springsteen on broadway

I had to ask myself, when choosing category tags for this post, what exactly is Springsteen on Broadway? I threw my hands in the air and tried to be inclusive (Bruce Springsteen, Film, Music, Television, and Theater, although I could have also included Books). I should specifically note that I am not referring to the actual show Bruce performed in a theater on Broadway, a show that ran for more than a year. Nor am I referring specifically to the newly-released soundtrack of the show. I'm talking about the version that turned up on Netflix a few hours after the final show in the run had concluded. I mention all of this because there is plenty to say about how well the theater show translates to Netflix, but I'm here to talk about it as a video I watched, as a Bruce fan of close to 45 years. Nonetheless, from this point, when I say "The Show" I mean all of its variants, even though I personally am talking about the Netflix edition.

Springsteen on Broadway is an interesting amalgam of things long-time Bruce fans have enjoyed for a long time. For instance, Bruce does a lot of talking in this show ... there's 16 songs, but it runs for 2 1/2 hours, which is actually kind of short for a Bruce concert but when he plays for 3+ hours, he'll usually work in 30 or so songs. The soundtrack album demonstrates how it works ... it has 30 tracks, which include the songs and their introductions. "The Promised Land (Introduction)" lasts 11:34 ... "The Promised Land" itself lasts 4:01. Still, there is a familiar feel to it all for hard-core fans, who have been listening to Bruce tell his tales in concert since forever. (There is a website, "Storyteller", that offers 1,237 stories Bruce has told on stage, from a show in Union, New Jersey in May of 1971 to a June 2018 show from the Broadway run.) The music in the show is stripped down, just Bruce and his guitar, with an occasional piano or harmonica, and Patti Scialfa for two songs. This is also something we've seen before, most notably in his tours in support of The Ghost of Tom Joad and Devils and Dust. Finally, if you've read his memoir, Born to Run, you have heard many of these stories specifically, since the show is based on that book.

Thus, despite the newness of the presentation (as the title says, Springsteen ON BROADWAY), ultimately there isn't a lot new here. And that's appropriate. For while Bruce was once famously called The Future of Rock and Roll, he has always been an artist who brings together the familiar shared moments from our past into the fired-up present. A show built around the story of Bruce's life and career necessarily looks at the past, as he has always done. But it also reevaluates that past in the context of the present, which he has also always done.

Something did strike me as odd, though. When he hit the scene, Bruce Springsteen was a refreshing departure from the emerging singer-songwriter genre of "I've seen fire and I've seen rain" navel gazing. He wrote about the boardwalk, Greasy Lake, Sandy and Rosie, Thunder Road and Jungleland. He created a world out of memorable characters and settings, and sure, he grew up on the Jersey Shore and you could imagine he was talking about himself in those songs, but the songs weren't about him, they were about the world he created. Jungleland was never a real place, after all. This tendency was so marked that it took him 8 albums before he finally recorded something that felt "personal" in the ways of singer-songwriters (Tunnel of Love). However, in Springsteen on Broadway, through his narrative introductions, Bruce ties his songs to his biography in a way that was only suggested at the time those songs reached an audience. The song selection forces this upon us. The first four songs are among the ones that most obviously connect to his biography ... not myth-making classics like "Rosalita" or "Jungleland", but "Growin' Up," "My Hometown," "My Father's House," and "The Wish," his paean to his mom and the Japanese guitar she got him for Xmas. After this setup, "Thunder Road," which follows, becomes less myth-making and more biography. Bruce constructs a singer-songwriter out of his work.

Even so, he turns this construction on its head, partly by admitting all of his work is a construction. As he says in the show's opening, "I come from a boardwalk town where everything is tinged just a little bit with fraud. So am I." And later, talking about an early cross-country road trip where he had to admit he had never driven before: "I don't have a clue as to how to drive. By that I mean, the man who very shortly would write 'Racing in the Street' (pause ... he's got great timing) ... that's how good I am." He made it all up.

And that's magic, the kind you won't find from singer-songwriters. Somehow, he took his personal experiences and created inclusive worlds that reached beyond his own self, making room for all of us to join him on the ride.

If you've read his memoir, you'll notice what is left out of the show. There is nothing about his years of therapy and depression. But the show coheres as a whole.

