Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Springsteen Lyrics of the Week - Meeting Across The River

"Well Cherry says she's gonna walk
'Cause she found out I took her radio and hocked it
But Eddie, man, she don't understand
That two grand's practically sitting here in my pocket"

- Meeting Across The River, Born To Run 

We’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again now:  Bruce Springsteen is the greatest storyteller in Rock N’ Roll.  “Meeting Across The River” is one of his best story-songs, and it’s fitting that it goes on the album that tells the best story, Born To Run. All the preceding songs on Born to Run seem to take place in New Jersey but this song bridges (pun-intended) the album to New York City, the setting for the finale of “Jungleland” which closes out the album.

“Meeting Across The River” is about a wannabe criminal who doesn’t seem to be able to get it right.  The details of the song are unclear, but the message is not: If he screws up, he’ll be killed.  The unnamed protagonist seems not to be the most skilled criminal, but in his mind he’s Don Corleone.  When he asks his friend Eddie for help with his latest situation, he gives him the promise of the big payoff but then shows his naivety  with the above-quoted lyric.  If the payoff is so great, then the task can’t be that easy.

Bruce rarely plays this one live, but when he does, no one gets up to get a beer or go to the bathroom.  All eyes are on Bruce Springsteen and he never fails to deliver.  The lack of instruments in this song, including percussion, really set the scene of desperation and self delusion.  The piano really picks up at the end of this song, again playing along with the emotions of the protagonist, but then slows down and fade out.  The trumpet, and somber piano coda to the song seems to imply that Eddie and the protagonist weren’t successful.  Oh well, they weren’t successful but Bruce definitely was when he wrote this classic.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Springsteen Video of The Week: Long Black Veil

A few weeks back I was hanging out with Steve and Rory, having a great kickoff to summer BBQ on Steve’s awesome terrace of his apartment.  In addition to grilling and beer, we were also rocking out to some Bruce and other tunes.  Steve started talking about how certain songs reminded him of exact moments and exact times.  I tried to think of some songs that did that to me, but was drawing a blank.  I had certain songs that reminded me of girls I liked, or fun parties where that particular song was played.  But that’s mostly because I’m a narcissistic jackass and relate everything back to me.  I really couldn't think of anything that just took me to another place and time that was unique to me.

About a week or so ago, it was a late Friday afternoon and I was getting close to the end of the day at work.  I still had about two more hours to kill, and was just not feeling it at all.  I was lazily doing mindless paperwork while listening to E Street Radio on SiriusXM.  I wasn't really paying attention to the radio, they were playing a concert from The Seeger Sessions Band tour, May 8th 2006, London, UK.  Then all of a sudden I just started thinking of my grandfather.  My grandparents lived in upstate New York, and I remember for two weeks every summer my brother and I would go up there to give my parents a break.  My grandfather was never one for pop music, he mostly listened to old Celtic classics and Irish ballads.  But there was one artist he loved: Johnny Cash.  And that’s when I realized that Bruce was covering Johnny Cash’s “Long Black Veil.”  Through subsequent research I've learned that "Long Black Veil" is a 1959 country ballad, written by Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin and originally recorded by Lefty Frizzell.   It was made famous when Cash covered it with Joni Mitchell.  But to me this will always be a Johnny Cash song, and one I first heard at my grandparents' house when I was probably around seven or eight years old listening to this song with my Pop.

I've been listening to this song on YouTube over and over again.  Apparently Bruce played this a few times during the European Leg of the Sessions Band tour, and then just dropped it.  If it wasn’t for the modern technology of SiriusXM and YouTube I would never even know of this Bruce cover.  I’m glad I discovered this as this might be my new favorite cover Bruce has done.

Friday, May 25, 2012

"Peg O' My Heart" featuring Bruce Springsteen!

I guess technically this should be a video of the week, but I don’t care.  Bruce is definitely a fan of punk rock.  His cover of "London Calling", his playing with The Gaslight Anthem, and times he’s invited The Dropkick Murphy’s to play along with him.  However, one thing Bruce had not done before is appeared on a punk album.  That was until last year, when The Dropkick Murphy’s released Going Out In Style.  That album featured a punk cover of the traditional Irish ballad "Peg O' My Heart" featuring none other than Mr. Bruce Springsteen!

