Friday, November 30, 2012

Lost Song- "County Fair"

Another song where I simply shake my head and say "How has song not been released!?!?"  At least it's not a totally hidden song, as Bruce has played this rarity live in concert, albeit very few and far between.  This song was an unreleased track from Born In The USA,  which just might be my favorite time for Bruce songwriting (depending on what kind of mood I'm in).

I came across this song on E Street Radio, and the imagery in this song is fantastic.  By the time the chorus kicked in, I immediately had images of going to local carnivals as a kid and going to the NY State Fair with my grandparents.  There's not much I can say about this other then "just listen".  I'm really hoping that next year will see the release of something special for Born In The USA's 30th anniversary.  Between this song and "Unsatisfied Heart", this period of Bruce's songwriting really does deserve the recognition.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Springsteen Lyrics of the Week - You'll Be Comin' Down

“You’ll be fine as your pretty face holds out,
Then it’s gonna get pretty cold out"
- You’ll Be Comin’ Down, Magic

As we’ve lamented before, it’s a shame that Bruce didn’t play much of the Magic album during the Wrecking Ball tour. Given the widely agreed upon thinking that Working on a Dream is one of his lesser albums, it’s not surprising those tracks were mostly absent from the concerts. But Magic contains a wealth of great tracks that are begging to be heard again.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Springsteen Video of the Week - Disorder in the House with Warren Zevon

Fellow Springsteen tribute site, Nebraska, contains a great database of Springsteen’s guest appearances on other artists’ albums.

If you’re looking to be a Bruce completest head on over to see their full list and hunt down everything from Bruce playing acoustic guitar with Ronnie Spector on “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” to providing narration on “Street Hassle” for Lou Reed.

Nebraska’s list introduced me to the above video featuring Bruce Springsteen and Warren Zevon collaborating on a raw rocker about domestic instability for Zevon’s final album, “The Wind.”

Friday, November 23, 2012

Great Moments in Springsteen Cinema History - Back To School

There's an old saying in the movie industry that goes: "Every ticket you buy for a movie is a vote for 10 more movies exactly like that."  The smash hit Animal House inspired a decade of madcap college comedies, while Caddyshack's success made stars of its diverse cast.  These two elements collided in the 1985 film Back To School, starring Rodney Dangerfield.

In an early scene in the movie, Mr. Dangerfield is battling long lines to sign up for classes.  As a rich entrepreneur, waiting in line among the juvenile masses just would not cut it.  So, he devises a scheme to thin the sea of humanity.  All of a sudden, we see the student body rush outside the building, converging on a limousine   The name on that limo?

This legendary Springsteen cinema moment is probably his most "topical" moment.  In 1985, his name would inspire the same type of frothing fandom that Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga would incite today.  

The film Back to School dares to explore the world of finances and academia, providing chuckles along the way and climaxing with a rousing diving competition.  The scenes of the blue-collar Dangerfield trying to pass a variety of tests got me thinking: how "smart" is Bruce Springsteen?  While we heap praise on him for his musical skills and storytelling ability, Bruce himself has never gone back to school.  He has chided his parents for saying it isn't too late to go back to college, and he claims he has learned more from a three-minute record than he ever learned in school.  And yet, I don't doubt that Bruce understands the importance of higher education, as all of his children have attended college.  While Bruce has been very successful without a college education, this blogger would be interested in seeing him take some classes.  I've been immensely satisfied knowing that there's a Dr. Shaquille O'Neal in the world, how great would it be if there was a Dr. Bruce Springsteen?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Springsteen Turkey Song (SNL)

Thanks to friend of the blog, Nick B., for passing along this SNL sketch with Adam Sandler playing Springsteen. Happy Thanksgiving!

