music friday: stolen car

Thirty years ago today, we saw Bruce Springsteen for the 12th time. It was our first Bruce Stadium show ... he was still touring behind Born in the USA. Here’s “Stolen Car” from that show.

And I'm driving a stolen car
On a pitch black night
And I'm telling myself I'm gonna be alright
But I ride by night and I travel in fear
That in this darkness I will disappear

Here’s the audio to the entire show (3+ hours):

Here are some cover versions of “Stolen Car”. Patty Griffin:

Elliott Murphy:

And Owen with “Stolen Bike”:

music friday: born to read

Last night, we attended a Litquake show, “Born to Read: Celebrating the Lyrics of Springsteen”. Here’s how it was described on the website:

[A] one-of-a-kind celebration, including personal reminiscences and dramatic and musical interpretations. With rock critic and author Ben Fong-Torres, musician Tom Heyman, author/humorist Beth Lisick, San Francisco poet laureate Alejandro Murguia, poet Daphne Gottlieb, rock critic Joel Selvin, and music biographer and musician Sylvie Simmons.

There were a couple of cute “reminiscences” before the start of the actual show, which was hosted by Fong-Torres. He was one of the best things about the show, and I actually learned something from his performance of “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”. Fong-Torres said the song exposes some of Springsteen’s admitted influences, and he proceeded to start singing the song in the voice of Bob Dylan. His Dylan impression could use some work, but it served its purpose, showing how Dylan-esque Bruce’s lyrics remained on his third album.

What followed was a mixed bag. Part of the problem is down to taste preferences, as usual. I don’t much care for treating song lyrics like poetry. Song lyrics don’t stand alone ... remove the music and you change the meaning. The lyrics of “She’s the One” on the page are lacking the central point of the song: the Bo Diddley beat, with the volume cranked up at the start of the second verse. So the songs where the performer did a reading of the lyrics were not my cup of tea. Alejandro Murquia did what he could with “Meeting Across the River”, but any insights came from having the voice of a Latino behind the words. Joel Selvin sped through “Night” in about 45 seconds ... I assume he was trying to convey the rush of the song, but again, absent the music, he just sounded silly. “Backstreets” has great lyrics, sure, but the meaning of the song is told through the piano and the guitar and the way Bruce channels Van Morrison.

Tom Heyman, a working musician, had a tough job. At least he got to sing and play guitar. But the songs he was given, “Born to Run” and “Jungleland”, don’t lend themselves to an acoustic rendering (even Bruce struggled with this when he sang “Born to Run” solo on one tour). Similarly, Sylvie Simmons was never going to be able to turn “She’s the One” into a ukulele classic (see above). It’s not that these musicians were bad, it’s that their reworkings were doomed to failure from the start. Honestly, Frankie Goes to Hollywood had a better handle on “Born to Run” than Heyman.

Out of all this, one performance rose above the rest. Beth Lisick performed “Thunder Road” as a woman listening on headphones. We couldn’t hear the actual track ... we only heard Lisick, singing (too loud, and just a bit off-key, the way we all do when we sing with headphones on). For once, we sensed the joy that Springsteen’s work provides to his audience, as Lisick danced awkwardly, screwing up the occasional lyric, and then, best of all, acting out the instrumental fadeout. You could hear the instruments in your head, even though no sound came from Lisick. And then, in the single most winning moment of the night, she mimed the Professor playing his little piano phrase. It’s the kind of thing only a hardcore Bruce fan would understand, and it was a roomful of hardcore Bruce fans. The communal feel of recognition was sublime.

A friend who lives in the Northwest felt bad for missing the show, but he offered to read the lyrics in his backyard if anyone wanted to do a road trip his way. I wish “Born to Read” had a bit more of that spirit.

(I should add that I wasn’t keeping notes, so I may have mismatched performers to songs. My apologies if this is true.)

get it anyway, anyhow

So while we congratulate ourselves on not having political prisoners like China or Cuba, we do have what we might call prisoners of politics. Again, Obama described the incarceration crisis as “containing and controlling problems that the rest of us are not facing up to and willing to do something about.” Politicians have not been willing to face up to and do something about the underlying problems and all too willing to seek means of “containing” them—i.e., warehousing the people left behind. The political decisions made in the age of neoliberalism and globalization, concurrent with the War on Drugs, have resulted in a surplus population that cannot be absorbed by the sort of economy advocated by Washington and a severe criminalization of the one economy that does work in communities left behind.