I've always enjoyed The Dropkick Murphy’s and I know they are big fans of Bruce Springsteen.  Their covers of “Badlands” and “Born In The USA” are some of my favorite covers of Bruce songs.  When Bruce invited them to play some of his songs on stage with them I thought it was really cool of Bruce to sort of give them “the rub.”  But I never thought Bruce would appear on one of their albums.  It almost seemed beneath him, to appear with a band that wasn’t anywhere near his level.  The Dropkick Murphy’s are hardly a “no-name” band, their appearance on the soundtrack to the 2006 film The Departed gave them huge exposure.  But when they go out and tour, they play concert halls, ballrooms,  and clubs.  Bruce plays major sports arenas and stadiums.  But after all these years I should know better than to doubt Bruce.

Anyways, this is a great performance of a great song off a great album featuring a great band and a great cameo by Bruce.  In other words, it’s great.  So enjoy!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Rocky Ground Music Video Released

The second single from Wrecking Ball now has a music video. Check out the "Rocky Ground" video below for some soulful imagery and dramatic handwriting.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Springsteen Lyrics of the Week - Backstreets

"Sleeping in that old abandoned beach house, getting wasted in the heat"
- Backstreets, Born to Run

We've been fortunate enough to enjoy an amazing run of beautiful weekends in New York City and with the signs of summer all around, I keep thinking of this song.

Are there any Springsteen lyics that better evoke the feeling of being young and carefree in the summertime? Some might say "Racing in the Streets," but for my money "Backstreets" captures both the allure and the melancholy of an aimless summer better than any other.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Springsteen Video of the Week - Glory Days on David Letterman

Continuing the theme from last week, we see Bruce here in his early 90s "Who am I?" period.  Unlike last week, where he performed one of his new hits, this time we see him go back to one of his classics on the last episode of Late Night with David Letterman.  However, it feels like Bruce is performing with a Springsteen tribute band.  The strangers sharing the microphone with Bruce seem like fans pulled from the audience, both overly excited to be there and not quite in sync with Springsteen.  Paul Schaffer's keyboards make the song sound like something you'd hear on an organ played over the loudspeakers at a baseball game.  However, his banter with Paul and subsequent jumping on the piano are both fantastic - it feels like Bruce knew something was off so he improvised, adding some much needed flair to the performance.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Lost Songs - The Klansman

Thank goodness for E Street Radio. The Sirius station really can’t be praised enough. In addition to giving us round the clock variety and live concerts, it exposes us to Springsteen songs we may never have heard otherwise. And as we’ve expressed before, Bruce has a seemingly never ending treasure trove of lost songs.

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to hear “The Klansman.” The audio quality on the version on YouTube is not the clearest, but it’s the best we’ve got for on demand listening. Like so many of Bruce’s songs, it’s pretty hard to understand what he’s signing the first few times you listen, but the more attention you give it, the more you'll be rewarded.

One of the many outtakes from the Born in the USA sessions (along with “Unsatisfied Heart”), “The Klansman” tells the story of a young boy being introduced to the Ku Klux Klan. A blog called Catholic Sensibility describes it as a song about a young boy being seduced by the allure of the Klan. But I don’t think it’s as clear cut as that. I think the song leaves enough room to view the narrator as an unwilling participant who witnesses his family and neighbors corrupted by the evils of the Klan and is unable to do anything other than cast a blind eye.

The lyrics are succinct, with no resemblance of a chorus, but they’re powerful and the picture it paints is frighteningly vivid. The music also has a haunting, yet captivating sound that is hard to mimic, but also hard to shake.

Word of the trouble spread around
One day a man came to my town
I was in the kitchen when my Pa let him in
He shook my hand, said, "The Klan's your friend"

Was a meetin' at Lyle Stanton's house
On the Jefferson Highway
Some, they did not listen
Some did not turn away

Said, "When the holy rain of fire
Comes tumblin' from above
It'll be a Klansman
Who stands for the land he loves"

Look away, look away now

I was ten years old when my Pa said,
"Son, some day you will see
When you grow to wear the robes
Like your brother and me

When the war between the races
Leaves us in a fiery dream
It'll be a Klansman
Who will wipe this country clean
This, son, is my dream".

