How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Boss


Some time this week I'll be devoting three hours to the new Bruce Springsteen concert DVD that was recorded in Hyde Park last year. I wasn't at that gig but I did see the New Jersey hero's triumphant turn at the Glastonbury Festival the day before. That was the eighth time I'd seen him perform. Ten years ago I’d never have predicted I’d ever write those last three sentences. But that was before my conversion to The Boss.

With hindsight I’m surprised it took me so long to come round to Bruce. I think the main reason is that I couldn’t shake the image of a denim-clad rocker plucking girls from the crowd to sing Dancing in the Dark. How ridiculous could you get?

Unlike many Springsteen detractors I knew Born in the USA wasn’t the tub-thumping anthem Team Reagan wished it to be. After No Depression listed Nebraska as one of its hundred essential albums I bought (but rarely listened to) Springsteen’s bleak, stripped-down 1982 LP. Still, even hearing him pay tribute to Woody Guthrie, cover Tom Waits or write songs inspired by one of my favourite books wasn’t enough to convert me. The scales only came off my eyes after witnessing the full-on live power of Bruce Springsteen and the “house rockin', pants droppin', earth shockin', hard rockin', booty shakin', love makin', heart breakin', soul cryin', death defyin' legendary E Street Band”.

In 2003 my friend Dave, a man for whom a Springsteen gig is a generation-spanning family outing, suggested that I join him, his sisters and his mum and dad to see the Boss on the May bank holiday weekend. The Rising world tour was coming to the distinctly unglamorous destination of Crystal Palace athletics stadium. Tickets weren’t cheap, but Springsteen’s new album had good reviews, Dave is an incredibly enthusiastic individual and curiosity must have got the better of me.

Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. It was if Bob Dylan had been crossed with both the 1950s hip-shaking Elvis and the crowd-pleasing, over-the-top incarnation of his Vegas heyday. There was absolutely no sense of irony as Bruce slid across stage on his knees, sparred with bandana loving guitarist Steve Van Zandt or gestured wildly at the crowd. All that concerned him and the band was entertaining thousands with the best rock ‘n’ roll show in the world. In the Guardian’s review of the show Alex Petridis wrote that “the on-stage antics at a Springsteen concert, should be painfully embarrassing. However, the singer exudes an appealing earnestness that lets him get away with hokum”. That perfectly summed up my feelings. I was captivated.

I recall reading that after Springsteen and the E Street Band’s first ever London show at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1975 John Peel sniffily dismissed them as little more than jumped-up Yankee throwbacks. I think that's unfair. At Crystal Palace Sprinsgteen channelled all of his classic American musical influences – soul, rock’n’roll, folk, girl groups, country – into something that sounded fresh rather than horribly nostalgic. He and the band combined this with such energetic showmanship and sheer love of performing that it felt like they were playing to 50 in a small club rather than thousands in a clapped-out arena. After a more than two-and-a-half hour show I was a Bruce Springsteen fan.

A few months later I started going out with my now wife, who, like Dave comes from a family of Springsteen fans (it turns out my in-laws were at Crystal Palace en masse the day after me). Not only was the entire Bruce back catalogue now at my disposal, I was with someone who would never want to miss an opportunity to see her musical hero. Since then we’ve seen Springsteen transfix the Albert Hall with just a guitar and piano, bring his old timey band to the tiny LSO St Luke’s for a barnstorming session of American folk songs and rock out the cavernous O2 Arena for the best ever pre-Christmas party. I have little doubt that everyone who was among the 45,000 in Hyde Park watching Bruce last year found it a peculiarly intimate gig. There aren’t many performers who can pull that off.

My musical conversion obviously begs the question - what was yours? Are there any artists you'd previously dismissed only to get into much later?

Bruce Springsteen Posts on Carnival Saloon
Bruce Springsteen & Tom Waits Sing Jersey Girl - Together!
Michael Stipe Rocks Out to Born to Run

Related Links on Amazon
Bruce Springsteen - London Calling DVD (US)
Bruce Springsteen - London Calling DVD (UK)

Views: 46

Tags: Bruce Springsteen, Carnival Saloon

Comment by Hal Bogerd on July 15, 2010 at 9:23am
Springsteen still is the "Boss" live although my interest in his recording career is fading fast.
Comment by Jack on July 15, 2010 at 9:45am
It's surprising how old views can turn around.

