Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Video Spotlight: Norm MacDonald's Bruce Springsteen Impersonation

Last month, OB spotlighted Robin Williams' Springsteen impersonation, and tossed in a little shot at this video at the end.  Being a die-hard Norm MacDonald fan, and subsequently being light on content since Bruce has not released an album recently nor has he been touring North America, I felt I should step up to the plate and take a deeper look at this video.

Here, we have Norm MacDonald, in early 2009, at the end of a set at the Snoqualmie Casino in Washington state.  Norm was never known for his dynamic range of impersonations (Burt Reynolds being more-or-less a snappier version of him), yet, he decided to take a shot impersonating the Boss.  Oddly, he chose to have Bruce singing the theme to Gilligan's Island to the tune of "My Hometown".  Given that this is amateur video footage, as well as the fact that I've never seen Norm do this elsewhere, it clearly looks like he was trying out a bit that he didn't quite feel was strong enough to keep in his regular act.  However, the bit gives off a strangeness that just gets weirder and funnier with each subsequent viewing - this is a quality not uncommon in many of Norm's bits.  While this bit is completely taken out of context, it's a fun mental exercise to imagine the set up that led to Norm singing the theme to Gilligan's Island as the Boss.  Perhaps it was part of a larger bit discussing what theme songs Bruce should have sang.  If that were the case, my money is on Charles In Charge.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Springsteen performing "Blowin' In The Wind"

I've noticed that we've been a little off-center here at Legends of Springsteen.  In the past month, we've spotlighted various movies, reviewed books, highlighted multiple comedy acts based around Springsteen, and even have discussed children's television.  So, today, let's go back to basics with a classic Bruce performance.

While, in the past we've spotlighted Dylan covering Springsteen, here we have Bruce taking on the Bob Dylan classic "Blowin' In The Wind" (which I unfortunately could not find video for).  Dylan's "Blowin' In The Wind" has been covered by hundreds of artists that it is a cliché at this point.  However, given the powerful message of the song, you knew the Boss had to have a version of it out there somewhere.  His performance is solid but offers no surprises - it is textbook Springsteen through-and-through: the "hows" are growled out, his voice getting sadder and angrier with each chorus, and culminating in an audience sing-along.  Even without the video, you can see him shutting his eyes and shaking his head during the guitar bridges between the verses.  Again, it is difficult cover to judge given the history of the song (and the history of Bruce's great cover songs), but it is definitely worth a couple listens for any Springsteen or Dylan fan.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Theatrical Review: Springsteen & I

Rory: Tonight, OB and I headed to the Kip's Bay AMC to see Springsteen & I.  Going in, we weren't sure which one of us would write the review.  However, upon exiting the theater, I could tell by the gleam in his eye that OB wanted to sink his teeth into the review.  I'll let him take it away, but will chime in with my thoughts here and there.

OB: Truth be told, I usually hate Springsteen stories.  Growing up in New Jersey, I can’t tell you the number of times I've heard Springsteen stories from friends.  Most of the stories, I didn't believe, but the ones I did were just bad stories.  Some people say what a jerk he was, others say he was the coolest guy they ever met, but for the most part they were all really boring stories.  And I’ll never forget when I used to work with this guy who used to tell total suspect stories about his band playing shows down the Jersey Shore and how Bruce would come up to them after the show and say what a huge fan he was of them.  Keep in mind this was a bar band, that played nothing but covers.  Even listening to E Street Radio, I hate listening to fans' “stories” about Bruce.  They just are not that interesting.

It was with this attitude that I went into “Springsteen & I”.

Rory: I came in with similar skepticism.  Working on this blog has forced me to explore so much Springsteen; in just a year and a half, I've read three autobiographies, listened to countless interviews, and watched hours upon hours of live performances.  I did not think "Springsteen & I" would bring me something I haven't already seen before.

OB: I was not expecting much but a part of me had hope that Bruce would not disappoint.  My expectations were greatly surpassed.  This is a fantastic film for Bruce fans, music fans, film lovers, or just about anyone.  It’s genuinely funny, heartwarming, and honest.