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Springsteen Lyrics of the Week - Rocky Ground

"Jesus said the money changers in this temple will not stand"
- Rocky Ground, Wrecking Ball

In a song chock full of powerful religious iconography, these lyrics speak to me the most. I like that they are emphatic and forceful without suggesting violence, unlike so much else on the Wrecking Ball album.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Springsteen Video of the Week- Lucky Town (Saturday Night Live 1992)

This was a strange time for Bruce and Bruce fans.  It’s almost as if he was trying too hard to be “Bruce Springsteen”.  I know it was the early 90’s and grunge was in, but between the ripped jeans, the incredibly gravely voice, and Bruce playing with a “non E Street Band” band I can’t say I’m a huge fan of this video.  Oddly enough, I like “Lucky Town”, one of the few I like from his “Other Band” era, but watching him play it here is just odd.

I came across this video when I was looking for Bruce’s 2002 Saturday Night Live performance with the E Street Band.  I believe Matt Damon was the host.  But this was all I could find.  I did not even know Bruce performed on this show.  To my knowledge those were Bruce’s only two SNL performances.  However I can confirm that this is Tom Hanks' first, but hopefully not last, appearance on Legends of Springsteen.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Mother's Day

As you can tell, we're a bunch of Mommas' Boys here at Legends of Springsteen.  Just this past week, we've seen Bruce dancing with his mom and have written an ode to Bruce's ode about moms.  It should be noted that our mothers have all had a significant part in creating this blog (and I'm not just talking about the biochemistry involved in creating life).

In Steve's personal history, an impromptu stocking-stuffer from Mrs. Snart drove him to Bruce fandom.  OB's mom helped him out - not only was she a big Bruce fan, but also kept a plethora of show tune CDs around to make sure he only listened to the Boss.  And my mom's rave reviews of the E Street Reunion Tour were my inspiration to seek out more Springsteen music.

So, while Bruce frequently writes from the point of view of a male rebellious youth (with some exceptions), his crossover appeal to women has helped his music find new audiences for future generations.  Even if your mom isn't a Bruce fan, I'm sure that you'll be able to find something that she's passed from her generation to yours.  With that in mind, make sure to thank your mom this Sunday; you may have stuck only listening to 90s grunge, Ozzy Osbourne, or Hootie and the Blowfish.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Springsteen Lyrics of the Week - The Wish

“This one's for you, ma, let me come right out and say it
It's overdue, but, if you're looking for a sad song, well I ain't gonna play it!”
- “The Wish”, Tracks

It just boggles my mind that “The Wish” was left off Tunnel Of Love and not put on any other album until the release of Tracks.  This is Bruce at his most heartfelt.  Seeing that Mother’s Day is this weekend, I thought it was a good choice for this week’s lyrics selection.  But this song is also a great Christmas song too.   Ah, the many uses of Bruce.

As Bruce said in the intro in the video above, it’s a bit risky for rockers to sing about their mother.  It’s acceptable in other genres, but just not something you see often in rock & roll.  The only other song I can think of that comes close is  “Simple Kind Of Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd.  I know there are a few other songs by heavier rockers that they say were inspired by the death of their mother.  And that’s kind of a depressing.  But what I think I like most about this song, and perfectly exemplified by these lyrics specifically, is that Bruce celebrates his mother.  And isn’t that what Mother’s day is all about?  He’s brought her up on stage to dance, as Rory showed in Monday’s video, and whenever he mentions her it’s always in a positive manner.  He’s not waiting for her to pass away to pay tribute, or lamenting her aging, instead he’s just showing his appreciation for all she’s done for him. Way to go Bruce!

So, if you’re lucky enough to have your mother around this weekend make sure you show her how much appreciate her.  I can assure you myself and the other staffers here at LOS will be doing just that.  Happy Mother’s Day!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Springsteen Video of the Week - Bruce and his mom!

This video is taken from the April 6th concert at Madison Square Garden.  I often find myself wondering how Bruce can keep up the energy for these shows at the age of 62, but here we see his mother rocking out at nearly age 90.  And this isn't the only time she's taken the stage during this series, as she also graced the stage in Philadelphia.  Clearly, Bruce has some good genetics.

