Mar 14, 2012 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Bruce Springsteen did not forget where he came from. And he didn’t pay too much heed to the voices around him that doubted his path. For both reasons, we should be eternally thankful.
Even with all of his riches and fame, Bruce always finds himself drawn back to those working-class roots of his New Jersey boyhood, to men and women whose hard work, and pride in that work, was taken for granted, and then cast aside in the name of progress and greed.
Then, even as the greatest of American rock and roll heroes, Bruce has gone out of his way to write and sing about that pain, even if fans and critics have told him to pipe down and forget about all this conscience stuff.
At some point after the E Street Band reunited for a tour in 1999-2000, Springsteen was faced with a fateful choice. He could have coasted on nostalgia and cranked out “Born to Run” and “Rosalita” and raked in the millions, and no one would have blamed him.
Instead, for a decade, through his 50s and early 60s, and through the deaths of long-time comrade Danny Federici and soul mate Clarence (Big Man) Clemons, Bruce has given us six records worth of new material, veering between mournful lament and defiant celebration, never staying in one stylistic place and constantly challenging his fans to go along for the ride.
And it all peaks with Wrecking Ball, Bruce’s magnificent new CD that, in time, might rank with some of his finer works, and even tops his recent material for its singular focus on loss, anger and hope in spite of all the odds.
Bruce has said many times that a constant theme in his work is the gap between the American ideal and the American reality. That, of course, led to legendary misinterpretations of some of his songs by those who see what they want to see. A certain title track from a certain 1984 album comes to mind.
Here, throughout Wrecking Ball, there’s little need for explanation. Bruce is mad at his country, and its leaders (of all political persuasions), for not taking care of their own. He’s furious at the robber barons on Wall Street who robbed people blind and took away their livelihoods. And he anguishes at the damage left behind by this wanton destruction.
At least that’s the first part of it. But starting with the title track, and going toward the closing “We Are Alive”, that madness, fury and anguish come colored with optimism. The path might be jagged, and the train might overflow with saints and sinners. But now, as then, there’s still a chance that things might get better because we have overcome in the past, and will again.
If it resembles any previous Springsteen work, it’s a cousin to Nebraska, exactly 30 years after Bruce’s stark, acoustic 1982 masterpiece about the other side of Reagan’s America, where anger, violence and despair were everywhere, but there was still a reason to believe in the final notes.
Name a rocker, any rocker, who covers this territory. Most don’t even try. They know that to do so will invite the wrath of those who don’t mind that their musical idols are money-making machines, but mind quite a bit when they think about issues more important than themselves.
The naysayers are out in full force now, using all of the usual epithets reserved for entertainers who dare speak their mind about something other than something they totally agree with. In essence, they’re telling Bruce, just as they told the Dixie Chicks, to shut up and sing, and by the way, only do “Jungleland”, none of that real-world stuff.
The true fans know better. Having grown up with him and taken him through adulthood and all of its inevitable travails, they see that the serious and the corny, the sadness and the romance, the pessimism and optimism, are all one big Bruce package deal. It makes him whole, human, real.
Plus, he can laugh at himself, a welcome trait in any public figure. Just check out those two appearances on Jimmy Fallon’s late-night show.
To complement Fallon’s dead-on Neil Young impersonation where he seriously croons ridiculous pop songs “Whip My Hair” and “Sexy and I Know It” with acoustic guitar and harmonica, Bruce has shown up as…..younger versions of himself, both the bearded 1970s poet and buff 1980s rock god. The result is absolutely golden, especially for fans that have followed his evolution.
More than two years ago (Nov. 22, 2009, to be exact) I saw Bruce’s last tour end in Buffalo, the very last show he played with Clemons, one of the best nights of my life. Many wondered at the time if he, and his band, would ever return.
Thankfully, on April 13 Bruce will be back in Buffalo, and so will I, glad that Bruce Springsteen still has the fire, energy and passion to rock the world. Best of all, he still has something to say.