There's a Bullshitter on the Edge of Town

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Demonstrating once again that if there's anything more brutal than damning with faint praise, it's praising with clear-headed self-loathing, Slate's Stephen Metcalf takes a scalpel through The Boss' bullshit, in a piece subtitled "Why I Still Love Bruce Springstreen." A sampling:

Thirty years later, and largely thanks to [Jon] Landau, Springsteen is no longer a musician. He's a belief system. And, like any belief system worth its salt, he brooks no in-between. You're either in or you're out. This has solidified Bruce's standing with his base, for whom he remains a god of total rock authenticity. But it's killed him with everyone else. To a legion of devout nonbelievers–they're not saying Bruuuce, they're booing–Bruce is more a phenomenon akin to Dianetics or Tinkerbell than "the new Dylan," as the Columbia Records promotions machine once hyped him. And so we've reached a strange juncture. About America's last rock star, it's either Pentecostal enthusiasm or total disdain.

To walk back from this impasse, we need to see Springsteen's persona for what it really is: Jon Landau's middle-class fantasy of white, working-class authenticity. Does it derogate Springsteen to claim that he is, in essence, a white minstrel act? Not at all. […]

Next to, say, Iron and Wine, Devils & Dust too often sounds like a chain store selling faux Americana bric-a-brac. One always suspects with Springsteen that, in addition to a blonde Telecaster and "the Big Man," a focus group lies close at hand.

Whole ambush here. As someone who has liked Bruuuce enough to make a mixed tape for his bewildered non-Jersey wife during the courtship phase, I'm grateful Metcalf put into words how it all went so horribly wrong (even if the blame-Landau theory gets Springsteen off the hook too easily, and a second culprit goes unnamed—his 18-year drought of distinctive melodies). It must be damned hard to avoid drinking your own Kool-aid when your good work is over-analyzed by a legion of hyperventiliating, half-intellectual non-musicians (this is the great unresolved trauma in Bob Dylan's Chronicles), but that doesn't mean we all shouldn't share a belly laugh when the likes of Springsteen and Steve Earle seem to lose their bearings entirely, becoming the type of insufferable artiste that the increasingly unrealistic-sounding blue-collar heroes in their songs would surely pelt with a 40-ouncer.

I had a last-minute opportunity to see Bruce play a live acoustic show for free just last night, something that would have caused me to wet myself two decades ago, but after reading Springsteen hagiographer Robert Hilburn of the L.A. Times report that the Boss begins each show on this tour by instructing the audience to shush up, turn off their cell phones and refrain from singing along, it didn't seem worth breaking my plans for.

For some reason-related Springsteenia, here's Jersey brat Nick Gillespie's 2003 mockerry of the Boss' free-speech whining and 1996 fact-check of The Ghost of Tom Joad; plus Brian Doherty's 1997 review of The Mansion on a Hill, 2002 pan of The Rising, and excellent 2000 essay, The Strange Politics of Millionaire Rock Stars. (Link via Sploid.)

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  1. All of which validates the genius of: “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou”; at least the theme if not the final production.

  2. Don’t sing along? He really says that?

    Well, I suppose it’s easier these days, since he hasn’t had a song worth singing along to since the 80s.

  3. Allow me to call bullshit on the all-or-nothing theory. I’m a white, middle class New Jersey native who owns about ten Bruce albums and attended opening night of the Born In The USA tour. There’s a simple reason why I used to be a huge fan but no longer am: Bruce stopped rocking years ago.

  4. Good posting, Matt. I agree: if La Boss were to sashay into a real blue-collar bar in Jersey City, or even Scranton, his boilermaker guzzling “brothers” would show their regard for his vision by pummeling him and emptying his wallet.
    Interesting that you mention Steve Earle as well (wheras Springsteen buys into Jon Landau’s bullshit, I suspect Earle has spendt far too much time circle-jerking with the editorial board at “No Depression” magazine). The main difference is that at least Earle, butthead that he is, has some genuine street-cred (read: prison time)and manages to continue to make some interesting music – sometimes…

  5. Funny you mention Iron and Wine. I was going to go see them play in town a couple of weeks ago, but they sold the venue out weeks before I even made to purchase my ticket. Too bad, so sad.

  6. Jim — I think Earle’s magazine problem is more The New Yorker than No Depression…. Though I look forward to the day when some rocekr is accused of losing their bearings from being to hip with the Reason crowd….

    smacky — ’twas Metcalf, not I, who referenced Iron and Wine. I never heard of ’em.

  7. Matt,

    I considered that maybe you weren’t the one who specifically mentioned them. I was just skimming the post, though, so my bad. Iron and Wine are really big on the indie folk scene.

  8. Don’t sing along? He really says that?

    Awhile back, when John Mayer was somewhere in between unknown find and MTV Pretty Boy, I was duped by my brother (who had seen him at the 9:30 club in DC< and said it was a really authentic, original acoustic deal) into seeing him at a kinda large venue. Well, I must have been mistaken, because, according to the concert, he was Carson Daly’s new favorite friend. Ho-lay-shit! There were so many horrible teenage whores (most of which were too big for midriffs, tanktops and low-rise jeans, but wore them anyway), all of whom knew every word of every song he sang. Quite frankly, it was nearly impossible to actually hear him sing, over top of the roar of thousands of little girls screaming the lyrics at the top of their lungs. Worst. Show. Ever.