I don't know that any of the song performances here are definitive. If I want to hear "Thunder Road" again, I'll look elsewhere. In some ways, the stories are the best part, and I imagine those won't have the staying power of the songs, so I don't anticipate pulling out the audio version every two weeks. (The one possible keeper is "Brilliant Disguise", a classic song about love gone wrong and the deceit we use to try to keep it alive ... written for his "divorce" album, it takes on new meaning with Patti along for harmonies.) That's not quite right, though ... the stories combined with the songs are the best part, and stories+songs is what you get for 2 1/2 hours, which is more than all right.

I was reminded of 1980, when we saw him five times in a week. Every night, "Jungleland" would come near the end of the show, and every night, I'd rush down to the front of the stage and watch Bruce bellow out those last notes. And I'd wonder how he did it, how could he care so much each and every night? Because we all know Bruce Springsteen is "authentic". But after five nights with "Jungleland", I finally realized he was acting. And that was OK, too. You'll see this in Springsteen on Broadway, where he works with a script, telling the same exact stories the same exact way for more than a year, and you don't see the seams, because you are too caught up in the performance. That's how good he is.


music friday: what i listened to in 2016

It's late in the game, but I finally had to change things around on Music Friday, because I had a list of 10 songs from that year and I realized I didn't know a single one of them off the top of my head. So I went to Last.fm and had it sort my listening for the year 2016.

One song got played more than any other, so call this Steven's Top Song of 2016. It actually comes from around 1965:

The Fugs, "CIA Man". "Fucking-a man! C-I-A Man!"

These others are chosen from a batch that tied for second in my listening for that year:

Ramones, "Blitzkrieg Bop".

Les McCann, "Burnin' Coal".

Emmylou Harris, "Bluebird Wine".

Tommy James and the Shondells, "Crimson and Clover".

Fela Kuti, "Let's Start".

Fleetwood Mac, "I Don't Want to Know".

The Impressions, "Fool for You".

Joe Strummer, "Get Down Moses".

Aretha Franklin, "The Weight".

And, just to pretend to being current, here is a Spotify playlist for the 2016 songs I initially intended to include (the first song was supposed to be "Formation" by Beyoncé, but it wasn't on Spotify):

music friday: 2015

Tame Impala, "Let It Happen". Video from Conan O'Brien's show.

Kendrick Lamar, "King Kunta". This one comes from Stephen Colbert.

Courtney Barnett, "Pedestrian at Best". No TV show, just a Pitchfork festival.

Father John Misty, "I Love You, Honeybear". From Austin City Limits.

Sleater-Kinney, "No Cities to Love". From one of the two concerts I attended in 2015. Both were Sleater-Kinney concerts. I can't overstate how much it meant to me when they returned from their "hiatus". I could have made this list the ten songs from No Cities to Love and it would accurately reflect what I listened to that year.

Vince Staples, "Norf Norf". OK, this is an actual music video.

Natalie Prass, "My Baby Don't Understand Me". From SXSW.

Leon Bridges, "Coming Home". Back to Conan.

Lana Del Rey, "High by the Beach". The official video got a lot of attention, so here it is.

Ryley Walker, "Primrose Green". And one more from Pitchfork.

Hey, guess what? I'm not done with Sleater-Kinney. Here's the official video for "No Cities to Love". You can watch it twice if you want, just to make sure you identify all the guest stars (which include Captain Marvel and someone who went to high school with my daughter):

Spotify playlist:

music friday: 2014

Future Islands, "Seasons (Waiting on You)". #1 single on that year's Pazz & Jop poll.

St. Vincent, "Digital Witness". People turn the TV on, it looks just like a window.

Flying Lotus, "Never Catch Me". Featuring Kendrick Lamar. Video directed by Hiro Murai.

Aphex Twin, "minipops 67 [120.2] (source field mix)". Ad copy said "This is the first Aphex Twin dong fore 13 years between the publication of the first a formal music."

HAIM, "Oh Well". A band identified with a middle-of-the-road rock of bands like Fleetwood Mac play much harder in concert, which may partly explain why the Mac cover they choose is Peter Green's wailer (with a tip of the cap to Danny Kirwin's solo).

D'Angelo, "The Charade". D'Angelo's first album in 14 years.

SBTRKT, "NEW DORP. NEW YORK". Pronounced "subtract".

Kiesza, "Hideaway". Impressive one-shot video. Shades of "Wannabe". Kiesza is a better singer and dancer than Posh is. Probably the best video on this list.

DeJ Loaf, "Try Me". Her first single, she still hasn't come out with a full album.

Tacocat, "Crimson Wave". I'm pretty sure this is the only video on this list featuring George Takei.