Springsteen Video of the Week (Thanksgiving Edition) – This Land is Your Land

Today is Thanksgiving and you may remember singing this song in Elementary School around this time of year. Bruce introduces his cover of Woody Guthrie’s tune by suggesting it is the greatest song ever written about America. He played this near the end of his Born in the U.S.A. tour and has been credited with raising awareness for the true meaning of the song. Whether he did or not, the passion (and sweat) of this performance is a good reminder to be thankful for everything we have and remember the less fortunate.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Springsteen Lyrics of the Week - Streets of Philadelphia

“Ain’t no angel gonna greet me,
It’s just you and I, my friend”
- Streets of Philadelphia, Philadelphia (Soundtrack)

Despite being a movie buff, I’ve still never seen the movie Philadelphia. I’ve always intended to but just haven’t gotten around to it. Without having seen the movie, I always feel the above lyrics give me a vivid picture of the movie. Extrapolating what I know about the movies, it feels like the above lyrics evocate the bond between Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington’s characters – two people where professional circumstance leads into a bond of friendship that neither expected. If I ever get around to watching the movie I’ll find out if that’s true but for now I enjoy having my version.

These lyrics speak to the randomness of circumstance; divine power is eschewed for the common man standing next to you. What I love about this is the sense that we don’t always know who the friend we need the most is going to be.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Book Review - Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin

Peter Ames Carlin’s “Bruce” is – in a word – perfect. Carlin has set out to make the definitive Springsteen biography and he’s accomplished just that. It’s hard to imagine a more complete, more thoughtful, more entertaining account of The Boss’ backstory. Combining comprehensive historical detail with sober objectivity and engaging musical analysis, “Bruce” is a must-own.

Starting out with Bruce’s grandparents and moving along right up to the first leg of this year’s Wrecking Ball tour, Carlin’s book benefits from unrestrained access to 60+ years of Springsteen history. For those who have read Dave Marsh’s iconic books (“Born to Run” and “Glory Days”) many sections in “Bruce” will ring familiar (including my favorite anecdote of Bruce befriending a Denver teenager during a screening of Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories). But Ames is such a naturally engaging and ethical historian that he adds an additional layer of analysis that makes you pleased to reread these sections.

The book’s defining quality – and what distinguishes it most from Marsh’s landmark works – is Carlin’s resistance to romanticize or deify his subject. Don’t get me wrong though, this is still a book about Springsteen so it’s laudatory overall and dutifully worshipful in the right places. But it isn’t afraid to present Bruce as human and vulnerable either. On several occasions, Carlin makes reference to Bruce’s narcissism and mood swings. He doesn’t shy away from Bruce’s darker moments either. That being said, there aren’t any real skeletons on display here: one of Bruce’s more egregious offenses involves angrily chucking a slab of chicken cordon bleu at his road manager when he didn’t get the fried chicken he requested.

Carlin isn’t afraid to contradict Bruce or identify hypocrisy and inconsistency either. At one point early on, he adds a footnote that uses history to question the accuracy of Bruce’s memory about watching The Beatles on TV. A seemingly inconsequential distinction but the footnote establishes from the onset that Carlin’s work is interested in the truth, not the fantasy behind the Springsteen legend.

Is “Bruce” too Bruce for a casual fan? Perhaps. But Carlin also traces the rock 'n' roll saga in striking detail in its own right. The early chapters convey the excitement, uncertainty and naivety of being in a band. The devil-may-care, anything-to-make-it sensibility in these early sections is infectious. But it also illustrates the relentless drive that Bruce possessed and in equal turns illustrates both the gift and curse associated with his passion to make it as a musician. From there we get the highs of initial success, the cold realities of the business, the challenge of sustaining a career and finally, the triumph of making it to the top and truly owning your musical identity. It’s a trajectory that will sound familiar to anyone who has read a “rags to riches” tale before (fictional or historical) but it’s infused with the unique, transcendent quality that Springsteen invokes to so many people.

