Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Counting On A Package Deal, Part 1 - Greetings From Asbury Park

Being the mini-hipster that I am, I have found my apartment infested with a vinyl record collection.  I don't know how or when this happened - I just moved to Brooklyn about two years ago, and within weeks, there they were.  While I'm not as much of an audiophile to claim that I can hear a huge difference in sound quality, I do enjoy owning stuff.  And, what better stuff to own than trendy, hopelessly outdated, will-be-annoying-to-move-when-I-switch-apartments pieces of Springsteen memorabilia?

So, in this new series Counting On A Package Deal, I will be reviewing the packaging of these Springsteen records.  No, I won't be discussing any of the songs.  No, I will not be dissected the cover art.  Just, you know, the box it came in.  Still with  me?  Yes?  God bless you.

So, first up, we've got Greetings From Asbury Park, Springsteen's debut album.  Here, we've got a standard looking record.  While the front features very little to identify this as anything other than "Jersey music", the back tells another story:

Flip the record over, The back is crammed with Springsteen's crazy lyrics and a small picture of the young rascal.  It really shows off Springsteen's early, more verbose songs, as they can barely fit 5 songs on the back (although there is a tremendous excess of empty space at the bottom.  So far, it's a pretty by-the-book album package, but what's this?

The post-card is die-cut, revealing more lyrics!  It's extremely simple, but I must say, I do not own any other albums that make use of such a gimmick.  Plus, take a closer look at the back of the fake postcard - you even get to see little Bruce's face on a fake stamp (sadly, an honor we couldn't get Clarence Clemons). 

The album is nothing special, as we get the red Columbia records label.  That's something I have to give credit to CDs for - in their later years, they would make the discs stand-out more.  A spoiler alert for future Package Deal posts: you will be hard-pressed to tell the difference between Springsteen records, and probably assume I'm just re-using the same photo.

Sadly, the original record sleeve seems to have been lost to the ages, so I'll have to make due with the tiny pictures and microscopic notes that accompany the re-released CD.  I'm sure there's some fun Bruce stuff I could make snarky jokes about in here, but I'm not going to strain my eyes reading 2 point font.

So, there you have it: the first (and hopefully not last) installment of Counting On A Package Deal.  I hope you had fun reading it, or, failing that, I hope you enjoyed scrolling through the pictures.

Want a copy to call your own?  Purchase it here!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Springsteen Gift Report: The Promise: The Darkness On The Edge Of Town Story Box Set

Released in 2010, The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story box set is, hands down, one of the best gifts a Springsteen fan can receive.  It is a behemoth collection packed with three CDs and 3 DVDs, containing hours of music and concert footage.  Without exaggeration, there's absolutely nothing to complain about here: you are paying for the best of late 70s Springsteen, and you get the best of late 70s Springsteen.

Check out these beauties.  First, you've got yourself Darkness on the Edge of Town, an all-time classic album that ranks in the top five on most Springsteen fans' lists.  While, being a Springsteen fan, you are probably deeply intimate with Darkness's material, it's still nice to see it in the package.  Next up, you have The Promise, a two-disc set of outtakes from the time period between Darkness and The River.  While some purists may balk at the fact that the songs have been rerecorded and touched up in places, I absolutely love these tracks.  As with any two-disc set, there is bound to be some extraneous material, but the second disc truly stands out with great songs like "Save My Love", "Ain't Good Enough For You", and "Talk To Me".  The Promise is easily the strongest material Springsteen has released since Magic, and is worth the price of this box set alone.

But, somehow, there's more!  Yes, you get three DVDs: a documentary about the making of Darkness on the Edge of Town, Bruce performing Darkness in an empty theater in Asbury park, demos and concert footage from the "Thrill Hill Vault", and, if that wasn't enough, an entire concert from Houston in 1978.  I must admit that I haven't gone back to rewatch the documentary since originally getting it - perhaps one day I'll go back and write a review.  But, the footage from the 70s is always great. (And, as pointed out previously, you get a rare shot of Steven Van Zandt sans bandana!)  The performance of Darkness in Asbury Park is haunting, as the setting deepens the somber themes of the music.

All these goodies come wrapped in a spiral notebook with pages of what can only be described as "Bruce scribblings".  If you have the patience and obsession of extreme Springsteen fan (say, a fan that has written for a Springsteen blog for nearly three years), you may find it fun to read the notes to get a glimpse into Mr. Springsteen's editing process.  However, for sane people, it is just simply a way to do something different and creative with the packaging.

Unlike the album collection, which can work for new Springsteen fans, I'd say this box set is best suited for Springsteen maniacs.  The catch here is that this is already four years old - the Springsteen crazies probably got their grubby mits all over this (heck, they may have bought two sets).  However, if you know one die-hard fan who DOESN'T have this, make sure to get it for him or her, and be prepared to be repaid with sexual favors.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Springsteen Holiday Gift Guide 2014

Trying to find the perfect present for that special Springsteen fan in your life? Look no further! Just because there isn't another new album, that doesn't mean there isn't something Springsteen-related that you should wrap up with a bow this holiday season.

For the Springsteen Fan Who is Just Getting Started:

The Album Collection Vol. 1 1973-1984 ($75)

Chances are strong that younger Springsteen fans don’t have the full early Springsteen catalogue – and if they do, not in physical form. As recently chronicled, there’s still something special about having physical copies of your favorite music, even if we live in a digital world. The beauty of this set is that it really hits home the weight and importance of Springsteen’s place in history and the longevity of his career. The eight-disc box set features Greetings from Asbury Park, The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle, Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town, The River, Nebraska and Born in the U.S.A.

