Posts Tagged ‘Born in the USA’

IMG_0764October 1984 is basically a blip on the radar of time, with only two notable events occurring in its 31 days: astronaut Kathryn D. Sullivan became the first woman to walk in space on the 11th; and Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her bodyguards. In America, Reagan v. Mondale was in full swing but, really, everyone already knew the outcome.

On the personal front: This was a good month in my life. No, let me rephrase: This was a great month. On October 22nd, I attended a rally for Walter Mondale – no, that wasn’t the great part. This was: I met Stephen Stills, who was (and remains) one of my favorite musical artists, at the event. (You can read about that here.)

The month didn’t start off so well, however: On October 3rd, I received a speeding ticket and, that same day, locked my keys in my car. Doh! The ticket, thankfully, was rescinded; the officer, bless his heart, forgot to sign it.

I picked up some good LPs, including two masterpieces that are on my (nonexistent as of yet) Albums Everyone Should Own list: Crosby & Nash’s Wind on the Water and David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name.

Anyway, this issue of Record features a cover story on the Jacksons and their hot “Victory” tour that I’ve never read. For me, the issue is notable because of Bill Flanagan’s excellent interview of Lou Reed and an interesting essay by Peter Buck.

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1) Lou Reed – “New Sensations.” In the interview, Lou talks about his current New Sensations album, which I picked up in June, and more. “I’m part of the baby boom generation. The first generation that grew up on rock. Right out of the ‘50s, that’s me. Along with that, for better or worse, comes a lot of ‘50s attitudes—which, to my mind, as I’ve gotten older, has not been a good thing. I mention in ‘New Sensations’ that it’s something I’m trying to work past. I want to get past that ‘50s view that I really have been in, either by manifesting it or going in the other direction and rebelling against it. What I want to do is go past it. I would hate to have to live with those tacky kind of attitudes. I want more out of life.”

In the next paragraph, he explains that “Faulkner wrote only about the swamp. James Jones wrote only about the war. But I didn’t want to write just about dope and New York…I did my drug songs. I don’t want to make that my war, my swamp, my city. That’s not what I’m primarily interested in. I’m interested in emotions, things that happen to people.”

The interview closes with: “I’ve said this before: what if Raymond Chandler approached rock ’n’ roll? Well, you might get Street Hassle. What if a real writer came in? Just like they brought real writers like Faulker out to Hollywood to write screenplays. That’s what I wanted to do in a rock ’n’ roll format. I’m still at it. It’s like sitting and listening to Brecht and Weill’s ‘Song for the Seven Deadly Sins’; there’s a song for every sin out there. There’s endless things to write about. You could do that with rock, too. That’s what I want to do.”

IMG_07682) Sheila E. – “The Glamorous Life.” Craig Zeller reviews Sheila E.’s debut in conjunction with the Time’s Ice Cream Castle because of their shared Prince connection. Of The Glamorous Life, which I’d picked up over the summer, he writes: “Not surprisingly, the head-and-shoulders standout here is the title cut wherein Sheila E. goes after high living with an exuberant lunge that’ll have you racing your engines. It’s the kind of heel-clicking thrill seeker that makes you wanna take the curve on two wheels. And, brother, does she raise some thunder on those drums! Ever see the video where she’s whacking out the rhythm in a gleeful frenzy? I just did and it’s time for another cold shower. All in all, I’m not sure I’d give you the Time of Day, because it’s the glamorous life for me.”

IMG_07693) R.E.M. – “Can’t Get There From Here.” R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck pens an essay titled “The True Spirit of American Rock” in which he asserts that “even though British bands are selling millions of records, that doesn’t tell the whole story about what’s happening musically in the States. There’s deeply-heartfelt music being made by American bands that most people in this country are ignoring and that the British don’t even get to hear.” He offers Husker Du, Mission of Burma and the Replacements as three examples.

He also explains that “[a] lot of British records that are big in this country take the passion and spirit of American soul music and turn it into supper-club, MOR slush that’s the rock ’n’ roll equivalent of Las Vegas. Words like ‘passion’ and ‘spirit’ are the flavor of the month these days; they get tossed around so often that they’ve lost much of their meaning. Still, the music I like most is done by people who convey a sense of self, a feeling that they’d continue making music even if they weren’t making records. Music is a part of their lives, not just a vehicle to stardom. I can’t define it exactly—good music can run the gamut from Hank Williams to Black Flag—other than to say I’m moved by music made by real people for real reasons.”