Spotify playlist ... HAIM never recorded "Oh Well", so I've included the Fleetwood Mac version.

music friday: 2013

A quicky ... the holidays meant I didn't spend enough attention on these to warrant comments. So enjoy the videos, or the Spotify playlist.

Daft Punk, "Get Lucky".

Lorde, "Royals".

Drake, "Hold On, We're Going Home".

Justin Timberlake, "Mirrors".

Kacey Musgraves, "Follow Your Arrow".

DJ Rashad, "Let It Go". The video is a posthumous nod to Rashad.

Charli XCX, "You (Ha Ha Ha)".

MØ, "XXX 88".

Omar Souleyman, "Warni Warni".

Vampire Weekend, "Hannah Hunt".

Spotify playlist: 

And a bonus song:

music friday: 2012

Frank Ocean, "Pyramids". A ten-minute single that went gold. Cleopatra, pimps, and a John Mayer guitar solo, and that's not the half of it.

Bruce Springsteen, "We Take Care of Our Own". A pissed-off Bruce makes one of his best post-Tunnel albums. Christgau named this his top single of 2012.

Solange, "Losing You". This video looks beautiful.

Kendrick Lamar, "Swimming Pools (Drank)". It's not that this introduced Lamar to the world at large, but it's when he exploded.

Tame Impala, "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards". Trippy video. "I've got my hopes up again, oh no, not again. It feels like we only go backwards, darlin'."

Fiona Apple, "Every Single Night". The album was titled The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Ever Do.

Sky Ferreira, "Everything Is Embarrassing". Wikipedia says this is "a synth-pop, dance-pop, and alternative pop ballad."

Spiritualized, "Hey Jane". Another really long track.

Santigold, "Disparate Youth". Is it catchy? It's been used on the soundtrack for commercials for insurance companies and Honda automobiles.

Wild Flag, "See No Evil + Ask the Angels". This is a bit of a cheat. Their one and only album was released in 2011. But I saw them three times, the last at the Fillmore in 2012, so here they are, covering Television and Patti Smith.

Spotify playlist (Wild Flag never recorded these songs, so I've added the originals): 

music friday: 2011

Continuing with years I don't know enough about. There's an interesting interview in the latest Rolling Stone, "Monsters of Rock Criticism: Greil Marcus Interviews Robert Christgau". It features two eminent rock critics in their 70s who don't seem to have any trouble "keeping up". Obviously, I am neither Marcus nor Christgau, although I spent a lot of my life following in Greil's footsteps. At least in this list of ten, I've seen one artist in concert.

M83,"Midnight City". French electronic music. I'm just narrow-minded enough to dislike this just by the description. It's actually not that bad.

Lana Del Rey, "Video Games". This is better.

Tyler, The Creator, "Yonkers". This video is some dark shit.

PJ Harvey, "The Words That Maketh Murder". Rolling Stone called this "Fairly peppy for a PJ Harvey song about murder".

James Blake, "The Wilhelm Scream". I like the title.

Jay-Z & Kanye West, "Otis". I don't know what to do with this, which samples one of my all-time favorite tracks in a creative way, but it just makes me want to hear the original. We like what we grew up with, I guess ... I remember playing the Live in Europe version of "Try a Little Tenderness" for my mom, and she said it was all wrong because Otis didn't do it like Sinatra did.

Cass McCombs, "County Line". Born and raised in Concord, California, which is about 15 miles from where I grew up.

Wild Flag, "Romance". Well, I only saw one of these ten acts live, but Wild Flag make up for the absence of any others. I saw them three times, which is pretty good considering they only stuck around long enough to make one album. If anyone unfamiliar with the band wonders why I was so taken with them, I have two words: "Carrie" and "Janet".

The Weeknd, "House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls". Since he came up earlier, might as well quote Christgau here: "If coming leaves your penis feeling that bad, fella, remember that they're not called narcotics for nothing".

Drake, "Marvin's Room". He started on Degrassi: The Next Generation. He's sold a zillion records. Yet when I think of Drake, I think of this:

Spotify playlist ... no Jay-Z on Spotify, so I've added Otis for an encore:

Here is my mom's version of "Try a Little Tenderness" ... my parents had many, many Sinatra albums when I was growing up, including Nice 'n' Easy:

My version of "Try a Little Tenderness" ... I got to go now, and I don't wanna go:


Plentitude. That’s what I love about popular music. That’s the reason I review all those albums. I review albums — really positive reviews — I know I’ll never hear again, ‘cause I’m just not going to have the time. But continuing to document that plentitude is what I’m in it for. You know, democracy. And democracy is seriously threatened at this moment. We’re both worried about it but we can’t. . . . Fuck, we don’t know what’s going to happen.

