Last Chance Power Drive

Bruce Springsteen turns 71 today.

I’ve written about Bruce a bit over the years, including my thesis that Springsteen, notwithstanding his lefty-populist politics, has written some of the best conservative music there is over the course of his fifty-odd year career.

After Western Stars – his album and concert film from last year – I read an interview in which he seemed to be saying the days of the eighteen-month tour of four hour rock and roll revivals were done, and that he was a different place. Ironically, he skipped the tour the year before all communal fun got tanked by the Blue City Flu.

But Bruce did actually plan a tour in support of Letter To You – a very rock and roll album, recorded in five frenzied days with the E Street Band. Until, y’know, Covid:

There may be no bringing together the E Street Band right now, a group almost big enough to constitute a mass gathering in its own right. But Letter to You sounds live enough to make you feel a little guilty listening to it, as if you’re violating quarantine. That makes the album feel all the more precious, and the lack of a tour all the more painful. Letter to You is the first time since Born in the U.S.A. that Springsteen and the E Street Band recorded live in the studio to this extent, and possibly the rawest album they’ve ever made, with close to zero overdubs. “It’s the only album where it’s the entire band playing at one time,” says Springsteen, “with all the vocals and everything completely live.” (A few of Springsteen’s twangy guitar leads, played on a Gretsch, are among the only exceptions.)

“It was really like the old days,” says drummer Max Weinberg. “Just pure musical energy, with the hard-earned musical and professional wisdom of guys in their 70s, or close to 70.” It also happens to bethe most classically, unabashedly E Street-sounding album since at least The River. It’s a late-period rebirth of sorts, and it started with thoughts of death.

And the piece officially notes something I’d wondered about starting with Tunnel of Love: originally, the band would hash out songs in the rehearsal space or studio, the old fashioned way, arranging the songs on the fly with the input of the entire band. But along about the time of Nebraska, Bruce started recording everything as demos, himself, at home or later on in a home studio, basically giving the band faits accompli that sounded…

…well, not like the E Steet Band anymore.

And with Letter To Youbeen rol, that seems to have rolled way, way back:

Springsteen kept making demos even after he resumed recording with the E Street Band on The Rising (which, somehow, is now 18 years old, a fact Springsteen finds “mind-boggling,” since “that’s one of my new albums!”). But last year, he finally saw a reason to stop. “When I demo, I start putting things on to see if it works,” says Springsteen. “And suddenly, I’m locked into an arrangement. And then the band has to fit themselves into an arrangement. And suddenly, we don’t have an E Street Band album. So I intentionally did not demo anything.” Bypassing his studio, he captured the songs only on his iPhone, in quick solo-acoustic renditions, to make sure he remembered them.

The whole Rolling Stone interview – less, of course, a few puerile paragraphs of progressive palaver – is worth a read.

Anyway – Happy Birthday, Bruce. It ain’t no sin that I’m glad you’re alive – and kicking. Looking forward to the next tour.

Blinded By The Date

Bruce Springsteen turns 70 today.

Once upon a time, a then-local “progressive” activist asked via Twitter “To all you conservative Springsteen fans; have you actually listened to the records?”

My response was “yes – much more than you“. I went on to write one of my favorite series – the one showing that Bruce Springsteen was America’s best conservative songwriter.

Not something as trivial as “a conservative who wrote music” – but someone who, at his best, wrote music that resonated deeply with Conservatives, for reasons that were utterly conservative, and for many of us utterly profound.

Ann Althouse once noted (with a hat tip to regular commenter Macarthur Wheeler):

“To be a great artist is inherently right wing. A great artist like Dylan or Picasso may have some superficial, naive, lefty things to say, but underneath, where it counts, there is a strong individual, taking responsibility for his place in the world and focusing on that.”

His best music – Nebraska, Born in the USA, Tunnel of Love and The Rising, but especially the “Holy Trinity” (Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town, The RIver) were just that; stories about the struggles, yes, but also the strength and worth of individuals; their failures and their redemptions, sin and consequences, and forgiveness.

And for anyone that misses the point, I’d urge you to watch the Netflix version of Springsteen on Broadway, the Tony Award-winning one-man show that closed last year, in which Bruce admitted – with deference and joy – that the best music in his career was about his father; that he, a guy who’d never punched a clock in his life, had written a 45-year-long litany of tales of sorrow and inspiration and warning and cool rockin’ daddies about Douglass Springsteen, his father, and his mother Adele, who plugged away for decades, sacrificing and slogging away to keep their three kids fed and sheltered.

A few months back, I went to the movie Blinded By The Light – and noted that I felt it in the pit of my stomach more than enjoying it (although I enjoyed it a lot).

Now, the protagonist (it’s closely based on a true story) was the opposite of me, socially and politically; a Pakistani Brit who skewed plenty left, like Brit teenagers do. And yet I felt it in my liver; the discovery, and the epiphany, were the same for both of us.

“See, Mitch – those traits are universal and human, and progressives can gel with them too!”.
Artistically? Sure, why not? But let’s debate what “Reason to Believe”, “Johnny 99” or “My Hometown” are really about first. Or, for that matter, the implications of what Sarfraz Manzoor wrote about – being seen as a person rather than a caricature or, dare I say, an “identity”. Then we’ll talk.

Because “progressivism” is about perfecting humanity; conservatism is about living with, dealing with the consequences of, clawing back from, and sometimes, just sometimes, triumphing over mankind’s, and one’s own, imperfections.

And if you’re lucky, passing some of that on:

I, too, believe in a Promised Land.

One Place That Ain’t Looking Through Me

About a decade back, I heard an interview on All Things Considered with Sarfraz Manzoor, who’d just come out with his book Greetings from Bury Park – his memoir about growing up as a British-Pakistani in Luton, in the Midlands, and getting immersed in Bruce Springsteen’s music. And I think I sat in the garage for a solid half hour, catching the whole fascinating story; someone who couldn’t have come from a more different culture than me, getting pulled on the same musical and personal odyssey by the same bunch of records.

