music friday: bruce springsteen, "sherry darling", the river

I was listening to Bruce Springsteen’s recent concert that we attended in Oakland, part of his “River Tour”, wherein he plays the entire River album in order. There is a lot of talk these days about how fragmented our listening habits have become. We don’t listen to albums anymore, we just hit shuffle play and let the software choose from a million different songs. Maybe you have a favorite artist ... say, in my case, Bruce Springsteen ... and you have a playlist consisting solely and entirely of every song Bruce has ever recorded. I’ll listen to that playlist, but when I do, I’ll use shuffle play. The result? Let me do an experiment, I’ll shuffle that playlist and see what comes up.

There are close to 500 songs on the playlist. For this particular shuffle play, we start off with “My Best Was Never Good Enough”, a favorite track of mine from The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995). Next comes “I Wanna Be With You” (1979), one of the outtakes that ended up on Tracks. Then the Roy Orbison song “Oh, Pretty Woman”, from the 25th Anniversary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Concert in 2009, with Bruce joined by John Fogerty.

That’s followed up with the “Detroit Medley” from the 1975 Hammersmith Odeon concert. Finally, closing out the first five songs is “Blood Brothers”, recorded in 1995.

You get at least a glimpse of what makes Bruce “Bruce”. Cover versions of 60s rock classics, an acoustic track, and two lesser-known tunes. Nothing from his most famous albums, nothing that’s one of his hits. But all of it is recognizably Bruce Springsteen.

The artist is the only thing that brings this disparate material together. Those five songs do not resemble an “album”, or even an EP. An album has its own coherence. At least, that’s how it used to be. It might still be true, but the audience doesn’t necessarily treat it as such.

What I thought while listening to the Oakland show was that Bruce was forcing us to return, not just to 1980, but to a time when an album was an album. He has played many River songs in concert over the years ... to use one example, at the show I saw most recently before Oakland 2016, he sang “Hungry Heart” and “The Ties That Bind”, separated by several other songs, of course. This tour, though, we got it all, track by track, in order. Just like we were listening to the album.

Well, if we were listening to the album with 35+ years on us. Clarence and Danny are gone, Jake and Charles and Nils and Soozie (and sometimes Patti) are with us. The crush of nostalgia lies heavily over the concert, to be sure. But as an experience in hearing an album, it was different.

“Sherry Darling” had an interesting history. In the old days, Bruce was always tossing a few new songs into his shows. At the famous Winterland concerts in 1978, he played “Ties That Bind” and “Point Blank”, even though he was touring behind Darkness and The River was two years away. So we knew those songs before they ever turned up on an album. “Sherry” was another of those songs ... while he didn’t play it for us, he trotted it out enough times that we heard bootleg concert versions.

When The River was released, I was wary. Darkness on the Edge of Town was indeed dark, and in fact that fit well with my personal experiences of the time. But I also knew that my favorite parts of his concerts were the joyous ones. “The Ties That Bind” was the first track on The River, and it was good, but I feared the darkness was returning. So when “Sherry Darling” was the next track, with its goofy lyrics and pseudo-crowd noises, I was so happy I could cry.

You’ll note from the above video that in 1978, Bruce wanted the crowd to make noise (“fraternity rock”), but he couldn’t expect anyone to sing along, since the song had never been released. In 2016, though, it is expected that we will know the words, and we will sing them:

We are hearing the song in the context of the original album. But we can’t replace the newness of those first times we heard those songs in 1980. Bruce approximates the experience of listening to an album, but nothing more. And there’s the added fact that some of the most noteworthy performances on this tour have been non-River songs, like his tributes to Bowie and Prince, “Rebel Rebel” and “Purple Rain”.


music friday: prince

Greil Marcus happened to be at my first Prince concert (he and I have been at a lot of the same shows over the years, including my first rock concert at the Fillmore in 1967), which would be irrelevant except he wrote about it, thus saving me the trouble:

Fronting a band of three blacks and two Jews from Minneapolis, Prince stormed into town on the heels of last year’s breakthrough Dirty Mind, was greeted by the most excited and diverse crowd (black and white, punk and funk, straight and gay, young and old, rich and poor) I’ve been part of in a long time, and sent everyone home awestruck and drained: “That was the history of rock ‘n’ roll in one song!” a friend shouted before the last notes of “When You Were Mine” were out of the air. All barriers of music, sex, and race were seemingly trashed by Prince’s performance ...

