John Mellencamp gets dismissed as a poor man’s Springsteen a lot, but that’s not exactly fair. To be sure, there are more than a few similarities between the two artists. But using the fame and brilliance of one as a way to diminish any talents the other might have is the wrong way to look at it. If you don’t like Mellencamp, just say so. Don’t use Bruce Springsteen to do your dirty work (something the Boss most definitely would not approve of).
They got lumped together in the 80s, when Springsteen ruled the world with his blockbuster Born in the U.S.A. Mellencamp had a monster hit of his own around the same time, 1985’s Scarecrow. Both albums took on the causes and lives of ordinary Americans, and used roots based Rock & Roll to do it. But there’s something more real about Mellencamp. I don’t know how else to say it. For all his charm and charisma, Springsteen is less approachable than Mellencamp. There’s a sense that Springsteen constructed himself–through his music, his persona. (That’s not a bad thing, just an observation.) John Mellencamp just seems to show up and be himself. Now, who he is isn’t always going to be nice or pleasant. But he won’t hide any part of himself to please anyone. Personally, I think Mellencamp is kind of an ass. But I sure do like his music.
I like the melancholy of this song. It feels lonely. And the video, for all the carnival lights and bustle, feels lonely, too. There’s a line near the end that kind of sums it up: “She calls me ‘baby.’ She calls everybody ‘baby.'” Maybe people come and go so often, she just can’t be bothered to use their names. Maybe she forgets his name because she’s been drinking a little too much. Maybe she just wants the connection, giving people nicknames to feel closer to them. But they’re all just ‘baby.’ Who was the first one she called that? What happened to him. Why doesn’t she just let go? The story of this nameless woman and the guy in the song isn’t elaborated, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s as old as time. “It’s a lonely old night. Can I put my arms around you? It’s a lonely old night, custom-made for two lonely people like me and you.”
I found today to be quite an interesting day.
Bruce Springsteen’s son has become a firefighter, which is totally awesome. And they’re releasing a DVD of one of the best concerts ever, a Bob Dylan tribute that Columbia Records put together for his 30th anniversary as a recording artist. The lineup is an unbelievable who’s who of the best the music industry had to offer at the time. It’s not the complete 3-hour extravaganza–which I watched on pay-per-view with the BFF–but they’re hitting most of the highlights, including this jaw-dropping version of “Masters of War.”
There was sad news, too. Toni Tennille and Daryl Dragon, aka The Captain and Tennille, are getting divorced. I’m beginning to believe there’s no such thing as forever love, at least not in show business. This is one of those couples that I thought would stay together, just because it had already been so long (39 years).
I don’t like it when things like this happen, because it feeds my cynicism about romance/marriage. I might not be in the market for a relationship myself, but I really do believe in true love. When a popular entertainment couple who seemingly defied the odds breaks up, it makes me think that love can’t survive. If anyone wants to restore my faith, please do.
I originally posted this for Bruce Springsteen’s birthday in 2012. After reading the Ames biography, I’m pleased to know that my original take on the song, on Bruce in general seems to be borne out by the man himself. He really does believe in his music in a way I’m not sure every musician does. It’s not that he works harder, or is more talented than other artists. But at the time he wrote and recorded “Thunder Road,” he really did believe that music was a transformative experience. If you read the book (which I recommend), you’ll find out just how much music transformed him.
“Thunder Road” is a transformative song, but whether the transformation is good or bad is left entirely unresolved. Part of Springsteen’s appeal for me is the fact that he pulls no punches. He doesn’t try to force a happy ending on his characters, knows damn well that a happy ending might be impossible for them. But there’s hope that these people really can win if they can just make it to the car together, “take that long walk, from your front porch to my front seat. The door’s open, but the ride ain’t free.” That’s all they have to do. But those are the hardest steps of all, and there is always a price for escape.
I love watching the E Street Band play together. These people are consummate musicians, perfectly in synch with one another. But something that really shines through in this clip from a concert at Madison Square Garden is how much they love what they do, how much they love the music. Bruce, Patti, Little Steven, the late great Big Man. The looks on their faces say they know how truly blessed they are. (FYI: Max Weinberg has the most perfect posture I have ever seen in a drummer.) They are true believers in the transformative power of music, a belief that can’t be bought or sold. It just is.
I guess that’s why I’ve always like Springsteen. He believes in the things he sings about, he believes happily ever after is possible. More importantly, he makes us believe in it, too. And that’s the biggest transformation of all: Believing in what is possible.
I’m currently reading Peter Ames Carlin’s Bruce, the biography of The Boss he published last year. I’m just up to the spot where his first album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. has been released. The portrait of Springsteen that’s emerging is fascinating, but I’ll refrain from much more comment until I’m done with the book.
One thing that’s being reinforced by the book, however, is what a charismatic figure Bruce Springsteen is. Virtually everyone in his life is willing to follow him through the gates of hell; everyone can see his potential. At least that’s how Carlin is making it seem. But he’s also not pulling too many punches. The Springsteen of his book is a troubled, flawed man. (It’s also pretty clear that he was a terrible romantic partner when he was younger.) There seems to be a conscious decision to show a more complete view of the kind of person Springsteen really is, although it’s obvious the emphasis is on his musical career.
