With Bruce Springsteen’s new album due to be released and a revelatory film about the early days of The Boss about to hit the silver screen, Getintothis’ Rick Leach tells a personal story.
In a few weeks, we’re going to get a brand-new Bruce Springsteen album – his 19th since 1973’s Greeting From Asbury Park, NJ.
Additionally, there’s a new documentary film on release: Asbury Park: Riot, Redemption, Rock & Roll all about the Upstage Club where Springsteen, Steve Van Zandt and Southside Johnny got their first breaks.
For this writer, this is akin to having two Christmas Days in the space of a fortnight. Santa is being very generous.
But it wasn’t always like this.
There was a long time when I wrote Springsteen off. Wouldn’t give him the time of day. I’d dismissed it all as over-blown, over-hyped, over-done, over-cooked (ugh) ‘rock’ music. It was ‘American’ music and not the right sort of American music.
This was 1986.
I’d therefore gone for over a decade of disparaging Springsteen. Unfairly really because I’d never really listened. I’d simply presumed.
This was all a hangover from punk and especially the scorched-earth Year Zero aspect of it all which ironically became even more pronounced with post-punk.
If I hadn’t heard it on John Peel, read about it in NME or some grotty fanzine or bought it from Probe, then it wasn’t worth a carrot.
I definitely wouldn’t touch anything on a major label and even Rough Trade was pushing it a bit. Some obscure label from Belgium or the mid-West or Poland was better. A 7” one-off single or even better, a cassette with a Xeroxed insert. That’s how deep the New Puritanism went.
Like being a Liverpool fan with a dread of Dalglish signing for United, I used to have sleepless nights about the likes of Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle or You’ve Got Foetus on Your Breath signing to a major. And heaven forbid, nightmare of nightmares, if The Fall ever switched to CBS.
This is how bad it was in my youthful naivety. I was blinkered. But I was right. I knew I was. I had self-righteousness on my side.
But somewhere along the line, sometime towards the end of 1986, I stepped outside of my self- imposed shackles.
Springsteen had just released the (for its time) mega-box set, Live 75-85.
Five LP’s in a big shiny, glossy box. The sort of box that that classical records were housed in. Operas and the like.
An expensive box. Twenty-five quid.
This was a long way from some uber-indie single in a black and white sleeve or an album pressed in miniscule quantities on a label that no-one had ever heard of. A record which in retrospect I’d only buy for its sheer esoteric nature. And one that you could only get from Probe.
Not from HMV. Definitely not from HMV.
But back in 1985 I’d just started my first proper job. And it was my birthday. To my surprise and delight my new work colleagues had clubbed together and given me twenty-five quid. A not-inconsiderable sum back then
That would get me three or four cool and hip records from Probe. Big Black maybe. Butthole Surfers. Some obscure jazz or 1920’s blues import. Maybe a Japanese import?
That twenty-five quid burned a hole in pocket. But this is the thing.
To get to Probe I had to walk past HMV.
It must have been fate. Against all my principles I walked into the megastore and blew all of that twenty-five quid on the last record I ever thought I’d buy. The Live 75-85 box set.
I can still recall the pang of guilt that washed over me. It was like a betrayal. What would Smith and Peel make of it? I felt that I’d let them down. I’d let myself down.
I made sure that I carried it home carefully wrapped in the bag just in case I bumped into someone I knew. Instant ridicule would certainly have ensued if I’d been copped with a Springsteen record.
Back home and dropping the needle on track one, side one I didn’t know what to expect. Well, I did. Sort of. Disappointment. An over-priced and stupidly extravagant disappointment.
A smattering of gentle applause. Not the roaring of a stadium. A voice.
‘Ladies and Gentlemen, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band…’
And then…a plaintive piano melody, a heartstring-tugging (I knew it even then, I recognized it for what it was even then) and…a song…
‘Screen door slams/Mary’s dress waves…’
I was hooked. Within a few bars. No less than that; within seconds.
Thunder Road. That’s where it all started for me. That’s where I came late to the party for Bruce Springsteen and never looked back.
I devoured the rest of the box set in one sitting. All five albums worth. It was like finding some (not so) hidden treasure. The more I listened to it the more I realized how wrong, how utterly and completely wrong I’d been up to that point.
Because this was music of passion and emotion and hope and dreams.
This was no studied and abstract post-punk industrial chin-scratching. There was no archness, nothing cynical and knowing and clever and self-referential. There was no hint of post-structural theories. Jacques Derrida didn’t get a look in.
This was inspirational stuff and this was music that made your heart beat faster. And where I’d (wrongly) presumed that Bruce Springsteen didn’t do politics or social commentary my preconceptions were blown away when I heard the angry roar of Seeds. This made Crass look like they were pissing in the wind.
Even when there was a clearly big-stadium, big-arena, big hit track such as Hungry Heart, the sound of thousands of voices singing in unison, showing that communality, that shared experience, hit me to the core. It sent a shiver down my spine and listening to it again right now as I write this, over thirty years later, it still does. Exactly the same.
I’ve listened to a lot of Bruce since that day. All those studio albums and at the last count, a few hundred live recordings. The magic still remains. We’ve kind of grown older together. His music has changed that’s for sure; there’s an increasing sadness and maturity and reflection in his later records, but the essence of it shines through it all. An honesty and an integrity that is unsurpassed in, well let’s face it, rock music.
It was a salutary lesson for me, getting that box set and it’s one that I hope I never forget.
You should never assume anything as far as music is concerned. Never dismiss anything out of hand. Never be swayed by the vagaries of fashion or the views of your mates. Try to listen to everything.
Know that you’ll still get it wrong most of the time (see my picks for Getintothis’ Albums Club as a prime example) but that you can still listen to and enjoy Bruce Springsteen, The Fall, Coldplay, Prince and Merzbow at the same time without any issue at all.
And the exciting thing is, I can’t wait to hear the new Bruce album. Happy Christmas (in June)!
Win tickets for the Picturehouse at FACT screening of Asbury Park: Riot, Redemption, Rock & Roll on May 22:
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- Bruce Springsteen‘s new album Western Stars is released on June 14 by Columbia