Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Bruce Books Review: Which Springsteen biography is worthy for your collection?


In the past few years there have been plenty of books released about the career and life of Bruce Springsteen. 
Together with documentaries such as Springsteen & I and a website through which he shares more and more personal photos and videos, fans have been able to take a constant stream of details from both his life and that of the E Street Band. 


When interviewed in Perth earlier this year Springsteen even told the media that with social media and the internet he had learned to appreciate an openness with the public that he might previously have shied away from, because the details would be ‘out there anyway’.
As the Springsteen travelled the world with warnings about the steel in his stories turning into rust with the Wrecking Ball tour in 2012 and 2013, three books in particular that detailed the life of the rock icon and The E Street Band were released.
All with varying levels of access to Springsteen, the band and people who helped shaped the legacy of all things E Street.
Although fans need little introduction to the most well-known chapters of Springsteen’s life – the early days of Steel Mill, the misinterpretation of Born In The USA, the breaking up and reunion of the E Street Band etc... – each of these books provide a unique perspective on the man and his music.

Bruce 
– Peter Ames Carlin

This book needs little introduction. Carlin had a great access to Springsteen, his friends and family that he even got a good selection of photographs from across the generations.
Starting with the family history, Bruce really goes into what inspires and drives the man and where he came from.
It’s most memorable chapters are those that detailed how Springsteen developed through his teenage years into a musician and songwriter. Anecdotes of a motorcycle crash and leg injury that resulted in a haircut and a way out of the military draft, to the first encounters of those who would later shape his destiny are all in there.
More importantly you don’t have to be a super fan to enjoy the read. As the title suggests it’s about the person behind the music and a story of a boy who wanted a guitar for Christmas and once scaled the wall of Graceland to try and see Elvis, and how he became one of the biggest rock stars on the planet.
At times the book is a gripping read, even if you know what album was about to be formed by the chaos that seemed to surround Springsteen at several times.
If it’s an approachable, engaging book on Springsteen and his life you’re looking for – this is the one you want.

Bruce Springsteen and The Promise of Rock ‘n’ Roll 
 – Marc Dolan

Dolan’s book takes the life story of Springsteen and delves deeper into the analysis of his music and live performances than you could probably expect.
Throughout the chapters details upon details of how each album was formed by Springsteen and the pressures that influenced his mood at the time are all explored. 
 Through news archives, interviews, bootlegs and every other possible source of information is raided and presented with a keen eye for what any fan could want to know.
Despite its huge wealth of information about outtakes, performances and attitudes across the years you do get the feeling that there’s still plenty out there to hear – the book kind of acts like the Tracks boxset. It’s a generous helping to fill a fan’s appetite but those totally hooked know there is a wealth of recordings – and stories behind them – still out there waiting to be heard.
What this book does really well is take you into the shaping of many of Springsteen’s albums and how the reaction to them would shape the musician and band. Exploring the influences, both personal and musical, that shaped Springsteen’s work, Dolan’s writing helps provide even huge fans with a new outlook on several albums.
If there is an album you might shy away from in your collection – Tunnel Of Love and Devils and Dust for example – the insights and analysis of the song writing and production, and the personal and political themes that lie behind them, give them a whole new perception.
This book will have you reaching for an album to re-listen and re-evaluate your opinion of it before you even finish the chapter you’re on.


E Street Shuffle: 
The Glory Days of Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band 
– Clinton Heylin

A book that focusses strongly on the rise of The E Street Band, Heylin’s contribution is one that offers a detailed history lesson into the players that shaped the early years of Springsteen’s career.
It’s a complex and informative account of how the band formed and developed to their first album and beyond, but one that is probably best appreciated by those who want to know every detail of Springsteen’s career – whether it’s really all that interesting or not.
Where this book excels is the paragraphs of direct quotes from Springsteen and others that break up the chapters. Adding more than just a sense of authenticity, but a new voice altogether – which at times is really needed.
Particularly in the case of Springsteen’s legal battle with Mike Appel and the firing of drummer Vini Lopez. Even bandmates Steve Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren and contemporaries such as David Bowie get a few sentences in.
As Heylin mentions in the afterword the book has a heavy focus on the days leading up to the release of Darkness On The Edge of Town and everything that shaped the album. (The highly accomplished author says it was 2010’s re-release with The Promise­ documentary and all the trimmings that inspired him to get back to an E Street book.)
There’s a lot of detail which at times seems to hold back the story of how the band developed to take on stadiums across the world. But with that comes the reality of just how much work, time and people were involved in the early years of The E Street Band and how far they came when the time arrived for a reunion.