For those who don’t know, “Springsteen & I” is a crowd-sourced documentary made up of footage shot by fans who describe what Bruce, his music, and being a fan is all about.  Within two minutes of the film starting, any apprehensions I had were gone.  There are no stupid exaggerations, or downright lies about meeting Bruce, or anything of that nature.  Just honest stories about how Bruce has impacted the lives of his fans. I do not want to spoil the stories, and me typing them out would not do them justice as opposed to hearing them for yourself. Suffice to say almost every story had me laughing hard or choked up with tears.

Rory: While we do spend a lot of time with the typical Springsteen fans - middle-aged white Americans who are eager to embarrass their kids - we also get to see Springsteen love from all walks of life (I particularly enjoyed the soft-spoken yet eloquent young female truck driver).  Every crazy story is backed up with video footage, some of which loyal readers of the blog will already know, such as Bruce playing with a street performer in Copenhagen.

OB: You can’t help but nod your head along as you hear these stories simply because you can relate to them so well.   The movie is aptly titled “Springsteen & I”, because even though Bruce is the star, we the fans play such an intricate part and we can all relate to one another.  You can’t help but think of your own stories while watching this movie and hearing about the role Bruce has played in other people’s personal, professional, family, and even sex lives.  When you watch both men and women of all different ages, from all over the world, tell their stories you cannot help but connect to them.  Much like the way way Bruce connects to his fans every night on stage.

The thing I love about this movie is not only does it show you Springsteen from a fan’s perspective,  but it also shows you the Bruce fanatic from the outsider’s perspective.  Hearing stories from spouses being dragged to Bruce shows, or children being forced to listen to Bruce in the car while their parents drove them are some of the funnier parts in the movie.  But hearing about how listening to Bruce has helped parents bond with their kids, or brought couples close together will tug at your heart.  I know I absolutely thought about my mother introducing to me to Bruce, as well as my father telling me I was wasting my money when I bought his albums.  I thought about how being Bruce fans has brought me to be even closer friends with Steve and Rory, so much so that we started this blog  But I was also reminded of a girl I used to date recently telling me I ruined “Thunder Road” for her, because it reminded her of me.

And finally, there’s the music.  The movie is filled with clips of Bruce throughout his career, and many clips of the concerts that the fans are telling stories about.  I’m sure every Bruce fan will want to see this movie, but if you’re not sure about it for some reason, the live clips are worth the price of admission alone.

Rory: I must also add that, if you are seeing it in theaters, make sure to stay after the credits roll.  Unlike the vague, disappointing clips they show at the end of super-hero movies, this is worth sticking around for. 

It isn't too late to see Springsteen & I on the big screen!  Go to http://www.springsteenandi.com/ to see where the movie is playing on July 30th.

To wrap up, I just want to share my favorite quote from the film.  It sometimes seems that children can see the world more clearly than adults, which is odd because it would seem knowing more would be preferable to knowing less.  However, while some adults talk in vague, mystical language, one little girl sums up her love of Springsteen in brief, yet crystal clear, detail: "Bruce is my favorite singer because he puts a lot of effort into his performances.  He takes a deep breath before each song.  When the camera is on him, you can see the veins popping out of his neck.  After one song, he is as sweaty as a normal singer is after ten songs."  Amen, sister.  I couldn't have said it better myself.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Video Spotlight: Celebrity Deathmatch

This is a month of spotlighting MTV sketches from our high school days.  Today, we spotlight Bruce's appearance on Celebrity Deathmatch, battling the late, great James Gandolfini.

In the late 90s and early 00s, every channel was coming up with bizarre animated shows aimed at younger, hipper audiences.  Currently, there are only three channels that spotlight mature animated programs - FOX, Adult Swim, and Comedy Central (with the notable exception of Archer on FX).  But, a little over a decade ago, you'd find adult cartoons on nearly every channel, such as God, The Devil, and Bob on NBC, Dilbert on UPN, Clerks on ABC, and The Oblongs on the WB.  Many of these shows failed almost immediately, and the over-saturation of animated shows contributed to shows like Futurama and Family Guy being overlooked in their original runs (only to be revived later after success in syndication).  However, one show that found a specific niche was MTV's Celebrity Deathmatch.

