Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Video Spotlight - Darkness on the Edge of Town

Astute readers may remember this video from OB's acoustic Springsteen article from last year, but I felt like this video deserves another go-around in the video spotlight.  As OB noted before, it is an extremely passionate rendition in a performance where Bruce comes off as exhausted (the voice cracks are an excellent touch).  But, the reason I wanted to go back to this video was, because it introduces us to the most unusual character of Springsteen lore: 90s Bruce.

We all already know that it wasn't his best time, but I do prefer the solo acoustic 90s Bruce than the fake E Street Band 90s Bruce.  However, let's take a moment to honor the horrific fashion choices of 90s Bruce.  In other videos from this time period, you'll see Bruce with a questionable goatee, overly-elaborate leather jackets, Brett-Favre-approved Wrangler jeans, and....earrings.  This video is too early into 90s Bruce to see any of that, we do get a glimpse of a burgeoning mullet and an oversized shirt that must have been purchased at The Gap.  Never really known for his fashion, I think we are all very glad he has gone back to basics with the simple black-on-black-on-black look for the last decade.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Great Moments in Springsteen Television History: "The Simpsons"

My all time favorite TV show is "The Simpsons".  Yes, I'll admit it's not as great as it once was, but much like Springsteen, the good will is built up so strong that I will always support it.  I've always been somewhat shocked that Bruce has never been on the show, as just about anyone who's anyone in pop culture has been on the show.  But this past season, even though Bruce was not actually on the show he was referenced and that's good enough for me!

This episode, "Love is a Many-Splintered Thing", Bart is having problems with a girl that he pays very little attention to.  When she starts berating Bart for his lack of attention.  Bart quickly thinks "What would my heroes do?"  After imagining Wolverine telling him to "Slash her!  Slash her good"  he imagines talking to none other than Max Weinberg (with the above caption that Springsteen wasn't available), telling him to "Start playing the drums.  No woman can resist a drummer."

Seconds later, when Bart is again caught not pay attention, he imagines Weinberg again advising him on drumming...

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Video Spotlight - Restless Nights

When reading Peter Ames Carlin's "Bruce" biography, I noted that I loved the input from the various E Street band members.  In particular, one quote from Little Steven inspired me to go back and re-watch the performance spotlighted today, taken from a 2009 concert in Buffalo that I was privileged to attend with fellow Legend of Springsteener OB.  In regards to Bruce's songwriting, he says, "It's this stuff that he completely ignores about himself that is, to me, his highest evolution.  It's easy to be personal.  It's easy to be original, believe it or not.  Pink Floyd is easy.  'Louie Louie' is hard.  Sgt. Pepper's - yeah, great.  But 'Gloria'?  Harder.  Give me those three chords and make 'em work?  That is the ultimate rock 'n' roll craft/art/inspiration/motivation.  That's the whole thing!"

While I don't completely agre with Van Zandt's perspective (Bruce even sheeplishly replies "That's my buddy, you know, he's very particular about the things he likes"), it is a fascinating tidbit of information.  While it is cited that "The Little Things (My Baby Does)" is Van Zandt's personal favorite song, "Restless Nights" easily falls into that classic pop three-chord genre that he loves.  Cut off from the end of this performance is Bruce barking out about how much fun performing the song was, and how Steven was absolutely right in saying they should play it more often.  Re-watching it now, over three years later, you'd have to completely agree.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Hanging Out on E Street - Valentine's Day Edition

A few weeks ago I managed to get on E Street Radio as a listener call-in. I hadn't dialed into a radio station in at least 15 years and I'd forgotten what an ordeal it is. After hours of incurring busy signals, I finally made it through and got my opportunity to dedicate a song. In this day and age, dialing into a radio station is a funny thing. When you can hear virtually any song you want at any moment you like through YouTube, iTunes or other Internet-based properties, the thought of calling into a radio station to request a song seems antiquated and frankly, perverse. But of course, E Street Radio isn't just any radio station. And the opportunity to speak to one of the E Street Radio DJs and know that my voice was being broadcast to legions of other faithful Bruce fans was a thrill. After hours of anticipation, it was all over in a matter of seconds. If it hadn't been for the show replay two days later, I wouldn't have even been sure it really happened. But it did. And I used my iPhone to record my fleeting moment on the airwaves. I took the opportunity on air to dedicate the song "Happy" to my wife, Lisa. Nearly two years ago, "Happy" was our first dance at our wedding and while this Valentine's Day post isn't of the same caliber as her guest post last year, I hope that it does the memory justice.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Lyrics Spotlight - Stolen Car

