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The Promise
October 29, 2012 3:47 PM   Subscribe

Johnny works in a factory. Billy works downtown. Terry works in a rock and roll band looking for that million dollar sound. Got a job down in Darlington. Some nights I don't go. Some nights I go to the drive in. Some nights I stay home. -- Bruce Springsteen, "The Promise"
"I listened to the version of The Promise on 18 Tracks. It's not the version Springsteen recorded more than 30 years ago. This version is stripped down to almost nothing, just Springsteen and a piano. And the weirdest thing happened, something I can never remember happening before or since when I listened to a song. I felt myself crying." Joe Posnanski writes about fathers and sons, factory work, and the magic of the Boss and one of his most beautiful and haunting songs.

Some live versions:

1976 Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band at The Palladium (NY)
1977 Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band at Boston Music Hall
1978 Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band at Memorial Hall (Kansas City, MO)
2009 (?) Bruce and his piano
2010 Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band at The Carousel House (Asbury Park, NJ)
2012 Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band at the Verizon Center (Washington, DC)
posted by sallybrown (68 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks much for this.
posted by spitbull at 3:51 PM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I fucking love Bruce Springsteen.

It was crystallized for me by, of all things, his brief cameo in High Fidelity. Also, The Rising.

I fucking love Bruce Springsteen. Thanks for this!
posted by kbanas at 3:57 PM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is all good.
posted by chavenet at 4:00 PM on October 29, 2012


This version is stripped down to almost nothing, just Springsteen and a piano. And the weirdest thing happened, something I can never remember happening before or since when I listened to a song. I felt myself crying.

The most reliable way to finally realize that Springsteen is, indeed, a genius is to find away to separate him from the horrible, horrible band and production that do such a thorough job of hiding every good thing about him and his music. Which is to say that I, too, have had that experience with Springsteen's music, as with that of a few other artists.
posted by The World Famous at 4:05 PM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's an absolutely lovely post. I am continually bowled over by how much of a difference fathers make in the lives of their sons, and appreciate the reminder to always be more mindful about the difference I am making with my boys. Thank you for posting this.
posted by jbickers at 4:07 PM on October 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I listen to Greetings From Asbury Park all the time and it nearly always makes me cry. Not just for the stories in those songs, but for the current state of the art of song writing. Name one songwriter today who is writing poetry that hits to the heart of life in America and the state of the American Dream right now. I can't do it.
posted by spicynuts at 4:30 PM on October 29, 2012


is to find away to separate him from the horrible, horrible band and production that do such a thorough job of hiding every good thing about him and his music

Wow..I completely disagree. The production and the band sound like what life was like in the 70s to me. It's part of the poetry, not an obfuscation of it. What's your counterpoint for comparison?
posted by spicynuts at 4:32 PM on October 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


I listen to Greetings From Asbury Park all the time and it nearly always makes me cry. Not just for the stories in those songs, but for the current state of the art of song writing. Name one songwriter today who is writing poetry that hits to the heart of life in America and the state of the American Dream right now. I can't do it.

Totally agree. The writing, especially on Greetings, is tremendously good. I saw Bruce interviewed once when he said he knew "Blinded by the Light" was finished when his rhyming dictionary caught fire.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:40 PM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Springsteen can do a good anthem, yes, and he can do good hard rock and roll, but he's very much at his best in stripped-down mode. I was underemployed when Nebraska came out in the early 1980s, and I've listened to all those songs hundreds and hundreds of times. I don't think he's ever topped them.
posted by anothermug at 4:46 PM on October 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


Wow..I completely disagree. The production and the band sound like what life was like in the 70s to me. It's part of the poetry, not an obfuscation of it. What's your counterpoint for comparison?

I think it's totally reasonable to disagree with me on that point, for whatever that's worth. I think the E Street Band is made up of remarkable musicians that, for me at least, just add up to considerably less than the sum of the band's parts. As far as a counterpoint for comparison - i.e. a band from that time period that matches the songwriting of its genius singer/songwriter frontman - The Heartbreakers and the Attractions come immediately to mind.
posted by The World Famous at 4:56 PM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, and The Revolution, as well.
posted by The World Famous at 4:56 PM on October 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I fucking love Bruce Springsteen and don't make any distinctions. He's capable of writing, recording, and performing in a lot of modes, and I love them all for different reasons.