Jayhawks - saw them live outdoors in 1993 in Chicago, found them dull, retained that lingering impression until very recently, when I listened to their greatest hits and they hit me like a ton of bricks. I don't know if it was that 95 degree day, the sun, the beer, the noise of the crowd, a bad day for them, just me, or all the above, but my initial impression could not have been more off base.

Steve Forbert - saw him live in a small club many years after his radio hit. What a fine songwriter and performer.

Tom Petty - have never seen him live, no special epiphany, just previously found his sound uninteresting and came around. His new record, Mojo, is super.

Cheap Trick - first heard them in the late 70's, thought they were unimaginative midwest pop and later came to find their music as fun, simple, straight ahead rock. Also, later saw Bun E. Carlos sit in with someone at Buddy Guy's Legends nightclub, he knows how to bang the drums.

Have never seen Bruce and everyone I know who has says the key to him is seeing him live. Some day I will. Which leads to a tangential thought to this discussion - which bands do you really need to see live in order to really "get" them? I'm guessing it's a factor for most acts, but some bands just don't seem to capture their live sound very well on record (which I know can be very hard to do). A few bands that, at least to me, you need to see live in order to truly appreciate are:

Los Lobos - as good as live music can get, but the production on their records is uneven (to my laymans ears)

NRBQ

Iguanas

The Skeletons - long defunct, but one of the best, most fun live bands I've ever seen, but by their records I'd have never guessed that would be the case
Comment by RP N10 on July 15, 2010 at 10:27am
There have been a few where I haven't heard them and thought, based on articles reviews etc they didn't sound too interesting so never did but then caught them later but of those I'd heard, passed on and then come back there are two:

Robert Plant - never liked Zeppelin, found his early solo records a bit worthy but then saw him (my wife's a fan) playing with Priory of Bryon doing old Love, Moby Grape and Tim Buckley tunes where I came away with a sense of enthusiasm from him about doing that and about playing music generally. Then came Raising Sand which IMO is the best thing he's ever done. Saw him and the band live, even doing old Zeppelin tunes and thought he/they were great. Now looking forward to seeing the Band of Joy tour. This may be a cheat as it could be that Plant simply started playing in a style that I like, rather than me suddenly getting him as an artist. My views on LZ and his earlier solo work haven't changed.

The other is Conor Oberst whose records I just didn't get at all despite raves from lots of people I know - including my son - and several tracks on samplers. Then I saw him on the Monsters of Folk (I like MMJ a lot) and was deeeply impressed. So with a bit of guidance from my son and the pricing policies of on-line CD sellers ie the sales, I've gradually being filling in bit by bit and will now snag a ticket when they open next time he's in town.

Bruce, sadly, went the other way. Bought Born In the USA when it came out and was very disappointed. Amazed when it took off like it did. Haven't liked anything he's done since to be honest. Live just the once on the Amnesty International tour in 1988. Very good but.. and on TV/video. Now waiting in hope the Darkness reissue will come with audio/video of the December 1978 Winterland shows.
Comment by Easy Ed on July 15, 2010 at 10:55am
Bruce: Right before his first album was released he had a huge following in Philadelphia and of course South Jersey. I had tickets to a small show and had never seen or heard him. Got close to the club door and two girls asked if I had any extra tickets to sell. I think the admission was like $6.00 so I just made a joke and said they could have them for $300. Without a word they just reached into their purses and paid me. I drove away thinking 'what the hell was that about"? I loved the first two releases, he lost me after that and I came back for Nebraska and a few others since. Still haven't seen him live and have no desire at this point. But there is a radio show broadcast out there in bootleg-land from a show in the early seventies at the Bottom Line that I believe is one of the most amazing live performances ever captured. Selling those tickets...it was a dumb thing I did.

Lou Reed/Velvet Underground: I was a Deadhead and into granola more than leather. My kid (when he was like 14) dragged me to a midnight performance of the concert film "Berlin Live" and it changed my life. OK...maybe not...but it changed my view of Lou and VU. I think he's a brilliant songwriter and he shreds the guitar. And here's something funny or strange...I totally forgot until recently that I once attended a luncheon at a NY hotel with him and the Bay City Rollers hosted by Clive Davis.