And one for the road…

Big Man 
– Clarence Clemons & Don Reo

Part written by Clemons, part written by his friend Reo, Big Man is a unique biography that every Springsteen fan should read.
It not only allows Clemons to tell a new view on the E Street Band, but also adds to the legends and stories that have emerged from 40 years of music.
Published in 2009 it is quite simply one of the most fun books you can read, and one that Clemons himself admitted had a few grey areas where stories from the road became so embellished that he’d forgotten whether they were true or not.
Regardless, the style of the book – clearly labelled short chapters written by Clemons and Reo – make it one you can dive into again and again.
While offering a great biography of the Big Man, it also adds brilliant stories of Clemons’ career and his thoughts on the worldwide fame of Springsteen and the E Street Band.
Some notable tales include the time he bumped into Muhammad Ali, when he and Springsteen gave a waitress supposedly named after the song Rosalita a free car, and how he felt about not actually making the album cover of Born To Run. But being folded over to the back.
The details may not always be accurate, but the voice is clear, warm and exciting throughout.
Not just a great Springsteen-related book, but one my all-time favourite reads.

Got a better suggestion? Let me know below... 

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 Cheers!



Friday, 4 April 2014

The Post-Springsteen Tour Ties That Bind...


It’s been a month since I flew home from Auckland, after two great bucket-list-ticking Springsteen shows to finish the 2014 tour and of course discover I had indeed powered through those final concerts on a broken foot.

(Seriously, where’s my fucking medal?!)

Since then the roll call run-inflicted injury has served a great distraction to what so many other Springsteen fans and writers deem to be the ‘Bruce Blues’.


You can’t underestimate the physical and mental toll endured during that period of time after spending days or weeks on the road where you’re only existence in life is to get a low number, get to roll call and get a spot near the stage for the show. In between issues of working out what to eat, drink and where to sleep are incidental.

All making the final concert and trip home a painful goodbye, and the adjustment to working life a depressing return to reality. 
 
No matter how much pain you suffered or how tired you got hitting show after show, the moment you finally get home and have to face going back to work you know where you would rather be.

Some good ways to avoid the post-tour blues is to organise meet-ups within a few months, go see another live music show – for me it was the excellent Neil Finn – download some bootlegs and to invest in whatever new concert release is available for home viewing. MusicCares anyone?

This time however, all my tour-end depression has been kept at bay as I have to watch almost every step I take with my left foot in a protective Equalizer Walker – aka a moonboot.
  
Clearly someone who busts a metatarsal on the final step of a run to keep number 46 in line at roll call already has some coordination difficulties. 

But put my left leg in a plastic padded, Velcro-strapped boot and I’m not going to be able move anyway without trouble.

A week on crutches saw me bash things over and get them stuck everywhere.
Off the crutches I have to really concentrate on walking up and down stairs because it takes ages and depending on going up or down a different foot has to lead the way. Get it wrong and I have to grab on to the nearest rail to stop from flailing down the stairs. 
 
Meanwhile after kicking a few people - accidentally - in a crowded bar I’ve decided after work drinks in the city are being put on hold for a few weeks. They’re just not safe.

Overall it hasn’t been too bad, but it does seem that the universe is bent on kicking me while my left foot is down, by constantly reminding me of how exactly I broke my foot.
First, as I’m taking an load of taxis to work and back, I’m constantly telling everyone where I live.

Until I’ve always got a kick out of living on a street called Tenth Avenue. In three years of walking down the road or driving past the sign everyday it hasn’t got old.

Limping past it however, it begins to wear you down. 

Then of course is the irony that people have just loved to point out about how and where I broke the foot. My part of the conversation frequently goes like this...


Yes, I went to Auckland in the hope of seeing Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band play the full Born To Run album I missed in Melbourne. 


Yes, I broke my foot running. 


No, clearly I ‘wasn’t born to run’.
 