    I have to admire an artist that would tell his idiot fans to shut the fuck up. Cheering and applause is one thing. Screaming along to every word in every song, trying to impress everyone around you because you’re so obsessed that you’ve listened to the album 15,000 times…that isn’t really defensible as far as I’m concerned.

    Also, I don’t buy this “you either love bruce or you hate bruce” line. I’m kinda lukewarm, myself. Woohoo, breathless hyperbole just so that you have something to write about…

  9. stupid reason website cut out 1/2 my post.

  10. On his radio show, #17 interviewed someone who went to BS’s Phoenix show. “people paid $85 to attend a political speech?” If you left you couldn’t come back until the song was over. BS expressed his open borders views, and all the people around the interviewee were laughing about it: “easy for him to say being from NJ.”

    If anyone cares about BS, trying to listen to a copy of the interview would be interesting.

  11. Evan — Yeah, but wasn’t the sound of fans shouting along to Mayer an *improvement*?

    And looking back, I can see where it All Went Wrong with R.E.M., too — I saw them at the Universal Ampitheater in 1987 or ’88, on the Document tour, and A) Michael Stipe did an a capella falsetto bit, then B) when he finally acknowledged the audience, round song 9 or so, he said: “And special thanks to you who didn’t clap during the a capella bit” ….

  12. “Screaming along to every word in every song, trying to impress everyone around you because you’re so obsessed that you’ve listened to the album 15,000 times…that isn’t really defensible as far as I’m concerned. ”

    Yes, there are those idiots at every show, but I think it’s far more common to sing along out of a connection with the music. I’d think that as a musician one would want to form that sort of connection with the audience. Otherwise what’s the point of playing live?

    So, after all that, you should have gone to the show Matt. I’m gonna say that the noise restrictions are due to the nature of the show and not The Boss’ overstuffed ego.

    Telling your audience not to sing along is basically saying that their enjoyment of the show is less important than serving your own ego. I’m willing to bet that most of that audience silently and unconsciously mouthed the words anyway.

    Of course, I’m probably being too hard on the Boss in this case. An acoustic show is worlds apart from a large-scale electric rock concert, and having the audience sing along might turn the music into muddled crap. An audience can’t overwhelm full band with 10 foot speakers the way they can a man with a wooden guitar.

  13. Oops, move the 3rd ‘graph to the end.

  14. Telling your audience to pipe down seems pretty obnoxious to me. On the other hand, I remember seeing Johnny Cash play in Seattle ten years ago & getting pissed off that I couldn’t hear his between-song jokes because some lady thought they were the perfect moment to yell, “Go, Johnny, go!” — over and over again.

    On the San Quentin album, one of the prisoners in the audience yells something and Cash says, “Sorry, I couldn’t hear you — I was talking.” Something about the way he says it always cracks me up.

  15. While the Boss has made a fair number of records I’ve liked, I’ve always found his rather transparent working-man posturing ridiculous. It’s not like his propensity for being a bullshitter is anything new. As long ago as the mid-70’s I could always raise the ire of the faithful by referring to him as “Broadway Bruce and the E-Street Poseurs”.

    Got to see him in Minneapolis a couple of years ago. A fairly talented entertainer he is, but as a Prophet of the Proletariat he doesn’t even begin.

  16. Jesse-The Fulsom Prison album has some great moments on it as well.

    “We’re recording this, so I’m not supposed to say hell or shit or any words like that.”

  17. Jesse – as a fellow Cash fanatic, I love that part too. On Waylon’s first live album, he gets stuck on the intro to “This time” and can’t remember the opening line. A schlub in the audience screams out and Waylon says “Hold dat down there!…..while I think of the first line”

    It makes me laugh because I think he is pissed about the scream because he’s trying to concentrate and make that first line come out somehow. The second part is him realizing the inanity of the whole thing and laughing about it.

  18. Man, I hate this rock-snob shit. Particularly from Libertarians whose only standard for good taste, if they are true to their claims, is what is successful in the marketplace.

    I’m not a huge Springsteen fan and never was, but I never saw the sense in a bash piece like this. If you don’t like it, leave it the fuck alone and let those who do enjoy it.

  19. “Rock-snob shit” = good taste is what is successful in the marketplace???

    Plus, last I looked, Springsteen isn’t bumming around the country playing for gigs and looking for donations to pay for transportation. I think he’s been at least moderately successful.

  20. clarityiniowa,

    It’s not like Matt Welch (or anyone posting on here) is picking on some random musician for their aesthetic musical qualities. I think that when a rock star politicizes himself and his music the way Springsteen has, he has offically put the kebosh on his freedom from public scrutiny and is completely open to critcisms of pretty much any kind. Some people might say that’s true of anyone in the public eye, political or not.