Also, I feel like we might have had a conversaton at one point about seeing Bruce live. There's no way to understand the E Street Band without seeing them all play live. Just no way. That's what they were hired for. BRuce's producers often do this thing of making the band sound wrapped in plastic, hyper compressed - that does them no favors. When they're onstage, interacting and completely in the moment, is when you see the chemistry.
posted by Miko at 5:00 PM on October 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


Somebody - please help me like "Wrecking Ball". I'm a big Springsteen fan, but that album just feels empty to me. The songs just seem to plod along with dull, predictable melodies and no dynamics. I blamed "Working on a Dream" on O'Brien, but I'm troubled by the idea that he just doesn't have the spark anymore. Is it just me?
posted by davebush at 5:04 PM on October 29, 2012


Name one songwriter today who is writing poetry that hits to the heart of life in America and the state of the American Dream right now.

In my opinion, the only current comparable ones are both from Bruce's generation -- Bob and Neil. But Bruce's lyrics manage to be both straightforward and poetic (you ain't a beauty, but hey, you're all right) while theirs (especially Neil's) can be more of a mindfuck.

I too love Bruce in all his many forms (and I still miss Clarence).
posted by sallybrown at 5:08 PM on October 29, 2012


Name one songwriter today who is writing poetry that hits to the heart of life in America and the state of the American Dream right now. I can't do it.

Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers. A big Springsteen fan, incidentally.
posted by kjh at 5:17 PM on October 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


Name one songwriter today who is writing poetry that hits to the heart of life in America and the state of the American Dream right now.

Paleo?
posted by kaibutsu at 5:23 PM on October 29, 2012


Nice find, a well written article.

Regarding "Wrecking Ball", I'm thinking you had to grow up in a steel town, or a coal town, or motown. It resonated for me, it wasn't written for his younger fans, it was written for those of us that are getting a bit tired, those of us that are seeing the 99% getting trampled, and it hurts, because those 99% are our kids and our grandkids. Watching workers being devalued, turned into mules upon whose backs the budget is balanced and, at the same time, are being blamed for all the problems this country faces.

It helps if your wife is a activist teacher whose father was an illegal alien union organizer.
posted by HuronBob at 5:25 PM on October 29, 2012 [10 favorites]


And this is a song that was left off of Darkness on the Edge of Town. I know it's not necesarily a "reject" or says anything bad about the song, but when you've got enough good songs you're not putting things like "The Promise" and "Because the Night" on your new album, you are cranking out a bunch of really fine songs.
posted by marxchivist at 5:26 PM on October 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Somebody - please help me like "Wrecking Ball".

Just give it a few more listens. It took me a pretty solid handful of playthroughs to really like it. Not all the songs are super successful, but a couple hit it out of the part (love the Land of Hope and Dreams version on here, and really lke We Take Care of Our Own and Rocky Ground). The one I have the most trouble with is Working on a Dream. It's the one Springsteen record I don't own. I will eventually get it but I had no passion for it after first listen.

I also (as an insanely big fan) don't think you have to like all his work equally all the time. There are moods and phases for each record. Sometimes I don't think I'm a big fan of something and then some moment in life will catch up to me, and I'll go back and listen to something that suddenly seems so perfect. Had that moment a few nights ago (choked up) with Reason to Believe.

The two records I go back to the most often are The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle and The Rising.
posted by Miko at 5:27 PM on October 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, Springsteen's great. We don't call him "The Boss" for nothing.

But now, after reading the article, I'm thinking about my Dad and there's something in my eye...
posted by marxchivist at 5:36 PM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Just give it a few more listens. It took me a pretty solid handful of playthroughs to really like it.

It's always worked like that for me; the albums that I end up truly treasuring are almost all albums that didn't grab me right away.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:43 PM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Spinning live in Dublin right now, as that's the only Boss we own - it's very good. The only other stuff I know is the Born in the USA era stadium level constant exposure which made me dislike him during uni days. He's someone I'd like to listen to more; he's clearly a helluva song writer.

So, you Boss fans out there - should I start with Nebraska?
posted by parki at 5:45 PM on October 29, 2012


I'm another one who can't really enjoy Springsteen because of the band. I fucking love me some Nebraska, though. That is a fantastic album, straight through.