That’s as it should be. I’ve felt for a long time that Bruce Springsteen is probably the iconic American musician. His vision of America–all its glories, and all its failures–is so intrinsically true. Whether there is factual truth to his songs doesn’t matter (although I’m already seeing just how autobiographical a lot of his music really is). Springsteen captures the spirit of what being an American is.
His early stuff is more imagistic and poetic, but there’s an indefinable quality to songs like “Blinded by the Light” that make it compelling. I’ll probably be singing Springsteen’s praises again this week, so be prepared for more Boss.
I didn’t do several days worth of posts commemorating Sept. 11th like I did last year (view them over here, starting with Ryan Adams’ “New York, New York”), but I want to commemorate one of the saddest and weirdest days I can ever remember.
I don’t usually post links to full-length albums or videos, mostly because I want to encourage people to honor the artists that created them and spend the bucks on it. But I’m pretty sure that Bruce Springsteen would be okay with free listening of this album. It is The Rising, his own commemoration of what happened on September 11th, 2001 and its aftermath. It still makes me cry.
This pretty much describes how I feel right now. Not the crumbling marriage part, but the bone tired weariness. The feeling that you’re just going around and around in circles, and nothing ever seems to change.
Dad’s still in the hospital. They couldn’t do the procedure they wanted today, but they did make some changes that will hopefully have him home in a few days. Which would be great because I haven’t been sleeping too well. I’m calling my mother all the time to make sure she’s eating and drinking properly (and I know I’m annoying her, but she wasn’t taking care of herself). I just want someone to wave a magic wand and make it all better. I know that’s not really possible, but that’s how I feel.
This song is like that. Bruce Springsteen is unique in that he wrote his divorce album before he got a divorce (from first wife Julianne Phillips). Hindsight is 20/20, and this one seemed pretty doomed right from the beginning. The working class hero rock star and the young model/actress never seemed to have anything in common. They married in 1985 after a whirlwind romance, less than a year after they met. Springsteen was still high on his Born in the U.S.A. mega-stardom. His constant touring probably did not help the marriage; neither did his affair with back-up singer Patti Scialfa. He and Phillips divorced in 1988. (To be fair, he got it right the second time. Scialfa was a much better match. That doesn’t excuse his behavior, but at least he learned from his mistake.) The whole Tunnel of Love album chronicled the self-doubt, fear and regret he seemed to feel in his marriage. “One Step Up” is one of the saddest songs from that album. There’s no bravado or blame here, just resignation: “I’m the same old story, same old act. One step up and two steps back.” Springsteen seems to be well aware that he carries a lot of the blame for the frustration of their relationship, but it’s equally clear that he’s got no idea how to fix what’s broken. That maybe it’s time to admit the relationship is already beyond repair.
I’m not beyond repair right now, and I don’t think my father is either. It’s just going to take a little longer.
Today is Veteran’s Day. It used to be called Armistice Day, but then people started to forget that it was a holiday meant to celebrate the end of WWI. I guess it’s hard to celebrate the end of one war when so many others have followed.
I watch ESPN quite a bit, not because I really need to see all of Lebron’s highlights, but because it makes nice background noise to doing just about anything else. They’ve been celebrating Veteran’s Day all week. Paying “tribute” to the military by going to bases and holding college basketball games. They also say that we all need to thank our troops and veterans for their service; after all, we couldn’t watch 24 hours of sports every day without their sacrifices. That might be true, but I’m not very good with being told how I’m supposed to feel or act. Not by idiots like Skip Bayless, anyway.
I understand logically what a huge thing it is to serve in the military. It is an immense and incredible sacrifice, and I appreciate that there are men and women willing to make that sacrifice so that I and my loved ones do not have to. In that respect, I am grateful. But what I really feel for our current troops is more akin to guilt. I don’t want to thank them. I want to walk up each and every one of them, shake their hands and look them in the eyes, and say, “I am so sorry that you were sent far from home to get shot at and blown up for no good goddamn reason.” Because that’s what the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan amount to: a lot of fighting and killing and destruction for nothing. I’m sure someone will want to tell me it’s for freedom, or about liberating oppressed people. Or that it’s because of 9/11. Or any other of the specious reasons pundits and war mongers have been using ever since The Shrub ordered the invasion of a sovereign nation that WAS NOT CURRENTLY ATTACKING US. I’m gonna stop there because the whole thing makes me so angry I could spit. Hundreds of thousands of innocent and not so innocent people have died because the United States seemed to think it was a good idea to start a war on an idea. You can’t fight an idea.
This is starting to get away from me, so I’ll just cut to the song. Yeah, I know I’ve posted quite a few Springsteen tunes, but this one pretty much sums up the futility of what’s been done to our troops for the last 11 years. The look on Springsteen’s face pretty much sums up how I feel when I think about these things: hopeless.
Thank a veteran. Apologize to a veteran. But remember that they’re people, not icons.