Monday, November 12, 2007

When That Which Is Old Becomes New Again

When my partner in crime, the one and only Hollywood himself, first told me about starting this blog, I thought what a great way to exorcise some of our thoughts and mad ramblings that, at least to us, sound not only insightful and honest, but borderline brilliant assuming you have ingested the perfect amount of barley, hops, and cheese Krystals. The world would finally be exposed to the genius of two of the finest music, movie and pop culture critics our mothers have ever known.

What happened? Hollywood got on the ball and I bricked. I bricked hard, and I bricked over and over again. He even gave me a slam dunk for my first assignment--review the new Springsteen and Steve Earle records and tell the world what you think. Are you kidding me? Two of my all-time top 20 favorite artists (and on some days top 10, but we'll get to that later), and all I have to do is help expose the 2 people who read this (myself and one Hollywood) to their extraordinary talents and artistry.

For the purposes of time and attention, I'm only going to tackle The Boss today. His album is much more enjoyable to write about and much less painful to endure. In fact, the entire thing is an absolute joy from start to finish.

I had been less than impressed with The Boss's last two original records (the absolutely wonderful We Shall Overcome Seeger Sessions not included), The Rising and Devils and Dust, both of which had some decent points, but never seemed to capture the true essence of the 10th Avenue Freeze Out E-Street Shuffle Rosalita Won't You Come Out Tonight Atlantic City Badlands music that can absolutely save your soul if you let it that has truly been lost since The Boss and the E-Street band parted ways. The did manage to reunite for The Rising, but it never had that E-Street feel to it. What came about was a Springsteen solo record that just happened to employ Clarence, Stevie, Max and the gang as its sessions players.

And the Bruce brought back the Magic.

What an absolutely lovely, enjoyable, at times down right beautiful record this is. Even down to the nah-nah-nah's this entire album feels like home. It seems to take me back to a time and place that I never even experienced. It feels as if there is something here that is special, that resonates and that we've all been waiting for in some way or another.

I suppose that in every generation there is a time where the people living during that time feel a certain sense of desperation that all of the good times, good music, good films, good art and good women (good being a relative term in that last example) are behind them. Rather than attempting to appreciate what is happening now or what might be ahead, there are a certain group of people out there who will always pine away for the times that they just missed. In fact, my friends and I have tortured ourselves with the "if you could go back in time and see any band/performer in any time and place who would it be?" game to the point that it isn't so much fun as it is sad. And it seems like no matter how many opportunities I might have had, they never seem quite as good as what came before. "Yeah I've seen the Stones, but could you imagine seeing them in the 60's? And oh my God I would cut off one of my testicles to have gotten to see Zeppelin." Is this normal? Does this have anything to do with the new Springsteen album? Maybe not, but I'm on a roll and I swear there is a point eventually.

It's not like there haven't been some amazing things that have happened in music in the last quarter century. We are the generation of Nirvana, one of the great rock and roll bands of all time. Yes, I said it. Of all time. We saw Hip Hop music grow up and in some weird way become this generations combination of R&B, rock and roll and punk all fused into one. And then just like Elvis, a Johnny-come-lately white boy came in and stole it too. There have been some legitimate Hall of Famers here: Tupac, Biggie, Pearl Jam, REM, Radiohead (of whom I am not really a fan, but do appreciate their importance), Guns 'N' Roses, Metallica, Garth Brooks (perhaps the Stevie Wonder of country music), U2, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Prince, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and tons of others, and at least one (Nirvana) that belongs in the Pantheon. So why does it still feel like we missed out, or should we be grateful we weren't born into the land of 'N' Sync and slut pop?

The answer is I don't know. I think we all feel like we missed out on something. I think that other than the folks who truly experienced the 1960's, the rest of feel like there is something more that we just cannot seem to grab cause we just cannot seem to figure out what it is and where to find it.

That is how Magic by Bruce Springsteen makes me feel, only in a good way. I think that one of the reasons that Led Zeppelin, The Velvet Underground, The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, Springsteen and others became so important was because what they represented was something outside of the mainstream for the time. Led Zeppelin was harder and darker than any "mainstream" music was at that time (and yes when you are selling out stadiums you are mainstream). The VU, Ramones and Sex Pistols were 700% anti-establishment and wrote the book on being cool by being uncool.

And then there was Bruce Springsteen. He was in many ways the anti-Dylan. He was, by all rational accounts, a novice songwriter. There was little poetry, nothing very subtle at all in his writing, it was easily accessible to most anyone (meaning you didn't need 4 hours and a Princeton degree to "get it") and all of his early songs were essentially about the same thing: I've got this girl that I think I love and I think she loves me and she wants to settle down but I don't think her family likes me but I don't think I'm gonna stick around anyway because I want to be a rock star and get the hell out of this town. In writing, especially creative writing, students are always taught that if you have a choice between using 3 words to make a point and 4 words to make the same point, you always go with the smaller number. Bruce Springsteen never chose the smaller number. He told his stories his way, and even though it takes some creative and sometimes down right hurried singing to fit them into a strain, his songs are always better for it. He did things his way. He wrote songs about real people and real problems during two decades of decadence, and was never stingy with his words or his art in a time where the true artists were the ones who knew that less is more. In a time where nothing was sacred anymore, Bruce Springsteen made naive innocence cool.

In a way that's exactly what he's doing now. We are living in a much different age now. The music snobs of today (of which I am surely one of many) have very little interest in hearing about any artist that the mainstream public has even heard of, much less listened to. At your local music store, you will most certainly find 99% of the employees modeled straight after Dick and Barry from Nick Hornby's brilliant novel High Fidelity. They know more than you, don't like you, and it will absolutely ruin their day if you have ever heard of even one of their top 5 favorite bands/artists. Perhaps things have always been this way, but in the time of itunes, Napster (and all of its descendants), and Myspace, these "underground" artists are much more accessible to the general public, which gives any pompous asshole with too much time on his hands the ability to become an even bigger music prick than the guy at the record store. The whole music scene has essentially become a race to find the most obscure, weirdest, non-mainstream artist you can find and then to convince yourself that he/she/they are a genius. Problem is that whether we like to admit it or not, for many of these artists there is a reason that they are not signed and are destined for underground "greatness." It's because most of them suck and suck hard.

This is where the music snobs are in trouble with this whole access thing. Now that they can find virtually anything and everything at the click of a mouse, they actually have to rely on taste and quality rather than obscurity. What is really bizarre about this whole scenario is that what actually happens is the entire music snob world has now become the cliche. They have become the one thing that they despise, and it's actually quite enjoyable.

Bruce Springsteen is still one of the biggest artists in the world, and once again he is doing everything on his terms and making music that is completely different from what is considered mainstream while still somehow remaining accessible to everyone. For my money, he's the best around today and my favorite songwriter of all time no matter how many rules of good writing he breaks. He's over the top, he's big, loud, naive, innocent, and still makes me feel like if I want to I can still grab my guitar, go over to Mary's house and she and I can leave Jersey far behind. Does it matter that I've never even been to Jersey? Not at all. All that matters is that I can leave.

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