumental tweet say? “Check out the new Springsteen album.”
Another lifetime ago I walked out on Bruce. Now I can’t get a ticket.
But I’m content with my memories, all of Bruce’s music that I have stored and acquired, now with the eco-sound new CD I bought legitimately this past week, I have another entry for the Springsteen canon.
Bruce can really pick and choose like very few artists can. Those twelve songs on his new CD, they’re on there for a reason. To find fault or imperfection, I don’t know if it is worth it.
The very first listen, the very, very first hearing before I knew what I was hearing, I thought I was listening to the soundtrack to “The Waltons-the Movie,” if the movie remake had a two hundred dollar budget to work with and half was going to music production. It was like an Appalachian Spring Gone Baroque!
I found it easy to find fault and mock. But mostly what I was doing was comparing. Comparing these songs of new to my old memories of yore and yesterday when I thought I really knew what was what.
I’ve barely been to New Jersey or to the behind the scenes of late-night carnivals or hunger strikes or being stranded on the beach cold and in love yet Bruce has taken me to all these places.
Dylan likes a relative who can do no wrong and I will always accept him as he wants to be.
Bruce challenges and then makes us decide for ourselves which way we want to go.
I resist the temptation to fit Bruce Springsteen into my world and tell you how his music is a certain way. That would be bullshit.
It is a journey. You have to find out some things on your own.
Wrecking Ball is a great album. If you can’t see that, you’re too close to something. Either your ego that is unwilling to change or the fear that the world changes and you can’t tell until someone tells you that it’s changed.
There’s a consistent message to Bruce. All great artists have a style or a theme that permeates their work since the beginnings. I do not see Bruce any different. The benchmarks change. The sounds and producers change. Band members are no longer with us.
When great art hits a certain level, maybe it is best to let it go, tell some friends what you think, but let the guy be if your message he’s old and too rich to feel.
Bruce puts himself out there on display with his words and music. Maybe it is no coincidence that the title of his latest album is a vehicle of destruction. Maybe the Wrecking Ball isn’t against society and the Man but it is against us and our beliefs that we want to believe are safe.
Howard Zinn said you can’t be neutral on a moving train.
When you listen to Bruce now-who are you? Someone who lives in Neverland, somewhere near the Jersey shore in a judgmental shack plastered with pictures of Rosalita, Jenny, and a bunch of Marys ? Or a person who has grown with Bruce and doesn’t resent change but grows and matures like a song that been played for forty years, finding new chords and notes to mined, giving the listener another point of view that always been there.
But that is the artist job.
To show us what we’re afraid of seeing on our own.