Talk About a Dream (June 30th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

We’re talking about particular records. The question for today is, do you remember records from your teens that presented you an alternative life? I had one. Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, released when I was 16, posited a life, a culture, a town, a world that was so far from my own it was ridiculous. I was literally forced to get my driver’s license–driving terrified me, and even when, after three tries, I finally got my license at 17, I drove a ’63 Plymouth Belvedere (I totalled that one), a ’74 Dodge Dart (granny car!), and (somewhat impressively) a ’71 Pontiac Bonneville–and I couldn’t have worked on or talked about a car’s guts to save my life. Classwise, my mom was stay-at-home, and my dad made a very humble salary, but I always thought we were well-off, quite contrary to the abyssic confrontations in Springsteen’s most personal songs.

HOWEVER, I did in fact feel alienated ’77-’80, my high school years. I postulated a life about 35 degrees higher an angle than what I was seeing. Something a bit more dramatic, where the stakes were higher, where “the things we loved” that were “crushed in the dirt” were what we, nonetheless, strove for–it seemed my peers were shooting for something a little more casual, and temporal. When the rubber met the road, the record affected me this way: I meant it, man–sincerity was my goddam calling card, and as much as I thought that would be what set me apart, it was the thing that shot me down in flames. If I had just gotten my hands on The Dictators’ Go Girl Crazy instead, I’d have ended up less tortured. I vowed to show up in Candy’s room with total commitment; perhaps I should have striven to be a two-tub man, or a teengenerate. I did not, absolutely did not get, that girls just wanted to have fun–they weren’t interested in someone who was necessarily gonna get them the fuck out (maybe that’s more Born to Run), or blow that Camaro out in that first heat, they wanted to laugh, fiddle around, figure it out, exercise their hormones, and get on down the road.

Thus…this record is very important to me, but I am not sure it didn’t fuck me up.

FLASHBACK: Boring Stories, Indeed–Springsteen and E-Street Bland, Live at Kiel Auditorium, St. Louis, 1999

Bruce & E Street

I used to commandeer a website called The First Church of Rock and Roll (b. 1999ish, d. 2005ish). While doing so, I assumed the persona of The Reverend Wayne Coomers, a Pentecostally influenced rock and roll ranter who held all music he encountered up to a single important question: did this move me? As I do on this blog, I seldom wrote about things that didn’t move me, but, on this occasion, I couldn’t stop myself. Nicole and I, for less than a ten-spot, had watched the much-missed Illinois band Local H just blow the doors off The Blue Note in Columbia, Missouri–two folks in the band, multiple chips on those four shoulders, and ENERGY! Plus: 45 minutes, and they were out. The next night–and we were most excited–we went to see Springsteen live for the first time. He’d hung the moon for me from ’75-’88…then I read some things…then he stumbled a bit…then he kind of rounded into a staid institution…but we had no reason he wouldn’t raise the short hairs on our necks live, especially reunited with his musical family. Here’s the story, without adjustments; I’d send you to the original site, but even The Wayback Machine can’t help there. I thought nothing dies here (that’s a fact)–that everything that dies will always come back. Guess I was wrong.

Sitting at a booth in a Bob Evans, the tension was ping-ponging between the four of us. Morning-after concert discussion–somebody finally asked the question I was fearing: “So what did you think of the show?” One might well wonder why it had taken nearly twelve post-show hours for someone to bring it up.

It had all started when, during a drunken evening, one of us had suggested a road trip to St. Lou to take in a Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band extravaganza. Nicole and I, long-time fans (perhaps an understatement in my case: Bruce was one of the reasons this music is my life), had never witnessed one of the great Rawk spectacles, and our two friends were among the benighted, but ready to dive in, in part as a birthday present for one of ’em.