If you’ve read this blog at all, you can see the grab. Right? I don’t think I need to restate the obvious.

I caught the show the other night.

First things first: This isn’t Mama Mia with Springsteen music. While there is the requisite act of the movie where Manzoor’s fictionalized version of himself, “Javed”, gets the same burst of recogniton while listening to “Darkness on the Edge of Town”, the musical epiphany only opens the door to all sorts of conflict in real life – which, in turn, illuminates all sorts of the musical themes.

Any description of “musical epiphanies” from ones’ teenage years is bound to swerve into the cloying and mawkish at times. Teenagers are cloying and mawkish, and it doesn’t matter what culture they’re from. And so the movie’s occasional short-cuts through plot points, via lyric drops or the occasional borderline production number that might – hell, probably will – come across as cringingly sentimental to the non-belever comes across as cringingly autobiographical to those who’ve (raises hand) been there.

So – did I enjoy the movie? Yes, but that wasn’t my main takeaway. It’s more accurate to say I felt a lot of it in the pit of my stomach. The movie took me back to a lot of things from my teens and twenties, in pretty much the same way Manzoor remembers them. That’s a good thing.


And – no spoilers, here – the music isn’t necessarily the most important point of the movie. There’ll be another post about that before too long.

Cons? Yep, there were a few.

It’d be impossible to do a movie about eighties Britain, especially as a Pakistani, without throwing in some of the politics of the era. And Manzoor’s memories of the era include a lot of the prattle of the anti-Thatcher left – which sounded at the time every bit as intolerent and libelous as Big Left’s cant against conservatives (to say nothing of Trumpkins) today. The infantlism of today’s campus “progressive” seems modeled on the prate and gabble of European lefties of the era. That, and the occasional bout of Thatcher-bashing were to be expected. That wasn’t unexpected, or especially dishonest. On the other hand, the rest of the movie – which imparted a lot of humanity on Manzoor’s very traditional Pakistani family and most of the movie’s other, very disparate characters – had me expecting much better of one of the side-conflicts; when “Javed” met his (inevitably left-wing) love interest’s (inevitably) Tory parents, they were portrayed with all the nuanced humanity of a Joe Piscopo sketch on SNL. It was a throwaway – and the movie would have been better had it been thrown away.

So do I recommend it? If you’re not a Springsteen fan, you may not “get” it. Or then maybe you will. Who knows?

If you are? It’d be interesting to see what you think.

ASIDE: By the way – the movie reminded me that my theory – Springsteen is America’s best conservative songwriter – has been completely vindicated this past year. I suspect this would be to the chagrin of a former regular commenter – but alas we’ll never know.

More coming in the next week.

Fakes Like Us

Springsteen on Broadway – the Broadway hit just released on Netflix – is, as Kyle Smith describes it in National Review,

…a luminous performance, an unexpected new late-career peak. His persona may be fake but his artistry is sublime.

Let’s back up a moment and talk about that “fake persona” bit. It stems from the show’s big opening admission – in Bruce’s words:

“I made it all up,” he tells the audience in his new Netflix special Springsteen on Broadway. “Bruce Springsteen” the persona — all gritty working-class authenticity — is a creation. “I’ve never held an honest job in my entire life!” he says. “I’ve never done any hard labor. I’ve never worked 9 to 5. I’ve never worked five days a week. Until right now.”

To be fair, this surprises nobody who’s followed Bruuuuuce this past, um (counts quickly) 40 years or so – as Dave Marsh showed in his classic bio “Born to Run” back in the early ’80s, he pretty much eschewed everything but playing in bands and building a following.

News flash – to succeed at something, you gotta live it every day, as someone once said.

And that’s one of the lines about the whole evening that resonated with me the most – because there are times I feel like I “made it all up” too; I’ve never had any formal training for any of the careers I’ve had – or even for any of the things I do for fun. My UX career? Tech writing before it? Music? Blogging and talk radio (OK, I had some OJT when I was a kid, but beyond being a DJ, nothing)? I decided I was gonna do them, and started doing them. After 20 years as a UXer, I still feel like someone’s going to bust me as a fraud someday.

Anyway – it’s a great show, and I hope you get a chance to see it on Netflix.

(And for those whose response is “I won’t listen to Bruce, since he’s teh liberal” – well, yeah, but in his prime he was also America’s best *conservative* songwriter, which makes some peoples’ heads melt, but I’m right and they’re wrong)


Variety does a two-part cover story on Bruce Springsteen.  And it’s worth a read, if you’re an uberfan.

And I guess I am.

Others are not – and among this blog’s audience, that’s in large part due to Springsteen’s limo-left politics.  I’ve always figured I care as much about musicians’ politics as I do about politicians’ iTunes playlists; I’ve also noted that if I limited my music by politics, I’d be listening to nothing but country-western and Ted Nugent.

But on the subject of politics:

I’m ambivalent about … sort of getting on a soapbox. I still believe people fundamentally come to music to be entertained — yes, to address their daily concerns, and yes, also to address political topics, I believe music can do that well. But I still believe fundamentally it’s an affair of the heart. People want you to go deeper than politics, they want you to reach inside to their most personal selves and their deepest struggles with their daily lives and reach that place; that’s the place I’m always trying to reach. I’d never make a record that’s just polemical, I wouldn’t release it if I did. To me, that’s just an abuse of your audience’s good graces. But if I’m moved, I’ll write, say, something like “American Skin” [inspired by the 1999 shooting death of Amadou Diallo by New York City Police officers — who were later acquitted]. That just rolled very naturally for me, and that’s as good a topical song as I’ve ever written. And when it comes up, I write ’em. If I felt that strongly, I’d do it now. But I watch myself, because I think you can weigh upon your audience’s indulgence in the wrong way.

