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.

11 thoughts on “For The Tourists

  1. I had a message in my inbox from Sirius XM today promoting an interview Dave Marsh is doing with Springsteen this Saturday morning at 9:30 CST on E Street Radio (XM Channel 20). Several re-broadcasts will also be scheduled. There will be interviews and album cuts.

  2. Humma crawl way out on a wavering branch here and say that Dylan, the Dead, and the Stones have been bootlegged a whole bunch more than The Boss. Of course, on an adjusted career-years basis, maybe it evens up.

  3. NW: Hmmm. Might have to look into this.

    MNB: I did say “one of the most…”. The Dead actually encourage and facilitate bootlegging, and always have, so the comparison is off.

  4. 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?

    I agree, but I love ’em all anyway, especially Kitty’s Back. I recognize that Darkness is better, but I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle,” which was my introduction to Springsteen.

  5. Kinlaw: The “Holy Trinity”, as they’re called. No, I didn’t make that up.

    D: No argument. I love WIESS. The whole album. But as a musician, some parts are *almost* distracting. And that’s not what a drummer is supposed to do.

  6. My three favorites are the first three, Greetings, Wild and BTR. Darkness grew on me as time went on, as did Nebraska. The River was too uneven and a bit self-parodying in my opinion, and I liked Born in the USA when it came out (though unlike some of his other albums, I seem to like it less as time goes on). Didn’t care for Tunnel of Love and listened mainly to the Triple-Live album for my Springsteen fix throughout the Human Touch, Lucky Town, et al era until The Rising, which I really liked and still listen to all the way through from time to time. Since then, though, I’ve listened more out of curiousity than passion.

  7. My ratings:

    Greetings: C+ (loses a half grade point for “Mary Queen of Arkansas”)
    Wild: B-
    BTR: A+
    Darkness: A+
    The River: A+ (I get your criticisms, but I love every minute of it).
    Nebraska: A (Started strong, faded, re-grew on me)
    Born in the USA: A- (probably the same review you have of the River)
    Live ’75-85: A (hard to go wrong)
    Tunnel of Love: A- (Liked it to begin with; grew on me as I got married and had kids)
    Human Touch: C- (maybe 1-2 songs I care to hear again, ever)
    Lucky Town: C+ (A few notably good songs)
    Tom Joad: D+ (I do like Youngstown. The rest of it was just too preachy and stylized)
    The Rising: A (Still love it).
    Devils and Dust: C+
    Magic: B (It wasn’t half bad)
    Seeger Sessions: B (A very well done album I never asked for)
    Wrecking Ball: C+ (LIke you said – more curiosity than passion).

  8. You forgot Working on a Dream..which get’s a D- for no other reason than Outlaw Pete, which rivals Mary Queen of Arkansas for it’s unlistenability. It is nothing but a rip off of a bad Kiss song. Also The Promise, which gets a B (many of those songs could have been on Darkness had it been a double album.)

    I was in 11th grade when I went to my first Springsteen show in ’88. Saw the “Other” band in ’93, saw him solo acoustic in a 1500 seat theater in Strassbourg, France in ’96 (which was freaking AWESOME), and have seen many post E Street reunion shows. To me it begins and ends with Darkness, BTR, Nebraska and The River — in that order. Agree with you on BITUSA, I like it less and less as time goes by. Everything post The Rising is too political, and mostly dreck (Magic and WOAD in particular) — although Wrecking Ball gets a B-. No one puts on a live show like he does though! I’m looking forward to taking my kids to a show the next time he comes through town — hopefully in support of High Hopes.

  9. I also for time got very into Tunnel of Love (on cassette for you old timers, heh); favorite songs were “All That Heaven Will Allow” and “When You’re Alone”.

    Also love the song “Lucky Town”, but I can’t really remember much else from that record. Yes, that was my last vinyl purchase!

    My garage band is trying to decide on a Bruce song to play; my picks are “No Surrender” and “Lucky Town”, but nothing has been decided yet.

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