For the Springsteen Fan with Young Children:

“Outlaw Pete” by Bruce Springsteen and Frank Caruso ($13)

Reading to your children is incredibly important. But sometimes it’s just as much about finding ways to keep yourself entertained as it is to find stories that engage your audience. What better way to do that than a Springsteen-inspired picture book?

For the Springsteen Fan Eager to Climb the Company Ladder:

“Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life” by Stewart Friedman

A Harvard Business Review book featuring a profile of Bruce Springsteen? Yes, it exists. And it’s excellent. “Leading the Life You Want” by Stewart Friedman is part action guide, part inspiration source as it tackles the issue of work/life balance by illustrating six public figures who have achieved great success in this area. Of course, you have to know the recipient well enough to ensure this won’t be misconstrued as an insult (“You don’t spend enough time at home!”). More in our review.

For the Springsteen Fan who Has Been Kind of Emo Lately:

Dead Man’s Town: A Tribute to Born in the U.S.A.

For fans who are open to hearing the iconic Born in the U.S.A. album from a different perspective, Lightning Rod Records’ tribute album offers a cover of each track from the original album by 12 different indie bands. These tributes are slow and contemplative, perfect for moments of quiet reflection upon a snowy landscape. More in our review.

For the Springsteen Fan who Has Everything:

Nils Lofgren: Face the Music ($120)

Nils Lofgren may be the most undervalued member of the E Street Band. An exceptional guitarist and songwriter in his own right, this 10-disc box set is a crash course on his non-E Street career including early work from his band Grin (which he founded when he was 17). While you’re waiting for the next Springsteen album, these 169 tracks will keep you more than busy – and may get you thinking that Lofgren is just as prolific as The Boss himself.

Happy Holidays from Legends of Springsteen!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Bruce Springsteen Performing With U2 For World AIDS Day

Last night, with Bono out of action, Bruce Springsteen took to the stage with U2 in Times Square for the RED Charity.  You can watch the above video and judge yourself, but I thought the performance was a mixed bag.  Bruce has performed a string of covers this year, but most of them were helped by the E Street Band spinning it to give it a more unique feel.  Here, Bruce is just plopped in along with the rest of U2, so it gives it more of a "karaoke" sound.  Bruce was trying a bit much in "Where The Streets Have No Name", sounding very growl-y and uber-serious.  However, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" felt a bit more relaxed and had more of the classic Springsteen concert feel, getting the rain-soaked crowd more engaged.  It is worth noting that ESPN had to cut to commercial before the end of the song, just showing how tight Bruce had to tailor his act for the Super Bowl performance back in 2009.  While it may not be Bruce's strongest appearance, I have been thoroughly enjoying this small set of live performances of Bruce over the last month - it's been too long!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Springsteen Gift Report: The Album Collection Vol. 1 1973-1984

Today is Cyber Monday, and there's one Springsteen item that has been added to many Springsteen fans' wish lists.  No, not Outlaw Pete, but the Album Collection Vol. 1 1973-1984.  As someone whose birthday struck last week, I am happy to report that I can cross this off my list.

While most of the marketing push for this gift have focused on the vinyl versions of the albums, I received the CD version.  Vinyls are quite "hip" right now, but in terms of both cost and practicality, the CD version of the gift might be the better for Springsteen fans young and old. (Not to mention, I was able to acquire all the vinyls from a family member - more on that in future blog posts!)

There are no surprises here: you get seven great albums and a photo booklet tucked in a spiffy container.   However, despite being incredibly well-versed in Springsteen's career, it is incredibly impressive to see all these classic records in one place.  I've been wasting my time dragging my hand along the albums, trying to feel the 12 years of history.

The only "new" item here is a booklet that is packed with chronologically ordered photos, concert flyers, and article headlines.  I'd say it is a walk down memory lane, but all of these things happened before I was born.

It is tough to try to fully describe how impressive this collection is, because, at its core, it is nothing new.  You know all the songs by heart.  You can close your eyes and picture every album cover in intricate detail.  However, in an age where everything is on "the cloud", it is nice to have a physical representation of the music you love.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Lyrics Spotlight - "Backstreets"

Slow dancing in the dark
On the beach at Stockton's Wing
- "Backsteets", Born To Run

This post comes way courtesy of the good people at /r/BruceSpringsteen.  They have been both supporters of and inspirations to Legends Of Springsteen for quite some time.  It's one of Reddit's smaller forums, but definitely worth checking out for all Springsteen fans.

So, why these lyrics?  Well, a wise poster saw the news story about Stockton College buying the Showboat in Atlantic City, and immediately thought of this song.  Stockton's Wing referred to Stockton College's presence in the Mayflower Hotel in Atlantic City, where they were located in the 1970s.  However, they moved out of Atlantic City nearly 40 years ago.  But, with the purchase of the Showboat, they are back "on the beach".

So, next time you are in Atlantic City, make sure to do your slow dancing at Showboat/Stockton's Wing, and then go lose your money.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Bruce Springsteen on The Daily Show, November 10th

The Outlaw Pete promotional book tour is in full swing, and yes, I feel as strange typing that as you felt reading it.  Earlier this week, Bruce appeared on The Daily Show with illustrator Frank Caruso.  There isn't much insight here, as they giggle through a short interview that was basically like Jay Sherman's "Buy My Book!" prop.  It may be worth noting that Frank Caruso looks like the love-child of Bruce and Little Steven (the key words being "may be").  As you can tell, I'm not particularly enthused by the Outlaw Pete project, but with no shows or albums on the horizon, it's what we die-hards will have to make due with for now.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Concert for Valor: 7 PM Tonight on HBO!