Someone tell Katy Perry.  mu

Anyway – worth a read, if you’re a fan.

A Heart-Acheing Work Of Staggering Genius

Writing at, Caryn Rose ranks all 314 Bruce Springsteen songs 1 from worst to first.

First things first:  Rose found a break on one of the primary laws of Springsteen-fandom; there actually is a song worse than “Mary, Queen Of Arkansas” (from 1973’s Greetings From Asbury Park).  I won’t ruin the surprise.

But otherwise, it was a herculean job.  And by the time you get to the top 100, it had to be hard to rank ’em.  But she did a decent job.

I said “decent”. Not perfect.   There is no way “41 Shots” (#22) outscores “She’s the One (#24), among many other examples.

I’m here for the perfect.  I’ll do the real top 10.

  1. Born to Run
  2. Darkness on the Edge of Town
  3. This Hard Land
  4. Racing In The Street
  5. Thunder Road
  6. The Promised Land
  7. Rosalita
  8. The River
  9. Night
  10. Atlantic City

Still, a noble – and needed – effort.

1 That is to say, songs written by Springsteen that appeared on commercial releases.   Sorry, Seeger Sessions and forty years of “Steel Mill” bootlegs.

On My Wish List

Springsteen’s autobiography is due in stores shortly.

And at least one reviewer raves.

I do love this particular pull-quote:

“One of the points I’m making in the book is that, whoever you’ve been and wherever you’ve been, it never leaves you,” he said, expanding upon this thought with the most Springsteen-esque metaphor possible: “I always picture it as a car. All your selves are in it. And a new self can get in, but the old selves can’t ever get out. The important thing is, who’s got their hands on the wheel at any given moment?”

In Born to Run, the Bruce in the driver’s seat is often the kid or the conflicted young man who cowered or sulked in the presence of his father, Doug. The Springsteen catalogue abounds with songs about difficult father-son relationships, such as the recriminatory “Adam Raised a Cain,” the rueful “My Father’s House,” and the valedictory leaving-home ballad “Independence Day” (“The darkness of this house has got the best of us”), the last of which Springsteen introduced to the Gothenburg crowd as a song about “two people that love each other but struggle to understand one another.”

Book going on sale soon ?   I’ll be there on time, and I’ll pay the cost.

For the book, I mean.

(Not a Bruce fan?  Get your own blog).

Open Letter To Bruce Springsteen

To:  Bruce Springsteen
From:  Mitch Berg, Longtime Fan
Re:  Beliefs


As everyone knows, I’m a longtime fan – at least in part because you are, or at least were during your heyday, the writer of some of the most evocative music there is for conservatives.

Now comes news that you’ve cancelled your concerts in North Carolina, because of (the liberal media’s distorted version of) a rest-room bill.

Some, especially on my side of the political fence, will no doubt criticize you for this stance.

I, however, come to praise you for it.  Because, given that there are no doubt contractual obligations involved with your North Carolina appearances between your promoters, your production company, the venue and the countless vendors involved, not to mention tens of thousands of tickets for the event, you would seem to be risking a lot…

…to stand up for a businessperson’s right to not serve people they morally disagree with.


That is all.

The Street’s Alive, Secret Debts Are Paid

Born to Run  – for my money, one of the ten greatest albums in the history of American rock and roll, and of that list, one of my 2-3 favorites – turns thirty years old today.

No, wait – 1975?  That’s forty years go.


I’m going to re-run a post I first did on the album’s thirtieth anniversary.  Which is, itself, kind of a chronological whack in the head; I’ve been blogging long enough to cover two decennials of this album.

But it was one of my favorites when I first wrote it, and I’m glad to put it out there again.

Bruce Springsteen released Born To Run thirty years ago today.

Thirty years. The album is twice as old as I was when I first heard it.



I hear the album today, and it’s still just as fresh as it ever was. If Rock and Roll is a matter of crystalline moments that still cut and shine through the tarnish of the years and the background noise of everyday life, Born To Run is the mother of all diamonds.

I remember being a seventies-addled junior high kid, watching the guy at Mother’s Records in Jamestown – the one across from the high school – drop the needle on the first copy of Born To Run I ever saw, on the one hand thinking “no way it’s better thanBoston“, on the other hand looking at the sleeve – a 26 year old Bruce leaning on a 33 year old Clarence (with a Fender Freaking Telecaster Squire, in the middle of the heyday of the Gibson Les Paul, no less!), presaging the joy and tension and just plain ENERGY in the album, and thinking “Wow. That’s rock and roll”.

Clarence Clemons, Bruce, and Miami Steve, at Bruce’s UK debut in support of Born to Run, at the Hammersmith in London.

And then – Thunder Road:

The screen door slams, Mary’s dress sways
Like a vision she dances across the porch. As the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely
Hey that’s me and I want you only
Don’t turn me home again, I just can’t face myself alone again

A girl! Dancing on the porch! Sign me up!

Outtake from the Born to Run cover photo session.

All prelude of course, to the burst of energy to come that washed over me, that shot a chill up my spine:

With a chance to make it good somehow
Hey what else can we do now?
Except roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair
Well the night’s busting open
This two lanes will take us anywhere
We got one last chance to make it real
To trade in these wings on some wheels
Climb in back, Heaven’s waiting on down the tracks…

Bruce has done better albums (Darkness on the Edge of Town, Tunnel of Love), he’s had records that sold more albums (Born In The USA) – but no album, before or since, has ever had moments like Born To Run.

It breaks my heart just a little that two of the three guys in this 1975 pic – organist Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons – are gone now.

