Monday, October 29, 2012
After seeing Bruce Springsteen for the first time on September 21, 2012 at Giants Stadium, it's official: I believe. A friend of mine recently told me that if you Google "Bruce Springsteen concert religious experience", it will come up with millions of hits. And that's because it truly is. From the gospel singers to the raised hands of the faithful and the overall aura of awe and happiness, I feel like I reached another, deeper level of humanity that night.
And in honor of that amazing night, here - as a follow up to my May 7, 2009 post of the Top 10 Bruce Springsteen songs - are ten additional songs that have touched my soul over the past 3 years.
1. American Land
Wrecking Ball, 2012
This is a song not to be missed, simply put. The reason why this was left as an iTunes only bonus track for Wrecking Ball is a travesty I will never comprehend. I have posted the Glastonbury 2009 live version below as it is a perfect representation of the concert I went to - high-energy and something bigger than the sum of its parts. Multiple people have told me this song reminds me of something you'd hear on the third class dance floor of the Titanic. And why not? The song tells the story of all the dozens of nationalities that came across the waters to find a promised land (a driving motif in Springsteen's music) and built the country from the ground up. Also - I have never been part of a bigger or better dance party than the concert I was at where Bruce closed the concert with this song and it was utterly perfect.
2. The Promised Land
Darkness On The Edge Of Town, 1978
The Bruce song I have undoubtedly listened to the most this summer and fall. The perfect ode to restlessness and wanting so much more than this. This is the sleeper anthem of the Darkness album with those sad guitars and harmonicas adding to the plantitive yet defiant feel of the song. It's about the anguish of growing up and being caught between a boy and a man. Waiting for the drive home from work to just have those precious moments alone with nothing ahead of you but the highway and the radio. Facing the future with blind ambition and desperate hope.
I got the radio on and I'm just killing time
Working all day in my daddy's garage
Driving all night, chasing some mirage
Pretty soon little girl I'm gonna take charge
3. Death To My Hometown
Wrecking Ball, 2012
I love the live version I've posted before for two reasons: Tom Morello (amazing) and the unfiltered grit in Bruce's voice. I love the filtered sound effects on the album version and the unabashed grim tone that runs throughout the lyrics. Another one of the Wrecking Ball songs that is infused with a traditional Irish sound. Undoubtedly influenced by the ressession, Bruce expresses the anger here felt by so many in these dark times.
Born To Run, 1975
The greatest live performance I have ever heard, of any song, as long as I have been alive is Bruce's live performance of "Backstreets" from Saginaw, Michigan (September 3, 1978) with the "Sad Eyes" interlude. Since I can't find it on YouTube, I am posting the next best thing below which is a live performance from just a few days later.
As Griel Marcus wrote in his October 1, 1985 Rolling Stone review of Born To Run, "The songs, the best of them, are adventures in the dark, incidents of wasted fury. Tales of kids born to run who lose anyway, the songs can, as with "Backstreets," hit so hard and fast that it is almost impossible to sit through them without weeping. And yet the music is exhilarating. You may find yourself shaking your head in wonder, smiling through tears at the beauty of it all."
"Backstreets" is the most singularly perfect ode written to the desperation of a love "so hard and filled with defeat", doomed to end before it even began. The slow burn of falling in love with your best friend despite the circumstances and wondering whether it is worse to have them spurn your advances - or to return them. The fire of passion and the dimming of a flame that burned too bright to last. The inevitable end of a summer fling as the September breeze brings the cold reality of faithlessness and the dance of leaves around feet.
5. From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)
Recorded at the Power Station recording studio, 1979
As someone who was born listening to Motown and the early rock 'n roll classics on cassette tape (the unparalleled Shell gas station Cruisin' Classics cassette tape collection deserves its own blog post, but you can find an amazing one here), this song burns through me in a way I can only describe as innate and inevitable. This song is absolutely insane if you read the lyrics and absolutely awesome. It starts off with one of those Chuck Berry style guitar riffs with a touch of Lynyrd Skynyrd, honky tonk, Motown, and Fats Domino. That would pretty much be the highest compliment I could give a song.
