Friday, November 29, 2013

Cigarettes and a Bottle of Beer

I have been a fan of Bruce Springsteen's music for as long as I can remember.  Many a terrific evening - especially within the past decade-plus - has been spent at a Springsteen show with Margaret, our kids and our friends.  I have a tremendous amount of admiration and respect not simply for the work he does but for the way in which he goes about his work.  That fact, coupled with the fact that more than thirty-five years after he penned it the final verse in "Racing in the Street", which is my favorite Springsteen song, remains a marriage of language and emotion that I shall never be able to match, has firmly ensconced him in the role of principal contributor to the soundtrack of my life. 

Earlier this week his camp officially released the news that in January, 2014 he shall be releasing his 18th official studio album, entitled "High Hopes".  According to everything I have read thus far concerning this particular record, it seems to be a hodgepodge of material - whether stuff he has written or the work of others that he has recorded - that has been played live with varying degrees of frequency - for the past decade or so with several new songs in the mix as well.  Truth be told, it may be more accurate to characterize at least some of which is "new" as "unreleased".  Springsteen's liner notes for the new record have already been released as well:

I was working on a record of some of our best unreleased material from the past decade when Tom Morello (sitting in for Steve during the Australian leg of our tour) suggested we ought to add “High Hopes” to our live set. I had cut “High Hopes,” a song by Tim Scott McConnell of the LA based Havalinas, in the ’90s. We worked it up in our Aussie rehearsals and Tom then proceeded to burn the house down with it. We re-cut it mid tour at Studios 301 in Sydney along with “Just Like Fire Would,” a song from one of my favorite early Australian punk bands, The Saints (check out “I’m Stranded”). Tom and his guitar became my muse, pushing the rest of this project to another level. Thanks for the inspiration Tom.

Some of these songs, “American Skin” and “Ghost of Tom Joad,” you’ll be familiar with from our live versions. I felt they were among the best of my writing and deserved a proper studio recording. “The Wall” is something I’d played on stage a few times and remains very close to my heart. The title and idea were Joe Grushecky’s, then the song appeared after Patti and I made a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. It was inspired by my memories of Walter Cichon. Walter was one of the great early Jersey Shore rockers, who along with his brother Ray (one of my early guitar mentors) led the “Motifs”. The Motifs were a local rock band who were always a head above everybody else. Raw, sexy and rebellious, they were the heroes you aspired to be. But these were heroes you could touch, speak to, and go to with your musical inquiries. Cool, but always accessible, they were an inspiration to me, and many young working musicians in 1960′s central New Jersey. Though my character in “The Wall” is a Marine, Walter was actually in the Army, A Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Infantry. He was the first person I ever stood in the presence of who was filled with the mystique of the true rock star. Walter went missing in action in Vietnam in March 1968. He still performs somewhat regularly in my mind, the way he stood, dressed, held the tambourine, the casual cool, the freeness. The man who by his attitude, his walk said “you can defy all this, all of what’s here, all of what you’ve been taught, taught to fear, to love and you’ll still be alright.” His was a terrible loss to us, his loved ones and the local music scene. I still miss him.

This is music I always felt needed to be released. From the gangsters of “Harry’s Place,” the ill-prepared roomies on “Frankie Fell In Love” (shades of Steve and I bumming together in our Asbury Park apartment) the travelers in the wasteland of “Hunter Of Invisible Game,” to the soldier and his visiting friend in “The Wall”, I felt they all deserved a home and a hearing. Hope you enjoy it. —Bruce Springsteen

Way back when on the Devils and Dust tour in 2005, we were privileged to see Springsteen perform "The Wall" at Byrne Arena in East Rutherford.  It is an exquisite, extraordinary piece of music.  And as someone who has been fortunate enough to have seen dozens of live shows over the years, a considerable number of the songs that shall occupy a spot on the "High Hopes" playlist are familiar to me as well.  Unfortunately - in my estimation at least - one of those songs is "Dream Baby Dream", which is among the more inane pieces of music I have ever been subjected to hearing.  It was a staple of the Devils and Dust tour and by the second or third time I had heard him perform it, I would have preferred a staple through each eardrum.  I know already which track I shall listen to not at all on this new record.

While I look forward to every release of new Springsteen, I find my expectation level for this set to be decidedly tempered.  Rightly or wrongly, my reduced expectation level is tied directly to the fact that none of the material on this record is "new".  The arrangement given to a particular song might be new but the material is not.  Throughout the magical ride on which Bruce Springsteen has taken my ears and my musical soul for more than three and one-half decades, it has always been a forward-moving journey.  At first blush, this appears not to be. 

And that, for me, represents a cause to pause and reflect upon just how much further on up the road his journey shall continue.  A question that - to be fair - I shall lack sufficient information to answer until January 14, 2014. 

Bruce Springsteen - "The Wall"


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