Moments – it’s a prosaic word, but in the world of Mitch, as applied to Rock and Roll, it has a very specific meaning that, for purposes of explanation, I should make clear; a “moment” is something, some tiny snippet of a song, that sends a chill up your spine, that rattles you to the core of your being. They can be huge and dramatic (Roger Daltrey’s scream in “Won’t Get Fooled Again”), or light and subtle (Susannah Hoffs’ cooing “to a perfect world” at the end of “Dover Beach”, from the first Bangles album); they can be part of a great song (the final “to bring the victory Jesus won…” in U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, the murderous guitar hooks in Big Country’s “Where The Rose Is Sown”, the bridge in Smokey Robinson’s “Cruisin’”), a mediocre one (the final coda in the Alarm’s “Blaze of Glory”, the bridges in the Babies’ “Isn’t It Time”), even a crappy one (Neil Schon’s entrance in Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”), it can beat you over the head (the beginning of Barry Goudreau’s blazing final solo in Boston’s “Long Time”), it can seduce you (the mournful, whispered chorus of Richard Thompson’s “Jenny”, Aimee Mann’s transclucent last line of the last verse of Til Tuesday’s “Coming Up Close”). You get the picture.

Moments are ephemeral, unpredictable. Most artists never have one (Laura Brannigan and Dee Snider searched their whole careers in vain); most albums never send a single chill up a lonely spine. A single such moment can redeem an otherwise mediocre career; the world could forget the Monkees, Roxette, 10,000 Maniacs, the Cars and Abba tomorrow, but I’d love them for a grand total of maybe fifteen seconds worth of moments among them (brief snippets of “I’m A Believer”, “It’s All Over Now”, “These Are Days”, “Bye Bye Love” and “SOS”, two-second flares of pop brilliance that are all I need). A talent for such moments – the ability to create more than one or two on a couple of albums – is a rare thing indeed, almost mythical. Pete Townsend, Ray Davies, Chuck D, Lennon/McCartney, Paul Westerberg, Chrissy Hynde (until about 1985), Bono/The Edge, Stuart Adamson, Smokey Robinson, Levi Stubbs, Aimee Mann – it’s a small, select list.

The Born to Run era E Street Band; Clarence Clemons, Steve Van Zandt, Max Weinberg, Bruce, Roy Bittan, Danny Federici, Gary Tallent.

And in no album are there more such moments jammed so tightly together, moments enough to define the careers of a dozen other artists, moments that, thirty years later, still thrill and chill and drag you out into onto the Jersey Turnpike of the mind in Dad’s jalopy. None. Ever:

  • Thunder Road – “…roll down the window”, “it’s a town full of losers, and I’m pulling outta here to win…”
  • Tenth Avenue Freezeout – “While Scooter and the big man bust this city in half!”
  • Night – Almost too many to count – the frenetic opening, the raw harmonies of the first verse, the bridge (“Hell, all night, they’re busting you up on the outside…”)
  • Backstreets – The crescendo when the entire band joins, the exit from the bridge (“…but I hated him, and I hated you when you want away – whoooooah”, raw with aching and longing and unrequited pain)
  • The title cut – Again, too many to catalog; “Boom” Carter’s half-bar drum intro, “Beyond the palace, hemi-powered drones…”, the moment when Bruce counts off the beat to the last verse…
  • She’s The One – The band stomping into the Bo Diddley beat from the intro, heavy enough to crush rocks but deft enough to dance to – in fact, impossible not to dance to.
  • Meeting Across The River – All the sly little moments that tell us the song is about a couple of desperate losers looking for the big break; “Here, stuff this in your pocket, it’ll look like you’re carrying a friend…”
  • Jungleland – Too many to list; the first “Down…in…Jun…gle…Laaaaand”, the glorious guitar solo, “…in the parking lots the visionaries dress in the latest rage…, and of course, the song’s cornerstone “…and the poets down here write nothing at all, they just stand back and let it all be…”

Born To Run is the encyclopedia of rock and roll – one moment at a time.

And thirty years later, it still crackles like static from the speakers, feeling barely controlled, throbbing with potential energy (“Backstreets’” ominous buildup) and thundering with explosive release (“Night”), careening from smokey barroom to dragstrip to rumble to backseat like one of those lost weekend evenings from your teens – or the teenage years you imagined other people having – packed into a sleeve.

Born to Run is one of those rare records that feels as good today as the day it was released; it hasn’t aged or dated itself one iota; one of those bits of art that will long outlive its creator.

One moment at a time.

My writing has changed a bit in the past ten years.  So has Bruce’s.

But Born to Run has stuck with me, through my own 35 or so years of over-the-top fandom, like few other albums ever.

Politics?  Who cares.  I mean, yes – between 1975 and 1987 Bruce wrote a cavalcade of songs that couldn’t resonate with conservatives more if he had campaigned for Steve Forbes in 2000 – but again, some things are just more important than politics.

Anyway.  I’m outta here for the rest of the day, hanging out with the Duke Street Kings.

Børn Til Løpen

Springsteen apparently cameo-ing in Miami Steve’s Netflix series Lillyhammer:

Nellie Andreeva reports Lilyhammer Season 3 buzz on “I hear Van Zandt’s The Sopranos co-star Tony Sirico has joined the upcoming third season in a recurring role, and Van Zandt’s longtime E Street Band mate Bruce Springsteen will be making a guest appearance.” According to the Deadline story, filming has takenis taking place in New York.

Peter Wallace, of Lilyhammer’s home network, Norwegian TV channel NRK, has confirmed with Dagbladet today that Springsteen does indeed play a part in the next season, to air later this year on NRK (as well as Netflix in the U.S., date not yet announced). Wallace does not describe Bruce’s actual role — Andreeva hears that Springsteen will “play the owner of a mortuary” — but states that he’ll appear at the end of the season


Today’s Musical Palate-Cleanser

If you’ve got sixteen minutes to spare, here’s an answer to the question “so was the E Street Band ever any more than three chords and a big finish?”