No…. all shows aren’t the same, and I did go to the ones in Perth.

(Who knew there were so many fucking observant comedians?….)

The best reminder of all however was the part of the hospital I have to hop to for the follow up appointments.

The outpatients department for foot injuries is of course on ‘E Street’. 

Brilliant.

So as I count down the final ten days of only wearing a show on my right foot and limping like a 6ft 2 idiot with his leg stuck in a bucket, at least I know I still have one more visit to E Street to look forward to.

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In the meantime, those who want to help my recovery, head over to 
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 Cheers!




Monday, 17 March 2014

Top 5 Unforgettable Moments from the Bruce Springsteen High Hopes tour….



It’s taken two weeks since arriving home from Auckland for the dust to settle enough to allow me to compile a list of what were the greatest moments from the High Hopes tour of Australia and New Zealand in 2014.
Although not able to attend the two Melbourne shows, which were both highly rated by even the most demanding fans I’ve had the pleasure to meet, I think the following easily hold up as some of the moments that made it such an epic tour.

1. Kitty’s Back, Perth Arena – Show 1
A city he’s never played in before with an overwhelming demand to experience his live show, the safe option would have been to blast out plenty of radio-friendly Born In The USA-era hits or well-rehearsed tracks from the previous tour.
But like he said before the show, fans were in for a ‘few surprises’, and out came a 16-minute rendition of The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle tune, complete with Springsteen tightly orchestrating the band through the arrangements before taking on a blistering solo while he shared the stage with three other world-famous guitarists.
The confidence to keep a partially new audience hooked on a song from a less-successful album more than 30 years old with an 18-piece band was something new for old fans and new fans alike.
The song was a stand-out snapshot of night one and raised the bar for the remaining 12 shows of the tour.

2. Jake’s back, Hunter Valley – Show 1
A Springsteen tour is a hotbed for rumours and speculation between fans outside every venue or fans thousands of miles away following online about anything to do with the band. When the rumours Jake Clemons’ father had died forcing the now-iconic young saxophone player to rush home midway through the tour turned out to be true, there was an undeniable, if somewhat selfish, sense of loss in the crowd in Sydney.

The nephew of the Big Man forced to leave the tour due to a personal tragedy, made the absence of Clarence Clemons more noticeable as the hearts of dedicated fans went out to the family and the band.
But when rumours Jake had returned turned out to be true, and he walked onto that stage at Hope Estate after flying to and from the US in less than seven days to say goodbye to his father, not only were hope and optimism restored. But a serious level of pride and awe returned. The roar the younger Clemons received after his fierce solo as Badlands was the second song of the night proved how much he is valued and respected by fans.
And how much that had surged with his swift return.

3. Meeting Across The River, Auckland – Show 2
The whole tour was full of the promised surprises and changes, with plenty of rare renditions thrown in. This performance however, completely changed the way I look at the song that until now has merely been the track before Jungleland on my all-time favourite album Born To Run.
Springsteen’s vocals were painfully good as through the lyrics he tells the story of a hood preparing his friend Eddie for a dangerous deal.
Meanwhile Curt Ramm’s exceptional trumpet solo took the song to a whole other level. By the end, you knew that it didn’t matter if Eddie made it ‘look like he was carrying a friend’… tragedy and violence were coming. As a friend pointed out to me after, it really does set up the scene perfectly for the album’s epic street battle finale.

4. Cover Me, Adelaide – Show 2
Wondering how this song in the middle of the tour became one the best moments, right?
The answer’s quite simply, because it was one of the coolest. Literally.
Coming off the back of an Adelaide heat wave that threatened the hydrated consciousness and sanity of fans making the roll call, the axe battle between Springsteen and Nils Lofgren front and centre of the stage was mind-blowing.
As mind-blowing as the air conditioning that smacked you in the face on the walk down to the pit floor. And just as welcome.