    Plus, who ever said that Libertarians like only what sells the most in the marketplace? Last I checked, there were no official rules on what a Libertarian can find aesthetically pleasing, musically.

  21. Nothing rock-snob about it … if anything, it’s reverse rock-snobbery to say, “Sure is hard to listen to that Bruce Springsteen, because the music isn’t very enjoyable and the preaching is annoying.”

    Brian Doherty’s review of The Rising is kind, because it looks for an excuse for the decline of Bruce’s talents — that started Exactly when he started taking himself seriously as a Working Man’s Poet — and chooses wealth, fame and maturity. (The Slate thing picks the Ivy League manager as bogeyman.)

    But I can’t help thinking of Dylan when I read this stuff. Surely Dylan has sold as many records and was at various times a bigger “star.” Dylan’s a lot older, too. And yet a Dylan show is a rollicking bunch of jokes & violence, so much more “Real America” than anything Bruce has done, because Real America is not a somber John Steinbeck book. It’s weird and funny and bloody and horny, which would be a good way to describe Dylan’s 9/11 album, “Love & Theft.” (Dylan is crazy enough to have recorded his 9/11 CD *before* the event so it could be released on Sept. 11 ’01.)

    Bruce forgets that real American Singers are not at all the Common Man, and the actual real Americans don’t care, because we’re all weirdos, too. We know Merle Haggard & Willie Nelson & Johnny Cash & Frank Sinatra are all Grade-A Freaks, as they should be.

  22. Not sure of your point, Ammonium. Please clarify.

    Mine was that I see no logical Libertarian standard for what is “good” or “bad”, bullshit or not aside from what is successful in the marketplace. Therefore, Libertarians have no platform from which to judge Springsteen other than the fact, which you so ably point out, that the man still has a popular following and rakes in some respectable coin.

  23. I just want to make it clear that I would never have an interest in a political party that tells me what I should or should not want to listen to, see, eat, etc. To that end, I don’t think that Libertarians (as a group) have a standardized means test of deciding what is good art, contrary to what I think you are implying, clarityiniowa. The day Libertarians have an agreed upon “standard” for what (art, music, etc.) is (aesthetically) “good” or “bad” would be the day they renounce personal choice.

  24. Smacky and K Layne – You make good points distinguishing criticism of Springsteen’s political pretensions from criticism of his musical and artistic evolution. They are two separate issues.

    I, too, get tired of folks like him, Willy Nelson, John Mellencamp, etc., setting themselves up as working class icons when they are raking in megabucks FROM the very people they claim to represent. But even that is legitimate, from a Libertarian point of view, because nobody forces the downtrodden masses to adore them or buy their recordings, overpriced concert tickets and other merchandise.

  25. smacky – The day Libertarians have an agreed upon “standard” for what (art, music, etc.) is (aesthetically) “good” or “bad” would be the day they renounce personal choice.

    Actually, that’s MY point exactly. Libertarians HAVE no such standard, which begs my question of how one legitimately does artistic criticism in a Libertarian magazine, because without such a standard, by what does one judge except by one’s own gut-level whims? Then it simply becomes a question of “my opinions are more meritorious than your opinions,” without any yardstick by which to measure.

  26. Then it simply becomes a question of “my opinions are more meritorious than your opinions,” without any yardstick by which to measure.

    clarityiniowa,

    Wait, maybe I’m confused. I thought that’s what all artistic criticism pretty much is. Isn’t it?

  27. Though I look forward to the day when some rocekr is accused of losing their bearings from being to hip with the Reason crowd….

    When did Reason move to California? The same time The Kinks signed with RCA and stopped selling many records. Coincidence?

    then B) when he finally acknowledged the audience,…

    I remember the days when he wouldn’t acknowledge the audience.

  28. As an aside, I hate rockstars who are rude to their own fans. Fuck those people. Why should I support your music, in that case? Rarely is a contemporary band or musician so good that that type of attitude is excusable. And often the ones that are amazingly good are, in fact, polite, appreciative, and relatively modest of their talent.

  29. smacky – Well, yes and no. There are a number of theories, going back to Aristotle and beyond, for what is aesthetically legitimate, and what is not. It’s perfectly legitimate to argue the standards by which different people judge as it is to argue the differing judgements themselves.

    MY argument is that Libertarianism, as a philosophy, has a particular problem when it comes to artistic criticism in that it rejects all sets of standards completely, as you yourself have noted. That clearly doesn’t prevent Libertarians from arguing. But it does prevent the possibility of any kind of objective measure to serve even as a basis for debate.

  30. smacky – As an aside, I hate rockstars who are rude to their own fans. Agreed, 100%. I also resent rock dinosaurs like Metallica, who’ve made their pile, siding with RIAA and even testifying before congress against file sharing. But that’s another issue for another thread.

  31. The best use of “don’t sing along” by a live performer in my experience was John McRhea of Cake, who *stopped the song* during I belive “The Distance” and gave us a minute-long diatribe about how he wrote the song, and it sounds correct only when he sings the main lyrics, and we can sing only after he points at the audience, then can join for the chorus. My friend and I looked at each other like, “can you believe this asshole???” But the next song was Nugget (the chorus of which is “shut the fuck up”, and which everyone in the hall participated in belting back at the band on the choruses), and by the end of the song, McRhea was grinning more or less admitted that he was provoking us on the first song, intentionally to warm us up for Nugget.