At over 450 pages, “Bruce” manages to be expansive but not longwinded; concise but not streamlined. The work is punctuated by the beat-by-beat, lyric-by-lyric analysis of each of Bruce’s albums that diehards will read with vested interest and will be equally ready to agree or argue with Carlin’s thoughtful critiques. Released in time for the holidays, every Springsteen fan should be so lucky to find this wrapped up in a bow.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Book Review: "Tietam Brown" by Mick Foley

I suppose I should start off by disclosing that this is in no shape, way or form a Springsteen book.  But I chose to review this book because Bruce Springsteen, or more importantly his music, plays a critical role in this book.  Foley describes the emotional experience of connecting to Springsteen's music exceptionally well.  Quite frankly, in a few short sentences he does it better than I have on any of my entries on this blog.  Oh well, I guess that's why he's  New York Times best selling author, and I attended 3 different colleges in 3 years.

Although Foley is a best selling author, he is undoubtedly best known for his career as a professional wrestler.  As I've stated in a previous post, I grew up a HUGE fan of pro wrestling.  I was even more obsessed with the pseudo-sport than I am Springsteen today.  And one of my all-time favorites was Mick Foley.  Foley wrestled all over the world, for many different promotions, with different characters and enjoyed a very successful career.  In many ways he was the Bruce Springsteen of pro wrestling; not the most technically proficient or talented, but his undeniable ability to connect to a crowd and make them believe in him makes him beloved to millions, even still to this day.  Foley had the rare ability to tell a story during his matches that made him the most unlikely star of his era.  And he's been able to transcend wrestling to having a career in comedy, television, film, and even literature.

Foley has written 4 autobiographies, each of which I have read and enjoyed immensely.  He has made it explicitly clear that there were never any ghostwriters, and what you read is what Foley wrote.  Foley has the same gift in literature that he had when he wrestled.  He can enthrall you with his stories and make you believe in him.  But I have always been nervous about reading his fiction novels.  I've never been a huge fan of fiction, as when I read it tends to be biographies or autobiographies.

But recently I had a flight and was looking for something to read on my Kindle and decided to go with Foley's first foray into the world of fiction, Tietam Brown.  The story is a coming-of-age-tale, set in the mid 1980's of a young man named Andy Brown.  Andy has been through horrific abuse, neglect, and in a nutshell; has had an all around rough life.  His relationship with his father, his school, and his past has caused him much pain and confusion.  But his saving grace is when he meets a beautiful girl in school named Terri Johnson who sees beyond his physical and emotional scars to the decent person that Andy is.

So what does any of this have to do with Springsteen?   On the night of the big school dance where Andy is supposed to meet up with Terri, he's driving in the car looking for some good music to listen to.  He pops in Born To Run.    He talks about how even though in 1980's  Born In The USA was all over the radio, Born To Run, was and always will be the definitive Springsteen album.  He continues to describe his drive to the dance while listening to the album, imagining conversations with Terri, and driving by her house to get himself all pumped up before he sees her at the dance.  And then he comes to a stop when "Backstreets" plays.

"In an instant I heard Bruce Springsteen singing my life story.  'One soft infested summer me and Terry became friends, trying in vain to breath the fire we was born in.'  I didn't really know what that breathing-the-fire thing was all about but that part about me and Terri was perfect.  I knew as I barreled past Terri's house one last time that this was meant to be our song, even if we'd never actually done the things Bruce and his Terry had done, such as sleeping in an old abandoned beach house and getting wasted in the heat."