That’s “Kitty’s Back” – a deep deep cut from 1974’s The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle,from 1975’s legendary Hammersmith Odeon gig.  

It’s frustrating, sometimes, to observe that the E Street Band hasn’t played anything like this in a couple of decades.

When Scooter And The Big Man Busted This City In Half

It was July 1, 1984.  I took off from Jamestown at around 5AM in – what else? – my ’73 Monte Carlo with a 396, Fuellie heads and a Hurst on the floor, and drove through a long, hot July day.   Poring over my Amoco map of the Twin Cities – where I’d never driven before – I got to Saint Paul, pulled off the Marion Street exit and parked up by the Cathedral (where a friend of mine had parked the car when we drove down to see The Who in 1982), and made my way down Kellogg to downtown Saint Paul around 2 in the afternoon.

I wandered down to Saint Peter and then Wabasha street, back in the days when there were still stores between Fourth and Sixth streets across from Dayton’s and Ecolab,  dazzled by the hustle and bustle of downtown Saint Paul.

I did mention I was from North Dakota, right?  And that “hustle and bustle” were very relative concepts?  Compared to Fargo – the biggest city I’d ever spent serious time in – Saint Paul was kinda hustly and bustly. 

In those days, anyway. 

Some of the landmarks from my wandering are still there; the Coney Island still has the exact same hand-scrawled paper “Under Renovation” sign today that it had back then, I think; I thought about eating at Mickey’s Diner, but it was too crowded and I wanted a damn beer.  Others – the Burger King/Taco Johns in the funny glass building on 5th, across from Daytons; Daytons itself; Brady’s Pub, where I stopped for a burger and a beer for lunch, Gallivan’s – are long gone.

After lunch, I wandered down Fifth to the Plaza in front of the old Civic Center. 

The old Saint Paul Civic Center.

 It was getting toward three in the afternoon; I heard some noises inside, and it sounded like the band was getting into its soundcheck.  The plaza – including the long row of stairs leading to the endless rank of doors – was thronged with people, mostly looking for tickets.  I walked past, listening to the sound of a bass guitar tuning up.

And I figured “nothing ventured, nothing gained”.

I walked to the very leftmost of the long row of doors that overlooked 7th and Kellogg, and gave it a furtive tug, expecting to find it locked.

It wasn’t.  It pulled open a few inches; I could hear someone tapping on a drum set.

Understand – I was never much of a rule-breaker.  I was always terrified of being in trouble.

But I checked to make sure nobody was watching, inside or outside, and slipped indoors.

I hustled across the concourse to a gate, stepped inside…

…and saw the E Street Band, down on the stage, a level below me.  Nearest me was the Big Man, with his sax, wearing sweats and a cap.  Danny Federici was on the riser behind him, checking registrations on his Hammond.  Nills Lofgren was warming up downstage.  Max Weinberg tapped drums as the sound guy rang out the room.  Gary Tallent played some scales; Roy Bittan noodled on the keyboard.   Then they stopped, chatted, and then Max counted four, and they launched into an instrumental of “Glory Days”, as the sound crew adjusted levels.

I grabbed a seat, and watched the band, and listen to the sound guys tweaking the levels, and just marinated in the whole wanton lawnlessness of it all.

About the time the song ended, someone tapped my shoulder.  It was a roadie, in a black t-shirt and jeans.  I half expected to get my ass kicked – and it would have been worth it, honestly.

“Excuse me, sir…”

“Yeah, I know”, I responded, getting up.  “I’ll leave”.

The roadie nodded.  “Thanks”.  He was downright polite about the whole thing.  “Hey, before you go – how did you get in?”

I showed the roadie the unlocked door, and he thanked me as I stepped back out onto the plaza.   I walked down to Kellogg…

…as a white Olds Cutlass with a “Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band “Born in the USA Tour 1984″ Tour” decal rolled past.  In the passenger seat was Bruce.

I waved.

He waved back.

I walked down to Paddy McGovern’s for another beer.  I had some time to kill.

So technically that – and not the actual concert, still 5-6 hours away – was the first time I ever saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band live. 


Eventually – the doors opened at 7, I think – I got into the building legally, found my seat (row 59 on the floor),  and waited for the show.  And waited.

And waited.

And finally – right around 9PM – the lights went down, the crowd got on its feet, the band filtered onstage in the dark, and a spotlight picked out Springsteen at the mike.  He counted off four, and Bittan’s skirling synths and Weinberg’s drums kicked off “Born in the USA”.

The rest of the show?  It’s a blur – and yet vast swathes of the show are as clear in my head as if I’d just seen the show:

  • Born in the U.S.A. – In its full, bombastic glory.
  • Prove It All Night – Nils Lofgren – who was a world-class guitar hero and solo artist for over a decade before joining the E Street Band – got to take an extended solo, trading licks with Bruce during an explosive, eight minute version of those Darknessera classic.  
  • Out in the Street –  This was where Patti Scialfa ran out onto the stage and made her debut; it took me completely by surprise (I had avoided reading any reviews of the show’s first night, two nights earlier).  
  • Reason to Believe – As I recall, it was a sort of rockabillyish arrangement of the Nebraska classic. 
  • Atlantic City – I had always dreamed about doing a full-band arrangement of this song.  This one was it; huge, thunderous, everything I’d thought it should have been.
  • Open All Night
  • Mansion on the Hill  – Open All Night and Mansion on the Hill were kind of a test; after the powerhouse opening, switching to a couple of numbers with just Bruce and Nils on acoustic guitar.  Some of the crowd wanted to rock – but for the most part, people stayed tuned in.
  • Darlington County – After the downbeat Nebraska segment, the party started again. 
  • Glory Days
  • The Promised Land Then as now, one of my favorites.
  • Used Cars
  • My Hometown – along with Used Cars, another slower sweep – although My Hometown was a gloriously intense full-band arrangment.
  • Badlands – Aaand the reward to everyone for hanging in there during the quiet part of the set; the roof may not have come off the Civic, but it sure came off of me.
  • Thunder Road

I think the band stepped out for a brief intermission here. 

