This Must Be One of Those Monthlong Vacations In the Stratosphere

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My residual regard for Bruce Springsteen made me reticent to give any comment about The Boss' unbelievably pompous and boring interview with Jann Wenner, which appeared in Rolling Stone a few issues back. But now that our long national nightmare of the Vote For Change concerts is over, and Bruce's duet on "Because the Night" with Michael Stipe lives on only in my nightmares, I have to ask: Why? It's clear that sometime in the late seventies, Jon Landau, the O'Brien of pop music, squeezed Bruce empty and filled him up with himself, and it's been a long, flatulent journey toward terminal piety ever since. But the Ghost of Tom Joad himself would be spooked by this nugget of wheezology:

Pop musicians live in the world of symbology. You live and die by the symbol in many ways. You serve at the behest of your audience's imagination. It's a complicated relationship. So you're asking people to welcome the complexity in the interest of fuller and more honest communication.

And that's one of the breezier sentiments bubbling up from Wittgensteen's teeming brain.

Wenner doesn't fare much better. I know I'm in desperate need of a career change when I think of where you end up after being a crucial figure at the red-hot center of the New Journalism and spending four decades as the head of one of the most valuable and influential properties in American media: asking a self-infatuated former rock star questions like "Because you scrupulously avoided commercial use of your music, you built a reputation for integrity and conscience. You must be aware of the potency of that."

But for me it's Bruce who provides the real sting. I owe my own spiritual emancipation to the stunning critique of religious orthodoxy, "Nuns run bald through Vatican halls, pregnant, pleadin' immaculate conception," from Greetings From Asbury Park. But now I must repeat in all seriousness a comment the Sucksters once made in jest: Sir, you're no Meat Loaf.

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  1. I was watching VH-1 the other night and they had on their list of the “Worst Songs” of Rock. For some reason Meat Loaf’s “I Would Do Anything For Love, but I won’t do that.” was on the list. The primary reason it was considered bad (beside the fact that today’s music listeners are too stupid to appreciate Meat Loaf “epic” style of rock), the music experts they brought on couldn’t figure out what “that” meant. Obviously the morons didn’t listen to the whole song.

  2. “I am a dedicated Times reader, and I’ve found enormous sustenance from Paul Krugman and Maureen Dowd on the op-ed page.” – Bruce Springsteen

    That explains a lot.

    Meat Loaf’s the heavyweight in more ways than one.

  3. Tim, I forgot to compliment you on this: “It’s clear that sometime in the late seventies, Jon Landau, the O’Brien of pop music, squeezed Bruce empty and filled him up with himself, and it’s been a long, flatulent journey toward terminal piety ever since.” The O’Brien connection was terrific.

  4. Yeah, the O’Brien reference made me chuckle, too.

  5. Sadness.

    I do love the Bruce, and everything up to Nebraska counts as Great Music — that’s a long time, too: six great records in a decade, no filler. I still like Bruce today. But somehow he went George Lucas on us.

    Problem is, you become a pussy when you go all the way political. Eminem shows he knows this trap when he ended his suddenly famous “Mosh” anti-Bush song with a sneering “Mr. Senator?” directed at Kerry. (Point being, Kerry will have to earn not being hated by the Eminem hoodie crowd.)

    I know Bruce means it, I know he cares. But why’s he gotta sound like Atrios? He’s fucking Bruce Springsteen! He doesn’t need to wallow in that old shit bucket.

    That’s why you always gotta go back to Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan takes no political crap. Tweedlee Dum and Tweedlee Dee, indeed.

  6. ooo ooo growing up

  7. “Wittgensteen.” LOL

  8. Couldn’t agree more. Like Slim Shady above I haven’t paid any attention to Bruce since Nebraska (with the lone exception being the title song from Streets of Philadelphia).

    The longer these guys hang around the more they become a caricature of themselves. I can’t explain it exactly, but Elvis is the poster child for this phenomenon; remember the bloated Elvis in that nasty white suit? I suspect it is the same thing that made Willie Mays play pro ball until all that was left was a feeble memory of who and what he had once been.