-- Matthew Pulver, “Why America’s prison problem is so much worse than Barack Obama wants to let on


“Some folks are born into a good life. Other folks get it anyway, anyhow.”

music friday: favorites through the years

If I were to make a list of my favorite musicians over the years, the only easy selection would be Bruce Springsteen at the top. But I wonder if perhaps I could offer a chronology of favorites over the years.

One of my first memories (meaning it is entirely untrustworthy) is being a little boy and having to get a shot at the doctor’s office. I cried and ran around the room until my dad promised I could buy an Elvis Presley 45 after we left the office. My memory is it was “Hound Dog”, although that is probably the most untrustworthy part of this whole story. Since I’m trying to concoct a chronological list of favorites, I can’t really use this memory to place Elvis in first place. I didn’t have an Elvis fixation, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was merely the only rock and roller I’d heard of at that young age. I lost interest in him after that, and only really started paying attention to him after Greil Marcus’ book Mystery Train. That book took me to the ‘68 TV special, and if you want a favorite, there you are … whenever I fill out one of those “if you could pick one moment in time, where would it be” memes, I choose to be sitting in the audience as The King and his friends played in the summer of 1968. From there, I went on to write my college honors thesis on Elvis, and I’ve never lost my fascination with him. Truthfully, though, it’s the ‘68 Elvis-and-Friends sessions that affect me emotionally … everything else for me is more academic. So Elvis is a favorite, to be sure, but it’s hard to place him chronologically … 1968, when I didn’t notice him? The mid-70s, when Mystery Train came out?

I had a few 45s when I was a kid … there was Bobby “Boris” Pickett with “The Monster Mash”, Link Wray and “Jack the Ripper”, a few more that are long forgotten. The first LPs I can recall (some gifts, some bought by me) include Herman’s Hermits On Tour, Bringing It All Back Home (for “Like a Rolling Stone”, the first Dylan to grab my attention … of course, that album did not include “Rolling Stone”), and the first two American Yardbirds albums, For Your Love and Having a Rave Up with the Yardbirds. It would be accurate to say that The Yardbirds were my first “favorite” musicians. I put “favorite” in quotes because The Beatles ruled over everything by then, and I was not immune. (I can remember buying Revolver right when it came out, and someone asking me how I knew it was good before I’d even heard it. “It’s the Beatles!” was my reply.) Finally, to complete this time frame, I had an older brother who lived at home until 1964, and his tastes were very influential on me, plus he had lots of records.

The Yardbirds, “I Wish You Would” (Eric Clapton on guitar)

For the rest of the 60s, my favorites were identified more by albums than by artists, although the Beatles and Rolling Stones were always there. Representing the “San Francisco Sound” were Surrealistic Pillow, Children of the Future, Electric Music for the Mind and Body, and the first Quicksilver album. Oh, and the Firesign Theatre. But I don’t think any of these artists were favorites beyond their best albums. If I had to list a favorite, let it be Jack Casady. One album, though, made such an impression on me that it lifted the artist to a favored spot: Astral Weeks by Van Morrison. His first four solo albums (through His Band and the Street Choir) were often played, and there was plenty to like after that. I finally saw him live in 1998.

Van Morrison, “Cypress Avenue

Not sure I had a favorite for the next few years. Listened to a lot of The Moody Blues in the late-60s. Allman Brothers. Boz Scaggs’ “Loan Me a Dime”. No, the next My Favorite came when I re-discovered Bob Dylan around about the time of Planet Waves. I had liked him since long before that, of course, and The Band was always thisclose to being a favorite … in hindsight, I don’t know if there is a double whammy I love more than Big Pink and the second album. Robin and I saw them on the Before the Flood tour, our first concert together after we were married … we saw Dylan twice more over the years, The Band once more (they were/are a favorite of hers, as well). I buried myself in Dylanology, reading everything I could find, going back to the earlier albums. Then Blood on the Tracks and The Basement Tapes followed … it was a great time to be a Dylan fan. Things went downhill after that … we saw him on the Street Legal tour, and it wasn’t the same … we didn’t see him in concert again for 20 years. It’s hard to get mid-70s Dylan on YouTube (The Band is easy to find), so here’s what I (along, I’m sure) consider the best use ever of “All Along the Watchtower”, the culmination of its use in Battlestar Galactica:

BSG, Starbuck

Then came Bruce … do I really need to say more? My various stories are scattered throughout this blog. My favorite of his songs after all these years is still “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)”, and it was 1978 that cemented his place forever in my heart. So here’s “Rosie” from 1978:

Bruce Springsteen, “Rosalita

Punk was probably the musical movement I most loved. Patti Smith could be on this list. But my true favorites were The Clash … it’s really not even close.

