The boys and I gave their mother Wrecking Ball for Mother’s Day. When I stepped up to the counter at Barnes & Noble to buy it, the clerk, a young woman who was probably in college but looked like she might be even younger, gushed. She’d just seen the Boss in concert and was still out of breath from the excitement. He’d played his usual four hours and she was on her feet the whole time.
Her step-father, she told me, though, wasn’t as impressed. “You should have seen him when he was really good,” he’d grumped afterward.
“I have a feeling,” I said, “Your step-father’s remembering what it was like for him to be young more than he’s remembering what Springsteen was like back then.”
“Oh of course he was,” she said with a laugh that mixed affection with exasperation and I suspect summed up her relationship with her step-father.
We nobodies who write critically about somebodies must be forever grateful to Samuel Johnson for permission: "You may abuse a tragedy, though you cannot write one. You may scold a carpenter who has made you a bad table, though you cannot make a table. It is not your trade to make tables."
Still…I’m making a note to keep in mind that this how I probably sound to many readers when I write about Quentin Tarantino, Jonathan Franzen, or Aaron Sorkin:
DO THESE MEN HAVE ears? The musical decline of Bruce Springsteen has been obvious for decades. The sanctimony, the grandiosity, the utterly formulaic monumentality; the witlessness; the tiresome recycling of those anthemic figures, each time more preposterously distended; the disappearance of intimacy and the rejection of softness. And the sexlessness: Remnick adores Springsteen for his “flagrant exertion,” which he finds deeply sensual, comparing him to James Brown, but Brown’s shocking intensity, his gaudy stamina, his sea of sweat, was about, well, fucking, whereas Springsteen “wants his audience to leave the arena, as he commands them, ‘with your hands hurting, your feet hurting, your back hurting, your voice sore, and your sexual organs stimulated!’”, which is how you talk dirty at Whole Foods. Remnick lauds him also for his “exuberance,” which is indeed preternatural. I was twice at The Bottom Line in August 1975 and I have never been in a happier room. But there is nothing daft or insouciant, nothing crazy free, about Springsteen’s exuberance anymore. The joy is programmatic; it is mere uplift, another expression of social responsibility, a further statement of an idealism that borders on illusion. The rising? Not quite yet. We take care of our own? No, we do not. Nothing has damaged Springsteen’s once-magnificent music more than his decision to become a spokesman for America. He is Howard Zinn with a guitar.
Reminds me. Howard Zinn’s another somebody I have to be careful about.
To be fair to Leon Wieseltier, who grumped the above for the New Republic, David Remnick’s New Yorker profile of Springsteen was a tad over-worshipful, about three times too long considering how little new ground it broke, and after a while made me wonder if the Boss had ever been that good.
I got over it. Wieseltier, obviously, didn’t. I get the feeling it’s been a while since he’s seen Springsteen live. Here’s the link to his grouchery, A Saint in the City.
And, if you have the morning to kill, here’s Remnick’s article, We Are Alive.
Photo courtesy of BruceSpringsteen.net.