Just a reminder that tonight at 7pm LIVE on HBO, Bruce will be performing at the Concert For Valor.  The concert is a very much well deserved tribute to our men and women of service, both veterans and active duty, and their families.  The concert is expected to draw close to 1 million people at The National Mall in Washington DC.

Bruce is just one of the many acts playing.  It truly is a "something for everyone" with Bruce Springsteen, Metallica, Rhianna, Zac Brown Band, Carrie Underwood, Eminem, and the Black Keys, just to name a few.

More information can be found at www.concertforvalor.com.  Check back later this week for a review of the event!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Video Spotlight: "The River" - Passenger

Passenger had his big break last year when his song "Let Her Go" was used in the insanely popular Budweiser commercial "Best Buds".  I've listened to that album a few times and he's quite a talented singer and songwriter.  So it's no shock at all to figure out that he's a Bruce fan and covered one of his greatest songs.  I haven't heard much from him since that commercial, although admittedly I know so little about current pop music, he could be the most popular musician out there and I would have no idea.

"The River" is one of my top five favorite Springsteen songs of all time.  For awhile it was my favorite, and every now and then I still consider it my favorite, depending on my mood.  It's a perfect song for an acoustic guitar, that really sets the tone for it's somber lyrics.  One quick search of YouTube confirms that by the sheer number of videos on there.  Although Passenger's version is clearly the best cover I have heard of "The River".  Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Book Recommendations From Bruce Springsteen

In a brief interview with the New York Times, the Boss opened up about his literary influences.  While he admits to not becoming an avid reader until his late 20s, the amount of authors he cites here is numerous and diverse.  It's a great article if you are looking for book recommendations, but be warned: there are TONS of books Bruce rattles off - by my count, there are over 30 individual books named and another 30+ authors names listed.

While I am unfamiliar with most of the works listed by Bruce in the article, there is one part of the article I did have some expertise in.  At the top, we have this cartoon of Springsteen:

This is the work of comic illustrator Jillian Tamaki.  I recently read her graphic novel This One Summer, a coming-of-age tale that is poignantly written and beautifully illustrated.  So, if you didn't feel overwhelmed by all the book recommendations in the article, allow me to add one more to your reading list!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Video Spotlight - "Monster Mash"

Happy Halloween!  I'll keep this post quick, so that our young fans can go back to eating candy, our older fans can go back to drinking, and our writer, OB, can go back to doing both.  Here we have Bruce and company playing live in Rochester on Halloween night two years ago.  It takes a bit of time to get the band into it, but we are treated to a version of the "Monster Mash" that sounds like it could be played on a cruise ship.  Stick around for Springsteen's Lugosi-voice, perhaps the most surprising Lugosi-voice since Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  If that doesn't scare you tonight, who knows what will.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Trivia Time! Springsteen or Taylor Swift?

In honor of Taylor Swift's new album, the good folks at NJ.com have put together quite the quiz.  Can you identify, through a small lyrical excerpt, which songs are by Bruce Springsteen, and which songs are by Taylor Swift?  I must confess that I only scored a 9/10, erring on the side of thinking a Taylor Swift song was a Bruce Springsteen song.  To compare scores, fellow Legends of Springsteen writer OB scored a perfect 10/10, while my girlfriend managed a respectable 6/10.  A word of advice for all Springsteen fans: don't overthink it.  The lyrics quoted are not particularly obscure, so if you can't immediately identify it, it is probably belongs to Taylor Swift.  Good luck!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Great Moments in Springsteen Television History: The Sopranos

We have been doing this blog for nearly 3 years, and The Sopranos is my all-time favorite TV Drama.  How did it take me this long to do a tribute to Stevie Van Zandt's role as Silvio Dante on HBO's The Sopranos?!?

According to Van Zandt, Sopranos creator David Chase decided to cast him in the show after seeing Stevie induct The Rascals into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1997, despite him having no acting experience at all.

It should go without saying that the clips I will show in this post are not even remotely safe for work.  And there will also be spoilers.  But the show has been off the air for seven years, so if you haven't seen it by now, what are you waiting for?

Silvio starts off as just a regular mafia soldier with very little to make him standout from the others. He keeps a low profile, runs a legitimate(ish) business in the infamous "Bada Bing" strip club, and is fiercely loyal to his family and his boss.

However, slowly throughout the show, he starts showing more and more personality, such as when he's annoyed with the officiating at his daughter's soccer game.

But perhaps what he would be most noted for was his Michael Corleone from The Godfather impressions, as seen below and would become one of his character's trademark.

His loyalty to his crime family was abundantly clear when he whacked several FBI informants seen here, here, and especially here.  That's in addition to all the other murders he committed on the show.  He may have been a soft-spoken guy, but he was an absolute bad-ass, cold-blooded, brutal mobster.