  • Cadillac Ranch
  • Hungry Heart
  • Dancing in the Dark 
  • Sherry Darling
  • Nebraska
  • Pink Cadillac
  • Fire
  • Bobby Jean
  • Ramrod
  • Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)  – We didn’t quite realize how lucky we were; they stopped performing this one on tour not long after, and only played it rarely live for many more years.

And then the band left the stage.

And returned a few minutes later to play an encore:

  • I’m a Rocker  – It had been kind of a light, trifling garage-rocker on The River – but here, it was an epic, thundering anthem.
  • Jungleland  – The lights came down, and Bruce started the first verse…and forgot the words.  And as he stole a look at a cheat sheet, the crowd of 18,000 finished the verse until Bruce got back on top of the lyrics.
  • Born to Run (segue into) Street Fighting Man  – This medley alone was worth a blog post of its very own.  The band tore through “Born To Run” the way it was meant to be torn through.  And then – as the band vamped through the ending of the song, Bruce counted four, and the house lights came on, and the band ripped into a full-electric version of by far my favorite Rolling Stones song.  And I stood on my chair – I hadn’t actually sat in it since intermission – and looked around at 18,000 people dancing in the aisles.  And I got a little dizzy from the sheer sensation of the whole thing; it may have been the most perfect rock and roll moment I’ve seen.

They left the stage again – but the crowd would have none of it.

  • Detroit Medley  – of which not much needs to be said.

The concert let out around 1AM.  I debouched onto the street with the rest of the crowd, and made a beeline for my car, up by the Cathedral.

And as I walked up Cathedral Hill, I thought – yeah, it ain’t no sin to be glad your alive.

And as I walked up a side street toward my car, I looked back at Saint Paul, all lit up and teeming with people and knew it; I just had to start angling my life plans toward getting out of North Dakota after I graduated.

(For those who were around at the time?  No, it was the second night of the tour.  I didn’t get tickets for the first night, June 29, at the Civic – the opening night of the entire tour.  The one where they filmed the “Dancing in the Dark” video, in which a very young Courney Cox, planted in the audience, was introduced to the world via a “live” vid produced by Brian DePalma. Sure, you remember it.

But it was pretty cool anyway.  Here’s a fanpage with a ton of scanned memorabilia from the June 29 show, and a much less complete set of swag and quotes from the show I was at.  And here’s the complete audio from the June 29 show – the opening night of the Born in the USA tour, two nights earlier).

Oh, yeah – the ticket?  For 59th row on the floor?  $16.50.

I Will Confess…

…I’ve pondered the idea of this band covering this song:

…although it was more one of those “what if Napoleon had a B-52 at Waterloo” sorts of things.

Oh, yeah – it’s the E Street Band playing “Highway to Hell” in Perth Australia, as a tribute to native Perthian Bon Scott.

(Closed circuit to Tom Morello; lower your damn guitar.  You look like you need more fiber in your diet with your guitar cinched up around your ribcage.  That is all).

For The Tourists

Last year was the fortieth anniversary of Greetings from Asbury Park, New Jersey – Bruce Springsteen’s first major-label record.

In those forty years, he’s released seventeen studio albums (#18 due in mere days), been bootlegged more than almost any other artist, written a staggering amount of material, developed a repuation as the best life performer in the business, and been recognized as the best American songwriter of a generation…

…and gone through some creative doldrums (1990-2000) that make even the unabashed fanboys (like yours truly) rub our heads and change the subject to Darkness on the Edge of Town.  

And even for a committed fanboy, it’s hard to explain to a newbie exactly what it’s all about.

Steven Hyden – who notes that he attended the same concert at the Target Center that I did, back in 1999 – takes a “Hot Or Not”-style whack at the oeuvre, giving an “Overrated”, “Underrated” or “Properly Rated” to an assortment of mileposts in Springsteen’s career; the studio albums, live albums, outtakes collections, live performances, members of the E-Street Band, videos, and various bits of pop-culture ephemera. 

And I’m only going to quibble with Hyden on three of his ratings;

First:  Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez was a lousy drummer.  Listen to “Kitty’s Back” or “Incident on 57th Street” or even “Rosalita”, from The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle; the beat speeds up and slows down without warning, and that’s what they decided to put on a major-label release.  How much worse were the out-takes? 

Second?  While “Fire” is a good song, and “Light of Day” is a great one, “Because The Night” is still the best Springsteen song not originally released by Springsteen:  It’s just a fact.

And while Hyden and I agree – Darkness on the Edge of Town is both of our favorite Bruce album – Hyden focuses on its rock-critic-friendly cynicism and world-weariness.  For me, it’s nearly the opposite; the record resonates for anyone who identifies with deep isolation, with a place outside the American mainstream, whether you’re across the river from Manhattan or across 100 miles of sod from a city that gets more than two TV channels. 

(And while he’s right – Live from Hammersmith Odeon is far and away the best “official” live release of Bruce’s career, the very unofficial “Live at the Capitol Theater”, recently posted in its entirety on Youtube, may count as another essential, if lower-gloss, live recording worth listening to)

On the other hand, Hyden distilled perhaps the iconic image of the young, male, non-Jersey Springsteen fan in his review ofBorn to Run:

There’s a particular brand of vanity that exists in certain kinds of young men between the ages of 19 and 27 where it’s vitally important to present a façade that is equal parts masculine, feminine, tough, and sensitive. For instance (and this example is purely hypothetical and not at all autobiographical), this certain kind of young man may drive around alone late on rainy nights — he actually chooses to drive when it rains because it is appropriately evocative for his inner emotional geography — while listening to Clarence Clemons’s sax solo on “Jungleland.” And when he feels himself starting to cry, he will look in the rearview mirror in order to stare at his own tears. He knows he will never tell anyone that he cries alone to the sounds of the Big Man’s titanic blowing, but he guesses that strangers will sense it, and this will make him appear soulful. (Forgive him. He is a little naive and very silly.) It doesn’t matter that the lyrics of “Jungleland” have virtually nothing to do with his life — he’s pretty sure that the only people for whom “kids flash guitars just like switchblades” represents reality are Danny Zuko and Kenickie. But this song is still his avatar, and he’s confident it always will be.

