Archive for November, 2009

Bruce & The E Street Band fight the wrecking ball

November 19, 2009

Nashville, TN

Wrecking Ball
Something In The Night
Hungry Heart
Working On A Dream
Thunder Road
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Born To Run
She’s The One
Meeting Across The River
Waiting On A Sunny Day
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
Two Hearts
You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
Lonesome Day
The Rising

Ring of Fire
No Surrender
Bobby Jean
American Land
Dancing In The Dark
(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher

There are few privileges in life that match seeing Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band. OK, I lied. There aren’t any. For three hours, troubles are gone, sorrows are lightened, and there is a community of people in which you can belong. The ones screaming out the first verse of “Hungry Heart”, the ones jumping to their feet when the opening chords of “Badlands” pulse out. When the light come back up, I don’t know the people next to me. I probably wouldn’t even like them. But there we are, sharing a moment for those three hours. Amused, enraptured, taken aback, and always moving, a step or two closer to the land of hopes and dreams.

I think last night was the last of these shows I”ll see. I think it’s the third to last one that will be. Something in the mood, something in the performance just spelled “Goodbye.” It wasn’t always somber. The arena jumped and rocked and smiles were passed player to player, in the joy of the moment. But the softer moments were so tender, they seemed so meaningful that I can’t believe this is just another tour.

Clarence Clemons looked as moved and as contemplative as anyone can, when he blew away everything else with his solo on “Jungleland.” And when Springsteen came to the end of “Backstreets”, he softly, carefully echoed “’til the end”, over and over, until he built the song into a second climax.

The centerpiece of this show was a full-album outing of Born to Run. Springsteen said a few things first, talked about how this was a huge album, because he had signed a three album contract and the first two had been released and had sunk rather quickly. And they played it. Thunder Road, 10th Avenue Freezeout, Backstreets, Meeting Across the River, Jungleland. BAM. BAM. BAM. And they the survivors walked forward– Stevie Van Zandt, Roy Bittan, Gary Tallent, Clarence Clemons, and the Boss himself. “These are the guys who played on the record,” he said, “Along with ‘Phantom Dan’ Federici (with a finger point to the sky on the last name).

The song that seemed to best fit the night was the opener, the brand-new “Wrecking Ball”. Ostensibly “about” the destruction of Giants Stadium, where Springsteen debuted the song, it’s not about that at all. It’s about time and age, and the distance between what we are and what we become. “So raise up your glasses and let me hear your voices call,” Bruce sang, “Because tonight all the dead are here/So bring on your wrecking ball.” Some of the dead are literal– Phantom Dan, gone too soon. Most are the selves who we were a week or a month or a year or 35 years ago. But we raised our metaphorical glasses in Nashville, and the voices certainly called. Because what was left was a monument itself. I hope we’ll hear from Bruce & The E Streeters again soon. But if not, I could never complain. Some things are destined to live longer than bricks and mortar and wrecking balls.


#38– Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

November 11, 2009

Hornby has written another one. It’s brilliant, probably the best book he’s penned since “High Fidelity” and possible even better than it, although I’d like it better if the ending had felt a bit more resolved.

We follow Duncan, who is a manic fan of Tucker Crowe, a semi-Dylan, semi-Springsteen, semi-Leonard Cohen, semi-imaginary creation of Hornby. Crowe apparently experienced a life changing epiphany in a Minneapolis bathroom in 1986 and disappeared. Duncan runs an Internet site dedicated to studying Crowe’s every belch, whimper and fart, and the new rumors of same.

I have to break off here to say that yes, this does ring somewhat true in my own life. I am an equally semi-obsessive Dylan fan. Or maybe was. I can, or at one time could, listen to a few seconds of a version of “All Along the Watchtower” and probably tell you what year it was from. Maybe what tour. Probably who was playing on it. Likely even recommend a better specimen from the same time frame. I have a box of probably over 1,000 Dylan CD-Rs under a spare bed at my house. I certainly own all his albums, I’ve read a good deal of the meaningful books about him, have seen him live something like 16 times, and have spent way too many hours driving other perfectly sane people crazy about Bob Freaking Dylan.

Duncan’s longtime girlfriend and object of his Crowe-worship-torture, Annie, tries to tolerate his obsession. When Crowe releases a “new” album of old demos, it is Annie who hears what is really going on in the music. Partially to spite Duncan, she posts a review on the website. Lo and behold, about the time a cranky Duncan is taking up with a new woman, Tucker Crowe e-mails Annie and appreciates her insight into his work.