But, my all time favorite scene is when he's playing poker.  As an avid gambler, I absolutely know the frustration he felt of losing money and taking that frustration out on the nearest person.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Video Spotlight - SNL Dress Rehearsal 2002 "You're Missing"

I came across this video while meticulous researching my Joe Piscopo posts for this blog.  Both of them.  I remember this episode of Saturday Night Live airing, it was the season premiere with Matt Damon hosting.  Bruce sang this song, as well as "Lonesome Day".  There's actually a great skit of Matt Damon and Jimmy Fallon as drunk guys with strong Boston accents at a Springsteen concert who keep fighting the people around them for ruining the concert. Specifically the line "I did nawt pay $200 for flawr seats and hear you singing Thundah Road in my ear!  So shut up!"  I can't find that skit anywhere, so this will have to do for now.

This was the beginning of Bruce's comeback.  It's not really fair to call it a comeback, when he never really went away, but he was about to reclaim his title as "The Boss", just in case anyone had forgotten.   The Rising had just been released, and Bruce was about to make his first appearance on SNL in approximately a decade.  I'm pretty sure these two appearances were Bruce's only  times on the show.  Pretty crazy to think they didn't have him on during the Born To Run or Born In The USA phases of his career when he was arguably the biggest name in pop and rock music.  Actually even now, he'd do great on the show.  But this show was to prove to the audience, he wasn't back to just play his greatest hits.  "Lonesome Day" showed Bruce and The E Street band still knew how to rock, while this piano solo ballad, showed Bruce was still the foremost songwriter out there.  And this dress rehearsal just shows Bruce at his most raw and concentrated, and must have been amazing for the cast and crew to watch.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Bruce Vs. Bruce - Springsteen versus Batman

After dispatching the Hulk back in the summer, Springsteen moves on to his next opponent.  As we are in prime Halloween season, what better opponent to take on than Bruce Wayne a.k.a. Batman, the fearsome protector of Gotham City.  While everyone awaits to see how Batman versus Superman will play out, let's see how he does against Jersey's native son.

Bruce Wayne
Bruce Springsteen
The Caped Crusader
The Boss
Advantage: Springsteen

Gotham City, Fictional
Freehold, NJ, Reality
Advantage: Springsteen

Kicking Ass Since
Advantage: Batman

Rich Kid With Dead Parents
Poor Kid With Alive Parents
Advantage: Springsteen

Fear into the Hearts of Criminals
A Chord with the Working Class
Advantage: Springsteen

Youthful Ward
Tom Morello
Advantage: Batman

Criminals are…
A Cowardly, Supersticious Lot
Inspirations for songs on Nebraska
Advantage: Springsteen

The Joker, Two-Face, The Penguin, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, etc.
Republican Presidents
Advantage: Batman

Boy, it was a close one, but in a 5-3 decision, Springsteen showed Batman who truly ruled the darkness on the edge of town.  Stay tuned for yet another scientific breakdown of how Springsteen would fair against the other famous Bruces throughout time and space.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Even More Joe Piscopo

I'm not through with Joe Piscopo.  Not by a long shot,  Remember when I said he was obsessed with New Jersey?  Well, this video pretty much cements it.  And it's not even his only song about New Jersey.

There's not much more I can say about my man Joe Piscopo.  I know I was kind of rough on him last time, but it came from a place of love and admiration.  And just to show no hard feelings, I'll also throw in this video from  The Dolly Show where he does his Springsteen impression to do a duet with Dolly Parton of "I'm On Fire".  It's actually, pretty good.  Wait, scratch that, he actually catches on fire at  the 3:30 mark.  Oh Joe, I'd hate you if I didn't love you so much.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Lyrics Spotlight: "Worlds Apart"

Author's note:  The views and opinions expressed in this post are mine and mine alone, and do not necessarily reflect the other writers at Legends of Springsteen,  or the website as a whole.  Thank you.

"Sometimes the truth just ain't enough,
But it's too much in times likes this."- "Worlds Apart", The Rising

Last week, Bill Maher and Ben Affleck made headlines on Maher's HBO show "Real Time With Bill Maher", when they got into a heated debate on the Islamic faith.  Even though I'm fairly conservative, and Maher is staunchly liberal, I do watch his show every week.  Part of the reason is the intellectual reward of wanting to broaden my horizons and hear the counter-thoughts to my views so I can fully understand issues.  However another part, and major part at that, is because I like how angry shows like this make me and strengthen my own conservative arguments.

However, even though I usually can't stand Maher, I absolutely agreed with him on this issue.  It got me thinking about the Springsteen song "Worlds Apart", which musically and lyrically compare and contrast Eastern and Western cultures.  Maher is an unapologetic critic of all organized religion, but has said "All religion is disease.  But Christianity is herpes, and Islam is cancer."  I thought about the above Springsteen lyrics during this debate, when Maher and author Sam Harris plead for fellow liberals to stand up for their liberal values and face the ugly truth that sometimes criticizing someone other than White Christian Males, which liberals are always fine with criticizing, is sometimes acceptable.  But notice, even before they get to that point that Ben Affleck, another staunch liberal, seems to sense where this conversation is going.  Before Harris is even finished with his point, Affleck is combative and dismissive of his credentials.  When Harris confirms that he has studied Islamic culture extensively, Affleck give him an incredibly passive-aggressive comment of "I was just asking."   And the whole debate is downhill from that point, and neither really seems to listen to one another.  Maher asks his fellow liberals to examine the facts and not just label criticism of Islam as bigoted.  Affleck, overwhelmed by anger and emotion, lashes out and calls Maher a bigot.  "Sometimes the truth just ain't enough,  But it's too much in times likes this."  Worlds Apart, indeed.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Book Review - "Leading the Life You Want" by Stewart Friedman

Bruce Springsteen makes an unlikely appearance on bookshelves this week: in the pages of a business book where he’s heralded as an individual who masters the intersection of work and home. The book is from Harvard Business Review Press and is entitled “Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life.” It’s written by Stewart Friedman, a professor at the prestigious Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of “Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life.”