Celebrity Deathmatch, much like South Park (which debuted just a few months earlier), helped usher in a new trendy of "edge-y" cartoons.  Celebrity Deathmatch had a simple concept - take celebrities people know and love, and make them be as brutal and creatively violent as possible.  This worked well at the time, and definitely struck a humorous chord with my high school self.  However, the rise of the internet has completely taken away the bite that Celebrity Deathmatch had - we have all seen better celebrity impersonations and we've seen more gruesome violence.  If your comedy is based solely on pushing the envelope for what is acceptable at the time, it is inevitable that it will be dated.

But, let's just focus on the clip at hand.  I have to say, having Springsteen battle Gandolfini (with Steve Van Zandt as the referee!) is an inspired choice - it would have been so much easier to use Bon Jovi, his "natural" rival.  Sure, it may have one of the worst Springsteen impersonations I've heard (he sounds Southern), and, while I love a good pun, there's just way too many Springsteen song references that make me groan.  However, I love the attention to detail the animators put in the designs of the Springsteen toilet and Gandolfini urinal (not a sentence I thought I'd type when I started this blog).  Eventually, the fight finishes the only way it should - with unabashed toilet humor.  Unlike edgy humor, farts will never get old.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Coming Soon: Springsteen & I

The other day I was at my local movie theater seeing Man of Steel and I was delighted to see the above poster hanging in the lobby. It brings me great excitement to see a poster for the feature-length documentary Springsteen & I hanging beside summer blockbusters in AMC theaters.

Springsteen & I is a crowd-sourced documentary that compiles footage submitted by fans across the world explaining what Springsteen means to them. I uploaded a video of my wife and I doing the first dance at our wedding to “Happy” but alas, I don’t think we made the cut. Regardless, I’m extremely excited to see the film.

MCN Fathom Events is bringing the film to a score of theaters across the country on July 22 and July 30. You can visit the official website to see which theater near you will be playing the film and buy your tickets in advance: http://www.springsteenandi.com/

I’ll be seeing the film on July 30 so stay tuned for a review. In the meantime, here’s the trailer…

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Theatrical Review: Twenty Feet From Stardom

Twenty Feet from Stardom is a new music documentary currently rolling out in theaters across the country in limited release. Directed by Morgan Neville, it details the triumph and the plight of being a back-up singer by profiling such supreme performers as Darlene Love, Lisa Fischer and Judith Hill. The profiles are supplemented by interviews with a cavalcade of music industry legends including – yes – Bruce Springsteen.

Obviously, if you’re only looking for a Springsteen documentary, look elsewhere because this isn’t it – not that it purports to be and nor should it be. Bruce is given equal weight amongst the impressive roster of talking heads and his contributions never overshadow the subjects of the film. That said, Bruce’s comments are just as analytically sound, full of wisdom and clear-eyed as you would expect. I was also delighted to see that the first lines of dialogue in the film are delivered by Bruce and the film concludes with concert footage of Bruce and the E Street Band serving back-up to Darlene Love’s lead vocals.

Over the course of its 90-minute running time, the film wrestles with the challenge these back-up singers face in terms of not receiving recognition or sustained success while contributing signature elements to some of the most successful songs of all time including “Young Americans” and “Sweet Home Alabama.” Twenty Feet from Stardom features some very engaging deconstructions of such popular songs and a breakdown of “Gimme Shelter” is probably the film’s standout sequence – although it also struck me as over-directed with too much editing.

Director Morgan Neville cuts a wide swath as he moves through doo-wop to Motown to classic rock to today. There is some very interesting investigation into both the psychology and the situational context of the back-up singer as well as the objectification of these unsung heroes. Fans of any of these music genres will take great interest in the in-depth detail of these musicians and the filmmakers have assembled a truly remarkable group of personalities to be interviewed.

