The InsiderOne Daily Report
Monday, April 9, 2001
Born To Relive The Past?
InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: The other day I reluctantly bought a copy of Live in New York City, the new Bruce Springsteen album, which I hadn't planned to do. I had seen Springsteen and the E Street Band's first reunion performance, at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction a few years back. They performed three songs, and I was impressed. I left the Waldorf-Astoria all hyped up, believing that Springsteen was going to make some great new music by reuniting with his old band, rather than imitating everyone from the Rolling Stones and Beach Boys to the Sex Pistols, who became parodies of themselves as they did their oldies-but-goodies tours. By the time the big Springsteen reunion tour rolled into the Bay Area, I felt differently. I just couldn't go. The whole thing reeked of nostalgia, and I didn't want any part of it. I didn't want to sit with all the middle-aged men and their wives, there to relive their youth. There's probably nothing wrong with that. Thinking about the past is OK; it doesn't mean that you're not living in the now, just because you reflect occasionally on what was. I just didn't want to do it. I'd seen quite a few Springsteen shows when I was younger in 1975 my friends and I piled into my friend Dave's car and drove from San Francisco to Sacramento to see one of the "Born to Run" tour shows. I'd rather not muck up that memory by seeing a reunion tour. Also, I felt Springsteen had let me down. When he broke up his band after Tunnel of Love, I could understand that he wanted to try something different. He'd been playing with the E Street Band for a lot of years and probably felt like he'd be repeating himself if he didn't change something. On his own, though, he didn't do anything different. What he did was make his two worst albums, then put together a band that basically imitated the E Street Band, only they weren't any good, and went on tour to promote those two new albums. I saw one of those shows, and it was kinda sad Springsteen, who really was quite a mythic figure during the '70s and into the '80s, came across as "just another rock star touring to promote an album," as my friend Roger noted the other day. Eventually he did manage to find his way. "Philadelphia" was a strong song, and then came The Ghost of Tom Joad. If neither could match Springsteen's work from The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle right up through Tunnel of Love, they were still worthy additions to his repertoire. His solo "Tom Joad" tour was memorable at the show I saw at the Berkeley Community Theater, he really made you care about those songs. But still, all these years later, here we were picking up where he'd left off when he'd broken up the band, giving rise to thoughts of what might have been if Springsteen had been able to keep on a roll with his crew. All of which explains to some extent why I wasn't exactly running down to Tower to get my copy of Live in New York City. Still, once I had it, I put it on as I drove home. And guess what? It sounded good. It's a pretty damn exciting live album. Some of it lacks the drama of the studio recordings, but it's kinda cool to hear a more relaxed Springsteen he's having fun. More than that, these guys were one of the great live bands of all time. Like jazz musicians, they really listened to each other, and played with each other, with plenty of give and take. Some of that comes through on Live in New York City. There are some new songs I'd never heard before: "Land of Hope and Dreams" is pretty good, and "American Skin (41 Shots)" isn't bad either. Still, everyone knows that it's a holding action. When, a hundred years from now, someone wants to hear Springsteen's greatest work, they'll check out Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town, The River and Nebraska. For an artist like Springsteen, there's a lot on the line. It's been a long time since he recorded his last studio rock album. You wonder if he still has it in him to make another classic album. After all, he doesn't have to: financially, he should be set for life, and if he retired from rock 'n' roll right now, he'd go down in history as one of the greats. But he's still a relatively young man. My sense is he's not ready to call it quits, and maybe he needed to tour with his band to find the right groove. It's not going to be easy. Much of Springsteen's work, up through Born in the U.S.A. and including some of Tunnel of Love, is about two things: romance and escape. About winning the girl, and then heading out of town with her. There's also a whole body of work about what happens later, when it doesn't work out. Or about the guys and girls who never get out of town. But Springsteen did get out. What can he write about now that's true to who he is, and yet not a repeat of what he's done before? I hope he's already written some songs that he's proud of, and begun to record them. There's nothing I (and millions of others) would rather hear than a great new studio album from Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, or just Bruce Springsteen, with some help from some of the E Street Band. Meanwhile, we'll content ourselves with Live in New York City.
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Michael Goldberg is the president of insiderone.net. He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.