    It could have failed, but it was awesome.

  32. clarityiniowa,

    I agree that it helps to have an objective set of personal standards for judging something aesthetically, even if those standards are debated. But how does Libertarianism not taking an “offical position” on what is aesthetically good “prevent the possibility of any kind of objective measure to serve even as a basis for debate” ? Moreover, why would there be a need for any political party to have a set of aesthetic standards for judging what is good art? Moreover, why would you want your political party to decide for you what is good?

  33. smacky – Please don’t misunderstand me. Nowhere did I suggest the Libertarian Party ought to take a stand in such matters. But aesthetics is a branch of philosophy. If Libertarianism is to be taken seriously as a philosophy, and if Libertarians are to take themselves and their views seriously, they ought to be able to at least, as you suggest, be able to put forward a cogent set of personal standards. Those who publish criticism and/or make their living doing so set themselves up for particular scrutiny as to what their standards are, and why others should adopt them. Simply saying “Springsteen hasn’t recorded anything but crap in the last decade” or some such, means nothing unless that sentiment is backed up by some why’s and wherefore’s. Wouldn’t you agree?

    Also, since the masthead of this publication touts “Free minds and Free Markets,” its writers don’t have much call to criticize the artistic or economic choices Springsteen fans have made, even as they fly in the face of the writers’ contrary opinions. Seems to me a strong Libertarian stance would be to praise Springsteen’s marketing acumen in selling himself successfully to a working class fan-base for a couple of decades now.

  34. Next, you guys will be telling me the Kiss Army was just a marketing ploy.

  35. Christ, smacky, Libertarianism is a political philosophy. It has exactly nothing to say to musical criticism, except maybe don’t expect a taxpayer subsidy for it.

  36. Additionally, rock critics like Metcalf use the term “authenticity” presumeably to denote the kind of fresh originality that comes out of neighborhood garages and small indie studios. It is used as a term of praise. They start to withold that praise as soon as a particular act becomes too “commercial.”

    But Libertarianism holds commerciality to be a virtue, doesn’t it? Or am I misunderstanding the ardor for the free market that Libs express?

  37. If Libertarianism is to be taken seriously as a philosophy, and if Libertarians are to take themselves and their views seriously, they ought to be able to at least, as you suggest, be able to put forward a cogent set of personal standards.

    I think you’re missing your own point, clarityiniowa. Personal aesthetic standards cannot and should not be posited by an organization – by definition, not an individual. Plus, I think you are falsely concluding that because Libertarianism is a philosophy (a political one, at that — distinct from personal ) it should therefore have something to say about all branches of philosophy. By your logic, do metaphysicists therefore have to make comments on epistemology then, too? Does it make a person less of a metaphysicist if he doesn’t?

    Those who publish criticism and/or make their living doing so set themselves up for particular scrutiny as to what their standards are, and why others should adopt them. Simply saying “Springsteen hasn’t recorded anything but crap in the last decade” or some such, means nothing unless that sentiment is backed up by some why’s and wherefore’s. Wouldn’t you agree?

    I totally agree. And if a critic doesn’t give reasons for their opinion, then he’s not much of a critic. But there is plenty of explanation and reason behind why some people here don’t like Springsteen. It didn’t seem like you were criticizing their logic, but that you were criticizing that they had any dissent at all. “Free Minds, Free Market” does not mean that Reasonoids aren’t free or shouldn’t be free to spout their unsolicited opinions. Sure, any Libertarian would appreciate BS’s ability to sell, but does that permanently shield him from informal aesthetic criticism? Anyone can appreciate the business sense, but this is clearly an informal discussion of his artistic merits, which are waning, in my eyes.

  38. I think Springsteen sucks, and I always have. It’s crappy americana, with poorly written and boring music – his drolling, whiny voice sings about “Glory Days”, which he’s never had to worry about because a bunch of folks, for some reason, like his music and bought a shitload of it.

    clarity – I will praise his marketing acumen for being able to sell that tripe and make millions of dollars, but the rest of what you’re arguing makes no sense to me. No offence, but I agree with smacky that all art criticism is pretty much subjective.

  39. Christ, smacky, Libertarianism is a political philosophy. It has exactly nothing to say to musical criticism, except maybe don’t expect a taxpayer subsidy for it.

    R C Dean,

    That was exactly my point. I think you mean to address clarityiniowa. He’s the one who seems to think that Libertarianism should have a platform on music.

  40. smacky – Plus, I think you are falsely concluding that because Libertarianism is a philosophy (a political one, at that — distinct from personal ) it should therefore have something to say about all branches of philosophy.

    So then you are agreeing with me that a Libertarian commentator, by your definition purely a political philospher, has nothing authoritative to say with regard to aesthetics?

