Why Bruce Springsteen?
With The Rock Orchestra’s Bruce Springsteen show coming up this weekend, I want to take a moment and talk a bit about why I chose this show (with Matt’s blessing).
There were two options. (1) A general Bruce mix encompassing his career or (2) full albums. We nixed the idea of a mix, mainly because not everyone is into everything Bruce has done (I don’t know if I want to know those people...lol). So we decided to go the album route and knew that ‘Born To Run’ had to be one of those albums. For me, there were good chunks from the first two albums I really wanted to do, so the inevitable conclusion was to do all three. This was easy since albums from the early 70s tend to not be very long. But it’s more than that…
I’m 15 years old and my friend Greg and I out literally trying to get lost. We’re tooling through the valley in Pike Creek or Chadds Ford in his pick-up and our primary time killer in those days was to just get in the truck and drive, see where we ended up and try to get home. Gas was cheaper then and there was no GPS. Two albums that primarily made up the soundtrack of these trips were INXS’s ‘Listen Like Thieves’ and Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ’. There were others, but these were the go-to cassettes…...cassettes…..it’s the mid-80s.
‘Born To Run’ would be in there sometimes, but rarely, if ever ‘The WIld The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle’. It would take me years to understand the nuances of songwriting and the importance of lyrics….but for me at that time, there was something about ‘Greetings’ that captured me. A sincerity of the intent, combined with the wordplay that made it a fun album to try to understand and sing along to. And the songs just stuck.
I really didn’t get into much else Bruce until the ‘Live 1975-85’ set came out. But by then I was deeply exploring prog rock and didn’t pay Bruce much mind….by the late 80s it was all Rush, Genesis and Tull for me. But I found myself being intrigued by the longer songs in Bruce’s catalog (is it prog?). Rosalita, Jungleland, and Incident on 57th Street, brought me to The E Street Shuffle, Backstreets, and of course, Kitty’s Back. Slowly these albums went into heavy rotation for me, and after a heavy dose of ‘Born In The USA’ and ‘Tunnel Of Love’ I came to the conclusion that Bruce offered nothing for me after ‘Born To Run’.
I would eventually come around to appreciate his songwriting throughout his career and would ultimately embrace all of his catalog (ok….Human Touch is still really difficult). Really coming to understand ‘Darkness On The Edge Of Town’ and ‘The River’. Finding inspiration in ‘Nebraska’. Recognizing there was way more than just pop on ‘Born In The USA’. And with his resurgence from ‘The Rising’, through ‘Magic’ and ‘Working On A Dream’, I firmly believe that ‘Wrecking Ball’ is his best, most consistent record since ‘Born To Run’, without the bloat of ‘The River’ or the trappings of ‘Born In The USA’. Just a near-perfect batch of sincere songs.
Getting back to the first records, I realize that the musicality of those records, which is phenomenal, is the setting. The focus is the story. These aren’t random love songs. Even stuff like ‘Sandy’ and ‘For You’ and ‘Incident’ are love stories crafted in a tangible environment. Ones you can almost smell and taste. The people could be real. The situations certainly are, with each song playing out like a novella with a back beat. We fear ‘The Angel’. We wonder if the songwriter broke free with Wendy. We revel in the celebration of Kitty’s return. We party with his crew in ‘Spirit’. And we came to the conclusion that Eddie and the narrator never make it back from their ‘Meeting Across The River’. Poor Cherry. So for me these songs pose a challenge unlike other shows. Zeppelin and Queen were vocally challenging, of course. But the challenge here isn’t the range….it’s the depth. It’s finding the ability to tell these stories in a way that goes beyond notes and lyrics.
I’m not Bruce. And I won’t be pretending to be him this weekend. But I will be doing my best to tell his stories. And if all else fails, I’ll just be 15 again, screaming through it as the pick-up tears through the valley. Either way….it’s going to be fun.