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Bill Altreuter

I was talking to a friend about my Springsteen problem recently and remarked that song for song I think Tom Petty has a stronger catalog. As it happens my friend dabbles in the music biz, and he replied that Petty thinks so too, and that in the biz the feeling is that if Petty played more than a 80 minute greatest hits show he'd get more respect. What does this mean? Well, for me what it means that for years (and years) the most I've cared about a new Springsteen recording has been during the period leading up to its release. I suppose many or most of Springsteen's fans would deny it, but be honest- when was the last time you played "The Rising" when you were in the mood for a little Bruuuuuce? Or "Devils and Dust"? I suppose "Tunnel of Love" has its points, and that Pete Seeger set has its charms, but really all of Springsteen is an exercise in nostalgia, and the best Springsteen is the Springsteen that recalls the exploits that were most proximate in time to the writing. "Blinded by the Light" is better writing than "Wrecking Ball" because "Blinded by the Light" is about something Springsteen understood first hand. Take a song like "The River". What the hell does Bruce Springsteen know about someone who "for my nineteenth birthday I got a union card and a wedding coat"? Just the fact that the experience would have to have been something he heard about rather that experienced helps to account for the fact that nobody, ever, said "wedding coat."

On the other hand, the generosity of spirit that is embodied in the E Street Band and the shows they put on is praiseworthy. It is too bad that the guy who wrote "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" decided that he wanted to be John Steinbeck instead of Jack Kerouac, and it is sadder still that he couldn't or wouldn't keep up the pace of his own self-invention, but the guy does still put on a pretty good show.

Ken Houghton

"But there is nothing daft or insouciant, nothing crazy free, about Springsteen’s exuberance anymore."

English translation of that sentence: "I'm just a jealous guy."

There was never--though I am young (compared to Leon W.) and not a native New Yorker, so I didn't see the Bottom Line shows, though I did see the band at Jadwin Gym in 1978--anything "daft" or "crazy free" about Springsteen's exuberance. He is and always has been the image of a man doing the one thing he loves to do and knows he's good at. And the audience understands that.

"musical decline"

Uh-oh. This is another indication that the writer, not the subject, is getting old, or at least proud of his ignorance. If anything, the influences and music have gotten far better and more expansive. Dear G-d, has this man ever listened to Born to Run, let alone the albums that preceded it? Early Nirvana sounds like Tony Bennett by comparison. The band took a musical leap forward when Nils Lofgren joined, and the instrumentation and musical experimentation has gotten more interesting again since The Seeger Sessions. (Yes, Clarence is a loss. I'm the first to say Clarence is a loss, except that "this is the important part" has always been "When the change was made uptown and The Big Man joined the band," is something Springsteen said 37 years ago. And still does. But musical complexity is not just sax solos. Check out the sheet music if you don't believe me; Leon W. is either deaf or off his rocker.)

"Howard Zinn with a guitar" Oh, so that is the problem; Leon W. isn't listening to the music; he's only paying attention to the lyrics. Which is probably different from when Born in the USA came out; then he was probably listening to the title track as three-chord rock, not the Ron Carter version that revealed the depth of the lyrics then. More generally, has anyone told him that the transition from Kids Doing Things to Escape Their Drab and Dreary Existences (op cit. Singing in the Rain)—what Prefab Sprout riffed on with "Cars and Girls"—to the sense that those communities may actually need to work together to sustain themselves ("My City in Ruins," "We Take Care of Our Own," )--even in the face of the consequences that follow evil acts by our leaders that were endorsed by Even The Liberal New Republic ("Devils and Dust"), or events that affect their lives independent of leadsership actions ("Mary's Place," which has the form of an old-school-style Springsteen song)--doesn't make the Perpetual Petulant Child who is Leon W. happy.

Aw, gosh. Noticing that thirty-plus years of steadily making life a bit harder for working-class Americans is evil, and it must be a problem with the music, not the world. Surely the man who--more than 25 years ago--introduced a song by saying "Blind faith in your leaders...will get you killed" was never someone who would react to the Land of Hope and Dreams becoming more like (to borrow from a band far worse musically that Leon W. probably loves) Desolation Boulevard by doing what he does best--writing a song and singing about it.

What has Leon W. done lately?

