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Sunday, January 08, 2006

I got the 30th anniversary edition of "Born to Run" for Christmas and slapped the cd in to listen to as I set about cooking that morning. It had been some time since I'd played the album as an organic whole, and I was struck by how really good it was-- even the less iconic songs-- "Meeting Across The River", say, or "Night",-- popped out as strong compositions. It's a great package, and if Springsteen ever meant anything to you and you don't have it yet, you should get it immediately. Instead of following the usual box set pattern and bulking out the collection with a bunch of outtakes, alternate takes and profit taking takes it includes two dvds-- a "Making of" documentary with a four song 1973 concert thrown in, and a full-length "Born to Run" period concert. I finally got to these yesterday and can report that both are excellent. The documentary has a lot of the sort of thing that I look for in such ventures-- explanations about where a particular riff came from, and how it developed; discussions about the technical means used to get the sound they ended up with; and interviews with the various participants about where they were in their lives at the time, and how this is reflected in the ultimate product. Towards the end there is some talk about the album's packaging-- the photograph of Springsteen leaning on Clarence Clemons. Earlier in the documentary Springsteen talks about how the album is a set of stories that sounds like it could all have taken place on a single summer night, and that gets at part of its quality, but when they talk about the album cover, Springsteen gets down to cases and says that you can tell just by looking at it that the music will be about friends and friendship. Watching the 1975 concert dvd I was struck-- as I have been in the past, by the notion that this is Springsteen's great subject. Even when his material doesn't speak to the subject directly, the performance of it invariably refers to "that time in our lives when our friends were our world, and we were all hopeless romantics." This is, I would say, the point of seeing Springsteen and the E Street Band in concert. They are all friends, it seems, and our experiences of friendship are channeled through the experience of the show. It may be true, as Scott Fitzgerald remarked, that "It is in the thirties that we want friends. In the forties we know they won't save us any more than love did," but watching the 1975 concert I'm not so sure that it is always true. Perhaps Fitzgerald's problem is that he is wrong to expect salvation: Springsteen, after all, asserts, "I'm no hero, that's understood/All the redemtion I can offer is beneith this dirty hood," but I think he might be being modest. In any event, what we are seeing in the 1975 Hammersmith Odeon London show is an E Street Band that, as Springsteen says in the liner notes, had "a good deal of the carnival still left in it... armed with a set list I still dare any young band to match...." Thinking it over, about as close as I could come to a band that had this sort of material and the comparable chops was Bob Dylan fronting The Band-- maybe there are other candidates, but I can't come up with them.

I don't think perfection is a rock'n'roll quality, even if it might be a legitimate rock'n'roll aspiration, and you couldn't say that Springsteen and E Street (or Dylan and The Band, or the Stones, or anyone else) has managed a perfect 10 anywhere, even if they have given us glimpses of what that might be like. Over the years I have sometimes thought that Springsteen had come to take himself too seriously, but this may have been too harsh an assessment-- on this evidence I would say instead that he is serious about what he is doing-- he is a professional, with a specific vision. One of the reasons that "The Rising" tour didn't do it for me (and, I suspect the prnciple reason that the last Springsteen show in town made Bruce Eaton wish he was seeing Gordon Lightfoot instead)is that the post September 11, 2001 trauma that Springsteen was endevoring to address is precisely the sort of thing that friendship cannot hope to address. When Springseen takes on subjects that dwarf the ability of our friends to provid comfort he loses me. The attempt is certainly well intentioned, but the material mixes poorly with "Quarter to Three" or "Rosalita". The central anecdote of "The Rising" was that some weeks after the towers had fallen someone shouted to Springsteen, as he was walking in a parking lot or something, "We need you now!" Good for him for trying-- we go to our friends' parents' funerals, after all-- but, in fact, the poor sap that shouted from his car was wrong about what was needed, and the experience of Springsteen's current work has the unfortunate effect of casting his strongest matirial into the light of nostalgia-- which is the wrong place for it. Listening to the cd, and watching the two dvds put it into focus for me: Springsteen's music is properly about celebration, and this set captures that wonderfully well.

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