I labored hours over a 3-cassette comp to prepare them, and, in the making, I found myself pretty damn re-amazed at the Mighty Greaser’s hard-fought hacking through lots of dark forests to keep his audience honest and his own bad self lean, mean and relevant. Not for him the fate of the protagonist of “Glory Days”; he’s long displayed a gift for getting inside beautiful losers to show us how to keep winning, or at least hold life to a draw. So I was primed to finally be there, and had every reason, given what his work had to say, to expect, well, more progress. Progress: a tangly concept any serious Rawk-lifer has to grapple with daily. Either it’s the end-all be-all in the face of rot, anathema to the Rawk ethic, or it’s the fucking hemlock that kills the basic feels-so-right urges that legions of garage rockers and die-hard rockabillies strive to strangle out of their axes. Where was Springsteen?

Motorheads don’t generally have ten guitars waiting in the wings, each on labelled stands with different tunings for different songs. On the other hand, Springsteen’s musical set-up–“big” horn, a willingness to use synthesizers and Spector-operatic piano, an odd aversion to expressing himself consistently, particularly through riffs, on guitar–doesn’t exactly lend itself to primitive noise (Wouldn’t it be fascinating, though, to hear him really strip his shit down, not like a Nebraska or The Ghost of Tom Joad, which were “folk” albums, but like, say, Pink Flag, or Ramones, or even New York? It’d certainly cut down on the pomp ‘n’ corn–if he’s reflective enough to notice, it’s, uh, shtick). That leaves writing. Surely he’d been writing. And there’s been no shortage of raw material for a working class hero to mold into an epater le bourgeousie for his increasingly comfortable, always snow-white audience, not in these here times.

So what’d we get? Sitting in the mezzanine, lined up straight-away center stage (a $45 ticket that would have been more than a third of his typical protagonist’s weekly salary–a very optimistic estimate, at that), we got:

1) Muddy sound: 4 guitars (it’s nice to get the gang together, but come on: platoon some o’ the bastards!) doing nothing much but strumming and grinding those plodding, unfunky-white-guy rhythms. Even Bruce’s and Miami Steve’s occasional solos were either arena-rocky or out-of-tune.

2) Umpteen VERY marginally-differentiated “Big Man” solos–the show/tour may be about loyalty and friendship, but my god, hasn’t the motherfucker grown a few chops? Maybe jazz and ’50s r&b has spoiled me (not to mention Randy Newman’s devastating parody on Trouble In Paradise’s “Life is Good”), maybe they are a bar band, but millionaires get paid to make some hard decisions.

3) 90% 1985-and-earlier catalog, arranged exactly the way they were played 1985-and-earlier. Even a bottlenecked “Born in the USA” was a by-the-numbers recreation of the demo version on Tracks. The only faintly new song was a Weavers-esque Guthrie-rewrite called “This Train,” which might be described as Springsteen’s “Forever Young,” one of the worst things in Dylan’s ouevre. And since I’ve mentioned the grouchy old fart, who spent years in limbo squeezing dollars from his back catalogue only to come roaring back again–heard “Things Have Changed,” from the Wonder Boys soundtrack yet, or Time Out of Mind? Nicole and I took a smoke break with a suspiciously large segment of the upstairs concertgoers and came to a mutual appeciation of Uncle Bawb, who, with the previously mentioned exception, hasn’t really ever given a shit about giving the public what it wants. OK, he’s disgusted, but, hey, who isn’t? And with about 10 years on Bruce, he sure isn’t showing signs of taking a fall-back position.

4) A dearth of spontanaeity. The only two moments that raised my short hairs to half-mast were the only radical rearrangement, of Tunnel of Love’s “If I Should Fall Behind,” where 3 E-Streeters got a verse, including Mrs. Bruce, who sounded a lot like Ronnie Spector–the chick should definitely sing more–and a weird Springsteen somersault in the middle of the third encore, as if to say, “OK, can I go now?” Actually, the old man didn’t really move too much throughout the 3-hour show–yep, he still does ’em, and he did sing pretty well, I admit. But a rock and roll show must be alive. Working hard ain’t enough. I’m sure Phil Collins sweats.