Slightly more seriously on the question of who's carrying the torch:
On some level, it's a different time. Springsteen writes songs for the slowly dying rust-belt, the iniquities of labor in the US manufacturing sector. And over the last fifty years, we've seen the unions all but completely gutted and the actual manufacturing overseas. The societal focus has shifted, so the songs will be of a different flavor from Springsteen and Diamond and Dylan. But there are some damn fine musicians out there.

A couple that come to mind are John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats:
"This is how cyrus got sent to the school where they told him he'd never be famous. And this is how Jeff in the letters he'd write to his friend helped develop a plan to get even. When you punish a person for dreaming their dreams, you can't expect them to thank or forgive you. The best ever death metal band out of Denton will in time both outpace and outlive you. Hail Satan."
Tallahassee, All Hail West Texas, and the Sunset Tree were all just stunning albums.

And Joanna Newsom. I remember listening to Ys for the first time on some headphones at a coffee shop while trying to do some work and getting pulled into 'Monkey and Bear.' It's a song about a pair of circus animals that escape and try to make a life for themselves out in the countryside. And after their escape the monkey goads the bear into dancing for children to get money for food.
"But for now, just dance, darling
c'mon, will you dance, my darling?
Darling, there's a place for us,
can we go, before I turn to dust?
C'mon will you dance, my darling?
oh, the hills are groaning with excess
like a table ceaselessly being set
oh my darling, we will get there yet."
Thereby summarizing the the bait-and-switch of the American dream, accompanied by some pretty heavy sentiments on gendered coercion and the shackles of marriage. With those honey-filled hills somewhere always off in the distance. I was totally crying by the end of the song, and it still hits me pretty hard.

All of which is to say that, yeah, there are people working out there. But the world's a little different now, and you may have to look around a bit to find them.
posted by kaibutsu at 5:46 PM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, you Boss fans out there - should I start with Nebraska?

Nebraska is superb. It's very stark and kinda dark.

I would also recommend his first two- The Wild, The Innocent and the E-Street Shufle, and Greetings From Asbury Park.

His last few outings are good, too. He seems to be (finally) moving to his Woody Guthrie side.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:50 PM on October 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Tunnel of Love is yet another different Bruce, but I recommend that in addition to the albums already mentioned in this thread (which are all great).
posted by sallybrown at 5:51 PM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, and The River. Basically everything from Greetings through The River is spectacular. I'm not very familiar with Human Touch, Lucky Town, or The Ghost of Tom Joad (although heard they are underrated), and then The Rising is spectacular. Magic is pretty good too.
posted by sallybrown at 5:56 PM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's been a criminal lack of love shown towards "Lucky Town". Great album. "Human Touch" (which I don't love, aside from the brilliant title track) sorta took attention away from one of the best things he ever released, in my opinion.
posted by davebush at 6:00 PM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


The one thing I cannot understand about Sprinsteen is his loyalty to Sony Records. He has long had the personal resources to go beyond the "vanity label" (I'm looking at you, Madonna/Maverick) but to build his own record distribution system that could have really knocked the Big 6 5 4 down a notch and given back to the individual artists. But I guess independent musicians aren't the kind of workers he has sympathy for.
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:04 PM on October 29, 2012


Just saw that "If I Should Fall Behind" is on Lucky Town...worth it for that alone. I will have to take a listen while I'm still hurricaned in!
posted by sallybrown at 6:04 PM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sandy, the fireworks are hailin' over Little Eden tonight
posted by hal9k at 6:22 PM on October 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


This version of The Promise is so good that I can't bring myself to listen to anything else right now. Thank you so much.
posted by Kale Slayer at 7:11 PM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Born to Run is really the entry point to Springsteen. Simply amazing, and for some reason it reminds me of the Steven King story "Captain Tripps."

Coincidentally, I always seem to associate Bruce Springsteen with King, probably because, at least when I listened one and read the other 25 years ago, both seemed to capture the mileu of the 70's and 80's workingclass life perfectly.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:32 PM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Somebody please make Posnanski write a book about The Boss to atone for the Paterno thing.

On an unrelated note, I can't believe I didn't know that he wrote 'Because the Night'.... In hindsight, that makes perfect sense.
posted by graphnerd at 7:37 PM on October 29, 2012


Seconding John Darnielle of who is The Mountain Goats, with the caveat that he's much more Tunnel of Love than Springsteen generally was. The American Dream that Darnielle mourns is the one where you find that perfect person (and work hard) and some day you're happy, rather than Springsteen's American Dream where you work hard (and find that perfect person) and some day you're happy.
posted by Etrigan at 7:37 PM on October 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


If the sublimely grim, raw version of "The Promise" on the Live in New York DVD from the '99 reunion tour doesn't shred your innards and make you want to jump off a bridge, I just don't know what to tell you.
posted by IfuckingloveBruceSpringsteen at 8:07 PM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


1978 - New Zealand. I was 16.