The Clash, “Safe European Home

Lou Reed is in there, too … we saw him quite a few times then. The Velvet Underground belongs on this list, but as with Elvis, I don’t know where to place them. We listened to the first album all the time when it came out, and I was aware of the other albums. But it took a long time for me to realize that they were my favorite band, by which point they had long since broken up. The real favorites of the … what do I call it, post-punk era? College rock? Anyway, the favorites were Hüsker Dü. I would vote for the Velvets over the Hüskers overall, but in the context of this post, Hüsker Dü is the right choice. And my favorite of their songs is an easy choice. “So now sit around staring at the walls. We don't do anything at all. Take out the garbage, maybe, BUT THE DISHES DON’T GET DONE!”

Hüsker Dü, “I Apologize

Predating Hüsker Dü by a bit (and thus throwing off the chronology a bit, but I wanted Hüsker Dü in with the punks) was their fellow Minnesotan, Prince. He would be the frontrunner if I decided I had to pick a #2 favorite. Seeing him in a small club in 1981 ranks as one of the finest concert moments of my life. For most of the 80s, he was crucial, and he has never really gone away … saw him in concert just a few years ago.

Prince, “Uptown

Don’t think I haven’t noticed that the above are all guys. I’ve loved many women rockers over the years, going back at least as far as Aretha in the 60s. I mentioned Patti Smith earlier … and there’s Bonnie Raitt and Lucinda Williams, and more. But they weren’t my favorites the same way acts like Bruce and Prince were.

And then came Sleater-Kinney. I saw them for the first time in 1998, after Janet had joined the band and Dig Me Out was their most recent album. The first S-K song I can remember loving was “Good Things” from the second album, but Dig Me Out was and remains iconic for me, especially “Words + Guitar” and even more especially “One More Hour”. I don’t think I knew right away how much I would love them. It had been more than a decade since I truly obsessed over a new act … I was 45 years old in 1998, I had Bruce, I didn’t need more. But there was something about Sleater-Kinney. Their concerts were very interesting … I want to tell you what a great live act they were, but the truth is, I could barely distinguish a lot of the noise (Janet’s drums always came through, though). It’s the way they formed a real group out of three women with distinct personalities on stage. In the earlier years, Corin tended to be relatively calm, letting her colossal vocals do the work of expanding her presence to the audience. Janet was simply the best rock drummer since Keith Moon. Meanwhile, Carrie took care of the rock star charisma, and she had it in abundance, her bangs always in her eyes, her energy at once coiled and explosive. On record, Corin’s voice got my attention, and I had a fan’s crush on Janet’s drumming. But the fact was, I could barely take my eyes off of Carrie. They made seven albums, and all of them were good (sample: Christgau gave the albums grades of A-, A, A, A, A-, A, A). I made an S-K playlist for a friend … I ended up including more than 40 songs. The last album, The Woods, was arguably their best, as they released their inner Blue Cheer. And the concerts rolled on … over the course of just under eight years, I saw them 12 times. There was the time they played “Promised Land” on Bruce’s birthday, the many times they would man their own merch tables and I’d get tongue-tied in the presence of Janet.

And then they went on “hiatus” … that was in 2006, and I just about cry every time I think of it. By that point, I was 53 years old, and this time I was sure of it, I would never love another new act the way I loved Sleater-Kinney. “One More Hour” was the last song they ever played together … “i know it's hard for you to let it go, i know it's hard for you to say goodbye, i know you need a little more time”.

Sleater-Kinney, “One More Hour

Another woman has snuck in, though … I don’t obsess over her the way I did with Sleater-Kinney, those days are indeed probably gone. But I’ve seen her five times (the second at the Fillmore, two years after I’d seen S-K there) … she’s just about the only person left not named Bruce who can get my now-61-year-old ass to a show. Pink.

Pink, “So What

So, there’s my slightly botched timeline of my favorite musicians over the years:

  • The Yardbirds
  • Van Morrison
  • Bob Dylan
  • Bruce Springsteen
  • The Clash
  • Hüsker Dü
  • Prince
  • Sleater-Kinney
  • Pink

friday random ten, 1992 edition

One last quickie … we’ll be back by the time next Friday rolls around.

1. Bruce Springsteen, “I Wish I Were Blind”. “Though the world is filled with the grace and beauty of God's hand, oh I wish I were blind when I see you with your man.”

2. 4 Non Blondes, “What’s Up? “I am feeling a little peculiar.”