The book is designed to help readers achieve success in what Friedman describes as the four central domains: work, home, community, and the private self. He argues against the metaphor of “work/life balance” and in favor of creating a harmonious intersection of these four elements by applying principles and skills such as focusing on results, building support networks and clarifying expectations.

“Leading the Life You Want” is an action-oriented book that encourages the reader to take notes, complete self-assessment tests and skip around from section to section in whatever order works best for the individual. The book is split into two sections. The first offers profiles of individuals who have achieved success and the second goes in-depth on how to implement the specific skills illustrated. If you’re reading the book without an explicit purpose (e.g. improving your prioritization) and looking more for general enlightenment, the six profiles will prove the most engaging.

Each profile reads like a mini biography by giving you such precise detail and a concisely structured character arc that you walk away with an efficient understanding of these diverse personalities. The section begins with two tales you might expect, tales of business in the more traditional sense, illustrated by Tom Tierney (Former CEO of Bain & Company) and Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook). It then transitions into individuals you will be more surprised to see in a business text: Eric Greitens (US Navy Seal), Michelle Obama (US First Lady), Julie Foudy (soccer champion-turned-broadcaster) and, of course, Bruce Springsteen.

The ‘pick and choose’ approach Friedman recommends benefits the reader. By and large, I didn't relate to the Greitens section but still would have been able to find great value from the book if I had skipped it. However, I could see how a reader with a different background might read just this one section and find the book extremely valuable.

So what about the Bruce section? It doesn’t disappoint. Like the other sections, it provides a comprehensive overview of his life and clearly connects his success to the mastery of certain skills such as truly embodying one’s values and practicing self-reflection. Springsteen fans will be familiar with the ground covered here, but may find themselves surprised by the analysis applied. For example, this is the first time I recognized that Bruce’s least prolific years from a music standpoint (late 80s to early 90s) coincide with those crucial early years of forming a family and becoming a parent (his first child was born in 1990). This isn’t presented as a hindrance to his career, but an essential step toward Bruce achieving satisfaction in all four quadrants: work, home, community and the private self.

There is a recurring undercurrent throughout the book: nobody’s perfect. And we make it extra hard on ourselves because we live in a society of heightened self-scrutiny. The profiles in the book are just celebratory enough to inspire you and just realistic enough to prevent you from simply envying their success.

It’s peculiar to say, but I frequently feel proud of Bruce Springsteen. This is an odd emotion to feel for a rich and famous artist that you’ve never met. But it’s true. I can’t help but feel proud of all that Bruce Springsteen has accomplished, and all that he’s given to this world. In a funny way, seeing Bruce profiled here as the only artist represented (from any medium), my pride feels justified.

Whether or not you are a Springsteen fan, this is a useful book to read. The way it’s written makes it a good resource that you can turn to time and again for inspiration when you find yourself stuck. Whatever your profession may be, you’d be well suited to keep a copy of “Leading the Life You Want” on your office desk or your bedside table.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Joe Piscopo

Now, some of you may be saying, "Who the hell is Joe Piscopo?"  That's a fair question, however, most will remember this Jersey-born, not-so-iconic comedian.  But in the dark days of Saturday Night Live, from 1980-1985, Joe Piscopo was kind of the man.  Really.  He was only eclipsed by Eddie Murphy, who at that time was probably the most revolutionary thing in comedy since George Carlin.  But then Piscopo left SNL, and went promptly into the "Where Are They Now?" fame.  But don't tell Joe that.  No, Joe still thinks he's the man.  And it'd almost be admirable if it wasn't so sad.  I'm sorry, I don't want this to come off as mean, but he might be the most delusional man about his own talent and stardom that I ever heard.

My fascination with Joe Piscopo started a few years ago when I was listening to my favorite radio show, Opie and Anthony (I really miss the show), and co-host Anthony Cumia started bashing Joe Piscopo's recent Showtime special "Club Piscopo".  For the next 3 hours, Opie and Anthony proceeded to watch Joe Piscopo clips on YouTube and absolutely destroy Piscopo.  It was hysterically funny (NSFW).  Then things only got better, when Piscopo called in and took his beating like a good sport, and won over the audience.  Since then, watching Joe Piscopo clips on YouTube is one of my favorite things.  Some of his impressions are cringe inducing, and his singing is downright laughable (but not as bad as his rapping).  And yet, in the end, I love the guy.

I have to admit, his Sinatra impression is very good.  However, when Phil Hartman came along to SNL, he blew it Piscopo's impression out of the water.  And Joe's Bruce impression is kind of hacky.  Oh yeah, another thing about Piscopo, he's obsessed with being from Jersey.  Listen, I've lived in NYC for the past 4 years, but in my heart I still am a Jersey guy.  I get it.  It's in the blood, and hard to let go of.  But Joe takes it to a new level.  So I was not shocked at all to see this video from Joe's mid 80's comedy special.  Piscopo's most famous impression from SNL, the biggest rock star at the time, and it's all in Jersey?  It's the Joe Piscopo Holy Trinity.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tom Morello - "Marching On Ferguson"

So I promised Rory and Steve I would keep my political rantings to a minimum on this blog.  I saw this video a few weeks back, and decided not to immediately post about it, because I still was so enraged by what I saw happening in Ferguson, that I don't think I could have kept my political thoughts in check.  Now that the situation has died down, I feel I can share this video.

