(Wikipedia: “In a first-for-Springsteen effort to gain dance and club play for his music, Arthur Baker created the 12-inch “Blaster Mix” of “Dancing in the Dark”, wherein he reworked the album version. The remix was released on July 2, 1984. The result generated a lot of media buzz for Springsteen, as well as actual club play; the remix went to #7 on the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart, and had the most sales of any 12-inch single in the United States in 1984.”)
Years ago, when I read Dave Marsh’s biographies of Springsteen, one of my favorite parts was Bruce talking about bringing himself out a solitary period in his life, the Nebraska era, and coming down from the mountain, back to the people, pursuing pop music and crowds again.
So, in finally reading Bruce’s autobiography, Born to Run, I find great pleasure in the entire book being a proverbial coming down from the mountain. It’s a steady unpacking of what makes him himself, what makes the person behind the music succeed or fail, at both music and at life. The honesty about family and solitary moments is what drives the book to success. Music gets some description, but only some, as an inspiration or an outcome. But the music is not the person. You are not your job; your job is not responsible for your happiness; and so on.
For instance, his take on the Nebraska period, being up on the figurative mountain and wondering how to get down. He and a friend are driving across the country, and they stop in a Texas town.
In the blue light of dusk, there is a river. By the river, there is a fair. At the fair, there is music, a small stage, filled by a local band playing for their neighbors on a balmy night. I watch men and women lazily dancing in each other’s arms, and I scan the crowd for the pretty local girls. I’m anonymous and then… I’m gone. From nowhere, a despair overcomes me; I feel an envy of these men and women and their late-summer ritual, the small pleasures that bind them and this town together. Now, for all I know, these folks may hate this one-dog dump and each other’s guts and be screwing one another’s husbands and wives like rabbits. Why wouldn’t they? But right now, all I can think of is that I want to be amongst them, of them, and I know I can’t. I can only watch. That’s what I do. I watch… and I record. I do not engage, and if and when I do, my terms are so stringent, they suck the lifeblood and possibility out of any good thing, any real thing, I might have. It’s here, in this little river town, that my life as an observer, an actor staying cautiously and safely out of the emotional fray, away from the consequences, the normal messiness of living and loving, reveals its cost to me.
For what it’s worth, here’s a recording made (most likely) in following months, a song that never made a proper album. The last verses, ones as the music is dying down, always hit me hard. Turns out they were coming from someplace hard?
“Now it’s gettin’ late before we head back to town / We let the fortune wheel spin around / Come on mister, tell me what’s waitin’ out there / On my way out I steal a kiss in the dark / Hope I can remember where our car’s parked / Baby at the county fair.
“Now off down the highway there’s the last stream of cars / We sit a while in my front yard / With the radio playin’ soft and low / I pull Carol close to my heart / And I lean back and stare up at the stars / Oh I wish never had to let this moment go.”
I loved this post from Boyhowdy of Cover Lay Down about taking care of his aging and ailing father. The short essay is quiet and powerful, and of course the selections of songs he suggests for such roads in life are perfect.
Here are a couple of my favorite covers from the list, for obvious biases, and I’ll stream equivalents from YouTube to avoid stealing the blog’s bandwidth:
I didn’t see Springsteen on Broadway — not the right year or two for dropping that kind of money on a show (after all the money I’ve spent on Bruce shows in the past) — but I’m looking forward to watching it on Netflix this month. I’m also hoping to finish his autobiography sometime in the months ahead, or at least the audiobook. A couple years overdue on that one. But they’ve been busy years!
With the Netflix taping for a hook, Esquire‘s new conversation with Springsteen is a good one, particularly in his thoughts on raising his two sons. How to raise a son in the current world is a discussion Lori and I have around the house pretty often these days. In the interview, Bruce gives a nice answer and hits on qualities we were both pretty fortunate to have our parents encourage. Keeping on…
“… I would say their qualities are, they’re sensitive. They’re respectful of others. They are not locked into a 1950s sensibility of manhood, which I had to contend with. Consequently, their attitudes toward women and the world are free of those archetypes, and that frees them to be who they are and have deeper and more meaningful relationships. They know themselves pretty well, which is something I can’t say for myself when I was that age. They know—and can show—love. And they know how to receive love. They know what to do with their problems. I think they have a sense of process as to how to work on themselves, which is something that I certainly didn’t have at twenty-five. These are the things that I’m proud of my boys for.”
Been meaning to transcribe these quotes from Springsteen’s Ties That Bind documentary, on the making of The River. It’s a simple doc: one part archival footage, one part singing songs and sharing thoughts outside, one part doing the same inside. But I appreciated the perspective on this decade in one’s life.
On your 30s:
By the time you’re 30, you’re, you know, you have a clock that’s ticking. You’re definitely operating in the adult world. And I know I was thinking about all of these things by that time — relationships, their success, their failure — and because of my own personal history it was a mystery to me how people were successful at those things. And really the writer’s life is sort of excavating those mysteries.
