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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Bruce Springsteen

20 January 2008

As a teenage punk rocker, the notion of listening to BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN was anathema to me. Remember, this was a good fifteen years before artists like THE HOLD STEADY and THE ARCADE FIRE (not to mention THE KILLERS) evoked Springsteen in their most recent work. However, in my early 20s I got into songwriters like ELVIS COSTELLO and GRAHAM PARKER and I slowly began to realize that they had both been heavily influenced by Springsteen. If you doubt me, check out the demos Costello recorded with his pub rock band FLIP CITY (most of them have never been officially released but they’ve been available on bootleg for years) or early Parker songs lik e “Stick to Me”, which owes a bit of a debt to “Born to Run” to these ears. Costello even wrote “Tempation” after seeing a Springsteen concert at the Nashville club in London in 1978 and need I mention the legendary 1975 concert in London that was attended by JOE STRUMMER (another Springsteen disciple)?

So where did these leave me? Well I scooped up as many cheap (in some cases 25 cent) Springsteen Lps that I could find, though none of them connected with me as much as 1978’s Darkness on the Edge in Town, which many (including myself) still consider among his finest work. At the time, Darkness was an easier Lp for me to get into than some of his earlier records, which are looser, more rambling and more indebted to the likes of VAN MORRISON and the like than some of the punk-era music that clearly influenced not only Darkness, but its follow-up The River as well.

Thus, for years if I wanted to hear Springsteen, I played either this record or the Greatest Hits CD that came out in 1995, which was just enough for a casual fan like myself since it has lots of songs by him that I like and I didn’t have to dig too deep.

In the ensuing years since I first tried to get into him, his reputation amongst indie-rockers and punks has escalated considerably. Why? Well perhaps his influence on the musicians I mentioned earlier has been more clearly understood and perhaps the urgency and emotion he puts into each performance appeal to those with similar musical tastes as myself. It must be stated, however, that his political leanings have a lot to do with it as well. Although he didn’t officially endorse a political candidate until the Vote for Change tour in 2004, his endorsement of JOHN KERRY during that Presidential term made it clear that if he lost fans (clearly those who had no idea what songs like “Born in the USA” are really about), he didn’t care.

Even before that, his political leanings had already generated plenty of controversy. After the 1999 shooting of African immigrant AMADOU DIALLO by plain-clothes New York City police officers, he penned a song called “American Skin” that has the memorable refrain of “41 Shots”, referring to the number of times that the officers shot the unarmed man after they mistakenly thought he was reaching for a gun in his pocket (he was going for his wallet). This, of course, much like his hero BOB DYLAN’s decision to go electric in 1965, generated boos and middle fingers from some in attendance at his concerts during that time, notably including several New York City police offers.

Furthermore, as I mentioned earlier, Springsteen’s music has been a big influence on popular and critically-acclaimed indie-rock bands like The Arcade Fire and The Hold Steady. Still, I wasn’t entirely convinced until I stayed up late to watch a broadcast of a July 2000 concert at Madison Square Garden (this was also released as a CD and DVD as Live in New York City) a few weeks ago. The energy, enthusiasm and the overall rapturous joy of the both the musicians and the audience was just contagious and it was just a pleasure to watch. This was my Eureka moment. I finally got it!

Shortly afterwards, I dug out Nebraska and The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle, listening to both with newly appreciative ears and enjoying them more than I ever have. I haven’t yet re-discovered some of the other Lps I have, but I have been listening to some of the songs on his newest album Magic on one of the great local community-supported stations here in Philadelphia and I’ve really been liking those as well.


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