Anyway, here is just a friendly reminder to all readers out there that this Sunday is Mother's Day, so make sure to give your mom a call and tell her how special she is to your life.  Or, you could send her a link to this blog, which I think will get the same point across.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Bruce Goes Electric!

Last week I counted down my favorite songs that Bruce re-did acoustically.  This week I will be doing the exact opposite and counting down my favorite songs that Bruce did originally did acoustically but now plays a full electic version with the E Street Band.

5.  State Trooper-
This particular version is recorded with the Arcade Fire, for all you hipsters out there.  Originally on the Nebraska album, I first noticed this song on the season finale of the first season, of the HBO hit show "The Sopranos".  I like this song, don’t love it, but it’s definitely worth a listen The song doesn’t change much too much with the E Street Band, just adds a drum beat and an electric guitar with a pretty cool slide effect.  That isn’t the case with the other songs on the list.  I definitely prefer the original version, the single voice and acoustic guitar definitely give the song a more frantic feeling when it gets to the chorus of “Mr. State Trooper, please don’t stop me.”  That is definitely lost with the E Street version, and is probably why Bruce doesn’t play it all that often.

4.  Reason to Believe-
Oh hell yeah!  This blues-rock version rocks just kicks all kind of ass!  Seriously this song was the highlight of the night when I saw Bruce on March 7th, 2008  at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo, NY.  From the awesome harmonica intro, the pounding drums, to the Doors-esque guitar work this song.  Another Nebraska song, Bruce played this pretty regularly in the 80’s(albeit in a much tamer version, see the Live 1975-1985 box set for an example) and on his solo tours.  This version of the song was played pretty regularly on the first leg of the Magic Tour, and then got inexplicably cut, and rarely played since.  That’s a shame, and something I would love to see changed on this tour.

3.  The Ghost of Tom Joad-
This song, minus Tom Morello’s incredibly masterful solo, is very similar to the original acoustic version heard on the album of the same name.  It’s almost as if Bruce took the song, turned it up to 11, and it has definitely works as Bruce has played this song with a decent amount of regularity on every tour since it’s release.  Named after the main character from John Steinbeck’s novel “The Grapes Of Wrath”,  the song’s lyrics tackle injustice in society.  The song was made popular when it was covered by the band Rage Against the Machine (Hence Morello appearing with band on that night, and on multiple other occasions).  I personally can’t stand the Rage version, but if it made more people seek out the original then I’m all for it.  As excellent as the original version is, I think I prefer the live version as Bruce sounds downright pissed off in it.  And the video I included, taken from the 25th anniversary of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame concert at Madison Square Garden, just might be Bruce’s best performance of the song.

2.  Youngstown-
Now this is a song where I prefer the changed version as opposed to the original.  Bruce’s 3 folk albums (Nebraska, Ghost of Tom Joad, and Devils & Dust) all have a common theme of struggling working class, even more so than the other albums.  “Youngstown” is a song that fits in perfect of on Tom Joad, and does an excellent job of showing the struggles of what happens to factory towns when the factory goes under.  But instead of being a song of loss and lament, like on the album, the song turns into a song of bitterness and anger, when performed live with The E Street Band.  I love that Bruce still performs the song in this manner to this day.  And check out Nils Lofgren’s CRAZY solo at the end.  If that doesn’t get you fired up, something’s wrong

1.  Atlantic City-
As with most of the lists I do, #1 shouldn’t come as a shock.  There’s not much to say about it, just listen for yourself.  It’s one of Bruce’s best songs, no matter which version you listen to.  Even the completely different version he did with Seeger Sessions Band, is pretty great too.   The fact that Bruce plays this song so regularly to this day, in any version, is a testament to what a great song it is.  There‘s one story that exemplifies what an incredible song “Atlantic City” is and what emotions it can bring out in you.  One time when fellow-blogger Rory and were driving down to Atlantic City, NJ we were listening to Bruce the whole way down.  When we hit that last mile of the Atlantic City Expressway, we played the E Street version of  “Atlantic City“.  We couldn’t help but get excited especially when we heard the song kick in with the full band, with the smell of the ocean air, and the bright lights of the casinos.  We were high-fiving each other and singing along in anticipation of a great night in AC.  The next day, on the drive home, we played the depressing original acoustic version to commiserate with our hungover, poorer selves as opposed to the night before.  Now that’s a powerful song.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Concert Review – Prudential Center, NJ May 2

Last night in Newark, Bruce closed out the first US leg of his Wrecking Ball tour in typical fashion: a perfect powerhouse performance that spotlighted the new album, offered rarities to satiate the diehards and brought out enough of the classics so not to alienate the newcomers.