I won't get into my own personal feelings about Ferguson.  Whether or not it was a young, unarmed man gunned down by prejudice and trigger-happy cop, or whether or not this was a criminal, who attacked a cop and was justly killed by a cop doing his job, this blog is neither the time or place to discuss it, and no one here knows for sure, so let's just let the grand jury do their job with the evidence that's presented.

So, Tom Morello and his band the Night Watchmen wrote this song about the situation in Ferguson, and this was the best copy I can find.  The lyrics are pretty hard to understand, and even still the song barely clocks in at 2 minutes with a large part of that being instrumental.  But it's not a shocker at all to see that Morello sides with the rioters in Ferguson and their cause.  He has a history of taking part in political causes that seem to start with good intentions, but then are just taken over by opportunists who don't care about the cause and ruin the message (most notably Occupy Wall St.).  And, of course, his signature guitar, with his "arm the homeless" written on it.  Until you remember that most homeless people are mentally ill, and the exact people we should keep guns out of the hands of.

I'm still torn about how I feel about Tom Morello in the E Street band.  Musically he's been great, and a breath of fresh air.  He's fit in very well, and been very well received by the Bruce's fans.  However, personally I still think he's kind of a jackass, and get annoyed every time I hear him talk.  Unless he's inducting Kiss into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.  Then he's awesome.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Song Spotlight - "Frankie Teardrop" by Suicide

In doing my research for last week's Nebraska review, I came upon the note that Springsteen's "State Trooper" was heavily influenced by Suicide's "Frankie Teardrop".  This is not the first time that I've seen the Suicide-Springsteen connection, as Bruce's "Dream Baby Dream" has been frequently discussed on the blog.  However, I was still unfamiliar with Suicide, so I dove right in with the above song, having no idea what I would be getting myself into.  "Frankie Teardrop" is a frightening, experimental track, featuring monstrous screams and a maddening drone that makes the song almost too brutal to play in a haunted house.  It is not for the faint of heart, but, as the wannabe Springsteen historian that I am, it is interesting to hear this song and see how it shaped "State Trooper" (i.e. the screams and the slow, repetitive rhythm) and Nebraska as a whole (with multiple tales of murder).

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Cover Spotlight - "Take 'Em As They Come" by Jimmy Eat World

Earlier this month, I saw the Gaslight Anthem play their largest show in New Jersey at the PNC Art Center (you can see my excitement in the comments section of this post).  While the Gaslight Anthem delivered a fantastic performance to a packed crowd, I was very impressed by their opening act, Jimmy Eat World.  While their star has faded over the last decade, they cranked out a tight set of solid rock songs - there wasn't a "slow or new song that let's people go to the bathroom" moment during the hour or so they played.

While the Gaslight Anthem's connections to Springsteen are very solidly drawn (lead singer Brian Fallon admitted to having a photo of Springsteen in his dressing room, leading to cheers of "Bruuuuuuce" from the crowd), you will have to dig deeper to find the link between Jimmy Eat World and the Boss.  And, here it is: a cover song (released only as an iTunes exclusive) of a song released only on a B-sides and rarities collection.  It's a fun and faithful rendition of "Take 'Em As They Come" that emphasizes the strongest parts of the song: the immediate opening, the frantic energy, and the catchy chorus.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Album Review - Nebraska

Today marks the 32nd birthday of Nebraska, one of Springsteen's most unique and unexpected albums.  For those familiar with Springsteen at all, you know this album's reputation.  Among the descriptors for Nebraska I have heard over the years are: dark, depressing, uncompromising, challenging, gritty, original, controversial, etc.  It is what makes this review difficult to write - this album has been dissected and analyzed so much these last three decades that I will inevitably end up using one or more of those cliche descriptions.  So, before getting into the review, allow me to indulge in something personal, since it may be the only original idea I will have going forward.

I have had a bias against this album for quite some time.  It really has nothing to do with its content, but rather all to do with what I just wrote about: it's reputation.  Too often, I have heard the album described the following way: "Even if you don't like Springsteen, you'll love Nebraska."  While you could interpret this as saying that Nebraska is Springsteen's best album, or it has a universal appeal, the context is often positioning this statement as a critique of most of Springsteen's other work.  "Here, listen to Nebraska.  It is actually artistic, not that like those other Springsteen records with their overblown sounds and corny lyrics."  It is insulting, yet it is not unusual to hear Springsteen fans themselves promote Nebraska to their non-Springsteen loving friends in the same manner.  So, based on this mildly pretentious description, I developed a resentment towards the album.  Did I like it?  Of course!  It's Springsteen!  But, I bestowed it with the one word used by many a snarky internet blogger: overrated.

But, admittedly, I was being an idiot.  What someone else says or thinks about an album shouldn't affect my enjoyment of it.  When seeking out new music, the first question should be "What is the music like?", not "Who else is listening to this?"  The concept of something being overrated or underrated is silly and arbitrary to begin with.  So, with the anniversary of the anniversary of the record approaching, I decided to try to clear my mind of all preconceived notions of the album and give it a fresh listen (I did the same with Working On A Dream earlier this year).

Upon my first listen, my thoughts immediately confirmed all the cliches I listed in the first paragraph.  It is certainly not a record where you can just put on and go clean the house.  It is a challenging listen to grasp all of what Springsteen is laying out there.  There are complicated characters, stories told from various viewpoints, and a harmonica motif that runs from the first song to the last.