Re: Kerouac v. Steinbeck. Yep, "Girls in their Summer Clothes" doesn't exist. Nor does "Radio Nowhere." (I might agree that the studio version of "Land of Hope and Dreams" doesn't exist; most fans seem to be treating it like when the Dead put "Touch of Grey" on a studio album after touring with it for a decade or so. Then again, Dead studio albums have always been treated more as fodder than craft.)

The end of Kerouac is that you indulge yourself until you die. The end of Springsteen is that you leave something behind that is better than what was there when you started with it. I'll take that trade any day.

Doug K

These are the quotes I noted from the New Yorker article:

"Nobody gives a shit about your life. They need you for their lives. That’s your thing. Giving some logic and reason and sympathy and passion to this cold, fragmented, confusing world—that’s your gift. Explaining their lives to them. Their lives, not yours."
Stevie van Zandt talking to Bruce about "Ain't got you" (rich man's problems) on Tunnel of Love. Van Morrison writes 2 to 3 songs per album whining about how hard it is to be rich and famous; I prefer Springsteen's approach. Certainly the songs are now fictions rather than drawn from lived experience, but they are better than true. To modify the Hemingway quote, "All good (Springsteen songs) are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished listening you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse, and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was."

Bruce, on playing concerts:
"You are free of yourself for those hours; all the voices in your head are gone. Just gone. There’s no room for them. There’s one voice, the voice you’re speaking in."
Of course a performance is an act: again it's truer than life, for the performer as well as for us.

"It’s all a battle against the futility and the existential loneliness! It may be that we are all huddled together around the fire and trying to fight off that sense of the inevitable. That’s what we do for one another."
Preach it, brother..


I was going to comment, but Houghton and Doug K--and Springsteen--have already said it.


This is the price the artist who declines the opportunity to die young and uncorrupted pays. I saw James Brown only once, at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco in the early 80's, and while it is one of the highlights of my life (there was a guy literally standing on the table at the end) it was not about "fucking". The "shocking intensity, his gaudy stamina" was well in the past, though he did sweat a lot. He was still a consummate showman with a catalog for the ages, and he executed it flawlessly. But our heros can't just be great, they have to be immortal. That's a much easier trick for the blind poet to pull off after you're dead, and the sooner you die (after becoming famous, of course) the better.

Wrecking Ball may be no Born To Run, but Bridges To Babylon is no Let It Bleed, and Mojo is no Damn The Torpedos either. You simply don't get to be the young iconoclast with the fresh new sound for your entire career unless your entire carrer is about 3 years and then you disappear or die.

The complaints about the later songs have some merit (as much as for any dinosaur still roaming the stadiums), but the problems are partly a side-effect of a consious decision to swing for the fences, to write mythic anthems that will fill a stadium and force everyone to sing the whoh-whoh chorus. There are pretty strict "rules" on how to craft a song that does that so the later songs sound like stiff versions of the earlier songs because they typically are. Part of it (the "wedding coat" problem) is probably having everyone around you tell you you're a poet and a genius for decades, including your manager/producer/mentor/best friend who's not a musician.

Lance's comment about memory nails it for me. When I saw Wings play at Standford Stadium in the 90's I started crying during Fool On The Hill, and couldn't understand why. The song and the album had no special meaning for me. A little voice in my head said "we give them our memories, and they sell them back to us". Leon wasn't listening to Bruce, he was listening to his memory, so he wrote about the difference between them.

minstrel hussain boy

bruce has been on record saying that when he started out what he wanted was to be van morrison. longevity? check for van. success in different genres? check for van. along with being an all around good guy? check for van.

when i first sobered up back in the early 90's one of the very few people who wasn't tired of my years of stoned shit was van. he gave me gigs, he fucking cared.

i would walk over dogshit and groundglass barefoot for van morrison, and almost every top player i know would do the same, including taking serious pay cuts to play with him. there are few artists out there who can offer up a catalogue of superb and varied music like him.

bruce? dude's a powerhouse, and if he hasn't lived up to folk's and critic's expectaions i really don't think he gives a fuck. on his euro tour there were packed houses everywhere, standing and singing along.

quick springsteen story that i got from one of his band:

during the sessions for "born to run" there was something missing in the playbacks. bruce kept sending exhausted, burned out players back into the booth to do yet another take to try and find that thing bruce knew was missing but was too tired himself to articulate. they spent nearly 14 hourse going back again and again. then, one playback he heard it. he called the band into the booth and played the last take for them. they heard it too. it was better. significantly better. my friend looked at bruce and said "you were right you son of a bitch."

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