The night featured two of the most esoteric moments I’ve witnessed at a Bruce Springsteen concert. The first was when he referenced literary great Philip Roth, citing him as both a Newark native and a badass. The second was when he launched into “Bishop Danced” a head-scratching curio from Disc 1 of Tracks. In his intro, Bruce stated it would be the first time they’d ever played the song as a full band. “Bishop Danced” is a song that the Legends of Springsteen editors have long puzzled over, noting its utter incoherence, even by Bruce standards. It’s by no means a great song but hearing it live gave us that uncanny (and completely unfounded) feeling that so many people express at a Bruce concert, like he was playing the song specifically for us.

A moment that will surely go down in the annals of Bruce legends was the beginning of the encore when Bruce trotted over to an audience member and grabbed a sign requesting a tribute to Levon Helm, the singer and drummer from The Band, who died in mid-April. Before launching into a beautiful cover of “The Weight”, Bruce said, "We’re gonna do our best on this." Ah, his false humility charms me every time.

The more predictable elements of the show (in as far as a Bruce show can be predictable) were fantastic as well. He opened with “No Surrender” (keeping the lights on) and then segued into the angriest version of “We Take Care of Our Own” that I’ve noticed; growling, “Where’s the promise, from sea to shining sea,” with vitriol.

“Death to my Hometown” was as invigorating as ever but I almost wish it came later in the set when the crowd is at a fever pitch. After leaving off “Shackled and Drawn” from the two Izod nights, Bruce played it for the first time in New Jersey and I was really glad I had the opportunity to see it live. Bruce's ‘shackled shuffle’ dance moves are up there with his “Death to my Hometown” ‘kicking off dust’ footwork and the horn section parading along the stage during the conclusion was a great sight.

I’m currently reading Dave Marsh’s “Glory Days” and couldn’t help but catch a Rolling Stones allusion in the lyrics to “Shackled and Drawn.” As Marsh chronicles, Bruce was a fan of playing “Street Fighting Man” during his encores in the 1980s and had an affinity for the lyric “Well, what can a poor boy do, except to sing for a rock n roll band.” In retrospect, it’s easy to hear that sentiment echoed in “Shackled and Drawn” with “What’s a poor boy to do but keep singing his song.”

In characteristically epic style, Bruce brought the three-hour show to a thundering conclusion gliding from “Born to Run” to “Dancing in the Dark” to “Rosalita” to “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out.” It doesn’t get much better than that and the crowd couldn’t have been happier.

This was my third show of the tour and I’ve got tickets for when Bruce returns stateside in the fall. Despite being fortunate enough to see multiple shows, I’m still incredibly envious of the Europeans who will be enjoying Bruce concerts all summer long.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Springsteen Lyrics of the Week - Badlands

"Poor men wanna be rich, rich men wanna be kings,
And a king ain't satisfied 'til he rules everything."
- Badlands, Darkness on the Edge of Town

While not overly profound, this briefly and clearly sums up many of the themes present in Bruce's numerous song catalog.  Wanting more and more is a classic human weakness, so much so that four of the seven deadly sins deal with the desire for acquiring what pleases you (envy, greed, gluttony, lust).   But, without going into another lecture about how writing about universal themes ensures his long-lasting popularity and how super-awesome Bruce is, I just have to say....

HOW HAVE WE NOT MENTIONED THIS LINE YET?!?!  It's preposterous!  This line from "Badlands" may be one of Bruce's most iconic.  I'd put it up there with lines like "I want to know if love is wild" and "Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack".  What other Bruce lines would you consider "iconic"?  Let me know in the comments.  (And just to clarify - I'd consider an iconic line one that is not only popular, but is instantly and unmistakeable characteristic of Bruce's songwriting.)