Who’s The Boss?

I don’t like Bruce Springsteen. Let me rephrase that: I don’t like the music of Bruce Springsteen. Let me revise that revision: I don’t like the music of the E Street Band. I love Nebraska. I love and have many fine memories of The Ghost Of Tom Joad (and the live bootlegs we would carry and listen to at Wherehouse Records in East Lansing). I don’t care for the big, overblown sound of the E Street band, the honking of Clarence Clemons, the keyboards, and the whole shebang. Much of this I owe to being 10 at the time of Born in The USA and having that music saturate the airwaves of my youth. I didn’t like it then and it just doesn’t do it for me now. Years later when I heard the REAL version of “Born in the USA” (it was meant for Nebraska) I found I could appreciate it and really re-discover the song.

Old Guy Trio

Rock on, gentlemen, rock on.

Now disliking the music of a certain artist can be entirely separate from respecting or even feeling an affinity for the artist. You see, I think Bruce Springsteen is really cool. When I read his lyrics, stripped of the sounds I don’t care for, I really respect his vision and what he is working to capture in his songs. I wish he would retire all those old songs, “Born to Run” in particular, or limit his audience to the current crop of people who are affected by today’s economy and crises. A friend told me about a Springsteen concert after he started touring again with the E Street Band full of 45-year-old men pumping their fists in the air and singing along. I expect it to be worse now, with people sticking their iPhones in the air to “capture the moment forever.” It has become pap, a commodity, a way to re-live a time when you were young, angry, passionate, and working towards something rather than paying 400 bucks for tickets, 40 bucks for a shirt, 40 bucks for gas, and 60 bucks for the nanny for the kids. I don’t fault Springsteen, but a maturing audience and a maturing artist will only diverge as time goes forward.

The last time I accidentally bumped into Springsteen on the tube, he was a guest on Elvis Costello’s incredibly addictive program Spectacle. I wish there was no live audience on the show, as every time they pan out to the star-struck and mewling faces I get a grouchy feeling. On one episode I saw Malcolm Gladwell and Steve Buscemi in the crowd, and something about that tandem distracted me. On the Springsteen episode, Elvis talked with Bruce and Springsteen said something that made me really like him about ten times more. He quoted a Costello song. Not “Alison,” not “Watching the Detectives,” nothing that anyone would know, but “Green Shirt,” from Armed Forces, and its line, “Who put these fingerprints on my imagination?” Then he donned a dinner jacket and sang Sam & Dave songs with Costello. At that moment, in my mid-thirties, I finally felt a connection to Springsteen. Coupled with a YouTube video I found of Springsteen singing “Keep The Car Running” with Arcade Fire, my level of respect grew. Springsteen is a music fan. Sure, he’s in the business, but he is a fan. And when he used that Costello line, he made me realize that he is a part of the club too. And somehow that took the sting and bile out of thinking about all those people with their cellphones. They’re all fans, they’re all a part of something bigger, and in that moment they’re happy. And there is really nothing wrong about that.

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Comments
9 Responses to “Who’s The Boss?”
  1. Mike Vincent says:

    Listen to the guy at the start and finish of the video. The way he says, HOLY SHIIIIIIIT, at the end is the sound and feeling of being a fan of something great.

  2. SM says:

    I’m impressed that you can peal away the parts of the art that you don’t like in order to appreciate the parts you do. That’s cool. Also, I understand the challenges of separating the fans from the music. I used to have the same problem when I’d see TMBG live, but then I got better.

  3. Marile Cloete says:

    Not many people can separate the person and the issue the way you have done in this post. Thank you!

  4. Tim Carmody says:

    I think like you, Mike, Springsteen-as-music-fan is where I connect with him. It’s not just the sound of the E Street Band that I get turned off by, it’s the persona he put on, or that was put on him, particularly c. Born in the USA. (Born to Run, The River, Darkness on the Edge of Town — I can get into those.)

    Springsteen isn’t that guy. He’s Elliott Smith without the drug problems — the lonely guy in his bedroom, strumming out whispered songs to himself.

    In particular, whenever you get a chance, listen to Springsteen talk about Roy Orbison, or play with Roy on the Black/White special. He works in a reference to Orbison in “Thunder Road” (which he said was inspired by Orbison’s similarly unstructured, sweeping ballads). Or Dylan circa “Like A Rolling Stone.” Everyone kisses Dylan’s ass, but Springsteen does it with so much sensitivity and intelligence, he just wins you over every time.

    Plus, he was a figment of imagination in High Fidelity, and was pretty good at it. That goes a long way with me.