  41. Oh yeah, and I think what drew me to libertarianism in the first place (besides someone giving me a tinfoil hat to keep all the government propaganda from being beamed into my head) is that it espouses individualism. Which is why although a lot of us folks are libertarians, not all are Libertarians, and there are lots of distinctions between us. Not to say that isn’t also true of liberals, conservatives, or whathaveyou, but that you will always get a lot of that from a group of libertarians, especially when it comes to tastes and things of that nature.

    But Social Security is bad to all of us. 😉

  42. So then you are agreeing with me that a Libertarian commentator, by your definition purely a political philospher, has nothing authoritative to say with regard to aesthetics?

    Yes, I agree. I thought that was understood from my position. Then again maybe I was assuming that like me, everyone else takes Matt Welch’s aesthetic rants with a grain of salt. 🙂 I don’t look at H&R as any sort of authoritative anything. That is most clearly illustrated by my often pointless and OT commments that I post here.

    On the topic of libertarianism in art, I actually got an official acceptance to an IHS seminar this summer. Unfortunately, I was not invited to the “Libertarianism in Art” one that I wanted to go to in California: I can go to the one on Environmentalism, in Seattle. (That is, if I want to….The Environment. Yuck!) I guess the coordinators for the art seminar weren’t impressed with my plans for “Libertarian! The Musical” production.

  43. smacky – He’s the one who seems to think that Libertarianism should have a platform on music.

    No, smacky, what I’m saying is that Libertarianism has no platform on music. That much is clear. So what is Matt Welch doing devoting so much virtual ink to helping Metcalf bash Springsteen? Seems there’s a lot of ad hoc art critique on H&R lately, and I’m wondering why that is, why it’s germaine, and on what basis are these pop-artistic pronouncments being made?

    Understand, I’m not a fan of Bruce – never have been. And as a sax player I can tell you Clarence Clemons needs to turn that tenor into a flower pot. But I care about music, am a sometime musician, have a degree in music, get paid to make music occasionally, write about music, and if someone has strong opinions in this area, I want to know if they have some grounding or if they are simply talking out the wrong end of their alimentary canal.

  44. clarityiniowa,

    I completely respect that. I myself couldn’t tell you what’s up with the frequent art/music critiquing on H&R; maybe someone else could tell you. I guess I don’t question it simply because I’m looking for cheap thrills and talking out of the other end of my alimentary canal sometimes amuses me. I was only initially contending with you about what I thought you were suggesting, namely that a political party needs to spread itself into every imaginable realm of opinion. But if that’s not what you were suggesting, then I guess I have no further objections, your honor.

  45. Hit & Run covers a range of topics that the writers feel are interesting. If you don’t share that interest you are more than welcome to go elsewhere.

  46. smacky – LOL, I just get a kick out of arguing too. The writers here seem to love to burst other people’s pretentious bubbles and drop opinions on the ground like road apples. Occasionally I like to see if they can take it as well as dish it out.

  47. Tim Cavanaugh- True, and I am also more than welcome, I assume, to argue for an opposing point of view. This is a Libertarian publication, and my respect for Libertarianism dictates that I hold its proponents to the standards they espouse. I’m trying to figure out how Bruce-bashing fits into that. By smacky’s arguments, with which I agree in large part, Libertarianism has no say in these matters aside from “It sells, and a lot of folks like it, therefore it must be good.” Free minds, free markets, right?

  48. clarity —

    But I care about music, am a sometime musician, have a degree in music, get paid to make music occasionally, write about music, and if someone has strong opinions in this area, I want to know if they have some grounding or if they are simply talking out the wrong end of their alimentary canal.

    All of the above applies to me (except for the degree part), though that has little to bear on whether I know shit from shinola. At any rate, I linked to the essay not because I’m fascinated with my own musical taste, but because I found it well-written and of possible interest to Hit&Run readers, especially given its extensive discussion of Springsteen’s political persona & how that intersects with his art.

  49. Rock snobbery should not be tried without the proper training. Fortunately, Momma Interweb provides, so.

    Bruce has been a bit of a bore since the “No Nukes” concerts. Like Dylan and Woody before him, he’s always been a bit of a folkie-manque. You almost get the feeling that he figured that taking up causes was part of the job description. Not that any of this trinity is “authentic” in folk music terms, as they all strove to write pop hits, sucessfully, too.

    Now, field recordings of sean-n?s singing from the Gaeltachtthat’s folk music!

    Kevin

  50. What raises my eyebrows in essence is that, for a publication devoted to individualism, this sort of piece seems to wax pretty elitist, as does touting obscure rockabilly idols most people haven’t heard of, bashing the Eagles, etc., all of which has occurred on H&R of late, fomented by posts by your staff writers and contributing editors.

  51. clarityiniowa,

    I’ll admit that I’m pretty judgemental, nay, snobby when it comes to music. (Thanks for the link, kevrob!). In fact, all of the recent incidents you seem to find complaint with happen to be largely what I like about Reason.com/H&R. This is speculation, but maybe they do it because it appeals to snobby, youngish brats such as myself, a.k.a. the much-desired 20-something crowd that marketers lust after so much these days. At least my proposed explanation would swing with libertarians’ love of capitalism (= increased Reason audience, more $$$).

