Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ruminations on The Boss

In his Preface to Lyrical Ballads, William Wordsworth defines poetry as: "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings", taking its origin from "emotion recollected in tranquillity". Despite the fact that he wrote those words more than 200 years ago, you'd be hard pressed to find a better means of describing the body of work comprising the past 35 years of Bruce Springsteen's life.

In anticipation of the October 2nd release of "Magic" (a terrible album title, for the record. How do you go from "The Wild, The Innocent, and The E Street Shuffle" and "The Ghost of Tom Joad" to "Magic"? It sounds more like the title of a new age Paul McCartney album being released exclusively through Starbucks than anything else), the ensuing tour, and perhaps most importantly; the re-establishment of E Street Radio on Sirius 10 (6 months of non-stop, commercial free, rare, live, and studio Springsteen cuts); I've decided to include some thoughtful contemplation on one of the greatest song writers of the past half-century.

These are quotes from a variety of musicians, big and small and everywhere in between, who have been inspired/moved/impressed/touched/delighted/affected/reassured/exhilarated/enlivened/and exalted by the words and music of Bruce Springsteen.
Most of these words are taken from the liner notes to two beautiful Springsteen tribute albums: One Step Up/Two Steps Back: The Songs of Bruce Springsteen and Light of Day: A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen. If you get the chance to pick these up, they come highly recommended.

Impossible as it may seem, there are actually certain versions of certain songs on these discs that are better than Springsteen's originals (...cowering from the impending lightning bolt...). A few that come to mind are Dion's version of "Book of Dreams", Mark Wright's "Two Hearts", The Smithereens' "Downbound Train" (and that's saying something), John Wesley Harding's "Jackson Cage" (and that's really saying something), and both Patty Griffin's and Elliot Murphy's versions of "Stolen Car". There are also a tonne of songs that put wild spins on old classics, and still others that make you listen to the words as if for the first time (Rosie Flores' version of "Lucky Town"...who knew?)... Check it out if you can.
In any event, the words of these people carry far more weight than mine ever could, and they say them with so much more eloquence that I'll simply leave it up to them. Plagiarism in its purest form.

"Springsteen makes me keep my faith in America"

- Billy Bragg

"I have always loved the depth of Bruce's writing. He has a special ability few writers have. He's a 'Great Writer' - having the ability to chronicle our life and times, in an incredibly clear and accessible way - I call him the Carl Sandburg of our generation... each song an entire novel."

- Richie Havens

"I sit here on the 31st anniversary of the marriage of my parents, listening to The Rising and hearing chatter in the main room of the house from some party guests. I am alone in what some would call a 'parlor' as there is a pool table and dark wood walls near me. Ten years ago while living in Syracuse, NY, an elder advised, via telephone, that I smoke a marijuana cigarette, put on The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle, specifically a song called 'New York City Serenade', and lie on the floor in the dark while listening to it. That is the day I became a Bruce fan. Not from growing up in Montville, NJ, but from living in upstate NY, a student, with what I like to think of as a good heart. Anyway... there's a line in that song about walking tall... 'Walk tall, or baby don't walk at all.' That line inspires me. That line is the reason I recorded this song."

- Pete Yorn

"The spirit survives and endures in spite of all that levels us in this life. Bruce in a strange way has always touched on that in his best work."

- Tom Cochrane

"I recorded this song because it spoke to me. I had gone through a period when just as I felt I had nothing left to lose, I'd lose a little more. Life can sneak up on you, show just how fragile a scene, any scene is. The treatment for this song as it exists on Darkness On The Edge Of Town always confounded me. Until last summer, I never listened past the howls at the beginning. Besides, in my mind, nothing could live up to the song 'The River'. Last summer I grew up. I mean I really grew up. I was confronted by real trouble and challenge. Pride and dignity were on the block. Financial stability was in total disarray. I was a romantic being gutted by the simple daunting size of my dreams. It was almost physical. 'Something In The Night' swore me to secrecy. Comforted me. Inspired me.

Springsteen seems to have always understood that your dreams are only what you make them. The world is full of the disenchanted, the disengaged, the punch-drunk, and that quiet desperation that can come with adulthood. To embrace or settle for any of that would be defeat.
But at the end of the day, I only wanted to sing 'so I take her to the floor, for a moment when the world seems right'. At the time, a moment like that would've done a world of good. In fact, it did."

- Matthew Ryan

"I always liked 'I'm On Fire' because of the solitary, intimate, hymn-like quality it had. It was like listening to someone's heartbeat in the dark of night. I also did it because I happened to be on fire at the time."

- Willie Nile

"It was half my lifetime ago that I first saw Bruce Springsteen perform. At the end of the concert I can remember standing at the back of the stadium looking at the empty stage trying to imagine what it must have felt like. I performed 'Two Hearts' at my first gig 18 months later in Brighton, England, and I've been singing it ever since. I feel as I've grown the song's grown with me; it was able to sum up all my hopes and aspirations whilst at the same time acknowledging the doubt and uncertainty we all seem to carry with us. This song feels like and old friend; and at 30 years old I still feel like that guy in verse three."