  5. Oran Kelley says:

    ” A friend told me about a Springsteen concert after he started touring again with the E Street Band full of 45-year-old men pumping their fists in the air and singing along. I expect it to be worse now, with people sticking their iPhones in the air to “capture the moment forever.” It has become pap, a commodity, a way to re-live a time when you were young, angry, passionate, and working towards something rather than paying 400 bucks for tickets, 40 bucks for a shirt, 40 bucks for gas, and 60 bucks for the nanny for the kids. I don’t fault Springsteen, but a maturing audience and a maturing artist will only diverge as time goes forward.”

    You write as if the celebrity worship of young, angry, passionate people is somehow more genuine or authentic than the nostalgia of 45-year-olds. It isn’t. It’s just as commodified and stereotypical. And probably self-righteous and stupid to boot, which will probably have to some degree gone away in the 45-year-olds.

    The idea that youth is genuine and age not is an idea that advertisers have sold us and that we’ve assimilated without too little question. Young people are generally unwise, unknowing and have terrible taste. It’s a function of being young & inexperienced. The things they are passionate about are often the wrong things and they are passionate for the wrong reasons.

    People who are old now were once younger. Today’s young people will grow old one day. And because forces of consumerism emphasize the stylistic distinctions between generational cohorts so emphatically, tomorrow’s 45-year-olds will be somewhat different in style and behavior and the flavor of their nostalgia from today’s. As today’s are from yesterday’s. And as todays young people and somewhat different stylistically from 1990’s.

    But . . . so what?

    • Mike Vincent says:

      At the time of the concert mentioned in this bit, it was just after the reunion with the E Street Band. Maybe 1997? Probably 2000. That means that I was either 23 or 26. I’m 36 now. I didn’t feel a connection to anything then and honestly don’t feel much of a connection to anything now either, apart from my family.
      Of course yesterday’s passion will provide tomorrow’s nostalgia. That’s life. Look at the lengths companies go to reap reward from nostalgia. For me that means endless reissues and repackaging of music.

      For me, the concert I referenced came when thing weren’t quite as over the top as they are now. Music in ads, on TV, everywhere. Things didn’t used to be like that, to the best of my memory. Something changed along the way, who knows the exact date when, and I can’t even fully describe the ways in which they changed.

      Perhaps this is a scattered response, but do you not think that music works in smaller circles now than it used to? Everything happens so fast now, where are the moments of reprieve, of rest?

      I didn’t like the Springsteen revival at the time due to my own dislike of his music and coming face to face with the audience I was selling tickets to. Hearing the story made me think about how lame nostalgia is, but to me the nostalgia I tried to talk about was the state of mind of these boomers who sang along with a chorus that might no longer really be true.

      I get nostalgic, painfully so sometime, for the energy and the anger of youth. But I feel that I have always disliked the cult of personality around celebrity. Referring to artists by their first names for instance (even if I did it in the writing) or sobbing when an artist commits suicide or dies in a river.

      That said I can’t hardly wait for the Linkin Park nostalgia to take hold ten years from now.

  6. Oran Kelley says:

    Well, I think this gets us into some pretty deep territory. I’m from Springsteen country, but the wrong age, so his sentimentality has always struck me as false; wrong. But for people 10 years older than me, he seems to speak to something very import. I, on the other hand, had an attachment to certain scenes where I thought some positive streams of cultural and political awareness (and drug availability) came together–Washington Square Park in 1984, maybe. And stuff that seems to come out of that place and to reconfigure some of those attitudes–that I *am* sentimental about. I don’t feel though, that my, slightly younger version of music-inspired nostalgia is in any way superior to that of Bruce’s fanbase. Or that the nostalgia is in any important way different from my own drug-hazed feelings of community in Washington Square Park.

    BUT, one important thing to note is that the WSP experience wasn’t mediated through the Internet or record companies or a tour presentation. I was there and other people were there and there were, I think, more possibilities for us to get out from under the exigencies of the media business. The nostalgia, though, is suffused with those exigencies. Which is the price we pay for the kind of connectedness we have now–never without access to google on the one hand, but never with a form of connectedness truly free of all that, either.

    BUT again: this is more or less the eternal cry of we moderns. Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft and all that. But I think it’s worth observing that music fandom is probably one of the MAJOR ways our feelings of communal attachment have been impoverished of late in favor of relationships governed by industry and consumeristic relationships. It is the fact that we mistake these consumer relationships for communal relationships that causes our feelings of unease when we witness the kind of nostalgia we see at Springsteen concerts.

    But it is important to realize this is a generic phenomenon–that there are literally thousands of versions of it, for every age and taste.

  7. Chris_H says:

    Wow, I feel the same way about him — and also definitely appreciate the stuff other than the “honking.” I’ve always thought Glory Days would be an awesome, awesome song done slower and more stripped down. It’s an incredibly sad song about “his friend” and losing your dreams and growing old, but all that’s lost with all the big noise.

  8. Carol says:

    The video with the guy having the nerd-gasm cracks me up every time.

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