IMG_07704) The Style Council – “My Ever Changing Moods.” Anthony DeCurtis has the Final Word this issue:

“Except for the Brit-punk detonation, the ‘70s and early ‘80s offered little to listeners who like social significance to spike their sounds. The surreal remoteness of huge stadium and arena shows by demigod pop stars publicly dramatized the chasm of alienation those years cracked between bands and their audience, between the world of millionaire entertainers and the everyday concerns of working people.

“While that chasm has in no way been fully bridged, politically conscious music has resurged in the last few years from many (sometimes surprising) sources and for many reasons.”

Paul Weller’s Style Council gets a nod for its 1984 release, My Ever Changing Moods (known in Weller’s home country as Cafe Bleu; it was renamed in the States to match the single, which hit No. 29 on the Billboard charts). “The Style Council’s Brechtian disc is extremely subversive,” says De Curtis.

5) Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – “Born in the U.S.A.” De Curtis also singles out Springsteen’s 1984 release in his essay: “Springsteen chronicles American working-class like in the wake of Vietnam, an economic ‘recovery’ that benefits the managerial class almost exclusively, and external conditions that turn the patriotic fervor working people have always felt into a humiliating ironic joke. The triumph of Born on the U.S.A. is Springsteen’s ability to depict the human cost of oppression without condescending to, sentimentalizing, or caricaturing the people whose lives form his subject.”

IMG_0444August 1984 began on a high note: I saw Crosby, Stills & Nash at the Mann Music Center on the 4th. The Woodstock survivors opened with “Love the One You’re With” and “Chicago”; and performed most of the songs I wanted to hear as well as a few surprises – Buffalo Springfield’s “Bluebird” and the Beatles’ “Blackbird.” I vividly remember “To the Last Whale” (aka “Critical Mass” and “Wind on the Water”); the stage went dark, Crosby & Nash’s wordless vocals flooded the open-air venue, and – wow. Just wow. The wows kept coming, too, and included “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” “Cathedral,” “Wooden Ships,” “Carry On” and “Teach Your Children.”

I also saw Huey Lewis & the News at the Mann this month. My memory of that isn’t sharp, likely because I wasn’t a fan and knew few of the songs; I tagged along with some friends from high school – the last time I saw them, I think. About the only thing I do recall: a juggler (!) opened; and we were as far back on the lawn as possible due to arriving late.

IMG_0447Among the LPs I purchased this month: Stephen Stills’ Right by You, The Best of Otis Redding, The Best of the Byrds: Greatest Hits, Volume II, John David Souther’s Home by Dawn and Jefferson Airplane’s Volunteers. One might surmise that I was out-of-step, musically speaking, with the times – and, to an extent, I was. But I also liked the Go-Go’s – their Talk Show album came out in March, and would go on to become my Album of the Year. I also owned, by year’s end, 15 of the other LPs listed in this issue’s Top 100 Albums chart.

Anyway, the cover story features a band I could care less about, the Cars. They annoyed me then, and annoy me now. Other articles focus on the Thompson Twins, Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits, and Womack & Womack – all less annoying than the Cars.

Onward to today’s Top 5:

IMG_04491) Tracey Ullman – “They Don’t Know.” There’s a brief article by Mark Mehler on Ms. Ullman, who released her You Broke My Heart in 17 Places album in late 1983: “Though she’s a hit recording artist in the United States, the folks in Tracey Ullman’s native England prefer her as a dippy but earthy storyteller, wisecracker and bon vivant – in other words, the sort of 24-year-old who’d admit on national TV to forgetting to put on underwear before going dancing. ‘The man I was dancing with didn’t know it and spun me around and I’m whispering in his ear, ‘I have no knickers on,’ but he doesn’t hear me and the entire audience is in tears at this terrible sight.’”

The piece also explains how she came to score a recording contract: “A chance meeting at the hairdressers with the wife of Stiff Records founder Dave Robinson led to Ullman’s being signed by the label, even though her previous vocal excursions had been confined to the London stage in shows such as Grease.”

One note about this song: Kirsty MacColl, who wrote and recorded it in 1979, sings backup.