  52. How does bashing the Eagles and touting obscure rockabilly icons fail the individualism test?

    The point is that while capital L-ibertarianism may not have anything to say from an art-crit vantage, lowercase r-eason magazine is in the market of engaging the entire culture, from politics to art to business. Interesting stories and writers include opinions, which we’re all free to dispute. What it sounds like you’re disputing, clarityiniowa, is whether reason’s writers have any business expressing opinions about the culture they’re covering. I think they do, and I think they do it well.

  53. clarityiniowa — It’s “elitist” to link to an essay from a Bruuuce fan that punctures his populist mythology? O-k-a-y….

    As for having the temerity to write judgmentally about commercially successful art, I would point out that there’s a “free minds” there in front of the “free markets” bit. The magazine, I think it’s fair to say, is interested in the *exercise* of that freedom, in the cultural warp and woof that plays a key role in the American experiment & indeed its global power. See Nick Gillespie’s “Culture Boom” article, or Charles Paul Freund’s “In Praise of Vulgarity,” and the Doherty rock-star piece I linked to, and even my Vaclav Havel profile, for examples of how the mag likes to explore the vibrant interconnectedness between artistic expression/consumption and human freedom.

    Which is a slightly pretentious-sounding justification for a half-assed blog post about the Boss, but I just wanted to say that a “libertarianism” that rules out conversation-starting commentary on art (and especially political art) seems awful constricting (and boring) to me.

  54. Oh spare us, Clarity. There’s nothing “elitist” about having your own taste. If there were, everyone in the world who likes music would be an elitist, because absolutely all of us like at least one piece of music that isn’t popular and dislike at least one piece that is.

    The Springsteen article, as Matt notes, has at least as much to do with his political posture as his music. My Hasil Adkins obit was about weird, individualist Americana — the real kind, not mock-Steinbeck fakery — as well as music. Tim’s Eagles post didn’t have much to do with anything libertarian, but it was funny, and sometimes that’s enough reason to post something. Besides, it gave you folks something to chat about besides the Iraq war and Social Security. Looked to me like everyone was having fun.

  55. Uh, what Matt and Jesse said!

  56. Dude, like a whole paragraph from my post didn’t post. WTF?

  57. clarityiniowa,

    The points you’re trying to make might well be valid. They might well not. It’s impossible to tell, because the posts in which you’ve attempted to convey them are so poorly written and hard to understand.

    You might want to rethink your screen name, unless it’s meant as some sort of ironic joke.

    Sorry to be harsh. I just want back the 10 minutes I wasted trying to make sense of your posts and watching others try to make sense of them.

  58. Mansion On the Hill is the foundation text of Landau-as-villain Springsteenology, but while he emphasizes the business stuff, Goodman does point to Landau’s real crime-which was aesthetic, not financial. Like many a limousine liberal before and after him, Landau (along with his moronic prot?g? Dave Marsh) has an essentially conservative and philistine sensibility: Dig his critical writings, which include pans of Jimi Hendrix, Cream, and the movie version of The Exorcist, to get a sense of his distaste for anything that is even slightly outr?.

    It’s the worst kind of sensibility you can have for rock, and while Matt is right that The Boss himself deserves most of the blame, it’s not a coincidence that the transformation of Bruce into a fake-working-man bore began with Landau’s arrival. The where-did-Bruce-go-wrong conversation usually names Born In the USA as the place where it all started to go south, but that’s wrong. Born To Run was the watershed; Darkness On the Edge of Town was the beginning of the end.

    The pro-Landau faction would have you believe that the drumming of Vinnie Mad Dog Lopez and Ernest Boom Carter, and even more ludicrously the piano stylings of the great David Sancious, were somehow off, that there are audible errors on The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle. This is bullshit, and in twenty years of challenging listeners to identify even one of these supposed errors, I have come up emptyhanded. The problem with these guys was that they were capable of playing a variety of stuff-jazzy riffs, pompous pseudo-Romantic improvisation, faux funk, and other interesting weirdness-that wasn’t suited to the foursquare simplicity Landau approved. Weirdness is the enemy for Landau, and he made it the enemy for Bruce. The problem isn’t (only) that Springsteen can no longer write a strong melody (that’s a hazard for any aging songwriter); it’s that he would never again write a line as gloriously misconceived as “Nuns run bald through Vatican halls, pregnant, pleading immaculate conception.”

    Bruce should have gone through a punk phase, glam phase, a techno phase, a hair phase, a grunge phase, and so on. The persona that Landau midwifed made that impossible.

  59. Tim – that would’ve been dope and made him more bearable. I’m not saying that he didn’t have any musical talent, but he sure sounds like it from his boring-ass songs (I kinda liked that line you just quoted, though…didn’t know he had that kind of poetry…maybe because I just can’t bear the tunes). Heh, maybe he could be spinning records now, a-la Perry Ferrell and Boy George if he had been a little more adventurous. I can just imagine how my cheesy-americana friends from Minnesota would feel about that! 🙂

  60. Sp – I’ll give you Tim Cavanaugh’s take -If you didn’t like my posts, you didn’t have to read em.

    Jesse Walker – There’s nothing “elitist” about having your own taste. True enough, but to me there seems to be more than a little “too cool” ‘tude in these music pieces in what is supposed to be a “free minds and free markets” magazine.