And on some of those dark, rainy nights, he still just may.

(Except for the crying.  Because – dude).

Anyway – you be the judge.

And All Is Right With The World

Our government is doing its best to show you who serves who, here.

In a few years, the Chinese are going to be able to yank our nation’s chain and say “bark for your meal, bitch”.

Our state is run by bobbleheads, and the only pro sports team we have that isn’t a perennial embarassment is the WNBA team, which is itself a form of perennial embarassment.

But before you stick that .40 S&W in your mouth, just wait.

Because someone released the entire September 19, 1978 Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at the Capitol Theater in Passaic NJ concert – one of the greatest concerts ever recorded, ever, ever, in really really high quality audio.

All three hours and 55 minutes of it.

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Bruce Springsteen Is America’s Greatest Conservative Songwriter, Part X: The Local Cops Rip This Holy Night

I’m gonna give you a two-fer here.  We’ll cover two of Andrew Sullivan’s definitions of what makes  a conservative in one article, since they’re both just a tad thin.

The first of the two – “Conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism“?  Gotta confess, that one’s pretty thin throughout the history of rock and roll.  I’ll cop to it; other than “meeting beneath that giant Exxon sign”, or driving out to Greasy Lake, or meeting at Mary’s Place, it doesn’t pop up much.

We’ll let that one slide for now.

The other – “the Conservative recognizes the need for prudent restraint on power and passion?”

Well, there’s always “Roulette”, the often-bootlegged anti-nuke anthem:

Which isn’t really close, but it’s such a cool recording I don’t care much.

More seriously?

We’ll be back with the final parts of this series later in the week.

Bruce Springsteen Is America’s Greatest Conservative Songwriter, Part IX: I Built The Challenger By Myself

One of the fundamental tenets of the “classical liberalism” that is the basis of modern conservatism is the idea first recorded by John Locke – that men form governments to protect life, liberty and private property; that private property was in fact a cornerstone of real liberty, and that protecting it against the depredations of government and of other people is a key justification for having a government.  To put it in Andrew Sullivan’s words – because it’s his definitions of “classical conservative” that I’m using as the basis for this exercise – “Conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked”.

If we have no property rights, then we have no rights.

Now, John Locke isn’t a common theme in the history of rock and roll.  And private property has had a mixed history in popular music; it’s been a metaphor for rites of passage (Jan and Dean’s “409”), or the high life (“Baubles, Bangles and Beads” by everyone from Eartha Kitt to Frank Sinatra) and a yardstick for swagger (“Beamer, Benz or Bentley” by gangster-rapper Lloyd Banks), but also for evil (“I’d Love To Change The World” by Ten Years’ After’s called us to “Tax the rich, feed the poor, ’til there ain’t no rich no more”).

And you can look in vain for references to Locke or Payne or Franklin – in Springsteen’s catalog, and can find plenty on his later albums and his real life as re politics that contradicts them all.

But this series isn’t about proving Springsteen is, personally, a conservative (faith-based blogger Dog Gone’s endless repetitions notwithstanding); it’s about explaining why his music resonates with conservatives.

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Bruce Springsteen Is America’s Greatest Conservative Songwriter, Part VIII: Just A Meanness In This World

SIDE NOTE:  It’s amazing how life can derail a guy’s plans.  While – as is my wont with these long series – much of the rough material was put together in October and November, I held off on actually putting it into a written form, thinking it’d give me something to do during the two-month stretch between the election and the opening of the state legislature, when I’m usually too burned out on politics to care much.

Of course, this past eight weeks of battling for the Second Amendment has derailed a bit of that plan.

But while the battle against Barack Rex carries on, it’s time to make time for the fun stuff.

Or what is for me the fun stuff, anyway.


This is a quick one, though.

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Bruce Springsteen Is America’s Greatest Conservative Songwriter, Part VII

In “The Promised Land” – a song that constantly flits about the top of most hard-core Springsteen fans’ lists of favorite songs – paints a bleak picture for the everyday schlub:

I done my best to live the right way
I get up every morning and go to work each day.
But your eyes go blind, and your blood runs cold,
sometimes I feel so weak I just wanna explode

Explode and tear this old town apart,
take a knife and cut this pain from my heart,
find somebody itchin’ for something to start…

And then the last verse tees up:

Well, there’s a dark cloud rising, ‘cross the desert floor
I’ve packed my bags, and I’m headed straight into the storm
Gonna be a twister to blow everything down
that ain’t got the faith to stand its ground.

Blow away the dreams that break your heart.

Blow away the dreams that tear you apart
Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted…

The song – which is on the surface about a young buck butting his head against a status quo leaving him, in the immortal words of Howard the Duck, “trapped in a world that he never made”.  And beneath the surface?  It’s about everyone trying to stake their claim in the world while they can, and railing against the petty and not-so-petty things that badger and hector you on the way there…

…and noting, obliquely, another of the key facets of what being a conservative really means: the idea that the only true forms of equality are equality at the Last Judgment and equality before a just court of law.

Humans and the societies they build are intensely imperfect, and that the only justice you’re ever going to see is from something – a higher power, in this case, in the metaphorical form of a tornado – that cares not for your specifics, or of that against which you’re banging your head.