    Michael Stipe and REM have become more earnest, angst-ridden, and obtuse. Bruce’s voice becomes ever more gravelly, his words more campy and less insightful.

    So my iPod is, and will remain, full of the early stuff because I still get chills when I hear this:

    “The machinist climbs his ferris wheel like a brave and the fire-eater’s lyin’ in a pool of sweat victim of the heatwave,
    Behind the tent the hired hand tightens his legs on the sword swallowers blade,
    Circus town’s on the shortwave”

  9. Oh yes, the music will never be as good as it was during one’s fabled youth.

  10. well, yeah. or no. maybe?

    if bruce had gone libertoid on us, would he be more or less tolerable? about the same? (not a fan myself)

    i do have to wonder about how much intelligence is required to understand meatloaf. or why he named himself meatloaf. why not meatball. or meat pattie? or gone german minimal on us with mlof?

    dance mlof, dance!

  11. “Oh yes, the music will never be as good as it was during one’s fabled youth.”

    I think this is not what people are saying. What people are saying is “Bruce Springsteen sucks now.” As does REM, and basically any rock band well past its sell-by date. There’s a lot of great music being made these days… just not by Bruce Springsteen.

    Your obtuse, possibly intentional misunderstandings of what other people are saying seems somehow… french to me.

  12. Yeah, that was (mostly) what I was trying to say. My bad if it didn’t come across.

    I do admit to some wistful nostalgia for the music that ruled the days of my youth. But I do think the charge that Bruce and REM and many others just simply lost their edge is demonstrably true.

    And to show that I’m not just being wistfully nostalgic in my music taste, here are a few of the artists whose music also occupies my iPod:

    Outkast
    Audioslave
    Eminem
    Beastie Boys
    Butthole Surfers
    Deftones

  13. dhex,

    If Bruce were libertoid, people would be discussing how “fresh” his music still is.

    Brian Cook,

    Sounds a lot like pining for the past to me. We’re all prone to it.

    And Bruce Springsteen always sucked.

  14. well, there’s a lot of prog rock fans around reason who seem to be quite keen on the libertarian leanings of oingo boingo and rush…

    which is fucking horrifying, mind you, but surely people don’t groove on musical politics alone.

  15. It’s music for the Love of God! Of course it sucks…..As my hero Pete Townsend might say, “What can you say in 2 minutes 50 seconds?”

  16. dhex,

    Check out Origene, Goldfrapp, and The Uncut. 🙂

  17. Funny how a Reason site mocks a musician who can coherently string two or more thoughts together as pompous and boring. He risks considerable money and reputation by publicly taking a stand on important issues and the Reasoners leap out to poke him with sharp sticks.

    The Butthole Surfers, on the other hand, are much less pompous and way more articulate:

    King Coffey: “Soooo, Butthole Surfers, how’d you get the name?” That’s a question I’ve been asked many times in my life but just being asked by Eric Estrada was different.

    Sheila Rene: “There are so many different versions on that. Which one did you give him?”

    King Coffey: “(laughing) I have no idea what I told him. I just had stars in my eyes. First of all, imagining him in drag being Erica Estrada. He’s a handsome man.”

    Indeed…

  18. “The longer these guys hang around the more they become a caricature of themselves. I can’t explain it exactly…”

    I can explain it: rock is for teenagers. It’s adolescently stupid music. But now there’s nothing to move on to when you grow up, so it looks more and more stupid as you get older.

  19. Todd Fletcher,

    You echo my comments I think. 🙂

    Plus everything is recycled. When I listen to The Uncut I can’t help but wonder how much Yaz influenced them. The same for Phoenix; I wonder how much they listened to Hall & Oates.

  20. the 80s retro thing really fucking freaks me out. maybe people do groove on the politics alone – otherwise, i’m at a loss to explain le tigre.