Naturally, as I digested the album more, I found myself always drawn back to songs such as "Atlantic City", "Johnny 99", and "Reason To Believe", which are songs that were eventually given a full-band makeover in the 21st century.  "Atlantic City" is one of my all-time favorite Springsteen songs, and the nature of the lyrics leads to many variations: it can be a tale of a hero making one last stand against the forces of darkness, or the story of a loser deluding himself into yet another failure.  "Johnny 99" is everything that "Outlaw Pete" wishes it was - a raucous scoundrel story with a catchy riff.  "Reason To Believe" is a perfect note in ending the album, as it is probably the most uplifting song on the album (despite starting with the image of a dead dog).

What keeps bringing me back to the album is the themes, both musically and lyrically, that tie the album together.  For example, "Nebraska" starts and ends with a sad, distant harmonica, which is present in almost nearly every other song, such as "Mansion On The Hill" and "Used Cars".  This  harmonica turns upbeat in the concluding song "Reason To Believe".  Another theme is Springsteen's wailling, on "Johnny 99", we hear a joyous "woo!"  Yet, this turns to screams of anguish in "State Trooper".  The darkness permeating the album can be overwhelming at times.  Dirges such as "Mansion On The Hill" and "My Father's House", both dark lullabies about houses of some sort, are more whispered than sung, and are probably the most difficult to get into. Additionally, "Open All Night" stands out as an unusually track to include, as it is a rockabilly toe-tapper and the only song to use an electric guitar.

After going back, I would consider myself a convert to Nebraska.  It is an impressive experiment by Springsteen that has never been exactly duplicated. (Sidenote: While others may point to The Ghost of Tom Joad and Devils & Dust as attempts to recapture Nebraska, I feel Springsteen's best recent "experiment" has been The Seeger Sessions).  It is not my all-time favorite Springsteen album, but it easily stands among his best work, and I would rate it as a 5 out of 5.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Coming Soon: Springsteen Profiled in HBR's "Leading the Life You Want"

Bruce Alert: Harvard Business Review Press has a new book coming out next month which profiles The Boss as an example of how to be successful at both work and life. As someone who looks to Bruce for inspiration about all aspects of life, I couldn't agree more with his inclusion here!

"Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life" by Stewart Friedman hits shelves on October 7, but you can preorder it from Amazon here.

From the publisher:

LEADING THE LIFE YOU WANT: Skills for Integrating Work and Life by Stewart Friedman (Available October 2014).
The book looks at succeeding in multiple quadrants of your life—work, life, family etc.—without having to sacrifice one for the other. Friedman, a professor at Wharton (University of Pennsylvania), profiles six individuals in the book who are successful because of this.

Bruce Springsteen is one of the six profiled in the book, along with First Lady Michelle Obama, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, U.S. Navy Seal Eric Greitens, Tom Tierney of Bridgespan, Olympic athlete Julie Foudy.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Album Review - Dead Man’s Town: A Tribute to Born in the U.S.A.

In connection with the 30th anniversary of Born in the U.S.A., independent record label Lightning Rod Records created Dead Man’s Town: A Tribute to Born in the U.S.A. The album – in which 12 bands cover one of the 12 tracks from Born in the U.S.A. – is a somber, minimalist interpretation designed to cut to the emotional core of the songs, stripping away all pop affectations.

The artists featured include Jason Isbell & Amanda Shire, Low, Trampled by Turtles, and Justin Townes Earle. Each artist puts their own spin on their respective track. Some sound like you’d expect a slower cover to sound, and some sound very different. For example, Holly Williams’ version of “No Surrender” won’t sound that striking to anyone who has heard one of Bruce’s acoustic renditions, but Apache Relay’s eerie take on “Cover Me” feels very foreign indeed (and somewhat reminiscent of an Arcade Fire song). I also really liked Joe Pug’s musical arrangement on “Downbound Train” and it’s always fun for me to hear personal favorite “I’m Goin’ Down” in any variation.

I’m always curious to hear covers of Springsteen songs because they can reveal new sides of the lyrics, reframe the story, reposition the tone, and frankly, they’re just often easier to understand than the originals. As such, I leapt at the chance to listen to Dead Man's Town, especially on the heels of spending so much time with Born in the U.S.A. this summer. I wasn’t familiar with any of the bands featured on the album before listening, and I can’t say I’ll be seeking out any of them further, but they all mesh together very nicely here. It doesn’t feel jarring at all to switch between artists at every track.

The record company has done a nice job creating a cohesive album here – one that’s perfectly suited to accompany moments of contemplative soul searching while staring out a rainy window. I can’t say you'll find any of these tracks on a best Springsteen covers list, but the album certainly captures an overall mood and feel very effectively.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Song Spotlight: “Old Haunts” by The Gaslight Anthem

When a band name checks Bruce Springsteen twice in one song (“Meet Me by the River’s Edge”), it’s no secret that they are heavily under the influence of The Boss. So it won’t come as a surprise to anyone with a passing interest in the The Gaslight Anthem to see them featured on a Springsteen blog.

In comparison to Bruce, I’d say these NJ-based rockers are more interested in capturing a mood and emotion than they are in telling vivid stories with characters and plot turns (especially their two most recent albums).