    Apparently, you don’t enjoy having your own philosphy, motto and masthead pointed out to you when it is inconvenient, and I understand that, but why not have a go at Jesus next? A lot of the great unwashed like him and buy his stuff, too. Seems to be reason enough for someone to trash him in H&R if not in the paper edition of Reason.

  61. clarity — If you haven’t read Jesse’s piece on the Religion Boom, I highly recommend it….

  62. Tim:

    Yeah, that is Exactly the problem w/ Landau-Springsteen! I’ve heard / read that stuff about “The Wild, The Innocent …” and “Greetings” forever. (Dave Marsh is probably responsible for most of that crap, in his jackass Springsteen bio, and then it spread to the larger Bruce-media world.)

    Those two records — especially “The Wild, The Innocent …” — are weird for all the right reasons. In the ’80s I would play “Wild Billy’s Circus Story” for Tom Waits fans (already cultish by the time of Rain Dogs) and they would gasp … how could that be Mr. Dancing In The Dark?

    And the people who complain about the alleged poor recording quality of that record are the same ones who wet themselves praising the chair squeaks and muffled notes on “Nebraska.”

  63. An acoustic show is worlds apart from a large-scale electric rock concert, and having the audience sing along might turn the music into muddled crap.

    Acoustic doesn’t mean not amplified.

    Also – I’ve heard good things about BS’s new albumn. Heard “dark” even. I haven’t come to terms with purchasing the albumn as I can’t stand him personally, but might get a copy some how.

  64. I gather from all this that Springsteen hasn’t actually died yet. He’s a sort of Bon Jovi for psuedo-intellectuals.

    Damn.

    Free minds, free labor

    SP

    P.S. The best band to come out of Jersey was Adrenalin O.D.

    AOD Album

  65. ha, yeah i was a big dave marsh fan in hs and college — read a lot of his books, and caught the whole bruce fever thing. my opinion of him began to go south when he used to post on the springsteen newsgroups in the mid-90s. completely arrogant, nasty and rude … anyone who dared disagree with him was a “nazi fuckhead piece of dog shit” or something similar. then the more i actually began reading stuff other than bitter marxist rock critics, i started to realize what a load of crap a lot of his take on music was. his bootlicking of every gangsta rap act (and dissing of less, um, i guess “real” hip hop like de la soul or a tribe called quest) was pathetic. it approached some kind of ‘noble savage’ obsession — he didn’t have a bad word to say about any thug who rapped about shooting bitches, ganbanging and whatnot, no matter how crappy the music (and there’s some gangsta rap i think is great).
    anyway, my point is that it’s kind of the same with springsteen — marsh fetishizes this “authentic common man” image, and he and landau pushed bruce in that direction. i still like some of the post born to run stuff. i do think nebraska is pretty damn good. i think springsteen managed to play the role fairly well, compared to many others who tried tread in “americana” territory. there’s cheese, but there’s also some good lyrics in there too. in general, though, i think tim nailed it — those early albums were so weird, and the band was great. he could still rock live later in the seventies, but it wasn’t nearly as crazy as some of the early performances.

  66. Apparently, you don’t enjoy having your own philosphy, motto and masthead pointed out to you when it is inconvenient

    A better summary would be that you obviously have no idea what my own philosophy is. (Or, for that matter, what a masthead is.) There’s nothing in my political worldview that obliges me to like or dislike Bruce Springsteen.

    As it happens, I’m lukewarm to him. I’ve heard the radio staples, and I like most of them well enough, though not enough to actually buy any of his albums. My brother has a copy of Born in the U.S.A., and, unlike Tim, I think it’s a decent though not awe-inspiring album. “I’m on Fire” is certainly a good song.

    I’ve corresponded with Dave Marsh a bit in the past. I think his view of what makes good rock music is unnecessarily limited, but I appreciate his sticking up for pop simplicity and the 45 rpm single at a time when critics were fawning over psychedelia and concept albums. To my taste, there is more artistry in a Sam & Dave song than a Pink Floyd suite, and I’m glad some folks like Marsh were there to restore the critical balance in Sam & Dave’s favor. And I say this as someone who thinks Preservation Act 1 is a great album.

  67. Trashing baby boomer icons is to my generation what “Don’t trust anyone over thirty-five.” was to the baby boomers. I remember when punks started to show up in the ’80s; the sight of them enraged certain boomers. Hippies, they could understand–that was the way kids were supposed to be rebellious.

    “Nebraska” may be the best album ever written, but I’ll never know ’cause I can’t stand the sound of Bruce’s voice. I don’t care if it’s Thunder Road, The River, Born to Run or Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), it all sounds like Lee Greenwood to me now. I heard Bruce played as background music in a Denny’s the other day. Do you know why they play music in the background at restaurants? Background music gets you a better turnover, that’s true, but it’s also so you can’t hear other people chew. That’s the way I think of Bruce’s voice now–it’s a decent alternative to the sound of people chewing.

