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.