-- Robert Christgau, interviewed by Greil Marcus

music friday: 2010

It had to happen eventually. Here are ten tracks by ten artists, none of whom I have ever seen live. It would seem that 2010 marks the end of my youth and the beginning of my old age. Outside of the inescapable Adele, none of these songs impacted me very much.

Kanye West, "Runaway". "Let's have a toast for the douche bags."

Adele, "Rolling in the Deep".

Caribou, "Odessa". From Wikipedia: "'Odessa', was featured in a commercial for the automobile manufacturer Acura, the football video game by EA Sports, FIFA 11, as well as in a 2011 Lexus CT 200h commercial, and a 2012 Tissot commercial for watches."

Ariel Pink, "Round and Round". Oh, let's quote Wikipedia again, this time telling us that Ariel Pink "is frequently cited as 'godfather' of the hypnagogic pop and chillwave movements."

Janelle Monáe, "Tightrope". The video link is to her explosive U.S. TV debut on Letterman, where she takes over from James Brown. You might know her from Moonlight or Hidden Figures.

Flying Lotus, "... And the World Laughs with You". Correction, Flying Lotus feat. Thom Yorke.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, "Heart in Your Heartbreak". "She was the miss in your mistake."

Javiera Mena, "Hasta la verdad". I love the drummer in the video, Natalia Pérez.

Drake, "Over". I'm too lazy to do the work, but who has sold more music, Drake or Adele? I think it's Drake, but what do I know?

Best Coast, "Boyfriend". "I'd love him to the very end, but instead he's just a friend. I wish he was my boyfriend."

Bonus ... I probably played this as much as the above ten combined:

Spotify playlist: 

music friday: 2009

I keep thinking I'm going to get to a year where I have nothing to say about any of the chosen songs. But there is at least one here that was so massive even I, at 56 years old, knew it. I also keep waiting for the year when I haven't seen any of the artists in concert. I guess as long as Bruce Springsteen keeps showing up, that won't happen, but there is one other act here that I have actually seen twice.

Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, "Empire State of Mind". How big was this one? Let's ask Wikipedia: "A critical success, 'Empire State of Mind' was included in multiple critics' top 10 list of the best songs of 2009; including Rolling Stone magazine and The New York Times. It was also nominated for three Grammy Awards, winning Best Rap Song and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. The song achieved commercial success worldwide. It peaked within the top 10 in many countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, France, Italy and Sweden. In the US, the song topped the Billboard Hot 100 for five consecutive weeks, becoming Jay-Z's first number-one single on the chart as a lead artist. It appeared in 2009 year-end charts in Italy, Australia and the US, where it was also the last number one hit of the 2000s. As of June 2014, the single has sold over 5.5 million copies in the United States."

Animal Collective, "My Girls". One of the dozen (at least) tracks sampled for Beyoncé's Lemonade.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, "Zero". Almost as ubiquitous as "Empire", but it didn't make it into my own sheltered existence. Featured in everything from Ugly Betty and Gossip Girl to a Tony Hawk video game.

Fuck Buttons, "Surf Solar". Hard to argue with their name, if nothing else.

Raekwon, "House of Flying Daggers". This track features Method Man, which always makes me think of this: https://youtu.be/wABDobugvVE

Florence + the Machine, "Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)". Here's a band where I know they are important (this track comes from their successful debut album) but I couldn't tell you a thing about them.

Sonic Youth, "What We Know". This is the band I've seen twice, the second being in 2009.

The Roots, "How I Got Over". 2009 marks the first year The Roots worked as Jimmy Fallon's house band, first on Late Night and later on The Tonight Show, immediately becoming arguably the coolest house band in late-night history.

Neko Case, "People Got a Lotta Nerve". Trivia you won't get elsewhere: Neko Case and Raekwon are the same age.

Bruce Springsteen, "Wrecking Ball". The album of the same name contained some of Bruce's angriest lyrics, but this title track was written as a tribute to a football stadium. Not to be confused with the Miley Cyrus song.

Spotify playlist, with a substitute for "Empire State of Mind" since Jay-Z doesn't do Spotify.

Bonus: an inspired version of Miley's "Wrecking Ball":