-Mark Wright

"Back in the day when we were just out of college and enjoying all the city's charms with gusto, my cousin 'The Mister' (the origin of this appendage is the topic of another story entirely) had a weekend job driving a delivery truck for a lumber yard on Staten Island (the borough of New York where he grew up and which the MTA only serves from Manhattan by ferry) to supplement his 9 to 5 grind in the city. The boss that gave him the job - none other than his own brother. Some Fridays myself and my brother would meet him after work and we'd avail ourselves of all the city's charms with gusto and The Mister would opt to crash out in our flat on Avenue A, rather than go back to his own flat in Brooklyn. This was supposedly to save the time of coming back to Manhattan to catch the ferry, but after nights on which we had employed perhaps a bit too much gusto, you could often see The Mister dashing off to catch the ferry at just about the time he was supposed to be arriving at the lumber yard on Staten Island.

Of course, all those missed deliveries were not good for business and after awhile The Mister had to be let go, even if the boss letting him go was his own brother. When asked about it, my cousin; The Mister's former boss; would say only 'he was talkin' union'. Once The Mister had his weekends free we could partake in all the city's charms with even more gusto. But every so often we'd be out somewhere havin' a beer or chatting up some pretty girls and Springsteen's 'Downbound Train' would come on the jukebox and my cousin would stop for a moment and say: "listen - 'I was somethin' mister in this world. I got laid off at the lumber yard...'" Then add, sometimes a bit whistfully, "That's my song." Don't it feel like you're a rider on a downbound train

- Kirk Kelly

"It's like he's saying, 'The drama has ended and I don't know what to do.' The guy's not staring at the abyss. He's in the abyss."

- Patty Griffin, on "Stolen Car"

"I chose 'Lucky Town' cause upon my first hearing it a while ago it felt like I could have spoken these same words. Springsteen's melody grabbed me too. At that time I really missed living in Austin, felt like I left my soul there. Now LA is calling me back, it was my lucky town. Living in Nashville is sweet although I haven't been too lucky here but that may change the way luck often does, but if you see me heading West you'll know why."

- Rosie Flores

"I first heard this long version of 'Stolen Car' on a bootleg of Bruce outtakes called (I think) 'Son You May Kiss The Bride', and the song just haunted me for some time after so I started fooling around with it during soundchecks in Europe, which is where I live and mostly perform these days. So often, I'd be out there on the road alone covering the distance between shows in sleepy trains or speeding rental cars and like most songwriters passing those lost hours in my own private world, not really depressed but just, you know, sort of existing until the next show and trying not to worry too much about that other world I had left at home in Paris, the world of my wife and son, anxious that it would all be there when I returned. And 'Stolen Car' so perfectly reflected all of that and (as great songs do) it often helped to release me from the bonds of my own emotional prison. So pretty soon it became as cherished a member of my repetoire as any of my own songs.

You see, Bruce and I were born nearly equidistant from New York - him in New Jersey and me out on Long Island - and at one point we seemed to have shared a similar alienation from the suburban landscape we should have by all rights felt so at home in. Maybe Bruce conquered his demons by embracing them in his songs, but my own tendency was to keep moving, running as far away as I could until finally I reached that no man's land where I find myself today, that of an expatriate, in a place I can finally call home. Many times when I sing that line about '...driving a stolen car on a pitch black night... telling myself everything's gonna be alright' it has nearly brought the tears to my eyes - but not tears of sadness, just those of a soulmate's identification with a beautiful, undeniable truth: that life is for all of us at some time just like a ride in a stolen car, same thrills, same fear, same loneliness. It is a testament to Bruce's genius that he is able to carry home such profound truths in such everyday images as these. And for that I will always be grateful to him

- Elliott Murphy

"I think 'Thunder Road' is one of the best songs ever written. It transforms disappointment into eternal hope."

- Dan Bern

"Is there a more personally triumphant song in the Boss' canon than this one? ('Boss' canon...I like that). 'Born to Run' is a song that contains all of the elements of great drama (conflict, escape, redemption, danger and the promise of an electrifyingly intoxicating carnal release). It also has one hell of a melody line that makes it great to sing at top volume while careening recklessly down some dark Louisiana highway at 2am after a full moon heartbreak, as well as a rhythmic propulsion that's either made for dancing, exploding, or jumping from the highest cliff just to see if you can fly... or all of the above!

The music of Bruce Springsteen has made my life infinitely better. His songs made me want to live... with a vengeance. Say what you want about these statements, but I know them to be true for me and several of my dearest friends. Not a bad way to affect people with your gift, is it Bruce? I hope not.


For everything.

More than we can ever say

- Cowboy Mouth

I couldn't have said it better myself.


Kevin said...

wow. the pete yorn comment. perfect.

Anonymous said...

You can listen to the entire album on www.msn.ca until October 2nd. It's classic.

Anonymous said...

Another thing, you're right on regarding the title. There are a bunch of other song titles from the album that sound so much better.

Anonymous said...


Will you be attending the Boss Mecca?

I meet the man last time he was in the big smoke. Short man,told him about his first show at Seneca College in 76. He had a huge grin, a real fan in his view. Looked like he sprung from a cage on highway 9.

A real Bruce fan full fills the 5 pillars of the Springsteen faith.

I think you have visited the Jersey shores with the giant Xon sign that brings that fair city light.

But have you ever owned a 69 Chevy with fuely heads and a hurst on the floor?

Have you ever met Madame Marie?

I think your Dad has.

See you at the meeting across the river. Hold something so it looks like you are carrying a friend.

Later, young Oscar