  21. If Bruce were libertoid, people would be discussing how “fresh” his music still is

    That argument makes no sense. If it was his political opinions that bothered us, why would we still like his earlier stuff? The belief that Springsteen hasn’t done much of anything good since the late 70s/early 80s crosses all political boundaries. Besides, Rush is vaguely libertarian, and hasn’t done anything good in ages. Oingo Boingo’s last two albums were pretty lame. It’s not about the politics, it’s about entertainment.

    Funny how a Reason site mocks a musician who can coherently string two or more thoughts together as pompous and boring.

    What, like it’s impossible to be pompous and boring while coherently stringing together two or more thoughts?

    Bruce is a rock musician. I don’t care if he can coherently string two thoughts together; I care about whether whatever thoughts he’s stringing together sound good when he sings them. Hell, Jimi Hendrix couldn’t connect two thoughts together unless one of them was “yeah, man” and I still own pretty much everything he ever recorded.

  22. Regardless of what you think of his recent compositions, I wonder if any of us here do anything as well as Bruce Springsteen performs in concert. I know I don’t.

  23. I wonder if any of us here do anything as well as Bruce Springsteen performs in concert. I know I don’t. – Les

    If Bruce can make sense of Maureen Dowd and trust Paul Krugman, he’s two up on me right there –without even whistling.

  24. “He risks considerable money and reputation by publicly taking a stand on important issues and the Reasoners leap out to poke him with sharp sticks.”

    The hell he does. He’s Bruce Friggin’ Springsteen. He has buckets of money and he wrote “Glory Days”. He is not going to wake up tomorrow and not be Bruce Springsteen. He’s risking precisely nothing.

    Reasoners are poking him with sharp sticks not because he’s taking a stand, but because he’s become a tiresome bore, which it seems is the inevitable fate of almost all middle-age rockers. When has any famous person made “a stand” that wasn’t basically idiotic?

    I do wish that REM didn’t suck now, JB, but I’ve moved on.

  25. REM always sucked. Sorry to pull back the curtain at this late date.

  26. REM is correctly identified as having always sucked.

    Judgement has been rendered.

  27. Douglas Fletcher,
    You SIR ARE A DAMNED LIAR, REM DID NOT ALWAYS SUCK!!!! “Green” and “Out of Time” were marvelous albums…

  28. I love this line: “Sir, you’re no Meat Loaf.” Unforgettable.

  29. Dan,

    Are you suggesting that people don’t look at art through the lense of their own ideology? If so, then are you also trying to sell some ocean front property in Arizona too?

    “Out of Time” sucked. They jumped the shark after “Document.”

  30. Poor Jason, how wrong you are…”Near Wild Heaven” is beautiful, “Endgame” and “Country Feedback” are all marvelous… I loved “Losing My Religion”-it’s only sin was that it got WAY too much air play… It is true “The Shiny Happy People” was terrible, it’s only redeeming feature the line by Dennis Leary concerning it.

    Though it’s not from that album, “Orange Crush” is still one of the best songs concerning Amreicans and war, I’d put it up with anything from “Dark Side of the Moon.”

    For me, Rock Stars get insufferable when they forget that they have 2 minutes 50 and that they are MUSCIANS, not philosophers. Sting got all pretntious as did Stipe and Springsteen. My plumber may or may not have ag reat insight in to the state of the world, that depends on his wit, wisdom, and erudition but I don’t look to him/her for a “System of the World.” I don’t think that I’ll look to Rock Stars for it either.

    Another poster put it well, Rock is for teens, it looks dumber the older you get, just like our memories of our teen years get populated with editorial comments like, “I can’t believe how dumb I was!”

  31. Joe L.,

    Sting has always been pretentious; indeed, that probably aided him in his music (solo and with the Police) to a certain degree (think “Englishman in New York” or “Omega Man”). He basically jumped the shark after “Ten Summoner’s Tales,” but he’s had some good to great singles since then; unfortuntately his latest album sucked almost n toto.