IMG_04502) Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – “No Surrender.” Born in the U.S.A., released in June, is the first review. Penned by Anthony DeCurtis, it opens with: “An original product of counterculture aspiration and a boom economy that proffered better times for workers, Bruce Springsteen has watched two hopes wither and die in the last decade. Since Greetings From Asbury Park he has chronicled the translation of a dream into a memory; the ‘glory days’ that once seemed to glisten before us are now a dimly recollected image of unfulfilled desire. Born in the U.S.A. finds the Springsteen pantheon of virtues – work, strive, endure, remember – still revered. What has disappeared is the promised land he once believed those virtues could earn.”

He concludes with: “[D]espite its musical heart and studio-craft, Born in the U.S.A.’s ultimate power resides in Springsteen’s tough, cramped social vision. If Woody Guthrie was the Dust Bowl laureate, Springsteen has emerged as the brave voice of workers in modern America’s sunset industries. Many rock performers have spoken for one subculture or another, but none has ever defined the works and days of an entire class as their subject. Until now.”

In between, DeCurtis raves about the album. Of this song, a tribute to former E Streeter Steven Van Zandt: “Two young groovers swear a rock-based bond of blood-brotherhood in ‘No Surrender,’ but ‘young faces grow sad and old/And hearts of fire grow cold.’ The song ends with Springsteen echoing Dylan and offering a complementary vision to Van Zandt’s new-found political fervor: ‘There’s a war outside still raging/You say it’s not ours anymore to win/I want to sleep beneath peaceful skies in my lover’s bed/With a wide open country in my head.’”

IMG_04553) Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul – “I Am a Patriot.” The issue’s second review, coincidentally, is for Steven Van Zandt’s debut, Voice of America. It’s a politically charged outing that Christopher Hill sums up as thus: “Because of Van Zandt’s inspirational approach, and because he’s chosen to unify his diverse styles with a crash, echoey sort of mix, comparisons inevitably pop up to ‘anthem’ bands like U2, the Alarm, and Big Country. But if these bands are the Cecil B. DeMilles of the trade, striking heroic poses and invoking Biblical images of millennial strife, Steven Van Zandt and his cohorts are the Frank Capras, finding epic themes in the hearts of ordinary people. Where the others show us the golden, hazy horizon, Little Steven and his Disciples show us real faces.”

“I Am a Patriot,” which was later covered by Jackson Browne, is a message that still resonates.

IMG_04514) Roger Waters – “The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking.” The title track to Waters’ solo debut, which is reviewed in tandem with David Gilmour’s About Face is, Ira Robbins explains, “a lot like The Wall without the children’s chorus, except that its dumb conceptual framework rivals only Frank Zappa for wretched, ungainly excess.”

That’s an accurate summary, I should mention. I owned this album, and – on July 24th of the preceding month – saw Waters, backed by a crack band that included Eric Clapton, play it from start to finish. Really, if he’d ended the concert at the first intermission, I don’t think anyone would have minded, as the first set was all Floyd; the second half, which featured the Pros and Cons album in full, was tedious – and that’s being generous. (That show is earmarked for a future Of Concerts Past post.)

However, despite disliking the album, I did and do like the title song –

IMG_04525) The Jones Girls – “Won’t Let You Take It Back.” James Hunter writes of Keep It Comin’, the LP this song is from: “[T]he three Jones Girls’ singing is terribly seductive stuff – when they harmonize they can, seemingly at will, energize your heart or take bits of it apart.” He sums up with: “People prone to nostalgic reminisces about the Golden Age of Girl Groups should check this out, because both the record and the Jones Girls are just too good to be discovered twenty years down the line.”

Honestly, I’d forgotten about them until seeing this review. I owned the cassette back in the day, but it went the way of most cassettes once CDs came into vogue. They still sound good.

IMG_0453And one bonus: Spinal Tap – “(Listen to the) Flower People.” The issue’s closing essay is by Anthony DeCurtis, who ruminates on what happens when music and movies (or video) mix. He cites This Is Spinal Tap, The Rutles and A Hard Day’s Night, along with a litany of documentaries, as being successes, and points out the dark side of rock videos. The mention of Spinal Tap, however, reminds me of earlier in ’84, when I worked as an usher at a movie theater. This Is Spinal Tap was booked for a week; and, for those seven days, I think it attracted no more than 100 people. Yet, I laughed every time I watched it – it’s a classic.