Born to Run is the first album I ever fell in love with. I had, somehow, taped the end of the song, 'Born to Run' from the radio and could not believe that a song could have so much power. And in an era of weird-ass names and the tail end of glam-rock, someone called themselves Bruce Springsteen.

So I bought the album. And just fell in love with it. Utterly. Listening over and over and over again in my bedroom. Almost unable to breathe during the majesty of 'Backstreets' and possibly with tears in my eyes by the end of 'Jungleland'. I didn't believe it was possible for rock music to be any better.

I was middle-class. Had never owned a car. New Jersey was like a mythic land. (Yeah, I know. I was 16/17, ok?).

Even now, if I was forced to choose just one album as the greatest ever - it would be Born To Run.

So, yeah. It's a good place to start with Springsteen!

I would put his five album stretch - 'The Wild, The Innocent and The E-Street Shuffle', 'Born To Run', "Darkness On The Edge Of Town', 'The River', 'Nebraska' up as the greatest five album stretch by anyone, ever. And I'd be right ;)

Damn! Guess I'm gonna be pulling out the vinyl tonight!
posted by maupuia at 9:10 PM on October 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


I would put his five album stretch - 'The Wild, The Innocent and The E-Street Shuffle', 'Born To Run', "Darkness On The Edge Of Town', 'The River', 'Nebraska' up as the greatest five album stretch by anyone, ever.

It might be up there for me too. The River is the only one in there that I don't absolutely love every song and I still really like that album.
posted by saul wright at 9:16 PM on October 29, 2012


Kind of surprised anyone could compare The Mountain Goats to Bruce Springsteen.

I've been listening to John Darnielle since he was recording to cassettes, and although he was banging an acoustic guitar and singing off-key like a lot of Folk musicians, I don't think he's ever concerned himself much about "social injustice."

The one exception is the song quoted above, and I guess the one that followed it on the same album.

And now that's pretty typical for mainstream original Folk music these days. It's all inspired by freak-folk, or Nick Drake, or ye olde traditional non-protest stuff ... all very self-regarding and "romantic."
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 9:18 PM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love those early albums, but I think I like the first two best, because of the drummer.

Max Weinberg is like clockwork. Vini "Mad Dog" Lopez was like a kid sliding around the boardwalk on rollerskates, popping hats off the old men and making muscles for the summering cheerleaders.

Don't get me wrong, I dig a Mighty Max tick-tock, but my heart always trembles soft and low for shimmying Mad Dog pick-up line.

I heard Wrecking Ball and thought it was kinda lazy, to be honest. Too Irishy by half, as if a tribute to hard-working heroes must sound like the bars they grow old in. The boss doing his best impression of a Bruce Springsteen impersonator. I'm sure there's lots to like about it, but not for me.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 9:22 PM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


kinda yfbs and all but Nebraska, only. Which sort of puzzles me, but I just don't get it on the other stuff. Which I suppose makes me a poor choice to look to for other artists that have resonance but The Handsome Family's high period comes easily to mind.
posted by mwhybark at 9:35 PM on October 29, 2012


Some responses:

I'll give you The Heartbreakers but Petty is less a poet of his time and more a Roy Orbison of the more innocent side of youth in the 70s

Regarding the sentiment about current songwriting that "things are differen" - things are always different- so where is the bard that penetrates to the challenges of our times like Springsteen did for his?
posted by spicynuts at 10:01 PM on October 29, 2012


Whether or not Petty can be fairly compared to Springsteen, just imagine how amazing it would be to have a Springsteen album like the later Johnny Cash albums, with the Heartbreakers backing up Bruce and Rick Rubin producing.
posted by The World Famous at 10:13 PM on October 29, 2012


The most reliable way to finally realize that Springsteen is, indeed, a genius is to find away to separate him from the horrible, horrible band and production that do such a thorough job of hiding every good thing about him and his music.

Them's fighting words. I think the inability to understand how good Springsteen is with the E-Street band and can't be recognised unless he's stripped down to some sort of ersatz Dylan says more about the critic than the musician. If you don't understand the appeal of a Lost in the Flood or Thunder Road or even Born in the USA as it was recorded, you cannot really understand Springsteen. You need the rock, the bombast, the huge sound and stadium anthems as much as you need the depressed, dark, minimalist songwriter with a guitar and harmonica side of Bruce to get him.

So, you Boss fans out there - should I start with Nebraska?

I'd say no. First, it's not entirely representative of the rest of his albums, it's also a somewhat hard album to like; no bad songs on it, but the relentless negativity in it can grind you down.

My first Bruce Springsteen album was Darkness in the Edge of Town, still my favourite album. It's the one he did after he had to spent the years between it (1978) and Born to Run (1975) constantly touring to make money to pay for lawyers to get rid of his old management and once he finally could get back in the study he just exploded with brilliant songs. Most importantly, he cut them down to ten and kept it focused; compare it to the 2010 box set version with the 2 cds worth of extra songs. Having had more of those on the album wouldn't have made it stronger.

Darkness is a somewhat matured Springsteen, having gone through his rite of passage and coming back more determined than ever to get it right.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:58 PM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I welled up just reading the lyrics in the post. Haven't read the post or comments yet just a note to say that the 18 Tracks version is the only song guaranteed to get me. Every goddamn time. I'm glad it's getting it's due.

It's this that does it:

When the promise was broken
I was far away from home
Sleeping in the back seat of a borrowed car …

posted by wemayfreeze at 12:07 AM on October 30, 2012


Working on a Dream is, alas, Springsteen's worst record. I find it painful to listen to and the tour supporting it, while still great, was seriously marred by the presence of may of the album's songs.

Coming off that low, Wrecking Ball is a serious breath of fresh air. It's uneven, but I find the strong songs on there to be among his best (admittedly a long list). It easily surpasses Magic, is better on the whole than Devil's and Dust (for them that like dad Bruce, Long Time Comin' is the jimmy-jam).

It helped that my first exposure to the album was seeing the band at SXSW in a 2700 capacity theater. Bruce and me around a fireplace, relatively speaking. The songs on Wrecking Ball form the spine of a killer show and really put Bruce's political voice at the core.

I'll be seeing him again in November, fourth time around for me on this tour. He's stronger than ever — the 5 horns filling in for Clarence bring the show to a new kind of transcendence. My City of Ruins on this tour … ruins me.

Can not wait.

/fanboy
posted by wemayfreeze at 12:25 AM on October 30, 2012


davebush, amen on Lucky Town. The first 5 tracks are just a killer run and Living Proof … man. There's something about the sound on that record that gets me, too. I can't quite capture what it is in words, though.

Really dig the lyrical gymnastics on that record.

Now my ass was draggin’ when from a passin’ gypsy wagon
Your heart like a diamond shone
Tonight I’m layin’ in your arms carvin’ lucky charms
Out of these hard luck bones

posted by wemayfreeze at 12:31 AM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, about my dad...
posted by pxe2000 at 5:22 AM on October 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Whether or not Petty can be fairly compared to Springsteen, just imagine how amazing it would be to have a Springsteen album like the later Johnny Cash albums, with the Heartbreakers backing up Bruce and Rick Rubin producing

see now that is exactly what i would NOT want because then it would not sound like the people and places Bruce sings about. Compare and contrast the visceral gut punch of Born To Run with the slick pop of Born In The USA. I think Rick Rubin would have taken all the industrial honky tonk out of his songs.
posted by spicynuts at 7:50 AM on October 30, 2012


Thanks for this.

Springsteen is The Boss.

Rock & Roll is dangerous.

All that is as it should be.
posted by mule98J at 8:51 AM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wholly unironically refer to Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town, and The River as the Holy Trinity, and return to them again and again. None of the other albums have had that sort of impact on me, but I still enjoy Nebraska, have come to enjoy Born in the U.S.A. much more than I did at the time of release (although even then I found a lot of worth in "Bobby Jean" in terms of coming to grips with my own feelings of loss), and the title cut of Lucky Town just fucking cooks, and I also love "If I Should Fall Behind". Oh, and "Streets of Philadelphia."
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:04 AM on October 30, 2012


Oh, and "Streets of Philadelphia."