It followed a curious and heavily-sought after performance of Backstreets near the beginning of the show, which although always an incredible song, seemed to be suffocating – or wasted – in the heat of Springsteen’s own guitar, which frequently over powered Roy Bittan’s piano to the point that once or twice, it became distracting.
Not letting a less-than perfect rendition of the song slow them down however, Springsteen leapt into Cover Me with a fierce intensity.
If he really was fed up with how fucking hot it was, maybe this was where he let out his frustration.
And likewise for Lofgren who, after being accidentally left off a band roll call in Perth until Springsteen hilariously corrected himself, may have been itching to burst out a dramatic solo.
The result was a brilliant few minutes of guitar play between the two, culminating in Springsteen even attempting a spin with his axe after Lofgren dealt a killer cyclone front and centre, before giving in to his intimidatingly great band member.
Not to forget the awesome power added by the horn section blaring, and urging each of them on until the end.
It really was one of the coolest moments of the tour.

5. “It’s E Street Shuffle time!”, Brisbane
Again rumours and speculation had followed the band to the final night of the Australian leg of the tour.
Hopes that a weekend at Hunter Valley would see both sides of The River album flood the set list had long dried up and replaced instead with the excitable prospect of a final album show. One which dedicated fans from the beginning of The E Street band’s career would see their faith be rewarded.
But after already bringing on the reported string section for Stayin’ Alive and delivering some E Street excellence via four tracks from Greetings From Asbury Park expectations of The Wild, The Innocent… ´complete with string-powered New York City Serenade began to dwindle.
In part because the band were clearly having too much fun just grabbing requests and playing whatever the hell they liked.

It resulted in Springsteen giving the crowd the choice, to carry on taking requests, or to despite being pushed for time, go for the full album from 1973.
The crowd answered, and Springsteen answered the call. “It’s E Street Shuffle time!”
The night was already on a high, and the band were not just on fire, but clearly ecstatic about how well they had been performing.
And the complete seven-track album was no exception. It not only reminded fans who had seen multiple shows that Australia had now seen four full album performances, but also gave every other night a benchmark.
I’ve never been able to decide which concert out of all the ones I’ve seen was the absolute best, but when anyone asks I now find myself starting with the fact that this particular night in Brisbane was something really special.
 
And if this were a list of High Hopes highlights, here’s what would probably make out the top 10…

Cover Versions
Whether it was the local tributes to great bands of yesterday, the wine-themed openers of Hunter Valley the string-powered urban take down of a Bee Gees’ classic, or a solo acoustic rendition of the world’s hottest musical teen. Springsteen’s headline-making cover versions on this tour could make an entertaining B-sides album worthy of release alongside High Hopes. First they kept you guessing and now they’re still keeping people talking. (Highway To Hell an awesome spectacle on more than one occasion, it narrowly missed out on the top five.)
 

Full-album shows
Not everyone’s a fan of the full running of an album, especially if they’ve seen it before, but the power and dedication thrown into each performance often left the rest of the set list in the shadows, and Australia was lucky enough to score four of them.

The Promise, Perth Arena – Show 3
A rare outing given the solo piano treatment. Springsteen’s vocals were at their best for this song on the night. For days afterwards I had the sound … “Thunderrrr Rooooaddd…. oh baby you were so right, Thunderrrr Rooooaddd…. there's something dyin' on the highway tonight”… driving through my head. (A similar case could also be made for Adelaide – Show 1’s Back In Your Arms.)

If I Should Fall Behind, Adelaide – Show 1
An arena in stunned silence, people wiping tears from their eyes. This song was an unforgettable, moving experience for anyone who stayed until the very end to see it.
(I’m sure many felt the same raw acoustic power through Terry’s Song and I Wish I Was Blind too.)

10. Loose Ends, Auckland – Show 1
A request from one of my many partners in line throughout the Bruce tour it not only gave Auckland a taste of Tracks, but provided a great moment of banter between fans of a beloved song and Springsteen’s comic foil, Stevie Van Zandt. Urging us to raise the sign Van Zandt clearly wanted it played, but Springsteen wasn’t convinced telling us it was too obscure. A bit of pleading from two guys named Corey and Cory, along with Van Zandt’s enthusiasm changed his mind and he stormed down to collect the sign and honoured the request. (Not the first time Stevie’s twisted his arm as Ramrod and Fade Away were given a similar push)
Obscure it may have been, but unrehearsed? No way. The band were incredible in every element of the surprisingly complex song that tests everyone from horns and guitars to piano and backing vocals.   



All right, so you disagree… what did I miss? – and don’t be too obvious…