It was late one Friday, he pulled in out of the dark
He was tall and handsome; first she took his order, then she took his heart
6. No Surrender
Born In The USA, 1984
I am pretty sure the first verse of this song describe my entire high school experience. And yet, that is the beauty of it. It's the kind of lyrical quartet that everyone feels speaks directly to them, voices the experience that they lived (or rather, lived through), the indignity of feeling alone in one's self-righteousness. Living through the externally imposed rigidity of the high school structure leaves a sense of futility pounding through your heart beat each day.
I wasn't the first person to find release in the youthful starry-eyed passion of rock 'n roll music and I won't be the last. But it belonged to me in that moment, just as it belonged to everyone who put on a record and believed. Believed in the freedom just around the corner, believed in the lyrics that could save you, the romance that burst through full hearts. "Blood brothers in the stormy night with a vow to defend" - such is the teenage experience, us against the world through the biterness. This song so strongly reminds me of the amazing, tour-de-force novel by Jonathan Tropper - The Book of Joe. Which should be required reading for anyone who loves Springsteen or has a heart.
Well, we bursted out of class
Had to get away from those fools
We learned more from a 3-minute record, baby
Than we ever learned in school
7. Point Blank
The River, 1980
This song describes the emptiness of knowing there is nothing left but bitterness. I could see this as a sequel to "Backstreets" - the fallout of a love too intense to last. And as it slips away, it slips into oblivion, to the edge of the abyss - to a place that there is no turning back from. There is something about Roy Bittan's piano playing that sounds so intensely sad in all of Bruce's songs and this one is no exception. There is no hopeful ending here, no solution, just emptiness. It's the sadness of looking back on the life you could have had, knowing what is just out of reach and just close enough for endless torture. It's a night of empty bars with empty faces and empty glasses.
I have to include the below verse in its entirety because it is too exiquisitely beautiful and so epically sad to split:
Once I dreamed we were together again, baby you and me
Back home in those old clubs the way we used to be
We were standin' at the bar it was hard to hear
The band was playin' loud and you were shoutin' somethin' in my ear
You pulled my jacket off and as the drummer counted four
You grabbed my hand and pulled me out on the floor
You just stood there and held me, then you started dancin' slow
And as I pulled you tighter, I swore I'd never let you go
Well I saw you last night down on the avenue
Your face was in the shadows, but I knew that it was you
You were standin' in the doorway out of the rain
You didn't answer when I called out your name
You just turned, and then you looked away
Like just another stranger waitin' to get blown away
8. Bobby Jean Born In The USA, 1984
Much like "No Surrender", it's the universal experience of a high school friendship amongst two outsiders, two people who can find a world of similarities and comfort in liking "the same music, the same bands, the same clothes". Because in high school, that is the currency of life itself and the quickest path to isolation or kinship. But this story ends in a question mark, or perhaps more accurately, an ellipse. I love that this song isn't necessarily about romantic love but the most intense kind of friendship that almost feels that way. The fallout from a friendship that close that just fades away can be more crushing than an outright dramatic ending. And don't we all long for fame and fortune just so a long lost love can hear our voice once again? Now you hung with me when all the others turned away, turned up their noise
We liked the same music, we liked the same bands, we liked the same clothes
We told each other that we were the wildest, the wildest things we'd ever seen
Now I wished you would have told me, I wished I could have talked to you
Just to say goodbye Bobby Jean
9. Human Touch
Human Touch, 1992
In the end what you don't surrender, the world just strips away
I think this song speaks to the realization about the indifference of the world to us individually but the need for connection. There is a hopeful need that resonates through this lyrics. I think the video to this song perfectly fits the image I had in my mind - a misty night, a sepia toned lens, a trolley through the rain. There's something refreshing about the pure honesty of this song - not being too naive to see the ways of the world, but still longing for a connection in the deep of the night.
Fun fact: American Idol judge Randy Jackson plays bass on this song. Who knew?
Yeah, I know I ain't nobody's bargain
But, hell, a little touch up and a little paint...
10. Wrecking Ball
Wrecking Ball, 2012
As someone who shuns change and new technology, I found it endlessly refreshing to find New Jersey's own poet agreed with me on how unnecessary it was to build a new Giants Stadium. The song is so specifically and frankly about the national treasure that was the old Giants Stadium - home of so much spilled beer, epic tailgates, Giants games, and the best concerts you will ever see in your life. I love how Bruce urges us all to "hold tight to your anger and don't fall to your fear" - the best advice I've ever heard for staying strong in the face of adversity.