Cheap Trick: Ditto what Jack says. They are amazing musicians...all of them. I never fast forward their songs anymore when they pop up on the iPod.

Bob Dylan: Really. I mean, I loved his songs especially if they were done by someone else like the Byrds, the Dead or even the Turtles. But I could not get into listening to him until the John Wesley Harding album came out.
Comment by Craig Gore on July 15, 2010 at 1:58pm
Ton o bricks?

Bruce: never got it...til a year ago.
Bob: never got it until I heard the first record about 3 years ago- smitten.
Elvis Costello- not until his new TV show.
Robert Plant- not until Raising Sand.
Johnny Cash- not until I was a grown up.
Tom Petty- not until 2 years ago.
I know- LATE. But better late than never.
And all of the above have changed my personal and artistic life since.

You can hear my latest contribution on my page.
-Craig
Comment by steviedal on July 15, 2010 at 3:13pm
Jack Powers - I implore you to get a copy of "Will The Wolf Survive" by LOS LOBOS you will be converted - an all-time classic album .

Ton o Bricks moment for me ? Well , the most recent was today (and right now !) as i listen again to "Wonder Where I'm Bound" by DION , which i just got . Amazing !
Comment by hyperbolium.com on July 15, 2010 at 9:31pm
First, I think you've come up with the best blog post title yet on ND.

I first saw Springsteen by accident. We'd lined up early one Sunday morning in 1978 to get tickets to see the Kinks. The line being longer than we expected, we asked around and found out just about everyone else was there to get tickets for a Springsteen show (touring Darkness on the Edge of Town) in a 3400-seat theater. So we bought Springsteen tickets, too. I liked his albums already, but wasn't really a fan until that night. I've seen him a few times since, solo, singing folk songs, and with E Street, but none of the performances topped that night. (Scarily enough, there's an audience tape of the show here!).
Comment by Adam Sheets on July 15, 2010 at 10:31pm
I love Springsteen's music. His two latest albums were a little weak, in my opinion, but it happens to every artist once in a while. But his masterpiece in my opinion is not Born to Run, The River, or even Nebraska. All are great, but Springsteen's best was The Ghost of Tom Joad, which I feel belongs on your shelf right next to Guthrie's Dust Bowl Ballads and Dylan's The Times they Are a-Changin'. All represent the idea of political protest by presenting the real life situations of the common person as bleakly as possible. Certain Johnny Cash songs come close to matching those three albums, but no entire record of songs does. At Folsom Prison comes the closest, but it contains too many lighthearted moments to really fit into that category. Well, perhaps Bitter Tears also, but I'm just rambling at this point. So I'll shut up. :)
Comment by Matt Noyes on July 15, 2010 at 10:35pm
I still can't grasp someone enjoying Dylan done by someone other than Dylan. Whenever someone says Dylan can't sing I play them his rendition of the staple of American folk, Moonshiner, the best version is on the Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3.

On topic:

Billy Bragg, first got into him when I listened to the Mermaid Ave. sessions with Wilco. I went out and picked up "Talking With the Taxman About Poetry" and haven't stopped since.

Langhorne Slim, a buddy from Chicago touted him for years. I finally saw him at the historic 400 Bar here in Mpls and have to say he's got the stones.

Strangely enough "The Boss." I still remember my dad throwing on "Born in the U.S.A." and asking him to keep playing Marty Robbins. Once I got to college I fell in with the right roommate who reminded me that seeing Bruce is more than just a concert, it's a religious experience. Have to say going to see him at the Excel with my dad was a great moment in my life.
Comment by Adam Sheets on July 15, 2010 at 10:42pm
As for artists I was "late" getting into. Definitely Nirvana. Heard their Unplugged album years after it was released and now own everything they did. Also Public Enemy, Neil Diamond, and (most recently) Tom Jones. I can hear some of you cringing at the mere mention of any of those artists, let alone all three of them. But, seriously, give it a chance. And, lastly, Ralph Stanley. But O Brother Where Art Thou turned me into a believer.

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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.