And that's what Bruce has been able to do to so many fans, including myself and Mick Foley.  How many of us have actually done the things Bruce sings about?  Hell, Bruce hasn't done most of them.  But something about the way Bruce tells a story can connect to a fan and make him believe in him.  Throughout the rest of the novel there are references to the Born To Run album as it plays a pivotal role in that night at the dance.  Tietam Brown really is a great read.  I'll admit it's not for everyone, with the depictions of Andy's child abuse being particularly disturbing.  There are times when you read this and just think that this kid's been through enough and can't take anymore.  But Tietam Brown is really hard to put down.  It's the story of a young man's troubled relationship with his father, reflections on his youth, being an outcast at school, finding and losing love, but most of all it's a story of hope and rising above challenges to move forward in life.  Sounds a lot like a Springsteen song.  Strongly recommended, but not for people who are squeamish or looking for a book about Bruce Springsteen.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Breaking News - Springsteen to Perform Benefit Concert at MSG

On December 12th, Springsteen, along with a random assortment of stars ranging from Paul McCartney to Kanye West, will be performing a benefit concert for victims of Hurricane Sandy at Madison Square Garden.  While the mainstream media has moved on from hurricane coverage, there is still many people who are suffering, who have lost their homes and possessions, who have missed work, and who desperately need help.  It will take a long time for the East Coast to recover, and kudos to all involved in this project for continuing to raise money and awareness for these people in need.  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Springsteen Lyrics of the Week - The River

“I got a job working construction for the Johnstown Company
But lately there ain't been much work on account of the economy”
- The River, The River

Having recently had the good fortune to hear “The River” performed live for the first time I’ve been listening to the song a lot lately. A favorite of mine, it’s been on steady rotation over the years. The song contains a wealth of rich lyrics and certain ones have stood out to me at different points in my life. With the latest election, I've been reminded of the winter of 2008 when I’d recently graduated from college and was having great difficulty finding a job during the economic downturn. I clung to these lyrics and turned to them for support through the process. Even though the song was released in 1980, its timeless quality reminded me that I wasn't the only one facing economic hardship. Four years later, the state of the economy is still a tough point for Americans. Hopefully the song continues to provide support for those in need.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Springsteen Video of the Week - "Broken Radio" with Jesse Malin

You ever have a moment of "unexpected Springsteen" in your life?  When Springsteen enters your life at a seemingly random moment?  Well, this happened to me a couple years ago.  I went to a Gaslight Anthem concert at Terminal 5 in the fall of 2009 (OK, so with Gaslight Anthem, I should have expected something Springsteen-y).  One of their openers was the young man in the video above, Jesse Malin.  I was fairly impressed with his stuff, even though it sounds nothing much like Gaslight.  So, I go home and search for his songs, and lo and behold - this man had a duet with Springsteen!  Honestly, I have no idea how this happened - Malin's career seems solid but unspectacular, and I'm not sure how he and the Boss collaborated.  But, an endorsement from Springsteen is golden, so Jesse Malin is OK in my book.  Does anyone else know of any random Springsteen duets with lesser known artists?  Let me know in the comments!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Great Moments in Springsteen Television History - Born To Run References

In this screenshot from the Futurama episode "Decision 3012", we see that the Jersey Turnpike swamped with some Springsteen-esque traffic.  While we've mentioned many iconic lines in our weekly lyrics post, this one has gone overlooked.  However, it is a favorite of many TV writers, as it has also been referenced in The Sopranos episode "Long Term Parking"

It's a quick throwaway line, but the joke has a meta layer, as Steven Van Zandt is sitting with his onscreen boss as his offscreen boss is referenced.

Unfortunately, my exhaustive researched has only unearthed these two references.  If you know any other "Born To Run" references that have made it onto the air, let me know in the comments.

EDIT (1/21/14): Another "Born To Run" TV moment happened last week on Jimmy Fallon!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Springsteen Lyrics of the Week - Election Day Special!

"Woke up Election Day, skies gunpowder and shades of gray
Beneath a dirty sun, I whistled my time away"
-- "Livin' in the Future", Magic

"Livin' in the Future" is quickly becoming one of Springsteen's most underrated songs.  Played frequently during the Magic tour, it as all but disappeared from his current concert setlists.  Springsteen would always introduce the song with a rousing introduction - "This song's called 'Livin' in the Future', but it's about what's happening NOW!"  Even five years later, the song is still about what's happening now - people ignoring their current situations, insisting that they've moved past their problems and into a better state of life.  The song is an indictment of the lackadaisical state of our country - instead of choosing a leader, people are whistling their time away.