The notion that there is an existing, higher moral order is easy; every political and cultural liberal believes it (although cultural liberals and conservative see the source of that order differently).  The idea that we, petty humans that we are, stand on the shoulders of giants and can only rarely improve on them and their ideas is harder; the idea that we can change the world “for the better” is so wound up in the ideals of liberals that they call themselves “progressives”.

But the idea that absolute equality only exists (outside of the purely legalistic, and then only when everyone involves has a lot of integrity) above and beyond this world is the province of the cultural conservative.


Bruce Springsteen Is America’s Greatest Conservative Songwriter, Part VI: The Hearts That’ve Been Broken Stand As The Price You Pay

In the world of Rock and Roll, in the words of Neil Young, “it’s better to burn out than fade away”.

In the world of Bruce Springsteen’s music, when characters screw up, they flame out big-time – and usually take other people down with ’em.

In “Johnny 99”, from Nebraska, the protagonist – “Ralph” – gets laid off from a job at a car plant. He gets “too drunk from mixing Tangueray and Wine” – itself a major botch – and shoots a night clerk. It instantly changes his life; he goes from being a regular guy to a lifer overnight. His life is completely screwed, he declares as he’s sentenced.

Now judge I had debts no honest man could pay

The bank was holdin’ my mortgage and they were gonna take my house away

Now I ain’t sayin’ that makes me an innocent man

But it was more `n all this that put that gun in my hand


Well your honor I do believe I’d be better off dead

So if you can take a man’s life for the thoughts that’s in his head

Then sit back in that chair and think it over judge one more time

And let `em shave off my hair and put me on that killin’ line

Clearly, the character of Ralph/Johnny didn’t preconsider his actions according to the long-term consequences one might expect from them – but then if Mr. 99 had merely thrown up and gone to bed, the song would be a pretty mundane commentary on the human condition. People do act in ways that ignore their actions’ long-term consequences, in ways big and small, all the time.

And there’s the point.

Another of conservatism’s key tenets is the idea of prudence; a conservative measures actions against their likely long-term consequences, and tries to decide and act accordingly.

They also recognize – as Johnny 99 did not, until the end of the song – the consequences of failing at this.

And among the many reasons Springsteen’s music resonates with conservatives is that the characters, for decades, illustrated the princple, in ways positive and negative, in a way that sounds like…

…well, real life.

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Bruce Springsteen Is America’s Greatest Conservative Songwriter, Part V: The Cross Of My Calling

Rock and roll has always been, ostensibly, about upsetting the existing order.  In the beginning, its very existence upended what passed for “order” in popular culture, at least to the extent of helping create a “youth culture” – something that’d never existed before, and really started in America.  As culture and the genre evolved through the sixties, pop music smeared itself in the “revolutionary” rhetoric of the rest fo the counterculture; in the seventies, the punk counter-counterculture (at least in the English art-school variety) flipped the hippies’ putative idealism on its head in an orgy of self-indulgent nihilism.  Post-punks – U2 would be the most famous and enduring of the bunch) in turn, flipped that on its head in an welter of often self-righteous activism.

And against that backdrop, the music of Bruce Springsteen has always been refreshingly non-revolutionary. Continue reading

Bruce Springsteen Is America’s Greatest Conservative Songwriter, Part IV: Learn To Live With What You Can’t Rise Above

It’s a little-noticed verse of a song buried in Bruce Springsteen’s biggest studio album:

Now, honey, I don’t wanna clip your wings
But a time comes when two people should think of these things
Having a home and a family,
facing up to their responsibilities

They say in the end true love prevails
But in the end true love can’t be no fairytale
To say I’ll make your dreams come true would be wrong
But maybe, darlin’, I could help them along

It’s from “I Wanna Marry You”, from The River.  It’s a nice, simple, romantic little trifle.  Given Springsteen’s personal life over the past 25 years, it’d be easy to call it “ironic”…

…but again, the series isn’t about any artist’s personal life, or personal beliefs.  It’s about the resonances his audience finds in the music.

The next tenet of conservatism we’re covering is that conservatives adhere to custom, convention, and continuity (provided ones customs and conventions continue things that are worth continuing – which we’ll get to later on in the series).

And shelve the past twenty-five years of history – because this is about as customary, conventional and continuous as one gets:

Little girl, I wanna marry you
Oh yeah, little girl, I wanna marry you
Yes I do, little girl, I wanna mary you.

My daddy said right before he died
that true, true love was just a lie.
He went to his grave a broken heart
An unfulfilled life, darlin’, makes a man hard

No apple-carts upset here, right?

Of course, there’s a lot more to custom and tradition than that.

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Bruce Springsteen Is America’s Greatest Conservative Songwriter, Part III: The Ties That Bind

In the song “Darlington County” (from Born in the USA), a couple of ne’er-do-wells drive south to find a little work and raise a little ruckus:

Hey little girl standing on the corner,
Todays your lucky day for sure, all right.
Me and my buddy we’re from New York City,
we got two hundred dollars, we want to rock all night.

Girl you’re looking at two big spenders,
Why the world don’t know what me and Wayne might do
Our pa’s each own one of the World Trade Centers,
For a kiss and a smile I’ll give mine all to you…

At the end of the song, we find out how it went:

Driving out of darlington county
My eyes seen the glory of the coming of the Lord
Driving out of darlington county
Seen Wayne handcuffed to the bumper of a state trooper’s Ford

It’s comic trifle – the whole song is, really.  But it hints at a theme conservatives believe as a part of being conservative; that the world has an enduring moral order.  That there is a battle between right and wrong, Yin and Yang, good and evil – and that right and good are better, and should be exalted, or at least striven for.

“Wayne” ran afoul that order – with comic results, unless you’re “Wayne”, I suppose.

But it’s usually a lot deeper than that.

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