On the value of the personal in all writing:
It’s always public and personal, I guess, simultaneously for me. I don’t ascribe to myself any great political conscience or social conscience for that matter, but I always believe I’m trying to write my way out of some box that I found myself caught in when I was younger, or my self or my parents caught in, so really most of the writing I’ve done, it’s always personal in some way. And then it connects to the outside world, and connects to issues of the day, but it begins as a personal conversation between me and myself about something that is still digging at me from either my past or the present.
On writing one’s way through life’s blocks:
I was thinking about how to make these things more than aesthetic ideas in my own life, you know? How do I practically live a life like this, where I make the kind of connections that I’m very frightened of, but I feel that if I don’t make, I’m going to disappear or get lost? A creative life, an imagined life, is not a life. It’s merely something you’ve created, it’s merely a story. A story is not a life. A story is just a story. So I was trying to link this stuff up in a way where I thought I could save myself from my darker inclinations by moving into an imagined community where people were struggling with all those things in a very real way.
Lori made me a shirt to celebrate at Nats Park this week. The show was great. Three hours and forty-five minutes with terrific sound and a bunch of songs I’ve never been able to hear live before. New York City Serenade was amazing. Summertime Blues, Secret Garden, American Skin, a ferocious Because the Night, Lost in the Flood, Kitty’s Back, Trapped, I’m on Fire, and on and on and on.
I know we are still in the first days of February. After temperatures were scarf-less early in the week, bone chills re-emerged last night. But I find myself favoriting the warmth in what I read — Jhumpa Lahiri learning Italian, Cord Jefferson writing about his love for his mother, Washingtonian magazine noting (and capturing visually, if briefly) acres open city land and beautiful city-ancient buildings before they’re gone or disfigured, and, as usual, some poems.
A great way to start the day other day was Elizabeth Alexander’s “Praise Song for the Day.” She read it at Obama’s first inauguration. People didn’t love it. I loved it was a way to start my day. Italics are Alexander’s:
Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.
Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?
Recently in my feeds as well have been two catch-you-off-guard poems about desire: Mary Jo Bang’s “Definitely” (“What is desire / But the hardwire argument given / To the mind’s unstoppable mouth”) and Heather Christle’s “Pursuits” (“It only gets worse / A girl’s gotta eat”).
And I’ve been catching up on The New Yorker too. Catching up for real. Before the holidays, my backlog had hit three or four months, and the physical stack was so sad. But I began digging over Christmas and have kept the pages turning. I’m now on the current issue. And it’s a double! I’m going to be a week ahead! Maybe. If I finish it today. You can’t count your Remnick chickens before they’re read.
Anyway, here’s the start of Hagit Grossman’s “On Friendship,” a poem of common life and so satisfactorily so, in the latest issue:
If a friend calls out to you late at night from beneath your window
Never send him on his way. And if you’ve sent him away and still
Insist on rigid rules, regain your composure after a moment
And run to the window and shout his name: “Come, Merhav!
Come back! I’ve got some corn cooking! Come eat something.”
Last but not entirely, I’m two issues behind on Poetry (after Conde Zero, so soon, I promise), but two favorites from the December issue were Caroline Bird’s “The Amnesty,” which packed so much metaphor and love in so little space, and Nate Marshall “Harold’s Chicken Shack #86,” which wrings Northwestern, names, race, and poverty from half a quote in a newspaper story.
Marshall also has a good one in the issue about Oregon Trail (“my first venture west was in Windows 98 / or Independence, Missouri…”), and the Poetry Foundation site turns up him penning a “Harold’s Chicken Shack #1.” Maybe the “#86” of the Northwestern poem is poetic license, but I hope there are 84 in between. I’d like to read them.
Related: The Springsteen song “Amnesty” made me think of. No one will put this song on a greatest-hits compilation, or any kind of compilation that comes to mind. But I’ve always found it strange and special, the best song on a not-great album. Heard it playing during a nice dinner at a nice restaurant last fall — Garrison, on Barracks Row — and found it fitting.
Related: Edward T. Wheeler writes for Commonweal about his prison ministry. “I was retired, convalescing from a five-month hospital stay, and needed a focus for my free time. … Soon I—a former high-school English teacher and long-ago Jesuit seminarian—was involved in a biweekly writing seminar for GED students, then a book discussion club, and finally a life-skills course sponsored by the state university’s extension division.”
They say Twitter will begin an algorithmically ordered timeline next week. They say it will be optional. I’m glad for the latter.
Meet Me in the City is my least favorite song of the outtakes in the River sessions in Springsteen’s new Ties That Bind box set. The track strains inside a too-small audio space, and putting new audio over old backing doesn’t come off as naturally as it has previously. But the song sounds great live. Was stuck in my head all morning after the show last night.
And surprises! Paul McCartney surprises. Plus, you know, Tina and Amy.
Perfectly good song from the River sessions, one that never got close to going on the album for real and was looted for all kinds of parts to supply other songs. That’s how good the sessions were. Can’t wait to hear the rest.