Archive for the ‘Bruce Springsteen’ Category

(Photo by Rob DeMartin)

Last night, at our favorite area theater, we took in Bruce Springsteen’s Western Stars movie, in which he, a band and 30-piece orchestra perform his Western Stars album from start to finish before an audience of invited guests in the loft of his century-old Colt’s Neck, N.J., barn. (“It’s a place filled with the best kind of ghosts and spirits,” he explains.) What lifts the film from a mere replication of an intimate concert experience are the interstitial segments, which feature Bruce – now 70 years old – roaming the California desert while musing about the album’s songs, his life, and life in general. “Everybody’s broken in some way,” he says. “We’re always trying to find somebody whose broken pieces fit with our broken pieces, and something whole emerges.”

In a way, the movie is a cinematic extension of Springsteen on Broadway, in which crafted monologues introduced (and added depth to) a set of his classic songs. Yet, it’s more than that. It’s a collection of hard truths gleaned from a lifetime of personal failures and shared successes, of going it alone and going it together.

In short, Western Stars is a must-see film for Bruce fans past and present.

At one point, he talks about the fear of time passing him by – something many grapple with once they hit a certain age, when the rush of life often becomes a crush of unrecognizable realities. It’s an odd thing to consider, that a mega-star capable of selling out stadiums has the same fear we mere mortals do, but it’s true: Change discombobulates everyone.

So much has changed in the music industry since he released his first album, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., in 1973. Back then, “playlists” were curated by deejays – aka music fans – and they actually spurred listeners to buy singles and albums. Legendary Philly deejay Ed Sciaky, for example, helped shepherd Springsteen, Billy Joel and Yes, among others, to local success long before they broke out nationally. (To quote Bruce, “His support for my work brought me to an audience in Philadelphia that has remained one of my strongest to this day.”) That won’t and can’t happen, anymore.

Here’s “Sundown” from the film:

(The soundtrack is slated to be released this coming Friday.)

Anyone conscious of pop culture in the mid ‘80s likely remembers that, at the start of the 1986-87 TV season, the primetime suds fest Dallas dismissed its previous season, its ninth, as nothing more than a a bad dream. 

The backstory: At the end of Season 8, with his contract up, Patrick Duffy – who played the show’s white knight, Bobby Ewing – left in pursuit of other projects and, rather than have his character embark on a never-ending world cruise, or some such thing, the show’s creative team simply killed him off. 

One result: The show’s ratings dipped in Season 9, sliding from No. 2 to No. 6, the first time it hadn’t been No. 1 or No. 2 in five years. (Some accounts point to increasingly outlandish storylines as a contributing factor.) Duffy, meanwhile, failed to attract the offers he hoped for. So when the Dallas masterminds reached out with a plan for Bobby’s return, Duffy agreed. Thus, at the start of Season 10, Pamela Ewing (Victoria Principal) woke to the sound of the shower echoing through her room…

… and, in one fell swoop, everything that happened during Season 9 was written off as a dream – well, less a dream and more a nightmare. 

In a sense, then, Dallas unwittingly demonstrated the quantum model of the multiverse, which posits “parallel universes” are, at root, alternate timelines. The road not taken in this reality is the road taken in another; and the next fork in the road in this or that one generates yet another timeline. If spacetime is truly infinite, it stands to reason that there are also an infinite number of presents, pasts and futures.

Or so the theory goes.

Adding to the complexity: A dimple in the fabric of spacetime enhances the possibility of time travel, as the curvature causes the distance between some present and past points to decrease; one could argue that’s essentially what the Dallas creative team did, jumping into the past in order to save the future. Of course, we’re then thrust into Back to the Future territory: Even the smallest alteration to the past can cause the present to become unrecognizable; and, in the case of Dallas, that meant dropping from No. 6 to No. 11 in the ratings.

On an alternate timeline, however, the show could well have returned to No. 1.

That infinite possibilities lead to infinite outcomes matters not to the specific reality we find ourselves in, however. That reality is, sadly, that Lyndon LaRouche Mach 2 occupies the Oval Office and has surrounded himself with henchmen who pay fealty to him, not the Constitution. Unlike Season 9 of Dallas, it can’t be undone with a few flicks of a pen in the writer’s room; the new season, scheduled to begin on Jan. 20th, 2021, unless Congress intervenes before then, will pick up where this one leaves off. Between now and then, aside from messaging our representatives, there’s not much we, the people, can do… except distract ourselves through music.

And, on that cheery note, here’s today’s Top 5: Americana, Season 9…

1) Bruce Springsteen – “Sundown (From the Film Western Stars).” Diane and I already have our tickets for the film, which features Bruce, band and a 30-piece orchestra performing the Western Stars album – one of the year’s best, if not the best – in full. I didn’t think he could top the album version of any of the songs, as they’re all intricate hymns of the heart; I was wrong. 

2) Beth Bombara – “I Only Cry When I’m Alone/Upside Down.” As luck would have it, I stumbled across Beth’s recent album, Evergreen, early this afternoon, just before a 75-minute road trip. I cranked it up on the drive – and, damn, it’s sounds better than good. The St. Louis-based singer-songwriter delves into matters of the heart and soul while connecting with the intellect, and does so accompanied by a crack band. 

3) Michaela Anne – “By Our Design.” Michaela’s album, Desert Dove, is earning acclaim even from folks who aren’t keen on the idea of “Americana” as the (makeshift) genre it is. I haven’t yet had the chance to listen to it unencumbered from conversation, unfortunately, but what I have heard tells me that the acclaim is merited. She reminds me a lot of Emmylou Harris. 