“She asked if I remembered the letters I wrote
When our love was young and we were bold.
She said last night she read those letters
And they made her feel a hundred years old.”
- Stolen Car, Tracks

Here at LegendsOfSpringsteen.com, we’ve made it known that we prefer the Tracks version of “Stolen Car” to the originally released version on The River. While it could be argued that the less rhythmic musical composition on The River more accurately reflects the hopelessness of the song, I feel that the lyrics come through more poignantly in Tracks. The more persistent music powers the lyrics forward and the alternate ending reinforces the pain of nostalgia illustrated in the lyrics above (which are found in both versions with a few minor differences). These lyrics capture the passing of time and the change in personality that can accompany it. While we often think of a memento as a source of cherishing the past, here it highlights the disconnect between the past and present. More painful than the acknowledgement that things aren’t as good as they used to be is the sense that it’s too late for them ever to be that good again.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Book Review 2 - Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin

Loyal readers of this blog must be getting a sense of deja vu.  "Didn't you guys already review this book a couple months ago?"  Indeed, your memory is not playing tricks on you.  However, I received this book as a gift for my birthday shortly (perhaps based on Steve's review), and have just spent the past two weeks plowing through this book.  As a loyal reader, you obviously know that Steve and I tackle Springsteen from different angles, so I would be remiss if I didn't add my two cents on this recent biography.

While I am a fan of non-fiction, I find the biography format can often be too formulaic - you go in a straight line from the past to the present, and make sure you make all the appropriate stops along the way.  As a Springsteen aficionado, I've already amassed a solid amount of information regarding Bruce's timeline.  So, when the book opened up with Doug and Adele meeting, I rolled my eyes and thought I was in for another standard tome.  However, once Bruce picked up the guitar, the book, too, got rocking and rolling.

Like Steve pointed out, this book doesn't aim to present Bruce as a mythical being, nor doesn't it purposely try to be iconoclastic. (Sidenote: in rereading my overly-harsh review of Chris Sanford's book, I can't help but think of the two ways the authors presented the infamous fight with Lynn Goldsmith on Bruce's 30th birthday.  While both portray it as an embarrassing moment in Bruce's career, Ames presents it in the context of Bruce's timeline, with frustration mounting from intense River recording sessions. Sanford throws it at you in the opening chapter, immediately tainting your view of the incident and of Bruce for the entire book.)  This book presents Bruce's triumphs and tragedies in the most human light I've seen in my year of being a Springsteen blogger.  While Springsteen's 20s were a roller-coaster unlike anything my friends or I could even imagine, Ames captures Bruce's emotions in an immensely relatable way.  As someone who just turned 28, I found myself easily understanding Bruce's thought process and justifications for his antics with his career, friendships, and women.

Another classic moment in the book is Bruce pointing out that Elvis and James Brown seem like superstars who don't have any friends, and vowing never to be like them.  Appropriately, this book does a very good job covering the E Street Band.  Quotes from Tallent and Weinberg are all over the place, and the madcap personalities of Vini Lopez and Danny Federici are entertainingly presented.  However, Clarence Clemons does come off very tragically - the last quote he has before he dies is about not being in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, while Scialfa is barely covered.

Like many other biographies, the book also gets a bit thin when it comes to covering the last 10 years.  While Born To Run and Born In The USA will be analyzed for years to come, I can't help but hold a soft-spot in my heart for Bruce's work from 1998 to 2008.  This was the period of time where all under-30 Bruce fans found his work, and not much here is dedicated to it - a blink of an eye and you'll miss The Seeger Sessions.  But, admittedly, this is a selfish complaint.