So, the morale of the story is - go out and vote.  Or, failing that, re-listen to Magic.  The lack of Magic songs on Bruce's current tour is a true tragedy.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Springsteen Video of the Week - Springsteen Stumping for Kerry, 2004

Politics - you can't avoid it now, even on your favorite Springsteen fanblog.  Last week, we looked at Springsteen's silly pro-Obama song.  There, in Ohio, Bruce seemed more candid and laid-back.  This week, we'll take you back eight years, where Springsteen is performing for John Kerry in Wisconsin.  In this fantastic performance, we are treated to an angry and passionate Bruce.  When Bruce has an axe to grind politically, we get Bruce's most creative content - just compare Working on a Dream to Wrecking Ball.  In fact, I'd say his albums written when Republicans are in office are on average better than his albums written when Democrats are in power.  In this video, his acoustic performance of "No Surrender" (written during the Reagan years) is absolutely breathtaking - the song makes for such a great political anthem that it is a shame it was wasted on the forgettable Kerry.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Concert Review – KFC Yum!, Louisville KY November 3

“I’m an old man but I don’t want to go home.”

This line, which Bruce uttered in the first half of the show, can be used to sum up the entire 2012 Wrecking Ball Tour. Having been on tour pretty much non-stop since March, Bruce has visited more than ten countries, made three trips to New Jersey and celebrated his 63rd birthday on tour. Last night’s performance in Louisville was the fourth straight night of performing for the E Street Band following stops in Rochester, Pennsylvania, and the NYC benefit. If nothing else, this seemingly never-ending tour has been a remarkable display of Bruce’s stamina.

While his line of dialogue – stated during the prelude to “Spirit in the Night” – underlines his phenomenal endurance and work ethic, it also acknowledges a hard truth. At 63 years old, Bruce can be considered an old man. I was fortunate enough to get amazing seats to the left of the stage for an up-close parallel view of the stage. Being in such close proximity to Bruce really makes you appreciate the level of showmanship that can’t be fully conveyed by a TV monitor. Being near the stage gives you a sense of the corporeality that can easily be overlooked by his superhuman theatrics. Last night was the first time that I really sensed the physical weight of his dancing on top of the piano, appreciated how close he came to being dropped while crowd surfing and questioned whether the stilted shuffle he does while introducing the band is one of his silly dance moves or a fleeting glimpse into his joint pains.

The effects of Hurricane Sandy weighed heavily (but briefly) on the opening of the show with a line about “a f-ing hurricane” injected into “Wrecking Ball” and Bruce’s poignant recount of the life cycle of the meaning of “My City of Ruins” as it’s gone from Asbury Park to 9/11 to Asbury Park again (for different reasons).

Bruce was in full request mode, grabbing signs and even a custom jacket to pull out a few unexpected tunes including the rarely played “Streets of Philadelphia” and “The River.” A sign request also led into a raucous rendition of “Open All Night” which was the first time I was acutely aware of Bruce using the teleprompter – but how else could he have made it through those rapid fire lyrics? Hearing “The River” was extremely powerful (and not just because OB was able to knock it off his top 5 songs he hasn’t heard live). “The River” flowed beautifully into “The Rising” which gave the perfect joyful release after the pain and precision of “The River”. This unexpected pairing signaled the start of one of the most thrilling conclusions I’ve ever seen – my personal highlight being “Rosalita” in the encore.

