Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My Summer of Springsteen


This photo accompanied both Springsteen-related articles from The New Yorker.  The first, a long feature, is discussed below.  The other is a shorter recap of Springsteen's career.  Both were written by David Remnick.

With one week of summer vacation left, I've been looking back at what I did with my time off.  I spent a large portion of it at my dining room table, listening to Bruce Springsteen records on my turntable. 


Early in the summer, I wrote in a postcard to a friend that the MVPs of the summer (to that point) were Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Andrew McCutchen, rye whisky, and Bruce Springsteen.  Now, as the summer is winding down,  The New Yorker ran a wonderful, long essay on Bruce at the age of 62, and he is still in the running for MVP.  I wanted to write about Springsteen earlier in the summer, but didn't feel like I was prepared for it until now.

I've always loved Bruce Springsteen.  In fact, one of the first cassettes that I ever got from the store was Born in the U.S.A.  (I was seven at the time, and also owned new cassettes by Dire Straits and Rockwell.)  My brother added to my appreciation of his music through my high school years.  I was 16 when he played "Glory Days" on the amazing last night of Late Night with David Letterman on NBC.  Jason and I were watching; we later transfered the audio of our VHS tape of that night's show onto cassetes and listened to it for the next five years as we drove around town.  The next year, when I sat in with him on his radio show at WPTS at the University of Pittsburgh, we played "I'm Going Down."  (We subsequently made a cassete version of that show, too, and we played it out for the next five years in our car stereos.)



And I've been digging deeper into the discography in the last year or so.  My family has established a tradition of listening to a record during dinnertime every night.  No TV, no computers, no iPod--just the four of us and rock and roll on the turntable I bought at Sears about ten years ago.  We only listen to good stuff at dinner, mind you--Dylan, Carole King, The Beatles, The Decemberists, Otis Redding.  And, wouldn't you know it, we've been playing Darkness at the Edge of Town, The River, and Greetings at Asbury Park pretty often this year.

I could listen to "Racing in the Street" ten times in a row.

But the problem I've had with Springsteen is the same problem I have with REM, Neil Young, or, increasingly, Wilco--there's just too damn much of it.  Not only are there albums you've never heard, there are entire career paths you might not be familiar with.  Furthermore, there's always someone who knows much, much  more about that artist than you do, and you self-consciously refrain considering yourself a real fan.

But I've been working on it.  I already knew Born in the U.S.A., and Born to Run, so I got a vinyl copy of Darkness at the Edge of Town, then The River.  It wasn't until I was about 27--hard to believe--that I got around to Nebraska, one of my favorite albums of all time.  (My wife, bless her, won't let me listen to that one too often.  She once stole my CD copy out of the car when I was going through a rough spell.)   Somewhere I picked up The Essential Bruce Springsteen, Human Touch and Lucky Town.


My wife had to go out of town this summer, and when she returned, she brought me a copy of the Live 1975-85 box set on vinyl.  I listened to that for the first two weeks of summer break, over and over again, while I was wrestling with Crime and Punishment.  It's that good.


All this is to say that I sat down, in the middle of June, and thought about writing about how much I love Bruce.  After all the work I had put into his career, I considered myself, at last, to be a fan.  Then I looked at how many studio records he had released in his career.  I have nine more to go.


Album
Got it
Need It
Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. (1973)
X

The Wild, the Innocent & The E Street Shuffle (1973)

X
Born to Run (1975)
X

Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978)
X

The River (1980)
X

Nebraska (1982)
X

Born in the U.S.A. (1984)
X

Tunnel of Love (1987)

X
Human Touch (1992)
X

Lucky Town (1992)
X

The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995)

X
The Rising (2002)

X
Devils & Dust (2005)

X
We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (2006)

X
Magic (2007)

X
Working on a Dream (2009)

X
Wrecking Ball (2012)

X

And if you've read this far into the blog, you obviously enjoy reading longish pieces about Bruce Springsteen.  I highly recommend to you the feature in this month's New Yorker, "We Are Alive,"written by David Remnick.  The article focusses on the Boss's mortality--he's 62, after all, and down an irreplaceable keyboardist and an even more irreplaceable saxophone player.  The guy who wrote the line, "It ain't no sin to be glad you're alive" as put a tremendous amount of effort in creating this career, but it won't be around forever.


Read this excerpt from the article and you'll see what I mean.  
Springsteen quickly introduces the E Street horns and the singing collective. Then he says, “Roll call!” And, with the music rising bit by churchly bit, he introduces the core of the band: “Professor Roy Bittan is in the house. . . . Charlie Giordano is in the house. . . .” 
When he finishes the roll call, there is a long ellipsis. The band keeps vamping. 
“Are we missing anybody?” 
Two spotlights are now trained on the organ, where Federici once sat, and at the mike where Clemons once stood. 
“Are we missing anybody?” 
Then again: “Are we missing anybody? . . . That’s right. That’s right. We’re missing some. But the only thing I can guarantee tonight is that if you’re here and we’re here, then they’re here!” He repeats this over and over, the volume of the piano and the bass rising, the drums hastening, the voices rising, until finally the song overwhelms him, and, if Springsteen has calculated correctly, there will not be an unmoved soul in the house.
I have a dozen or more favorite Springsteen songs, and there are hundreds of clips on youtube to choose from, but I will leave you with this one, from a show in Phoenix in the late 1970s.  Here he is singing "Badlands" with everything he has.

"It ain't no sin to be glad you're alive."



5 comments:

  1. Are we missing anybody? (holds back tears). Does the late stuff hold an equal weight with his early stuff?

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  2. I'm not sure about the late stuff. Everything I have is from the first half of his career. I need a hero to come in and tell me what to listen to.

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  3. Nice post. I agree with you wholeheartedly that Nebraska is the best Springsteen record. I have recently upped my Springsteen vinyl collection as well, recently grabbing Nebraska, Born to Run, Born in the USA, and the box set (have owned all these for some time on either CD, cassette, or digitally). A record that I don't own but am looking forward to having one day is Tunnel of Love, which I read a critic describe as a more polished version of Nebraska (though that is a certain set up for disappointment, right?). Apryl and I have our tickets for Bruce next month at Wrigley Field!

    P.S. I love that you mentioned Rockwell in this post!

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  4. Tunnel of Love is sort of the forgotten Springsteen album, isn't it? I should start my latter-day Springsteen studies with that one. And I'm totally jealous that you get to see him at Wrigley.

    I'm dismayed to hear your firefox comments didn't make it to the blog! That sucks!

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