So, to crystallize it, he had nothing to say, other than, “These are my boys” (and they definitely got more props than the woman) and “I’m still here, but the Muse is all gone.” Where can he go from here? Hell, lots of places. How about a four-piece, or even a trio? How about taking on the WTO? How about collaborating with Patti, his wife (ala Double Fantasy)? Can his kids play yet (remember Old Skull)? He could get back to his roots–amazingly, he’s never done that before (perhaps to his credit, but it sure worked for McCartney). Or duet with Ed Hamell. The possibilities are much more open than he may think.

Back to Bob Evans. I said my piece (see above). One of our guests turned to the other and said, “I don’t feel like sharing right now…we’ll talk when we get home.” Pissed my ass off–nobody can disagree anymore, and they don’t know what they’re missing. True argument is the road to enlightenment. Perhaps Bruce won a new fan–albiet a 25-year-old that wasn’t familiar with him in 2000. Where’s she been? Is it unfair to expect the former “future of rock and roll” to at least function in the present, even if he is still donating major proceeds to our country’s food banks? Doesn’t he look in the mirror and sometimes realize that he’s fallen victim to Blue Oyster Cult Syndrome–becoming what he used to shake by the lapels? He used to hope he wouldn’t sit around thinking about ’em, but all he seemed to be beseiging his audience with at this show was boring stories from his glory days.

No Final Judgment Required (February 11th, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

I have to remind myself that this is just a listening diary; I don’t have to render final judgment, as if that’s even possible, given Heraclitus’ dictum. Reason that occurs to me is I’m preparing to report on a couple of fresh items, and hesitated, thinking I needed multiple spins under my belt to lay down any verbiage. No I don’t!

Kendrick Lamar, et al.: Soundtrack to the film Black Panther–Lordy, I had high hopes for this, a condition in which I am not alone. Well: it’s solid, it’s streamlined, it’s got nuggets of language that signal symbolic import…but damned if, taken altogether, the effect isn’t a little muted, a little too professional, given this occasion and these times. On top of that, was I wrong to be excited about the possible tapping of African influence for the musical settings? There are brief sprinklings, but that’s it; thing is, the potential for a stunning sound environment was breathtaking. The highlights are, unsurprisingly, the tracks Mr. Lamar dominates–and shining appearances by Khalid (“The Ways”), Ab-Soul and Anderson .Paak (“Bloody Waters”). Maybe the movie will tease out the record’s virtues.

Rich Kreuger: Life Ain’t That Long–I have a stubborn opinion regarding Bruce Springsteen. Though by unanimous acclaim his greatest work is from Born to Run on, I’ve always had a deeper, more durable feeling for the goofy humor, crazy images, and exciting loghorrea of Greetings from Asbury Park and The Wild, The Innocent, and The E-Street Shuffle, not to mention the loosey-goosey quality of his band. We will never see its like again; those qualities seem so much the product of a young man discovering his powers. Well–imagine those qualities–adjusted for grizzledness–emanating from a long-striving singer-songwriter..say, a 58-year-old neonatologist with a knack for reflection and the TMI temptations that can frequently come with it. That’s what we have in Chicago’s Mr. Kreuger, whom I learned about from a certain critic named Robert Christgau, who I’ve occasionally (along with many pals) been a signal extender. This record does reach out and grab you with its details and desperation, though I am not sure about the drummer, and the general lack of discernible melody can interfere with Rich’s loghorreic charm. But damn, I’m rooting for him, and I’d see him live in a heartbeat. Get his music and more info here.

Short-shrift Division:

Modern Jazz Quartet: Dedicated to Connie–A magical ’60s concert from Slovenia, excavated by leader John Lewis on the occasion of drummer Connie Kay’s passing.

Memphis Minnie: Complete Published Recordings 1937-1963–Told ya I was nursing a blues hangover she laid on me. Take a nip: