Posts Tagged ‘Bruce Springsteen’

Last month’s delivery of the junk my Dad brought home from his voyages with Columbus made me think about flashlights. I have never lacked for flashlights in my adult life because my father was a faithful subscriber to the Flashlight of the Month Club.

Dad’s all-purpose emergency plan was to equip every room in his house with a flashlight. This is a plan that could only have been cooked up by the Flashlight of the Month Club. As soon as I owned a house, Dad had a place to send his surplus. Of course you have to ask how equipping every room in your house with a flashlight will help you in an emergency. For example, if you’re in a room that lacks flashability and the power goes out, you could always fumble your way to a more helpful room. This process is even easier if the power goes out during the daytime.

If Donald Trump becomes president, flashlights won’t help.

A day or so after unpacking the latest round of flashlights, I spotted this display from the 1960s at a local antiques shop:

Flashlights

This made me consider the evolution of this handy tool. (The British invented it, so I should call it a “torch,” but it says “flashlight” on the Flashlight of the Month Club tote bag so I won’t.)

Today, most flashlights are made from plastic, not metal. The barrels are no longer ribbed for your pleasure (they’re knurled). LEDs are replacing incandescent bulbs. The push-button on-and-off switch has replaced the slide switch. One thing remains the same: A flashlight powered by batteries can’t operate when the batteries are dead.

Years ago, while hiking, Special D and I stayed too long on a ridge and had to hike down in the dark. I fished the flashlight out of my pack and switched it on. It stayed off. I tried the flashlight in Special D’s pack. Nothing. Fortunately, we had with us our first and most resourceful corgi, Emma. She understood immediately that Run-DMIrving’s son had brought disgrace on the family name. She expertly led us down the mountain. All we had to do was follow her fluffy white stern.

(There was a bright moon, the trail was well-blazed, and we were in little danger of going astray. Emma still deserved all the acclaim she received.)

Emma on TV

Dad was also a faithful subscriber to the Pocketknife of the Month Club. I could tell you this all-purpose emergency plan, but you can probably guess.

Random Pick of the Day
Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run (1975)
After two inconsistent records, Springsteen takes command of this disc and our lives from the first note. There are few opening tracks in rock like “Born to Run.” It’s the musical equivalent of “Call me Ishmael” or “In a hole in a ground there lived a hobbit” or “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” This record rips the bones off your back. You don’t own it? Why are you being so mean?

Random Pan of the Day
The Grateful Dead, Anthem of the Sun (1968)
There’s plenty of disorganization to go around on this disc. You either revel in it or you end up hating hippies. As I listened to Anthem of the Sun this evening, I decided that Greg and Duane Allman must’ve loved this record. You don’t get “Whipping Post” without “New Potato Caboose” as a model. And I have to admit, “New Potato Caboose” is a groovy name for a song.

 

In June I set out to review every album Prince ever made. I embarked on this project because I realized that, for me, Prince was embalmed in the ’80s – the guy I heard at clubs and parties. He was that sexy M.F. who could rock, croon, talk to God, talk for God, write weird erotic scenarios, and take goofy chances. I wanted a better idea of who he really was. There had to be more to the man than “Purple Rain” playing to a gang of us nerds in a hotel ballroom at a science fiction convention.

It’s easy to follow, album by album, a band that existed for fewer than 20 years – I’ve done that with The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Pixies, The Clash, Creedence, and several others. It’s much harder to do with an artist who’s been playing and recording for 30 years or more. They change too much. They travel down side roads while you stick to the interstate. Or you change too much. It’s been a long time since I was punchin’ a clock and listening wide-eyed to Born to Run.

It’s also hard to follow an artist with a lengthy career because every artist, no matter how talented, eventually skids into the Bad Spot. That’s the rough patch where your Muse runs off with someone younger and prettier and you’re left to grit it out on craftsmanship alone.

In the 1970s, Neil Young dissected his soul on several awe-inspiring albums. Two that’ll slay you: On the Beach (1974) and Tonight’s the Night (1975). When the ’80s dawned, Neil took a long time getting out of bed. For example, Trans (1982), which might as well have been called Tron, and Everybody’s Rockin’ (1983), his fake Fabulous Fifties record. Neil didn’t make a good record until Freedom (1989), which you’ll recall for the stunning “Rockin’ in the Free World.”

Bruce Springsteen did pretty well in the 1980s, at least until Tunnel of Love (1987). Then things went downhill. Or, in Springsteen terms, the mill closed, the state cops shut down all that street racing, and the D.A. couldn’t get no relief. After two subpar efforts, Human Touch and Lucky Town (both 1992), he recorded nothing of consequence until his reaction to 9/11, The Rising (2002), after which he reinvented himself as the Dark Knight of the 21st century.

I need a weatherman to explain to me what Bob Dylan was trying to do on Self Portrait (1970) and Dylan (1973).

David Bowie’s career after Scary Monsters (1980) is not the least bit scary.

Sadly, Michael Jackson’s career after Bad (1987) is not worth talking about.

Back to Prince. I made it through the first 14 albums. I rediscovered his ’70s disco discs. I relived my youth with Dirty Mind, 1999, and Purple Rain. I was struck as if by lightning by Sign O’ the Times.

By the time we got to the 1990s, the road Prince and I were driving developed some serious twists, the safety rails disappeared, and the paving got thinner. Loyal Reader Slave to the Garden warned me that in the ’90s, Prince, in his apocalyptic struggle with Warner Bros., dumped albums on the market that should’ve been dumped in the dump. We were approaching the Bad Spot.

The next one on my list, Come (1994), is what we critics like to call awful. I’d rather listen to a flock of trumpeter swans barking like dogs as they circle for a landing.

Prince’s 1987 bootleg, The Black Album, officially appeared in 1994. It’s not as good as black albums by Spinal Tap (1984), Metallica (1991), and Jay-Z (2003), though it’s probably better than the Marilyn Manson Black Album bootleg, if I could bring myself to listen to that one.

Looking at the rest of the ’90s, I see that Prince was either attacking the Warner Bros. Death Star or playing stuff that belongs in a galaxy far, far away. Well, what did I expect? How long can Prince go on being that sexy M.F.? (I can still pull it off, but only from a distance.) Artists have to change or they might as well be locked in a trophy cabinet. I’m convinced that Prince will emerge from this depressing era into some new and wonderful form, but I’m not going to follow every bread crumb until I catch up with him.

(There are two albums I definitely want to hear: The Girl 6 soundtrack, which is supposed to be a throwback to the ’80s, and the three-record Emancipation, both from 1996.)

What I’ve learned
Here’s what I can tell you about me: It’s hard to grow past the music that filled me with joy when I was young. Some of those artists are still recording, but they no longer speak to me. Or perhaps I can no longer hear them.

Here’s what I can tell you about Prince: Overall, no performer in the history of popular music is as talented as Prince. Some people sing better or write better or dance better, some people see deeper into the human or the national psyche. Some people are more economical (Prince does not know when to end a song).

But no one can do everything that this gentleman does at such a consistently high level. No male performer is as insistently sexy without also being sickeningly misogynistic. Carlos Santana, Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, Bowie, Young, and Dylan are as prolific, but even those guys never released three discs of original material on the same day.

There’s much more to Prince than “Purple Rain.” I just don’t need it.

[Editor’s note: It’s at least twice as difficult for a female singer/songwriter to survive in a decades-long career as it is for a male. It’s much easier to find male counterparts to Prince, so I stuck with the men.]

I started out liking Prince, but after listening to the first 14 albums I really like Prince. I want to keep liking Prince. So I’ll stop here. Thanks as always for reading along.

A couple of days ago I spent an afternoon listening to Pink Floyd and Justin Timberlake. I got nothing out of that. This afternoon I’m listening to Chuck Berry. Until next time, enjoy this insane video from the Neil Young of the Everybody’s Rockin’ era.

 

Prince
Prince
1979

I believe I missed Prince’s second album when it was released, as I was occupied with punk and the theory that it would be easier to initiate sexual relations with punk girls compared with disco girls. (No.) Too bad, because this is a fine disco disc. The one lasting number on it is “Sexy Dancer,” but it should last awhile, and the other songs would be popular if played as a unit at a party…if you could go back and host that party in 1979.

The album’s closer, “It’s Gonna Be Lonely,” shows some emotional depth in its story of a break-up. One verse hints at something much deeper:

I betcha thatcha never knew
That in my dreams you are the star
The only bummer is that you always want to leave
Who do you think you are?

Prince was 21 when he released this record, his second, and you can hear him struggling with the disco/smooth-R&B straitjacket – just as you can hear the 24-year-old Bruce Springsteen struggling to break out of folk-music prison on his second album, The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle (1974).

On Prince, you can’t tell if Prince wants to be Lionel Ritchie, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, or some kind of disco conglomeration. They’ve even photographed him on the album cover to look like Ritchie. But on his third album all hell will break loose, just as it did with Springsteen.

What I was doing at 21: Living in Boston, writing bad science fiction. This is already getting old.

Rolling Stones’ best albums of 1979: The Rolling Stone critics got lazy that year. They gave Neil Young’s Rust Never Sleeps album-of-the-year honors and cited no runners-up.

It’s not as if they had a small pool of candidates: How about Pink Floyd’s The Wall, The B-52s’ The B-52s, The Clash’s The Clash, Graham Parker’s Squeezing Out Sparks, Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall, The Police’s Reggatta de Blanc (the Coldplay of their day), Donna Summer’s Bad Girls, The Buzzcocks’ Singles Going Steady, or even Sister Sledge’s We Are Family? And look at all the crap, led by Foghat, Foreigner, and The Captain & Tenille?

They called Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” the single of the year. What where they smoking, and can I have some?

Those critics better shape up for 1980.

Random Pick of the Day (but it was close)
Various artists, Day Tripper: Jazz Greats Meet The Beatles Volume 1 (2009)
Two standouts, both on piano: Ramsey Lewis’ “Day Tripper” and McCoy Tyner’s “She’s Leaving Home.” Guitarist Wes Montgomery gives “A Day in the Life” the atmosphere of listening to records at midnight with the lights off. Unfortunately, at the 4-minute mark of this 6-minute song he gets up to get a drink and trips over The Moody Blues.

The rest of this disk explains why there was no Volume 2.

Random Pan of the Day
Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1962)
Recorded in 1959 for the French film, but not released in the USA until 1962. “No Problem” is a terrific tune. Unfortunately, you get four versions of it on this disc, as well as two versions each of two lesser songs, “Prelude in Blue” and “Valmontana.” There are only 10 tracks on Les Liaisons Dangereuses and eight of them are variations of each other. The repetition wore me down.

 

Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it. (Colette)

When I was a pre-bar mitzvah sprout in Hebrew school, I was at the mercy of a teacher who came from the Old World with some old skool Old World characteristics, including teeth and fingernails yellow from chain-smoking and a tendency in any academic situation to fall back on his main teaching tool: violence.

I’m not going to tell you this man’s name, or the nickname we children gave him, or the songs we sang about him, because I don’t want his descendants to track me down and torture me the way he did. And anyway, maybe he behaved so badly because he had survived the Holocaust and journeyed to America and in his declining years ended up marooned in our declining, uninteresting city, teaching Hebrew to a bunch of youthful dumbshits. Whatever his motivations, when he called one of us up to the front of the class to recite and we couldn’t deliver, he always screamed, “Go back to your seat and study!!!”

This evening at the end of my Write-a-thon hour I wanted to send myself back to my seat to study. What I wrote was definitely not worth reciting at the front of a classroom or anywhere else. There’s a character I have yet to understand, and my subconscious writer brain refuses to let him walk through these pages as valiant, virtuous, and virtually flawless. Unlike my former Hebrew school teacher, who is long gone, I can figure out what makes this guy tick and why anyone should care.

Maybe that was my old teacher’s real problem. He cared too much.

The 10-year-old inside me just ducked and covered.

Random Pick of the Day
Three Dog Night, Cyan (1973)
Loyal Reader Accused of Lurking has pointed out my math error. Before I so blithely skipped to the Dave Clark Five, I should’ve stopped at Three Dog Night! I also skipped 4 Non Blondes. I’m rectifying the first error tonight.

I find Three Dog Night interesting because almost everything they sang was written by someone else. The original was practically unrecognizable after 3DN finished rearranging it. Look at their first record, Three Dog Night (1969). The composers on this disc include Tim Hardin, Stevie Winwood, Harry Nilsson, Lennon & McCartney, Randy Newman, Neil Young, and Johnnie “Guitar” Watson. Their second album, Suitable for Framing (also 1969), adds Laura Nyro, Dave Mason, Sam Cooke, and Elton John. I wish 3DN had lasted as far as 1980 because I would’ve loved to have heard what they did with songs by, for example, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Joan Armatrading, and Michael Jackson.

Other than the fact that I flee from any room where “Black & White” or “Joy to the World” is playing (the latter being the “Jeremiah was a bullfrog” song, which Hoyt Axton wrote to showcase the melody – the lyrics were a nonsensical placeholder), I’m OK with this band. They fit well on a road trip in-between the harder stuff. My favorite 3DN songs are “One” (Nilsson), “Eli’s Coming” (Nyro), “Easy to Be Hard” (the team that wrote Hair), and “Liar” (Russ Ballard). Except for “Easy to Be Hard,” these treatments are tougher than usual for them. They’re all from the first two albums.

Cyan (which includes the hit “Shambala”) is not 3DN’s best album (that would be their debut), but it’s their closest to the blue-eyed soul of Rare Earth. There’s also a gospel flavor to some of these tracks. (“Celebrate,” from Suitable for Framing, could easily have appeared on a Rare Earth album exactly as it is.)

For a few years back there in our rearview mirror, Three Dog Night was more powerful than the Van Allen radiation belt. According to Google, they ran up a string of 21 hit singles from 1969 through 1975. I’d rather revisit their music than that of their contemporaries Grand Funk Railroad, a band that rocks very hard for very little reason.

Snoopy 2 rejections at once

There are 11 days left to go in the Write-a-thon and though I wrote again today I have to admit that my original goal of hitting 50,000 words by August 2 was just a wee bit optimistic. I’ll be lucky if I get to 30,000. I do wish I wrote fiction faster, but I don’t. Marketing writing – that I can do fast. Advertising, editorials, web copy – I’m a speed merchant. These blog posts? Warp factor 6! But when I have to invent characters and situations and see how they play out, I move one. step. at. a. time. Sort of like the way the first primitive Mariners played baseball.

My hero, John Updike, wrote that “There’s a kind of tautness that you should feel within yourself no matter how slow or fast you’re spinning out the reel,” and though I gave up fishing in 1967 when my brother took three bass and all I hooked was a lousy starfish, I take heart from these words.

Right now there’s a kind of tautness in the back of my brain, or a bubbling. All day long, and often just before I wake, something back there is working on this book. Objects and actions bubble to the surface, things I can use on a page I’ve already written or one I have yet to write, like a bird finding the right-shaped stick for its nest. (We saw an osprey nest on Cape Cod that looked as if the occupants had built it out of firewood.) I’m mixing my metaphors here but I’ll trust that you get what I’m driving at. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Esteban esta caliente, but I do feel kinda warm.

Random Pick of the Day
Paul Van Dyk, In Between (2007)
In my house we have this divide over anything that isn’t rock ’n’ roll. Trance (or techno), for example, is not only not Special D’s thing, she classes it with The Thing, The Thing From Another World, The Thing with Two Heads, 10 Things I Hate About You, and Thing. Despite the constant scorn I live with, I like this stuff. The dance-floor anthem on this disc is “Far Away.”

Random Pan of the Day
One Direction, Up All Night (2011)
Boy bands sure have deteriorated since The Beatles. Today they’re all strip-mined from the same barren earth. Bruce Springsteen could use One Direction for dental floss.

I’m going to start Randoming bands with numbers in their names. We’ll see which one becomes the first to move from Pan to Pick.

 

Q: What happened to the end of 1986 Week?
A: It collided with the weekend. Party!

Q: Aren’t you too old to party?
A: You’re never too old to party. You might have to party at 12 frames per second instead of 24, but you’re never too old to party.

Q: Well, how would you rate 1986? What kind of year was it musically?
A: It was a very good year for blue-blooded girls of independent means.

Q: Since you were writing about 1986, why didn’t you mention The Smiths’ The Queen Is Dead? It’s supposed to be their best album.
A: I’ll end with them. Sort of. Like it’s any of your business anyway.

Q: Looking at your tag cloud, I see that the biggest name is Bruce Springsteen. You mention him a lot, but you don’t write about him very much.
A: You have to form a question in the form of a question. Don’t be a sports journalist.

Q: Right. Bruce – WTF?
A: Springsteen has been around so long and recorded so much that it’s impossible not to notice him. He’s a handy measuring stick. Dylan has been around even longer and has recorded even more, but he doesn’t have the same impact on our culture. Bruce has remained relevant, or at least topical. Bob has not. Plus I don’t like Dylan’s voice. But to answer your question, I don’t know what I could add to the existing mountain of Springsteen music journalism that would make a difference or sound original by even one gram. So I’ll go on referring to him and trying not to refer to Dylan. Or Donovan.

Q: How are you getting along in the novel-writing sector?
A: I’ve written 15,000 words.

Q: Is that a big number?
A: If I keep them, yes. If not, no.

Q: Would you say that writing a novel is an iffy proposition?
A: I’d say I knew the job was dangerous when I took it.

Q: What did you listen to today? Sweatin’ to the Oldies?
A: Today I listened to M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (2011). The radio hit, “Midnight City,” sounds like vintage Depeche Mode. I’m still wading through the rest of this two-disc set. This French band is kinda arty, like Arcade Fire but without the beat. I might have to counter with Oingo Boingo. I might spend this week listening to M83, blink-182, Haircut 100, Matchbox Twenty, Heaven 17, Maroon 5, The Dave Clark Five, The Bobby Fuller Four, 3 Doors Down, and Fun Boy 3.

Q: Fun Boy 3?
A: I bet I’ll be able to dispense with some of these guys in a song or two!

Q: Where’s Deadmau5 on your list?
A: I just learned that the 5 should be pronounced as an s. I feel as ridiculous as the day someone busted me for pronouncing R.E.M. as “rem.” Which reminds me of something I read recently. What a way to begin a review: “I don’t ordinarily like to think about sex and R.E.M. at the same time…” I don’t even care what the rest of the sentence is! (Review of the film Fourplay in Portland Mercury, 27 February 2013)

Q: Let’s get back to The Smiths. Are you hating on them?
A: As if. I like half a dozen of their songs very much, but they’re scattered across their four studio albums, so their 1986 disc, The Queen Is Dead, didn’t move me.

I have tons of respect for Johnny Marr, their guitarist, but not much for Morrissey, even if he’s still being treated like a god. If all bands can be explained by The Monkees, then Johnny Marr is Mike Nesmith and Morrissey is Davy Jones.

Nevermind all this Q&A BS. Here’s a real interview for you. In the April 9 Seattle Weekly, Duff McKagan, the original bass player in Guns N’ Roses, interviews Marr. (Marr has a new album, The Messenger. It has some surprisingly strong tracks for a guy whose heyday was in 1986.) The interview is not only fun, it produced this gem:

McKagan: You were sort of the anti-guitar hero. I’m just so fascinated by your guitar style. I try to picture you guys in 1979 or whatever. I don’t know what he was listening to to get that sound.

Marr: Joy Division were rehearsing in the room above my band. They were scary guys just to look at because they wore old man’s clothes. With haircuts like they just came from the second world war. And that was much scarier than looking at someone who looked like the New York Dolls, or one of the Rolling Stones.

A: Everyone have a good week. Sweat to the oldies all you want, but don’t sweat the small stuff.
Q: I didn’t ask a question!
A: Deal.

 

True Stories
Talking Heads
1986

Every album Talking Heads released after Stop Making Sense (1984) was a disappointment. How could it have been otherwise? How do you top or even equal a record like that? Only The Beatles created a pop cultural icon and then came back to create a second: Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road.

(The only Beatles competitors I can think of are Bruce Springsteen for Born to Run and Born in the U.S.A. and Pink Floyd for Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall. Doubt me on that last one? Even Special D, who would rather go bird-watching in the Mines of Moria than listen to Pink Floyd, just had “Leave those kids alone!” pop into her head.)

True Stories is the music from the film of the same name, directed by David Byrne. It appeared two years after Prince tried to pull off the same trick with Purple Rain. I haven’t seen either of these movies even though my TV remote has a Netflix button. However, I’ve heard all the music. On True Stories, Byrne’s vocals seem cold and detached, but his original plan was to have his actors sing the songs so I won’t subtract points here. But the various ballads and songs of love on this disc turn me off, which is kind of a problem if you’re writing ballads and songs of love, and the closer, “City of Dreams,” drags on like a really boring dream you want to finish so you can get out of bed already and get some breakfast.

On the plus side, I mostly like “Love for Sale” and I would’ve loved “Puzzlin’ Evidence” if it had been an instrumental. I get tired of hearing “puzzlin’ evidence” over and over. And over and over. The one track that broke into the Top 40, “Wild Wild Life” (which shot all the way to #2 in New Zealand), is infectious but might’ve worked out better for Wang Chung.

True Stories is not a bad record – I give it a solid B – but it suffers because of what went before it. That’s not fair but I get paid to be unfair. OK, I’m only pretending that I get paid, but I’m definitely unfair.

As for Purple Rain, for all its faults, it’s more exciting than True Stories and light years sexier. True Stories doesn’t have a Darling Nikki, who enjoys a good grind.

Random 1986 Could Go Either Way of the Day
The Mission U.K., God’s Own Medicine
They were called The Mission in the U.K. and The Mission U.K. in the U.S. I don’t know what they were called in the U.S.S.R. Their music was perfect if you were a moody teenager who came home from school and locked yourself in your room so you could be all moody.

Rhapsody calls them “goth’s answer to The Monkees.” Allmusic.com describes them as “pompous, melodramatic, and bombastic.” Why are they being so mean? The answer is right at the beginning of this record, when singer/guitarist Wayne Hussey intones, “I still believe in God, but God no longer believes in me.”

If you like The Cure and The Cult, two moody English bands that hit it big, you might like their younger, less-talented but moderately OK brethren, The Mission.

Random 1986 Pan of the Day
The Dead Milkmen, Eat Your Paisley
This album’s a snore, but the Milkmen had a knack for titles, from the name of their band to “The Thing That Only Eats Hippies.” R.E.M. could only dream of being so witty.