I won’t go through the rest of what happens. Even Crowe, who is Dylanish in his inability to take responsibility for his social failures (see Joan Baez, also secret marriage and child/ren, etc), comes off as an amazingly likeable character. I usually want to punch at least one of Hornby’s characters in the face. Not this time. And if I did, it would probably be Duncan.

Again, stepping back in, there was a big “guilty pleasure” factor in this book. I would laugh at the ridiculousness of Duncan’s behavior, and then think, “well, there was that one time when I dd such and such…” and realize that I wasn’t THAT much less ridiculous myself.

This was a very impressive book. Hornby just gets the male psyche. If we can’t BE Bob Dylan or Tom Brady or Barack Obama or whomever, we have to know EVERYTHING about them, and “understand” them completely. It’s utterly pathetic. And accurate. He also gets the female psyche. I like Annie as much as I like any character he has ever written. I’m heartbroken for her failures and problems and wish that just once, he’d broken out happily ever after for her. Maybe when they make it a movie.


#37- My Cold War by Tom Piazza

November 11, 2009

I’ve previously reviewed Piazza’s novel “City of Refuge” within the 50 new books for 2009. My wife and I heard him read from that book in Oxford, Mississippi last year, and were struck by the power of his story. “My Cold War” was his first novel and I picked up a remaindered copy from Barnes & Noble for a few bucks.

Piazza’s novel contemplates a middle aged history professor, who is failing in his efforts to work up a new book on America’s cold war heritage, and is failing in his marriage and his efforts to connect with his own painful history of his own family. I do give him mega props on one specific chapter in the book which is about Dylan plugging in at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. By far and away, this was my favorite part of the book, and makes me think that Piazza might be the one who should write the Cold War book.

Our hero eventually goes to Iowa to try to reconnect with his estranged brother, who ends up having befriended some lovely neo-Nazi style racists (sarcasm on the “lovely”, of course). This is where the book gets convoluted. I couldn’t help but feel like Piazza put his hero in a boat, rowed him out into the middle of lake and stopped the book right there.

I can’t recommend this one like I did “City of Refuge”. It’s certainly not a waste of time, as Piazza is an intense and skilled writer, but he’s improved with age. If he continues, the next one should be one for the ages.


#36– Rock Star Babylon by Jon Holmes

November 11, 2009

Our next entry was a thin paperback I picked up based on the promise of stories (which are published with the proviso that some, all, or none of them may be true) about the deviant behavior of rock musicians. I picked up the book to browse it and learned that a common story that circulated involved Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac ingesting her daily cocaine intake by, well, having it blown with a straw to a place where the sun certainly doesn’t shine. Cheery, eh?

Jon Holmes is an Englishman with an incredibly absurd sense of humor and a penchant for constant footnotes. To say that the book is sarcastic and ridiculous is probably an understatement. It’s also a lot of fun. I’d heard some of these stories (for instance, the famous one about Motley Crue having a contest to see who could still, uhm, draw the attention of groupies despite the longest period of time with NO work of personal hygene (ie showering, brushing teeth, washing hands, etc.), but plenty of them were new to me. Even the familiar ones were told with some wonderful British contempt that I probably enjoyed them most of all. This is a fun book, and would be superb for an airplane or a lengthy wait someplace.


#35– We Would Have Played for Nothing (various)

November 11, 2009

The count for 50 continues, although regular posting has not. Anyway, the good news is that I have several books to list. This book is a second installment in the “Baseball Oral History Project”. I read and reviewed the first, which was called “The Only Game In Town”. In this volume, baseball players from the ’50s and ’60s discuss their game, life and times.

I didn’t find this volume as interesting. As with the first book, the interviewers talked with a handful of stars and minor stars. However, with the ’50s and ’60s, there’s not the same distance from the past. The title of this book aside, baseball players were starting to make insane money by the time of the last players in the book. Once baseball was integrated, which was before these players, it was integrated. Once baseball spread to California, it ceased to be a northeastern game as it had before. Frankly, 1950s and 1960s baseball isn’t THAT horribly different from today. And accordingly, it’s not all that interesting.

I’d much rather read stories about guys who sharpened their spikes to kick people, fought with fans and umpires, couldn’t write their own names, and generally were one step above hit men in the social hierarchy. Unfortunately, most of those guys are dead, but that book was already written… it’s called “The Glory of Their Times”, and I need to read it.