The immediacy of an E Street Band concert is a signature trait and their visit to Louisville contained the most audience interaction I’ve ever seen. When Bruce called for his requisite moment of silence to recognize “the ghosts” in the room, the crowd had some difficulty keeping quiet. I was initially concerned that this would sour Bruce’s connection with the audience but that fear was quickly erased. In addition to the expected “Waiting on a Sunny Day” and “Dancing in the Dark” audience interactions, he also invited up an enthusiastic kid celebrating his 20th birthday to sing “Growing Up” and a parade of pink cowboy hat-adorned girls to dance with the band during “Darlington County.” At the end of the show Bruce said to the audience, “Thank you, you’ve been remarkable.” And I really think he meant it.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Gave It A Name - The Best Band Names from Bruce's Past

Band names have always been an obsession of mine.  Thinking of the different names I would use for my fictional band helps me take a step forward into achieving my fantasy of being a rock star, without the heavy lifting involved in learning how to play an instrument.  In my down time, when I'm not wasting it thinking of band names, I do something more productive - analyze other band names.

A good band name is simple and memorable, and "Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band" fits the criteria effectively.  However, when Bruce began his career in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he bounced around between a variety of oddly named musical groups.  What follows is a ranking of my personal favorite pre-E Street Band names, with the sole criteria being my own arbitrary opinion.  

Missed the cut: Child, Sundance Blues Band.  Honestly, I have no idea what to make of those names.

5. The Bruce Springsteen Band

Formed in 1971, Bruce clearly didn't strain himself too hard when coming up with this name.  Not only is it boring, it is too pretentious.  While he is "The Boss", Bruce has always been a man of the people.  He saves accolades such as "pants-dropping" and "booty shaking" for his band, not himself.  Plus, it reminds me of The Dave Matthews Band, which is never a good thing.

4. Earth

From the late 1960s, it was in this band where he acquired the nickname "The Boss".  This name seems to be a product of its time, as other hippy-esque bands were forming using "Earth" as well, such as Manfred Mann's Earth Band and Earth, Wind, and Fire.  But, part of me would like to see Bruce open a show with a Will-Smith-in-Independence-Day greeting: "Welcome To Earth!"

3. The Castiles

Way back in 1967, when Bruce was just 17, he was part of The Castiles.  Look at those young boys up there!  Like the name would indicate, they were trying to replicate The Beatles clean-cut image (and pop sound, as heard in the video above).  Part of me wishes to see the alternate reality where The Castiles were a bigger hit.  Could you imagine Bruce writing more Beatles-stylized pop songs and wearing coordinated outfits?  (Side note: it's pronounced kah-steels right?  I usually mispronounce words that I only read - I pronounced "superfluous" as "SUPERfluous" for an embarrassingly long time) 

2. Steel Mill

This is Bruce's most significant pre-E Street Band group, as it featured Vini Lopez, Danny Federici, and Steve Van Zandt.  You can find tons of there lengthy jam sessions on Youtube, and they are definitely worth checking out.  But forget the noise, what about the name?  There's something very 70s rock about this name, mainly about a) it is two words that sound similar and you'd be unable to pronounce it drunk and b) it sounds vaguely homoerotic.  Deep Purple and the fictional Stillwater also fit this description.  

1. Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom

Really, was there any other choice?  Far be it for me to criticize Bruce's career decisions, but not sticking with Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom is a huge mistake.  It not only fits Bruce's personality to a tee, it is instantly memorable.  I'd argue that he'd be even more popular today had he been known to everyone as "Dr. Z" over "The Boss".  Now, indeed, being called "Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom" may undercut the emotions of songs like "Devils & Dust" or "Lost in the Flood", but it is a small price to pay for having one of the greatest names in rock and roll history.  

Sadly, we are where we are with the E Street Band.  But, the good news is that the title of Dr. Zoom is still vacant in the world.  I would highly encourage any young musician to keep this name in mind, and anyone with the last name "Zoom" to enroll in medical school.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Breaking News - Springsteen to Perform at Sandy Benefit Concert

This Friday  Springsteen, as well as Bon Jovi, Billy Joel, and others, will be performing a show in order to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Sandy.  It will air tomorrow at 8PM on NBC and its cable affiliates.  Be sure to tune in and donate to the American Red Cross.

Source.  Red Cross.