Saturday, September 01, 2007

The 50 Music Project: Broooooce!!!

XVIII. "I saw rock and roll's future and its name is Bruce Springsteen"

There was never any doubt when I began to plan this project that Bruce Springsteen would have a section of his own. He has been my favorite artist for going on 30 years now, and in my mind he is, without question, the most important rock ‘n roller of his generation. I’m sure my parents would have been disappointed if I hadn’t included him, even though they probably aren’t the biggest Springsteen fans in the world (they like him, but they’d probably never go out of their way to get any of his music). Heck, I even quoted a Springsteen song (“Tunnel of Love”) during the speech and toast that I gave at their 50th anniversary party, so he had to be a part of it.

With the exception of “Spirit in the Night,” all of these songs appeared on the remarkable trio of albums that began with the release of Born to Run in 1975. That album remains a landmark recording, one of the most important records of the rock era. As Greil Marcus put it so well in his Rolling Stone review, there was a lot at stake for Springsteen at that time with the release of the record. With the pressure on, he delivered an absolute masterpiece, one whose drama and passion has never been surpassed, by any artist.

It’s no coincidence that Born to Run was the first Springsteen album with which Jon Landau was associated. Landau, an astute critic of music, film and popular culture, wrote the legendary column that became the tagline around which Columbia Records built its entire advertising campaign for Springsteen. He went on to become his producer, manager, friend, and confidante. There’s little doubt that artistically, Landau has probably been the most important person in Springsteen’s career. I can’t pretend to know how their relationship works, but I have read much of Landau’s work for Rolling Stone (which began in the late 1960s and continued through 1976), and when you read the things that Landau writes about great artists, you can imagine him giving advice to Springsteen, telling him what he should strive for, the things he should avoid, and perhaps most importantly, helping him create the themes and images that have dominated his work. Not “helping” in the sense of writing, but simply steering Bruce in the right direction.

Their second collaboration, Darkness on the Edge of Town, is a great album in its own right. The sound is less distinguished, but the music of the best songs is deeper, more mature. If Born to Run was dominated by innocence and the desire to escape, Darkness was dominated by desperation, and the recognition by the main characters that “hey, there’s a chance I’m never going to get out of this place.”

The River, a double album of immense depth and ambition, is an album that you don’t hear much about any more. It’s one of my favorites, probably because it was in the fall of 1980 that I saw my first Springsteen concert, and he played 17 of the 20 songs on the album. To me, this is where Springsteen became an adult; many of the songs on the record depict people who have come to grips with their lives, and have begun to discover the things they can do to enrich them. But on the other hand, for those who have failed, there are terrifying songs: “Point Blank,” and “Stolen Car,” one his very best, where the protagonist lives “in fear/that in this darkness/I will disappear.”

I feel blessed to have seen Springsteen in concert 8 times, over the span of three decades. I’ve seen him in Oakland, San Diego, Mountain View, New York City, and Sacramento. This October, I’ll see him again in Oakland (don’t have tickets yet, but it will happen – trust me). I’ve seen him as a college student, I’ve seen him when I was wooing my wife-to-be, I’ve seen him with two of my very best friends in the world, and I’ve seen him as an adult (or so I like to think) with teenaged children. He’s had something to say that has enriched my life on each occasion. He is one of the best.

Spirit In The Night
Thunder Road
Born to Run
The Promised Land
The Ties That Bind
The River

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