4) Leslie Stevens – “On the Levee.” When we saw Leslie two weeks back, I was only familiar with her most recent album, Sinner. After the show, I picked up her 2016 album The Donkey and the Rose at the merchandise table, and listened to it and the rest of her oeuvre – by way of Apple Music – for the much of the following week. This song is a stunner.

5) Kelsey Waldon – “Anyhow.” Here’s a live rendition of the first single from Kelsey’s recent album, White Noise/White Lines (which I always read as White Light/White Heat – but that’s me). We have tickets to see her in the weeks ahead – can’t wait!

The whys and wherefores of music fandom are such that it’s near impossible to convey them on screen. They’re simultaneously elusive and illusive, mythical Bigfoots found only in the deepest reaches of the synaptic thicket called the brain. A series of interlinked sounds kicks off a chain reaction within our neurotransmitters – that is, physically speaking, what happens. But why one melody, guitar riff and soaring chorus instead of another? 

Among music-centric films, it’s rare that a fan is front and center – and rarer still that we see how the fan is born. I Wanna Hold Your Hand, Diner, The In Crowd, High Fidelity and Almost Famous are all good to great films, for example, but only Almost Famous shows what fueled the fandom. And the scene when 11-year-old William Miller flips through the LPs his sister left for him, lights a candle and places the Who’s Tommy on his turntable is wondrous – but then we jump a few years into the future to find William’s fandom in full swing.

“Blinded by the Light” – which the Washington Post posits “may be the feel-good movie of the summer” – fills in the gap. Set in 1987 Luton, England, the movie follows Javed Khan (Viveik Kalra), a British teen of Pakistani descent who dreams of being a writer. But life, he fears, is passing him by due to his overly strict father. At the same time, he deals with the realities of racism and the era’s economic tumult (1987 was the seventh year in a row of 10+% unemployment in the U.K.). His only escape comes from the Walkman hitched to his belt, and the feather-light headphones he slips over his ears whenever he can.

At the movie’s start, he listens to such Britpop acts as Madness and Pet Shop Boys, but the music’s a deflection from his life, not a reflection of it. Until, that is, when during a moment of personal crisis he inserts Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA into the Walkman and hears “Dancing in the Dark” for the first time. Roops (Aaron Phagura), a new friend at school, had lent him the cassettes for it and Darkness on the Edge of Town, and the music is a revelation, articulating everything he’s been unable to put into words about his life. As seen in the trailer below, the lyrics swirl around his head…

…and, before you know it, the music and lyrics inspire him for the better.

Directed by Gurinder Chadha, Blinded by the Light was inspired by Sarfraz Manzoor’s memoir Greetings from Bury Park, and written by Manzoor, Chadha, and Chadha’s husband Paul Mayeda Berges. In some respects, it follows the formula laid down by Chadha’s Bend It Like a Beckham, but substitutes Springsteen fandom for soccer. There are several scenes of racism-related ugliness; moments of utter sweetness, such as when Javed serenades a girl he fancies; and moments of pure giddiness, such as when Javed and Roops take control of the school’s music station and blast the Boss for all to hear.

I found it a fun, feel-good film that explains how the best music can and does transcend its origins, and reflects the listener’s reality as much as the artist’s. As I’ve noted before, the mark of much (though not all) great art is that it’s both personal and universal, restrictive yet expansive. That, in the late ‘80s, a British kid of Pakistani descent can fall under the sway of a New Jersey born-and-bred, working-class rock star shouldn’t come as a surprise. Life is life, after all, no matter where one lives or what one’s background is.

Is there a better song than “Up on the Roof”?

According to Rolling Stone, the answer is yes – 113 songs, to be precise, as the original rendition by the Drifters, which was released in 1962, ranks No. 114 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list, which was put together in 2004.

I rate it higher.

Written by the husband-and-wife team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King, the single peaked at No. 5 on the pop charts and No. 4 on the R&B charts in early 1963. In the years since, it’s been covered by an array of artists, both in concert and on vinyl. The idea for the song came to King – who was all of 20 at the time – while she was out for a drive; her original title was “My Secret Place.” Goffin suggested the roof as the escape destination, as he was a West Side Story fan, and penned poetic lyrics that echo a universal truth. (American Songwriter delves deep into the song’s sophistication here.) 

Here’s the demo for it, which features Goffin singing and King playing piano.

As wonderful as the Drifters’ single is, however, it flopped in England – but East London-born Kenny Lynch’s version made it to the Top 10.

Up-and-coming singer Julie Grant made her U.K. chart debut with the song right around the same time.

In 1970, fellow New Yorker Laura Nyro recorded it for her Christmas and the Beads of Sweat album; it became her sole single to crack the Top 100, peaking at…No. 97?!

That same year, Carole King recorded it for her debut album, Writer.

A year later, Dusty Springfield performed it on the BBC’s The Rolf Harris Show

In 1975, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band covered it in concert:

In 1979, James Taylor – who had performed it with Carole King on Writer and their early tours together – scored a Top 40 hit with it.

Jumping ahead a few decades, Neil Diamond covered it on his 1993 salute to Brill Building songs…but the orchestral touches are a tad over the top, IMO.

The British pop duo Robson & Jerome topped the U.K. charts with their faithful cover of it in 1995…

 … and actor-singer Sutton Foster does a sweet version of it on her 2009 debut album, Wish.

There are far too many additional covers of the song to list here, so I’ll close with this: Carole King and James Taylor at the Troubadour in 2010. does it get any better than this?