There's a boot out there called "Brixton Night" that has a solo acoustic performance of Streets of Philadelphia that's just powerful. Talk about a gut-punch of a song.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 9:31 AM on October 30, 2012


see now that is exactly what i would NOT want because then it would not sound like the people and places Bruce sings about. Compare and contrast the visceral gut punch of Born To Run with the slick pop of Born In The USA. I think Rick Rubin would have taken all the industrial honky tonk out of his songs.

See, logically, I see where you're coming from. But when I hear Springsteen sing Thunder Road all by himself either playing piano or guitar, I don't think the absence of the E Street Band makes it "not sound like the people and places Bruce sings about." Have you heard Johnny Cash's album Unchained? That was produced by Rick Rubin and Cash's backing band was Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. I completely understand having emotions and memories tied to songs being performed a certain way, or to the recording of a song that one grew up with or first loved. But just imagine hearing pretty much any Springsteen song done this way, with The Heartbreakers and Rubin. Yeah, that's no industrial honky tonk. But neither are Springsteen's solo acoustic performances.

I think the inability to understand how good Springsteen is with the E-Street band and can't be recognised unless he's stripped down to some sort of ersatz Dylan says more about the critic than the musician.

Sure, I guess. It says that I don't like a recording so cluttered that every instrument sounds weak and thin. It says that I'd pay good money just to be allowed to change the EQ settings on Bruce's Telecaster rig on the Born To Run album. It says I'm not a fan of that particular sound. I don't think it says anything at all about Springsteen as a songwriter or musician. I guess it says about him that he either has different taste in accompaniment than I do or that he puts friendships and camaraderie above production and arrangement - and if that's the case, I respect him for it.

I don't think it says anything negative about either him or me, though, any more than it would say something negative about you if there were some other artist whose backing music you didn't like for one reason or another but whose lyrics and songwriting you appreciate when separated from the style you don't like. Since I don't know what kind of music you like and don't like, I cannot even guess what an example of that would be for you. But to give more abstract examples, I don't think there's anything wrong with someone hearing this version of Hurt and gaining a greater appreciation for it than when they hear the original version.
posted by The World Famous at 9:38 AM on October 30, 2012


Well, yeah, but that really is a special case. NIN's Hurt on its own is a good song, but slightly over dramatic in its attitude, then Cash came along and gave it sincerity nto just through his voice and singing and rendition, but the sheer personal weight he gave to it.

That's not a standard you can really judge other songs with...

For the true Springsteen lover, what you need to hear are not just the albums, or the live concerts, or the countless bootlegs of the concerts, but also the studio outtakes: you need the Lost Masters, nineteen volumes of outtakes from Darkness on the Edge of Town to Born to Run. That'll give you an idea how he and the E-Street band worked. And the best example of it is the evolution of Candy's Room, which started out as a slow, dull balled (Candy's Boy) while there was this fast instrumental (Fast Song #2) that put together created the best track on Darkness.

Some of Bruce's songs work best a stripped down as that Cash Hurt cover, but a lot of them only work with the guitars slamming and the saxophones screaming in the night, the drums, piano and glockenspiel doing their thing in the background.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:14 AM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, some of us are just always going to hate the glockenspiel. It doesn't mean we don't get it or that we don't really appreciate The Boss. We just don't like the glockenspiel.
posted by The World Famous at 11:18 AM on October 30, 2012


One Springsteen album that doesn't get a lot of press/acclaim, but which I think is stunning, and in it's own way almost as harrowing as 'Nebraska', is 'Tunnel of Love'.

A different sound to what had come before, it'a an album about dealing with things falling apart.

Totally recommended, but perhaps not obsessively. It doesn't leave you joyous, like some of the others :)
posted by maupuia at 11:39 AM on October 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Name one songwriter today who is writing poetry that hits to the heart of life in America and the state of the American Dream right now.

In 1995, after Trace came out, I would have said Jay Farrar. Now? No idea.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:50 AM on October 30, 2012


See, logically, I see where you're coming from. But when I hear Springsteen sing Thunder Road all by himself either playing piano or guitar, I don't think the absence of the E Street Band makes it "not sound like the people and places Bruce sings about." Have you heard Johnny Cash's album Unchained?