I have a habit of telling people Prince is the only artist where I was “there” at the beginning. It’s an exaggeration at best, nonsense at worst ... I picked up on him with Dirty Mind, saw him for the first time on that tour in 1981. I think it was the fact that not many people in my crowd knew him yet, combined with the part where that concert was one of the transcendent shows of my life. I like to think I’ve seen some great performers over the years ... some of them very good indeed. Sleater-Kinney is such a favorite of mine that I’ve seen them 14 times, not to mention two Wild Flags, two Corin Tucker Bands, and two Cadallacas. But as a live act, I place them just below the greatest. Same with Patti Smith, Pink ... great concerts, but not quite the peak. By 1981, my top two were Bruce Springsteen and The Clash. After that Prince show, the list grew to three.

(It’s weird I think of my being there early for Prince. I caught on to Bruce with Born to Run, saw my first Bruce concert on that tour. People think I was there from the start, but Born to Run, like Dirty Mind for Prince, was his third album.)

Let me return to Greil’s review for a moment. We can all agree that Prince was a dynamite live performer, that he created a tremendous recorded legacy, that he was so influential it seems like the word should be retired now. But perhaps the thing I found most amazing at that concert was “the most excited and diverse crowd”. I’m just an old rock-and-roller ... OK, I was only 27 at that show ... Bruce Springsteen is my favorite, and at his shows, the number of African-Americans on the stage often seems to outnumber the ones in the audience. My experience with “diverse” crowds is more like there being lots of lesbians at Sleater-Kinney concerts, or dads taking daughters to see Pink (lotta lesbians there, too). But that Prince show ... like Marcus, I’d never seen anything like that crowd.

Which may be why I was so sad the next time I saw Prince, on the Controversy tour. The crowd was once again diverse, but the lovely vibe was gone ... pickpockets worked the crowd on the floor, it was the only time in my life I’ve been anything close to being “mugged”.

(I should probably note, that second concert was at Civic Auditorium, which held around 7000. The first was at The Stone, which held 700.)

Prince crossed generations. I’ve been texting with my son and daughter a lot the last 24 hours, and my son hit the nail on the head. Talking about early memories, he said that “Little Red Corvette” was “like mom and dad’s voice.”

And about “Little Red Corvette”. What a great song! As I type this, I’m listening to another great song, “Head”, which isn’t exactly subtle. The singer meets a woman on her way to her wedding. He wants her, but she’s a virgin. “But you're such a hunk, so full of spunk, I'll give you head.” She’s so good at it that he “came on your wedding gown.” She married him instead, of course. And, in case this sounds like a typical male fantasy, he spends the rest of the song giving her head.

But I was talking about “Little Red Corvette”. Double entendre lyrics are a dime a dozen, but when they are as good as this, why quibble? The woman as Corvette, her pocket full of horses (some of them used). The way he “felt a little ill when I saw all the pictures of the jockeys that were there before me”. Like a cross of Bogie and Baby in The Big Sleep and Robert Johnson’s “Terraplane Blues”, with the added loveliness of “But it was Saturday night, I guess that makes it all right”. And a great production. One of the handful of “might be his best” tracks.

Thinking about all of this, I’m realizing Prince did more than cross generations. He brought people together. The first time I saw him was with my brother and sister-in-law. On the Purple Rain tour, my wife and I went with friends, one of whom we had known since high school. I took my son when he was young. My best friend went to a Prince concert with our daughter. The last time I saw Prince, I sat with my son and daughter-in-law. My wife felt left out, was upset we didn’t think she’d want to go. So she got tix late, ended up with better seats than we had, sitting with our nephew.

To say nothing of the practical aspect of Prince. My son just texted me to say that “If there was no sign o the times, dishes woulda never been clean”. Although I admit, if it were me, I might have been so distracted by that greatest of all Prince albums that, rather than be inspired to finish the chores, I would have just been unable to work.

If you’ve gotten this far, you might have noticed there are no links to videos. Prince was famously vigilant about keeping his music off of YouTube. With perseverance, you can find a lot of good stuff. In the meantime, you could always go buy some of his music. Just try not to fall into the trap described in this Onion headline: “Nation Too Sad To Fuck Even Though It’s What Prince Would Have Wanted”.


music friday: "all by myself"

Some filmmakers are better than others at using popular music in their movies ... thinking Scorsese and Mean Streets. Some reject the idea of a soundtrack, and many movies feature original soundtracks of mostly lyric-free music.

Once in awhile, the connection between song and music becomes unbreakable. You hear “Bohemian Rhapsody”, you think Wayne’s World. (This doesn’t happen with Mean Streets, which features too many great songs to force any one of them into our brains solely as Mean Street Music.)

In the mid-1990s, English novelist Helen Fielding began writing a serialized newspaper column about a single woman in her 30s working her way through life in London. This column was popular enough for Fielding to construct a novel from them, called Bridget Jones’s Diary. Fielding’s work was compared to Nick Hornby’s, the chick lit to his lad lit. Her book was popular enough to elicit a sequel, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, which wasn’t as good, although it had its moments.

