Monday, April 07, 2008

Defending the Music XXI: A Million Different Voices Singing in Tongues

At last.

Number 21 of 21. The artist who was mocked, starting this entire series of posts, defending my choices for favourite music acts.

This is the only artist on the list who is an individual (though an argument could be made against that), and the timing is excellent as I saw him play live not 72 hours ago.

It was fucking amazing, and that should not be much of a surprize as he - and his band - have been making music together for over forty years.

I am speaking of Bruce Springsteen, and to a lesser extent, the E-Street Band. I will just as happily listen to the Boss's solo tracks as stuff with E-Street and lump it all together as Bruce Springsteen... and I am not alone.

Note that I only have one artist in my list of 21 who is an individual - Bruce Springsteen. He is that good. He can keep pace with 20 other bands that rely upon the creativity of an entire group.

I do recall hearing Born to Run and Thunder Road on my local radio station in Prince George, CKPG, as a kid. But I was hardly a Springsteen fan. I was well on my way towards being a punk rock kid by then. The chances of 'The River' making my playlist could not have been detected by the greatest science of the day. In fact I once allowed someone to play my guitar when I was about 15 and when he played 'The River' I felt the need to wash my poor instrument.

When Born in the U.S.A. came out my Dad bought it through Columbia Music House. My response at the time was something like "Aww, Dad, that album has been out for months. It's SO old." And sure enough it had seen two, or perhaps even three singles by that time. It would stay on the charts for fucking ever and it would seem like every song on the album made the top ten at one time or another. This is definitely hyperbole, but not by as much as one might assume. Seven of the twelve tracks on the album made the top ten and another, not even released as a single(!), cracked the top forty.

We can safely fast forward fifteen years during which I was pretty much unaware of Springsteen. I knew he won an Academy Award for the song he wrote for Philadelphia and had been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and got married to one of his bandmates, but really I wasn't interested. The closest he came to really registering on my radar was when Rage Against the Machine (of all people) did a cover of one of his songs... which I found I actually quite liked.

Then someone flew a plan into a building in New York and changed the world.

Springsteen responded with what for me would proved to be his most important album. Some people saw it as opportunistic - capitalizing on the grief and disaster, but not me.

My friend Norm exhorted me to give The Rising a listen. I evaded it until he gave me a copy, at which point it became nothing but capriciousness to not give it at least a token listen. Musically it was a revelation for me. Damn he's a good song-writer - I suppose that ought to go without saying if someone is going to have as long and illustrious a career as he had had. In many ways The Rising said many of the things that were lingering in the back of my mind. He personalized the incident and stepped away from the cliches that had already developed. He was the only artist with the voice to say the things I needed to hear without getting all jingoistic about it.

Roughly a year later I had been cast in "Of Mice and Men." As is my practice, a ritual developed around the show for me - I won't get intot he philosophy of that here, though it may be worth commentiing upon at another time. In this case the ritual included walking each night to the theatre - about a 45 minute trip across town (as it turned out, usually in the pouring rain). I was going to need some music for the trip. The very first night, I stopped at a store to choose the disc that would be my ritual disc for the trip. It turned out to be a really easy selection. The thin edge of the wedge was already in. When I saw Springsteen's Greatest Hits disc on the shelf I knew that it was the appropriate choice - after all, the RATM song that I had liked had been "The Ghost of Tom Joad", so there was an obvious Steinbeck connection. That and the additional ties between Americana and my own developing musical tastes made it a shoe in.

Within a few months I also owned a copy of "Live in New York City." And within another year I pretty much owned his entire catalogue.

He remains one of the best song writers of the past fifty years, and proves it album after album. When his latest single was relased, Radio Nowhere, I was stunned that a man approaching retirement age could rock that hard.

Last week - a week ago tonight, in fact. I recieved a phone call from my friend Mark asking if I was a fan. I told him that I was and he asked me to come use his extra concert ticket. It didn't take any real provocation.

The concert was spectacular. He opened with my favourite song, 'Atlantic City', moved on to the hard rocking 'Radio Nowhere' and just kept on killing. During those first few songs I thought to myself that Bruce was looking his age, but 3 hours later he was looking a lot closer to the 35 years old he was back when he recorded the 'obscure outtake from Born in the USA', that they played for allegedly the first time ever live.
The raw energy of his performance was inspiring - and is legendary. On top of that, the nine members of the E-Street band make up a wicked group of musiciians who have been playing together for around 40 years... is it any wonder that they can turn a relatively sedate gospel-blues number like Reason to Believe into something that had more in common with heavy metal, with The Boss literally screaming through his harmonica (which was sonically awe inspiring, and something he apparently started doing after the best clip I could find of the song in concert).

I have only ever been to one other concert where there was such an air of mutual belonging. As Mark said, this show 'wasn't a concert so much as a revival.' The house was packed with true believers, and any doubt as to why they felt that way would have been put to rest long before the crowd leapt (and admittedly in come cases creaked) to it's feet for the opening chords of 'Born to Run'.

A week later I still have "The River" pleasantly coursing it's sad path through through my skull. It was amazing.

1 comment:

Wrye said...

I don't think many artists belong in the same conversation as Springsteen. Neil Young is the only one I can think of, and I'm not sure (not being an expert on either's canon) if Young has anything to match the younger Springsteen's capacity for sheer lusty joy. (Not that that's been either's hallmark lately) But lay Crime in the City next to Murder Incorporated and you'll see what I mean.