Yes. I ama big fan of Rubin's production/resurrection work. To your first point, I amnot arguingthat removing the E street band in any way detracts from Bruce's power. I amarguing that their use in the full versions of the somg is not a detriment. Which i had thought was hour original point.
posted by spicynuts at 11:59 AM on October 30, 2012


Bucket list - see Bruce in Spain! Big props to the fans outside of the US who really, really get into the show. All of the fans enjoying his last few US tours can thank the European fans for warming the band up.
posted by TomSophieIvy at 12:46 PM on October 30, 2012


FYI Sandy destroyed my internet so my contributions to this thread are via phone so yiu are really only getting ike 10% of my thoughts on the great back and forth here
posted by spicynuts at 1:07 PM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Name one songwriter today who is writing poetry that hits to the heart of life in America and the state of the American Dream right now.

Well, this has always been a rare thing. Dylan quite literally studied at the feet (or bed) of Woody Guthrie. And even Dylan tired of writing political songs within three or four years. Even during the folk boom of the '60s there was never anyone else doing the same thing at a high level.

Springsteen is definitely the next one in that lineage. Though actually if you think about it he followed the opposite trajectory from Dylan- his early "Blinded By The Light"-type songs are psychedelic Dylan-inspired word-torrents, and then he moved into simpler "real people" stories. You could even argue that "Jungleland" is the melding of the two, in much the same way that "Chimes of Freedom" saw Dylan veering off into psychedelic imagery, but still within a framework of human rights. (You could also argue, if you really felt like it, that each of those is the best song ever written by the respective artist.)

As far as today's songwriters, I'd put Conor Oberst in this lineage, at least as far as writing talent goes. But his stuff tends to be more personal/confessional, and in that sense it owes more to Leonard Cohen and John Prine.

Still, fans of protest songs may enjoy "When the President Talks to God." And Conor's side-project, the punk band Desperacidos, recently dropped the Sheriff-Joe-eviscerating single "MariKKKopa."
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:08 PM on October 30, 2012


One Springsteen album that doesn't get a lot of press/acclaim, but which I think is stunning, and in it's own way almost as harrowing as 'Nebraska', is 'Tunnel of Love'.

Next to Darkness, that is my favourite. Partially because that was the first New Springsteen album, after I'd become a fan as a ten-eleven year old kid in the mid-eighties, when Born in the USA had made him a megastar. But also because of what it is, the record he made after he had gotten himself caught in that hype, believing in his megastardom and marrying some supermodel, then had found himself crashed down to earth again. It's bitter, it's heart broken, it's almost as cynical as Here, My Dear. Didn't understand a tenth of it as a spotty teenager of course.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:37 PM on October 30, 2012


One Springsteen album that doesn't get a lot of press/acclaim, but which I think is stunning, and in it's own way almost as harrowing as 'Nebraska', is 'Tunnel of Love'.

I put it right up there with Blood on the Tracks and Blue (Joni) in the great break-up album triumvirate.
posted by sallybrown at 7:40 PM on October 30, 2012


Yeah, Tunnel of Love is quite possibly my favourite Springsteen album ever. It's stripped down and painful and lyrically interesting and just, well, beautiful.

(Although I never liked the first song, Ain't Got You; it never jelled with the rest of the album, for me.)
posted by badmoonrising at 2:20 AM on October 31, 2012


Yeah, some of us are just always going to hate the glockenspiel. It doesn't mean we don't get it or that we don't really appreciate The Boss. We just don't like the glockenspiel.

That's one of my favorite parts of the ESB.
posted by Miko at 7:59 AM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


a) I've always seen Tunnel of Love as Bruce's one rock opera, given the progression of relationship levels from song to song.

b) I was a 14 year old in suburban North Jersey in the spring of '75 when WNEW-FM was slipped the early tape of Born to Run and started playing the hell out of it. By the time the record came out I was like a boy straggling in from the desert and that record didn't leave my turntable for three months. The wait for Darkness was almost intolerable! When The River was coming I bugged the guys at the record store almost daily for a release date.

c) To say that the E Street Band in any way detracts from Springsteen's music is, essentially, to denigrate the man since he doesn't play with anyone who he doesn't think gives him exactly the sound he's after. This is a guy who spent three years in court just to be able to say who gets in the studio with him, after all. Also: the DVD of a '75 concert included in the 35th anniversary edition of Born to Run captures them perfectly, Bruce's swagger, the interplay between him and the boys, him and the audience who, after all, really didn't know much about him as the record had barely been out in the UK at that point but the posters for the show were little short of hyperbole.

d) If you get a chance to see the band on the current tour (we saw him in April), do it. The expanded band—heck, I used to think his 10 piece setup was extravegant—does amazing things for the sound.
posted by billsaysthis at 9:35 AM on October 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


c) To say that the E Street Band in any way detracts from Springsteen's music is, essentially, to denigrate the man since he doesn't play with anyone who he doesn't think gives him exactly the sound he's after.