Next up was a film version of Diary. This movie, starring Renée Zellweger as Bridget, was eagerly anticipated by fans of the book, although British fans were upset that an American was playing the English icon. (Zellweger was excellent, grabbing a Best Actress Oscar nomination.) The question was, could the movie capture the blend of self-awareness and humorous honesty that made the book a good read.

I just watched Bridget Jones’s Diary ... I think for the third time ... because it celebrated its 15th anniversary this week. It still holds up as an example of a good rom-com. But watching it for a third time, fifteen years after the fact, can’t duplicate the feeling of sitting in the theater in 2001, waiting for the movie to start, hoping it would be good.

The movie began with a voiceover, which effectively emulated the diary structure of the book. After five minutes or so, the credits sequence began. And even though it seemed obvious the minute it happened, it was also perfect, so perfect that I’ve never been able to hear this song without thinking of Bridget Jones:

That version was sung by Jamie O’Neal. Here is Eric Carmen’s original:

And, what the heck, one of the most honest songs ever written:

I just want a hit record, yeah
Wanna hear it on the radio
Want a big hit record, yeah
One that everybody's got to know


music friday: walk-up music

Here are some of the songs used as walk-up music for Giants players. I’ll use the starting lineup on Opening Day, at least the guys whose songs are listed on the team website (to be honest, I think it’s a little outdated).

Denard Span: Fabolous, “Ball Drop

Buster Posey: Brantley Gilbert, “Hell on Wheels

Hunter Pence: White Zombie, “More Human Than Human

 

Brandon Belt: Jay-Z, “99 Problems

Brandon Crawford: Elle Goulding, “Burn

Jake Peavy: Bruce Springsteen, “Badlands

Angel Pagan: Calle 13, “Baile de los Pobres

 

Let’s toss in pinch-hitter Gregor Blanco: Nova y Jory, “Aprovecha

 

A favorite at our house, the music that is played when pitcher Sergio Romo enters the game: Banda MS, “El Mechon

 

And finally, this is played after every Giants home win:


music friday: jeff pike's index

“Music Friday” is a misnomer here. Jeff Pike’s new book, Index: Essays, Fragments, and Liberal Arts Homework covers a lot more ground than just music. I didn’t do a statistical analysis, but I think music might have only been the third-most common topic, after movies and books. But it’s Friday, so I’m writing about it here.

I’ve been a longtime reader of Jeff’s blog, which can be addictive even when it riles me up (today he wrote about Dancer in the Dark, a movie I hate to be reminded of). The breadth of things he writes about is impressive ... the book’s subtitle is quite accurate (well, “liberal arts” is on target ... it never feels like homework). I thought the book would largely be an anthology of his blog posts, and there is some of that. But, to give one example, arguably my favorite piece in the entire book pre-dates the blog, so there is a lot of fresh-to-me material.

Index is also an accurate title, for the book is structured in A-to-Z fashion, from A.I. Artificial Intelligence to Neil Young’s Weld. I’m fudging things a bit here, because the truth is, the book literally goes from A to Z ... each letter gets its own short essay to introduce the “chapters”. Jeff had been writing these “letter” posts on his blog for awhile now, and I admit I was puzzled by them. But they make sense here, and in fact he does some of his best writing when digging deep into this or that letter.

As a longtime blogger myself, I couldn’t help comparing this book to something I might put together. What I noticed was how good the longer form pieces are (I tend to write long form only when it’s to be published elsewhere).

And I don’t know why I didn’t think of this in advance, but Index is an ideal bathroom book. The structure invites you to jump around, and the length of the essays are just about right for that environment. So Jeff, you’ll be glad to know you’re in there with Kael and Christgau and Marcus and David Thomson and, yes, Dellio.

Of course, I wanted to read about my favorite topics first. He is quite fair with Bruce Springsteen, writing about “Independence Day” and “Downbound Train”. I liked reading about The Replacements/Hüsker Dü from somewhere who was there (meaning Minneapolis ... I was “there” for Hüsker Dü in that I loved them and saw them several times in concert, but Jeff was “there-there”.) But perhaps my favorite essay had nothing to do with music, movies, books, television, or any other thing that might be called “liberal arts homework”. I’m referring to the long piece, “Strat-O-Matic Baseball, 1985-1993”, which as I noted above pre-dates the blog (although a related post, about the great Robert Coover novel The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop., includes a brief mention of Strat). He captures perfectly the feel of being obsessed with that game ... rather, those kind of games ... I have played many over the years, going back to 1961, but I only had a short affair with Strat-O-Matic. I love reading about this ... for a long time, I found my attraction to the games something I should approach in a clandestine fashion, a feeling that was multiplied after reading Coover’s novel, which is frightening in its psychological accuracy. In the 1980s, the world discovered “fantasy” sports, and nowadays it is not unusual to participate in such games. (I played “rotisserie” baseball from 1987 until the present day, although it looks like 2016 will be the first year I don’t have any teams in almost 30 years.)