While you can probably pick out any one of their songs and find a connection to Springsteen – not a bad thing! – I wanted to shine a spotlight on the song “Old Haunts” from their 2010 album American Slang. I see this song as their rendition on “Glory Days.”

So don't sing me your songs about the good times
Those days are gone and you should just let them go
And god help the man who says "If you'd have known me when..."
Old haunts are for forgotten ghosts

Much like “Glory Days”, this song is about looking to the past when you should be looking to the future. While “Glory Days” is a bit more wistful, “Old Haunts” cuts to the bone.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Coming Soon: Outlaw Pete, in Children's Book Form

In case you missed the news, it was announced the other week that Bruce Springsteen will be adding another title to his resume: children's author. This joins his recent foray into filmmaking with the short for "Hunter of Invisible Game."

The book is due November 4 (can you already imagine it wrapped under your Christmas tree?) and is an adaptation of the song "Outlaw Pete" from Working on a Dream. Based on the description, I'm not sure if there is any new writing by The Boss, but the song does seem like a natural fit for an illustrated accompaniment. The publisher also refers to it as a picture book for adults, but that's presumably to get around some of the criminal behavior described in the song. Either way, I'll definitely be picking up a copy - and pending final screening - reading it to my son regularly.

Click here to pre-order a copy on Amazon.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Video Spotlight - Warren Zevon and Bruce Springsteen: "Disorder In The House"

This year has been filled with a plethora of celebrity deaths, such as Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Williams, and, most recently, Joan Rivers.  While sad, we do have the wonderful consolation prize of being able to go back and enjoy their artistic achievements.  With that in mind, I've spotlighted this video to remember Warren Zevon, who passed away 11 years ago today.  Zevon had an amazing career with many great songs, such as the famous "Werewolves of London", my personal favorite "Splendid Isolation", and the above duet with Springsteen, recorded in the last year of his life as he was battling cancer.  While Zevon may be gone, his work continues to live on and influence generations.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Best Of The Bruce Build-Ups

As we all know, there's nothing better than seeing Springsteen live.  Granted, the songs sound great in studio, but live?  Surrounded by thousands of screaming fans, and watching the man himself go crazy for three straight hours?  It really has to be seen to be believed.

My favorite moments in each concert are the "build-ups".  You know the moments I'm talking about: where the song reaches an emotional high point, teeters there for a moment, and then Bruce sends it crashing down.  Here are, in my humble opinion, the songs that, from the first chords, have me eagerly anticipating that build-up-and-crash.

5. "Badlands"

"Ooooooh, oh oh OH oh...."  It's a call that's become so synonymous with the song that I'm surprised that it isn't actually on the studio version (it's more of a low hum).  The chant is so popular that it frequently used as a call for an encore!  After the saxophone solo, the chants start, building in volume and intensity, just waiting for Bruce to return to the song.  Then, "For the ones who has a notion..." leads the way to the climactic line: "I want to SPIT in the face of these BADLANDS!"  I saw "Badlands" live in my first Springsteen concert, and had a similar experience to the above performance.  Since that time, it has been cemented as an all-time favorite Springsteen song for me.

4. "Darkness on the Edge of Town"

"Darkness on the Edge of Town" is a song that slowly lulls you in.  It's gentle rhythm is easy to listen to, and it's melancholy story is engrossing.  Then, Bruce's wailing chorus kicks in, and you are hooked.  But, it doesn't end there.  The verses return to being gentle and approachable, while the story gets richer and darker.  Finally, the build-up breaks, culminating with Bruce screaming "TONIGHT I'LL BE ON THAT HILL, BECAUSE I CAN'T STOP!"  It is chillingly effective each time.

3. "Jungleland"

Bruce's climatic build-ups are not only in signified by massive guitars and primal wailing.  Sometimes, the build-up leads to a whisper, and it is no less dramatic.  This is best signified in the conclusion of the musical epic "Jungleland".  The journey Springsteen takes us on in "Jungleland" is sprawling, beginning slowly with violins and a piano, becoming an up-tempo rocker, transitioning to a somber saxophone solo, and concluding back again with the piano.  After this nearly ten minute adventure, the music stops.  It is now just Bruce and the audience.  "Tonight.....in....."  Anticipation builds with each out-of-rhythm syllable.  "Jun...."  When will the next one drop? "Gle...."  And, finally, finishing the build-up with long, low growl: "Laaaaaaaaand....."  The piano kicks back in, taking us away from this world.  Amazing.

2. "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out"

I've been writing about this since, quite literally, the start of the blog.  It's a simple, repetitive riff, but each time, the anticipation builds.  As the song is basically the origin of the E Street Band, this build-up is functional to the storytelling process: it signifies that this is truly the start of something special.  s I wrote back then, I could listen to those opening notes on repeat for hours.  But, evenutally, Bruce reaches that "One two!" and brings it to the drop.  The song is filled with "moments" that you anticipate, such as "Kid you better get the picture" and "When the Big Man joined the band", and concludes triumphantly, but that opening build-up/drop sets everything in motion.

1. "Born To Run"

Come on, you knew this was coming.  This is what the build-up list has been building up to.  I feel silly describing the moment, because most fans know what it is already.  An everlasting kiss.  A saxophone solo. It all comes crashing down.  You shake your hands in the air.  You shake them longer.  Then, after an eternity, you hear "One two three four! The highway's jammed with broken heroes...."  And the crowd goes bonkers.  Not just one of the best Bruce build-ups, but one of the best rock-and-roll build-ups of all time.

So, are there any that I missed?  Let us know in the comments!