  32. My life changed in 1994 so pop culture and parted ways to a vast extent… I didn’t own anything past the “Soul Cages”. I will say I figure you’re washed up when you advertise for Jaguar… If that doesn’t mean you’ve “sold out” what does?

  33. Are you suggesting that people don’t look at art through the lense of their own ideology?

    I’m suggesting that if you think that the swill Springsteen has been pumping out for the last 20 years would suddenly sound good to libertarians if The Bruce would just express the correct politics, you obviously know nothing about either Springsteen fans or libertarians.

  34. As long as he supported the Gold Standard and opposed the Income Tax and supported the abolition of the Federal Reserve and IRS, he’d have their hearts… they’d buy all his albums, of course, the support of 150,000 pepole isn’t all that lucrative.
    2o YEARS, are you saying that “Born in the USA” was swill???

  35. “REM always sucked. Sorry to pull back the curtain at this late date.”

    Life’s Rich Pageant is awesome. That is all.

  36. Ooh, I liked the O’Brien reference too.
    —————

    O’Brien’s manner became less severe. When he spoke his voice was gentle and patient.

    ‘I am taking trouble with you, Springsteen,’ he said, ‘because you are worth trouble. You know perfectly well what is the matter with you. You are mentally deranged. You suffer from a defective memory. You think you are a blue collar hero instead of a spoiled rock star. You think your musical virtuosity makes you a political thinker. Even now, I am well aware, you are clinging to your disease under the impression that it is a virtue. Now we will take an example. At this moment, which power is Billy Oceania at war with?’

    ‘When I was arrested, Billy Oceania was at war with Sheena Eastonasia.’

    ‘With Sheena Eastonasia. Good. And Billy Oceania has always been at war with Sheena Eastonasia, has it not?’ …

  37. Dan,

    Libertarians are no less prone to this sort of filtering than any other ideology is. Besides, you’re not a libertarian, so what the hell would you know about? 🙂

  38. Libertarians are no less prone to this sort of filtering than any other ideology is.

    As I have patiently explained to you twice now, your belief that “filtering” explains what music I like cannot account for the fact that I like *some* of the material by Springsteen, Rush, and Oingo Boingo, but not other stuff. You might as well claim that racism explains why I like Living Colour’s first album and dislike their second, or that homophobia explains why I dislike everything Elton John has recorded in the last few decades. The simple fact of the matter is that the statement “If Bruce were libertoid, people would be discussing how ‘fresh’ his music still is” is obviously idiotic; you can’t transform bad art into good by spouting the right political slogans.

    Besides, you’re not a libertarian, so what the hell would you know about?

    Yeah, whatever. I’m more of a libertarian than Badnarik is; so far as I’m concerned that entitles me to the label. Bored now.

  39. Dan,

    As I have patiently explained to you twice now, your belief that “filtering” explains what music I like…

    Well, I was never talking about you, first because you are not a libertarian (or so you have claimed in the past – are you flip-flopping?), and second because I was never ever talking about you specifically. Furthermore, your anecdotal evidence doesn’t impress me anyway. To suggest that ideology has nothing to do with musical taste – as you have – is just downright sophistry.

    I’m more of a libertarian than Badnarik is…

    Some weeks ago you directly stated to joe that you are not a libertarian. So which is it? Are you a libertarian or aren’t you? Are you flip-flopping because on the one hand you don’t want to be cornered with a label, but on the other you want to claim that label when its convenient? Or were you just practicing the art of obfuscation with joe?

  40. I don’t think he cares.

  41. Yeah, and if Springsteen were 25 years old right now and saying all this, many of you would praise him for his “insight.” But since his hair is grey, he is, instead, an old windbag.

    Why are his politics news to any of you? This is the same guy who refused to allow Reagan to play “Born in the USA” at rallies twenty years ago.

    Seems maybe y’all got too old for him, not the other way around.

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