I'm not sure what the point is of saying that. Is it supposed to make me suddenly like the way the E Street Band sounds? I have nothing but respect for Springsteen and every member of the band. I just don't like the way they sound. It's a matter of taste, not a question of whether I want to denigrate someone.

Here's the thing: Live rock and roll is a powerful, life-changing thing. For me personally, big, loud, live rock and roll is one of the most transcendent, spiritual (for lack of a better word) experiences I can think of. And being in the audience in front of a huge band that's holding nothing back and that plays as one big unified monster is just amazing. When people say you just have to see the E Street Band live, I totally get it. I'm right there with you. And I also get the bond that exists in just the right band, with just the right players, and the personal ties that bind them through the music. I've been in a lot of bands, and if I had a band like the E Street Band, I'd keep it together for my entire life. I get that. I'm jealous of Springsteen for having that in his life.

I just want a copy of the full multitrack sessions of every Springsteen album for myself so I can play with the mix to make it the way I want it. Is that so unreasonable?

Also: the DVD of a '75 concert included in the 35th anniversary edition of Born to Run captures them perfectly

Yeah, it is amazing. Undeniable.

Name one songwriter today who is writing poetry that hits to the heart of life in America and the state of the American Dream right now.

That's a tricky question, because there are a lot of amazing songwriters right now, but I'm not sure how to satisfy the demands of the question without just pointing back to Springsteen. It seems like a terribly narrow question that might disqualify a lot of songwriters on purely technical grounds.

Are Canadians allowed? If so, I'd put Afie Jurvanen on the list. Check out his live-in-the-studio set from SXSW, which even includes a Springsteen cover.

I'd put Gord Downie at the top of the list, as he's one of the best lyricists I can think of. Maybe the best.

Let's see, who else?
Robert Earl Keen
Lucinda Williams
Steve Earle
Lyle Lovett
Jarvis Cocker
Zack De La Rocha
Eminem, maybe? I don't like him and I don't like his production, but I think he'd be up there.
Arcade Fire
Maybe Colin Meloy? His voice hurts my brain, but he's got his moments as a songwriter, to say the least.
posted by The World Famous at 12:43 PM on October 31, 2012


I just don't like the way they sound. It's a matter of taste...

Sure but for you to suggest, as I read in your first comment on this, that Springsteen would be better with the Heartbreakers or the Attractions as his backing band is not coming across as a matter of taste. I think that's why several comments have pushed back on this.

I'd certainly disagree on the Attractions, even though I've been a fan since EC's first record with them, as for my money they've always played as if a hair's breadth away from losing control and Springsteen's music, his arrangements, are very much under control.

Heartbreakers for me are very good musicians, no doubt, and maybe it's Petty's songwriting rather than their playing, but they seem fairly limited in range. I don't see them managing, say, the opening six songs from the show I saw six months ago:

- We Take Care Of Our Own
- Wrecking Ball
- Badlands
- Death To My Hometown
- My City Of Ruins
- Thundercrack
posted by billsaysthis at 3:29 PM on October 31, 2012


From Backstreets' Facebook page:
Bruce Springsteen, introducing "My City of Ruins" last night at the E Street Band's first post-Hurricane Sandy show last night:

"We wish you a happy Halloween, but we are a rock 'n' roll band form the Jersey Shore, and tonight we carry a lot of sadness in our hearts. This was originally a song about my adopted hometown struggling to get on its feet — it struggled for 25 years, a quarter century, while we watched for Asbury to come back. And we are very proud to say over the past decade, it has risen up and flourished in a way I wasn’t ever sure I'd see in my lifetime. And it will do so again!

"We're a band that you can't separate from the Jersey shore, still basically a glorified bar band... at your service. So we're gonna do this tonight from our hometown to your hometown. We'll send this out to all the people working down there: the police officers, the firemen, and also to the Governor, who has done such a hard job this past week."
posted by Miko at 9:40 AM on November 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


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