Overall, this book is an entertaining guideline to the history of Bruce, and I definitely foresee me going back and consulting it when writing future posts here.  I'd give it a solid 4 out of 5, and completely worth reading.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Lyrics Spotlight: "Human Touch"

"Oh girl that feeling of safety that you prize
Well it comes at a hard hard price
You can't shut off the risk and the pain
Without losing the love that remains" - "Human Touch", Human Touch

A few weeks back I reviewed Mick Foley's debut into the literary world Tietam Brown.  Coincidentally later that day he guest was the guest DJ on E Street Radio.  His theme for that episode were the lyrics I chose this week's analysis.  He really analyzed the song and broke it down.  I've never been a big fan of "Human Touch" (the song and the album, I don't hate it but it just cant compare to E Street material or his incredible folk albums).  But after hearing Foley delve deep into the lyrics, and reading them over, and listening to the song on repeat, I've gained a new appreciation.

This might be Springsteen's best work lyrically.  I've written in the past about Springsteen's lyrics struggles with doubt and mistrust, but I don't think any song displays it so much as "Human Touch" in particular these lyrics.  This just a sample of the lyrics, but really I could have gone with just about any from this under-appreciated song.  Gone is the Springsteen of old with his wild youth filled lyrics like "Tonight we'll be free, all the promises will be broken."  He can't write a song like that anymore, because his view of the world has changed.  But, as Foley said in his show, Bruce couldn't write a song like "Human Touch" when he first debuted either, because he hadn't experienced the pain and sacrifice of losing love yet.  

Monday, February 4, 2013

Lyrics Spotlight - Point Blank

"It's one false move and baby the lights go out"
--Point Blank, The River

Last year at this time, I was able to write a glorious post-Super Bowl tribute to my beloved New York Giants.  This year we were treated to an entertaining, albeit frustrating, game.  I had no real dog in this fight, as the arbitrary reasons I had for rooting for the 49ers (NFC team, black quarterback, and hating Ray Lewis) were equaled out by my reasons for rooting for the Ravens (underdog, Rutgers' Ray Rice, and older brothers sticking together).  What most casual fans will take away from this game was the 34-minute blackout during the game.  

While frustrating at the time, I feel, in the long run, the blackout was a net gain for the Super Bowl.  First, it turned the momentum from Baltimore to San Francisco, as the game was getting out of hand.  Who wants to see a blow-out?  Secondly, it gave everyone in America an extra half-hour of drinking, which is a perfect addition to any party.  Finally, the most important aspect of the blackout is that it was a litmus test to see how strong your Super Bowl party was.  As someone at my party said, "Woah, it's already been 27 minutes?  You people are pretty entertaining!"  If you found yourself drinking, joking, and switching to the Puppy Bowl as you waited for the game to restart, congratulations!  You were at a great party!  However, if you found yourself falling asleep or pulling out your hair waiting for the game to restart, you may want to go to a different party next year.  

Finally, there were a lot of "blackout" lines in Bruce songs I could have chosen, including whole songs such as "Shut Out The Light" and "When The Lights Go Out".  However, I picked "Point Blank" to reflect the accuracy of my Super Bowl prediction.  Last year, I nailed the final score exactly, and this year I was the only Legends of Springsteener to pick the Ravens, and was off on the final score by just 3 points for each team.  Loyal readers, make sure to check back next February to see if I can keep my streak alive.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Sporting With Bruce Springsteen

They always say that people should write what they know, so in the tradition of drinking with Springsteen and gambling with Springsteen, I present to you: Sporting with Springsteen!

The Super Bowl is this Sunday.  Last year around this time, we looked back on Springsteen's epic performance at the 2009 Super Bowl.  If you haven't read that, make sure to click that link; it will be much more entertaining than the article you are currently reading.  This year, we will take a look at how the world of sports has crossed over into Springsteen's song catalog.

Looking for Springsteen songs about or referencing sports is a difficult endeavor, as the man does not seem to be a sports enthusiast.  While he did play a little baseball in his youth, his adolescence revolved around making those guitars talk.  However, there is one Springsteen song that I'm sure jumped to everyone's mind as soon as they read the title, so let's jump write into it:

Glory Days

This Youtube video even claims that it is the greatest song about baseball (John Fogerty must have turned over in his luxurious bed).  And despite Bruce's baseball ignorance (a "speedball"), I'm inclined to agree with that assessment.  Sure, taken in its entirety, the song is a melancholy look back at faded youth.  It's a wistful song dedicated to the memory of a bygone era.  That, to me, is baseball all over.