3. Sir Mix-a-Lot, “Baby Got Back”. “Oh, my, God. Becky, look at her butt!”

4. Kris Kross, “Jump”. “Kris Kross will make you jump jump.”

5. House of Pain, “Jump Around”. “I got more rhymes than the Bible's got Psalms.”

6. PJ Harvey, “Sheela-Na-Gig”. “Put money in your idle hole.”

7. Radiohead, “Creep”. “You’re so fucking special. I wish I was special. But I’m a creep.”

8. En Vogue, “Giving Him Something He Can Feel”. “Livin' in a world of ghetto life.”

9. Dr. Dre, “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang”. “It's like this and like that and like this and uh …”

10. The Cranberries, “Dreams”. “Moong joong yun yut fun joong po gun.”

music friday: bruce springsteen, "into the fire" and sleater-kinney, "sympathy"

The sky was falling and streaked with blood
I heard you calling me then you disappeared into the dust
Up the stairs, into the fire
Up the stairs, into the fire
I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love
May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

You gave your love to see in fields of red and autumn brown
You gave your love to me and lay your young body down
Up the stairs, into the fire
Up the stairs, into the fire
I need you near but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

It was dark, too dark to see, you held me in the light you gave
You lay your hand on me
Then walked into the darkness of your smoky grave
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire
I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love
May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

I know I come to you only when in need
I’m not the best believer, not the most deserving
but all I have, all I am, all I can … for him
I’d beg you on bended knees for him

Precious baby, is your life hanging by a thread?
A thread I’m standing on, praying on today
all I have, all I am, all I can… for him
I’d beg you on bended knees for him

I’ve got this curse in my hands
all I touch fades to black
turns to dust, turns to sand
I’ve got this curse on my tongue
all I taste is the rust
this decay in my blood

I don’t like the doctor with the deep long face
only wants to give us the very worst case
I’d rather shout out and shake him and do anything for him
well I’d, I’d beg you on bended knees for him

I’ve got this curse in my hands
all I touch fades to black
turns to dust, turns to sand
I’ve got this curse on my tongue
all I taste is the rust
this decay in my blood

when the moment strikes
it takes you by surprise and
leaves you naked in the face of death and life
there is no righteousness in your darkest moment
we’re all equal in the face of what we’re most afraid of
and I’m so sorry
for those who didn’t make it
for the mommies who are left with their hearts breaking

I search for meaning in sores
the sentences they might form
it’s the grammar of skin
peel it back, let me in
look for hope in the dark
the shadow cast by your heart
it’s the grammar of faith
no more rules, no restraint

How angry I would be if you’d taken him away
I wish I was wiser but instead I’ll be grateful, I’ll say
thanks for the love, for the joy, for the smile on his face
’cause I would beg you on bended knees for him
I would beg you on bended knee   

bruce and tony and jimmy and neil and willow

ong ago … like, decades ago … once it was clear that 1) Bruce Springsteen was going to last, and 2) he’d be part of the lives of Bruce fans forever, I talked to my wife about who might be a comparable figure from an earlier generation that could serve as a model for Bruce in his old age. A lot of Bruce’s attempts to create a career seem to have been driven by the desire to avoid turning out like Elvis … no matter how much youthful abandon we found in Bruce’s earliest work, by the time of Darkness, it was clear he was intent on continuing as an adult.

The model I was looking for would be someone with great talent, of course. They would be someone who managed, for the most part, to stay true to themselves in the midst of the varying taste of the multitudes. They would be someone who, as much as was physically possible, retained their technical skills without fetishizing them. And they would be someone who was both loved and respected, even by those who weren’t necessarily fans.

The person I came up with was Tony Bennett. Now, I came up with this 20 or so years ago, so you have to recall a time when Bennett was out of the public eye more than he is today. But with the help of his son, who turned out to have a flair for management, Bennett gradually worked his way into the consciousness of a younger audience … and he did this without changing his music. (I wasn’t really aware of the serious problems Bennett had for some years prior to his comeback.)

The pinnacle of that comeback was in 1994, when he appeared on MTV Unplugged:


(You know, watching that video, I realize that Bruce is starting to look like Tony, except Tony’s toupee is more obvious and Bruce uses Grecian formula on his.)

(Also, a brief comment on baseball: I wonder when, if ever again, I’ll be able to hear this song without getting choked up.)

Tony Bennett is 84 years old, and he is loved and respected. And Bruce … well, he’s not doing too badly in those areas, either.