Twenty Feet from Stardom is currently playing in various states across the country and opens in my hometown of Chicago this Friday, July 12 at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema. For a full list of play dates, visit the film’s official website here: http://twentyfeetfromstardom.com/dates.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Video Spotlight: MTV Fanatic

This MTV awards show sketch hasn’t aged as well as it had in my memory. In fact, most of it is pretty weak. It’s no secret that we love Ben Stiller’s impression of Springsteen – after all, we named the blog after sketches from The Ben Stiller Show. Even so, this is not Stiller’s finest rendition. He nails the recording studio surprise and the anticipation in the limo but his voice is inconsistent and his interaction with Puff Daddy doesn’t deliver on the set-up.

I blame a lot of this on Puff Daddy. It was 1998 and at the height of his popularity, he was very much of the “too cool for this” mindset. Aside from selling the surprise introduction moment, he seems almost unwilling to participate in the sketch. I know this was part of the image but it makes the sketch fall flat. And for a Springsteen fan it becomes particularly painful as it quickly declines from sending up the absurdity of the situation into “look at this old-timer buffoon.” Contrast the way this sketch plays out with Ben Stiller’s Mission: Impossible spoof where Tom Cruise is game to play along.

That being said, the video has two moments that I love:

1) Jack Black perfectly emulating the 90s era MTV host
2) “Why are you so awesome?”

Friday, July 5, 2013

Springsteen Prov

Here at Legends of Springsteen, we’re huge fans of improv as an art form. Two of the editors have even studied and performed at the famed Upright Citizens Brigade theater in New York. As such, I was excited to see that Esquire recently covered UCB's 15th annual Del Close Marathon. But I was even more excited to see that the topic they covered was Springsteen Prov. For background, the Del Close Marathon is an annual three-day marathon of round the clock improv shows and a number of venues across Marathon. I’m pleased to say that my old indie team Crimedog performed at the 13th annual Del Close Marathon… at 5:15 a.m. on a Sunday.

This Esquire article profiles performer John Murray and highlights one of his DCM shows – Springsteen Prov – in which he led a group of Springsteen-clad impersonators in an early morning show. There's a video excerpt but you can't really get a sense of how the set went - improv has to be experienced live anyway. But you can certainly see the excitement and energy Murray stirred up during the wee hours of the morning. From reading the article, I see that Murray is a huge Springsteen fan and even grew up in Colt's Neck, NJ. John, we salute you. Here's to more Springsteen Prov.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Bruce Springsteen and the Sesame Street Band

Several months ago, my wife and I were babysitting our niece and after a few hours of reading books and playing with toys, the method of entertainment turned to watching YouTube videos on an iPhone. Our niece repeatedly requested “Ernie” and following back-to-back viewings of “Rubber Ducky,” we began searching for other Sesame Street videos to watch. Knowing that Sesame Street has a history of pop culture awareness and celebrity guest stars, I went out on a limb and searched for “Sesame Street” and “Springsteen.” While I didn’t find a clip of Bruce himself on Sesame Street, I was delighted to find two parody songs: “Born to Add” and “Barn in the U.S.A.”

Of the two, “Born to Add” is clearly the better song. It captures the melody and energy of three Springsteen classics (“Born to Run,” “Jungleland,” and “Thunder Road”) very nicely without making it too hard rockin’ for kids. It even amalgamates the three songs so smoothly that I didn’t realize it was a medley until I read it in the YouTube comments. It also features a nice nod to the Jersey Shore.

For my taste, the melody of “Barn in the U.S.A.” sounds a bit too threatening and almost demonic. However, it has a lot of animals, which is a surefire way to spark interest with kids. I also love the Bruce puppet in this one.

Whichever song you prefer, I love that these exist. Hats off to the good people at Sesame Street. These videos not only give adults access points to child-friendly entertainment but also do their part to introduce the magic of Springsteen to kids at an early age!