For example, football is a high-stakes world of advanced warfare, always being the first sport to adopt new technology, constantly improving their equipment, and making their players bigger and stronger.   Basketball has always been strongly in step with the youth culture; in every generation, there's at least a few stars who set fashion trends (Michael Jordan's long shorts/shaved head in the late 80s, Allen Iverson's "gangsta" look in the late 90s, and the James Harden/Russell Westbrook "hipster" look today).  Baseball exists in a world sepia-toned photographs of chubby men with funny mustaches.  You sit down with any baseball fan, and they'll talk to you more about retired players than current ones.  One of our writers, OB, is a lifelong Mets fan whose favorite player is Gary Carter - who left the team when OB was four years old!  Baseball is Abbot & Costello, peanuts & crack jack, and "Glory Days".

Wrecking Ball

This song has just a vague reference to the New York Giants, but that's enough to make it into this article.  "Wrecking Ball" was written in 2009 when they were tearing down Giants Stadium.  It goes with the notion mentioned before that football is all about the future, as old stadium as torn down in favor of new, state-of-the-art designs.  These stadiums may have the largest digital screen displays in the western hemisphere, but they do not have the character of the old stadiums.  While paving over the past is not a problem unique to football (and nostalgia is not unique to baseball), it tends to be more associated with the culture of the sport.

While the previous two songs dealt with sad subjects draped in upbeat, toe-tapping tempos, the next two songs will deal with sad subjects in an appropriate somber tone.  Furthermore, while the previous songs dealt with team sports and the ideals behind them, the next ones focus on individual sports and the tolls they take on those who choose them as a career path.

The Hitter

This tells the story of a tough boxer who works his way up from the dockyard, earns fame and glory, takes a dive, and finds himself back in the docks again.  The story is very similar to "Workin' On The Highway", although told through Devils & Dust's barren acoustic sound, rather than the bombastic Born in the USA style.  It illustrates the perils of success, and uses brutal imagery to show how rough a living it is.  The narrator throughout is singing the song to his mother, showing that beneath the tough exterior he just wants the comfort of home and love to get him through his rough life.

The Wrestler

This has to be one of my all-time favorite Springsteen songs.  I remember watching The Wrestler in the theaters with fellow blog writer Steve, and when this song came on at the start of the credits, it was like a punch in the gut.  While the story of both the movie and the song can be applied to nearly any profession where you have to push your body physically and mentally into dangerous territory in order to succeed, it definitely works best in the context of professional wrestling.  Like "Streets of Philadelphia" only vaguely referencing AIDS, there is no obvious mention of wrestling in this song, aside from "blood", "bruises", and "broken bones".  However, the story here is one of the dozens of professional wrestlers whose life and careers were cut short as they pulled out all the stops to "make you smile".  The question at the end is a dark indictment of the fans of many sports, as they often do ask for more, taking for granted the sacrifices of the performers.

Well, that's a pretty depressing place to end the article.  So, to lighten the mood, here's a rant about being a sports fan:

A lot of people often make fun of sports fans based on their lowest common denominator.  You know who that is: the fat guy who paints his face, gets too drunk at games, and yells profanities at opposing players.  There are plenty of reasons to mock sports fans, and I'm sure I create more reasons every time I go to a game.  However, one joke that I can't stand is when people criticize sports fans for saying "we" when referring to their favorite team.  Critics will point and laughing, saying "Do you actually think you are part of the team?"  Actually, newsflash: I don't.  I just understand how pronouns work.  If I'm talking about the Giants, my favorite team, playing the Cowboys, do you know how confusing it would be to refer to multiple teams as "they"?  "They need to stop their defense because they are fighting them for a playoff spot."  Say what now?  I can't believe I have to explain this to non-sports fans in the year 2013.  Couldn't they (meaning people who make that dumb criticism) have learned about pronouns by now?  We (meaning sports fans who understand how to use the word "we" and myself, not the New York Giants and myself) figured it out long ago.

Now that my ranting is done, how about that Super Bowl?  Last year, I predicted the exact final score of the game, can I pull it through again?  Here's what the football experts at Legends of Springsteen think will happen Sunday:

OB: 49ers 27, Ravens 17
Rory: Ravens 31, 49ers 28
Steve: 49ers 35, Ravens 30

Have a great weekend, everyone!