Bruce did only one bit of TV promotion for the Darkness box, an appearance last night on Jimmy Fallon’s show. It was fun … that’s the word, fun, Bruce was having fun and, despite his hero-worship, so was Fallon. When The River came out in 1980, I remember hearing the second song, “Sherry Darling,” which we had heard on the 1978 tour … it was a goofy song with frat-boy backup vocals and a feeling of release, and I was so glad … Darkness was as close to my own life as I was living it then as any record I’ve ever heard, but I’m not sure I could take another trip down that road, and my moments of concert transcendence always came with “Rosalita” and “Quarter to Three.” I was happy to know that Bruce could still have fun. Well, that’s what he had on Jimmy Fallon, and especially considering the reason for his visit (to promote Darkness), that fun was unexpected and welcomed. Here is how he made his entrance (there may be an ad before it begins):


I should add a postscript. For all my attempts to remain up to date on popular music, I had never heard “Whip My Hair” before this. I honestly thought Fallon had written it as a faux-Neil song. When I learned that it was a big hit by Yet Another Star Child of Will and Jada, I wasn’t sure what to think … I’ve enjoyed songs by nine-year-olds in the past, I think “I Want You Back” is the greatest Motown song of them all, yet here I wonder about the stage mom-and-dad angle (and it’s not like Michael Jackson’s parents were necessarily the best). Whatever … the hit version is catchy, I can see why it’s popular, and, as I told my son when he encouraged me to take a listen, I’d rather listen to “Tootsie Roll.”

random friday, 2004 edition: arcade fire, "rebellion (lies)"

I’m getting old, and the closer we get to the end of the year (and thus, the closer Random Friday gets to the present day), the more obvious my age becomes. The last three artists featured on Random Friday were aging icons who were about to die. And now here we are in 2004 … I was in my 50s by this point, and I’m pretty sure I’m running out of things to say about contemporary music.

Arcade Fire make an excellent example. They are everything I should love in a band, making expansive indie rock with hints of Springsteen. They make great records. I love them every time they pop up on the radio or in a video.

Yet I’m not really attached to them. I don’t have the energy any longer to put into total fandom … I remarked when Sleater-Kinney broke up that they were likely to be my last true music love, and so far that has held true.

“Rebellion (Lies")” is my favorite Arcade Fire song. I don’t know what it is “about,” which may be one reason I like it … rock and roll has a long history of classic songs where the lyrics fade between intelligible and unintelligible. I know the chorus … “Every time you close your eyes (LIES!LIES!).” I love the chorus. I love the power of the band’s performance. And I want to fall in love with the band, to need to go to all of their shows, to have a greedy desire to devour each album as it comes out.

But I don’t.

Here is the official video for the song:

You can find several great live performances of “Rebellion (Lies)” on YouTube. Here are a few … no need to listen to them all, if I had to pick one, maybe the Much Music Awards, but they are all wonderdul. First, from Letterman:

From Jools Holland:

The Much Music Awards:

best american band ever

The invaluable Cody B, MOGger supreme, conducted a longish poll where we all voted for what he called “The Best American Band … Ever.” The rules were complicated, the vote calculations recognizable to fans of the old Pazz & Jops. I was lazy and did not participate in the nomination rounds, but I did finally wake up to cast a ballot in the finals.

A few choices from the final tally:

In the 41-50 range you can find everyone from Count Basie to Hendrix. I mention Hendrix because he was a victim of the process (some thought the Experience wasn’t a “band” as much as Jimi’s support, others thought the three of them weren’t “American”).

REM was #31, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys #40.

#21: The Roots. #30: Neil Young & Crazy Horse.

Duke Ellington’s Orchestra was #11, Bad Brains #20.

6 through 10: Creedence, James Brown & the Famous Flames, The Band, The Pixies, Zappa and the Mothers (I was sure sad to see that last one … should have handed out some of my negative votes).

The Beach Boys came in at #5 … I’ve always found them overrated, but this is no surprise.

The top four must say something about the demographics of the group, since they are all New York bands or close to it:

  • #4: Bruce and the E Street Band
  • #3: Talking Heads
  • #2: The Ramones
  • #1: The Velvet Underground

We were given 50 points to pass around, with 15 max for a single band. We could include write-ins (we were voting from a list constructed via the nominating rounds), but the most we could give them was 10. FWIW, here is how I parceled out my 50 points:

  • Bruce and Velvets: 15 each
  • Sleater-Kinney: 10 (write-in)
  • Sly & the Family Stone: 6
  • Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks: 4 (write-in)