It’s easy for me to recommend Jeff’s blog. But I can now recommend Index with equal fervor.


throw it back, whammer jammer

On this date in 1982, I saw the J. Geils Band at the Civic Center in San Francisco. It was the second of two shows at Civic. I thought it was a fine concert, although I was on psychedelics so I’m not to be trusted. I loved that band, saw them several times in concert.

What makes this concert noteworthy in retrospect was the opening act: U2. Although no one knew it then, this was the last time U2 opened for anyone, other than at festivals. My memory is they kicked ass that night, although stories that they blew J Geils off the stage are exaggerating.

For U2 fans, here is their setlist:

Gloria

I Threw a Brick Through a Window

A Day Without Me

An Cat Dubh

Into the Heart

Rejoice

The Cry

The Electric Co.

I Will Follow

Encore: Out Of Control and 11 O'clock Tick Tock

Here’s "Whammer Jammer" from a show I saw at Winterland in 1977, featuring Magic Dick. (Robert Gordon and Head East were the opening acts.)


music friday: bob dylan, blood on the tracks

My Dylan obsessions go something like this:

The first Dylan album I bought was Bringing It All Back Home, when I was 12 years old. I was more taken with “Like a Rolling Stone”, which was released a month or so before the album on which it appeared, Highway 61 Revisited. My memory is that my brother had a lot of the early albums, and many of the songs I liked from them were the energetic ones: “Pretty Peggy-O”, “Gospel Plow”, and “Freight Train Blues” from his underrated debut, “Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance” from Freewheelin’. I preferred the raucous electric side of Bringing It All Back Home, although I have always been taken with “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”. But “Like a Rolling Stone” was my national anthem. And “Desolation Row”, also from Highway 61, has always been a favorite, although when I was 12, I didn’t know it was funny.

Then came the classic period ... I wasn’t taken with Blonde on Blonde as much as most people, liked John Wesley Harding more.

In 1972 or 1973, I took a class at junior college from a professor who had gone on the road with Dylan as the latter headed to New York in the early-60s. His enthusiasm was infectious, and when Planet Waves came out, I bought it, one of the few records I purchased in those first, broke, married years. “Dirge” was such a downer, Dylan has never even played it in concert, and he has played a lot of concerts. It started with “I hate myself for lovin’ you and the weakness that it showed”, and went downhill from there.

All of which led up to the big tour, Dylan and The Band, in 1974. It was the first concert my wife and I attended together. This was the period of my biggest Dylan obsessions ... I even went so far as to wear a scarf on my head, which I had never done before and never would again, because Dylan wore one for the Hard Rain TV special.

Which brings us to Blood on the Tracks. If we only count the completeness of my obsession during the moment, this was my favorite Dylan album of them all. I guess “Tangled Up in Blue” remains the most-acclaimed song, for good reason, but I also loved “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts”, and made a short film with me and my newly-born son of “Shelter from the Storm”. But I was as mean-spirited then as I ever was, so “Idiot Wind” really grabbed me.

The first official release of The Basement Tapes followed, and we played them over and over. I made another short film, this one based on “Tiny Montgomery”. Much of Desire seems unfortunate now, although I still like hearing “One More Cup of Coffee (Valley Below)”. Street Legal was awful, but we did go to see that tour, which was more Neil Diamond than Bob Dylan (check out Bob Dylan at Budokan if you must).

Then there was 1997:


music friday

My most-listened to tracks, by year, according to Last.fm, which grabs my Spotify listening. I’ve included a track for each year that I listened to a lot. No, I don’t understand how James Taylor got on there. As usual when I check what I actually listen to instead of what I like to think I listen to, I am revealed as a music fan stuck in the 60s.

 

2006: The Beatles. “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”. (Link is to an alternate take.)

2007: Bob Dylan. “Mr. Tambourine Man”.

2008: James Taylor. “Fire and Rain”. (Link is to a live version from 1970.)

2009: Bruce Springsteen. “Born to Run”.

2010: The Rolling Stones. “Moonlight Mile”.

2011: Wild Flag. “Romance”.

2012: Bruce Springsteen. “Badlands”. (Link is to a live version from 1978.)

2013: The Beatles. “Get Back”. (Link is to rooftop version.)

2014: The Rolling Stones. “Salt of the Earth”.

2015: Jefferson Airplane. “She Has Funny Cars”.