Wednesday, 21 December 2011


Long time no blog. Good reason though, been kept very busy with research, reports and outreach work - the joys of being a masters student!
Still, it's nearly Christmas so I'll finally have a proper break from work.

So, apart from being hard at work with maths, what's been new with me? Well I've been snapping up tickets to see two of my favourite artists ever (or in my Dad's words "more American crap") next summer - Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen - much to my wallet's chagrin I'm sure.
I'll get to Pearl Jam later, mostly because I'm still miffed that standing tickets sold out in the presales. They've apparently put another date on, but that's no consolation seeing as I've already bought my seated ticket. To think this was the same band that actually made a stand against Ticketmaster's monopoly in the mid 90s.

Anyway, Bruce. So I'm a very late-comer to his music. I first got into him last November, when he released "The Promise", a huge collection of material recorded in the late 70s during the "Darkness on the Edge of Town" sessions that didn't make the cut. I was mesmerised by this album as soon as I heard it and couldn't fathom how he had the discipline to not use the material on the Darkness on the Edge of Town album. There was such a range of material on there. But then I saw the documentary on the making of the album and understood the vision he wanted for the album. Plus it reminds me of Christmas, because of the production on songs like "Someday (We'll Be Together)" and "The Little Things (My Baby Does)", and also because of an excellent little gig he did in a New Jersey carousel to promote the album that featured a great cover of "Blue Christmas".

Consequently this got me into "Darkness on the Edge of Town" which could possibly be considered one of the greatest albums of all time. Released in 1978, it was arguably his most career defining record, coming off the breakthrough success he had with "Born To Run", it not only proved that Bruce wasn't just a "flash in the pan", it also showed he had the song-writing steel to transcend mainstream success and write a genre defining record that would last the test of time.

Gone (for the most part) was the sprawling, free form style of "Born To Run" and in it's place was a disciplined, uncompromising power. While "Born To Run" was about escapism and the follies of youth ("We gotta get out while we're young"), "Darkness" was about standing your ground to face what life throws at you and giving everything you have in return ("Tonight I'll be on that hill, 'cause I can't stop. I'll be on that hill with everything I got."). Or as Springsteen himself put it "Tough music for folks in tough circumstances".

In Lehmann's terms then, it's an album about growing up and facing your responsibilities, and having come across it at a time when I felt like I had a lot of growing up to do, it's an album that's very dear to my heart.

This was a very unconventional rock album: while there are some great guitar riffs such as those on "Adam Raised a Cain" and "Candy's Room", the majority of the record is driven my Roy Bittan's piano, Danny Federici's organ and of course the saxophone of Clarence Clemons (see "Badlands", "The Promised Land" and "Prove It All Night").

The undoubted highlight though is "Racing in the Street". Bruce had already established himself as a songwriter with a unique knack for narrative with songs like "Mary Queen of Arkansas", "Incident on 57th Street" and "Thunder Road", but "Racing in the Street" is, for me, Springsteen's masterpiece.
There were many versions of this song floating around when Bruce was making "Darkness", and he faced a dilemma over which version to include (an excellent alternative version is on "The Promise"). That was until producer Jon Landau chimed in with "I like the one with the girl", to which guitarist (and Bruce's best friend) Stevie Van Zandt agreed "Yeah, I like the one with the girl too." So that was what he went with. It was a decision that paid off, and the best song he's ever written. The final verse in particular, is a complete triumph of narrative and emotion:

"I met her on the strip three years ago,
In a Camaro with this dude from L.A.
I blew that Camaro off my back and drove that little girl away.
But now there's wrinkles around my baby's eyes,
And she cries herself to sleep at night.
When I come home the house is dark,
She sighs "Baby, did you make it all right?"
She sits on the porch of her daddy's house,
But all her pretty dreams are torn.
She stares off alone into the night,
With the eyes of one who hates for just being born.
For all the shut down strangers and hot rod angels
Rumbling through this promised land.
Tonight my baby and me we're gonna ride to the sea,
And wash these sins off our hands

Tonight tonight the highway's bright
Out of our way mister you best keep.
'Cause summer's here and the time is right
For goin' racin' in the street

I've got all my limbs crossed he plays that song in Manchester, I know he doesn't play it too often.
I'll also be interested to see how the band cope without Clarence, who in another matter close to my heart sadly passed away earlier this year from a severe stroke. It's no coincidence that Bruce is leaning on the Big man's back on that iconic sleeve of "Born To Run": Clarence's sax was such an integral part of the E Street Band, and made Bruce's music stand out in the crowd.

I'm still incredibly excited though. Bruce's music's been such a huge part of my life this past year I just couldn't turn down the chance to see him live.

Anyway, I'm sure I'll ramble again soon!