    They’ve ruined Zeppelin; I can’t even stand to listen to Hendrix anymore!

    The biggest classic rock station in LA recently switched formats …It looks like phony Beatle-mania has finally bitten the dust.

    No matter, Generation Y will soon overwhelm us all with their impervious hive mind, and boomers won’t complain about thirty somethings thumbing their noses anymore. …like some greatest generation geriatric watching Lawrence Welk and talking about the good ol’ days. They’ll complain that no one listens to classic rock, and about how all that glorious classic rock is going gloriously unheard.

    …I’ve faulted Generation Y for being even less creative than the boomers–they haven’t derived a single sub-style of music for themselves. I may have been too harsh. Even if they are the ones who finally kill rock and roll, they’ll deserve a lot of credit if they make it so that we don’t have to hear classic rock in public anymore.

  68. My brother has a copy of Born in the U.S.A., and, unlike Tim, I think it’s a decent though not awe-inspiring album.

    I didn’t knock BITUSA, I think it’s got some decent stuff, I saw Bruce live for the first time on the BITUSA tour and was floored, and I think Bruce has had plenty of fine moments since the circa-1975 wrong turning I described above. It’s just that his fine moments have been like Jacob Marley howling in the chains he forged in life.

    The great tragedy in American music is that the much-bruited idea of having Frank Sinatra cover “Meeting Across the River” never got off the ground.

  69. …I’ve faulted Generation Y for being even less creative than the boomers–they haven’t derived a single sub-style of music for themselves.

    Jaron Lanier’s thesis is that the 90s didn’t produce any discernible style because style is defined by limitations, and technology is now so advanced that there are essentially no creative limitations. Like all great ideas, it is at the same time obvious bullshit and kind of intriguing.

    But as for the idea that the boomers didn’t have any creativity, all I can say is, man, you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe.

  70. I didn’t knock BITUSA, I think it’s got some decent stuff

    I stand corrected.

  71. Tim, technically the Walrus and the Eggmen weren’t boomers. Boomers grew up only to have the KKK take their baby away.

  72. It’s a little overboard to say the 90s didn’t create any new genres or styles. Although most of the music was derivative/”stripped down” versions of other generes, there was some genuinely new stuff, generally known as “slacker rock”.
    At the risk of making the pitchforkmedia people’s heads explode, I’d put Beck, My Bloody Valentine, Pavement/Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks (don’t you say they’re ripoffs of the Fall! I call you out on your rock snobbery!), Silkworm, Guitar Wolf, etc. etc. (a lot of the Matador catalogue).
    Also, the non-Kraftwerk-type electro stuff (Cornelius, Autechre, Mouse on Mars, other DJs that sound like street noise…) and electro-pop has surfaced in the 90s.
    My uneducated guess for the defining genre of the 00s? Mash-up. People throwing copyright law to the wind and making stuff like The Gray Album and the Soulwax sets. It may not be original, but it’ll be fun.

  73. But this piece lays the blame where it belongs–Jon “I’m just here for self-righteousness” Landau. He took a rocker and turned him into Woody fuckin’ Guthrie. A dull Woody Guthrie.
    And Courtney Cox looked better in the Dancin’ in the Dark video than at another time in her life.

  74. Strike that electro-pop line, I meant to elaborate but I’m working and I don’t have the time.

  75. yeah, jesse, i still love a lot of the music marsh sticks up for. i have his top 1001 singles book, whatever it’s called. reading him got me into a lot of good music when i was a teenager, but i’ve come to not be able to stand him — he strikes me as a bitter old man trying to stay current in such a pitiful way. i couldn’t take him seriously after his ‘rock and rap confidential’ named doggystyle album of the year.
    i never read much of landau’s stuff. i haven’t read mansion on the hill either. but from what i have read, it does seem that landau and marsh are are at least partly responsible for springsteen’s evolution into the woody guthrie of limousine liberals. and there’s something creepy about that.

  76. and, yeah, i’ll generally take sam & dave over pink floyd myself.

  77. Hope I die before I get old…

  78. Rock and roll is embarrassing because people think it’s about what Metcalf calls ‘personas’ instead of musical invention.

  79. “Blinded By The Light:” Manfred Mann and his Earth Band.
    “Wrecked up like a DOUCHE…”
    What the hell was that all about, anyhow?
    Great 70’s trippy dub-rock, but why were they covering a Springsteen song about douching?
    And why did they cover a second one about heading out to a lake with Janie’s fingers in someone’s cake?
    Also…
    “Because the Night (belongs 2 lovers:)” Patti Smith (NOT Natalie Merchant, please God.)
    And Rage Against The Machine: “Ghost of Tom Joad.”
    Y’know?
    Why are all the best Springsteen songs COVER VERSIONS by OTHER ARTISTS? Hmmm?
    And, um, “little early birdy gave my hand a curly whirly?” Is that what he says? Or is it something even more stupid and creepy?
    Fucking weirdo.
    Never liked all that glockenspiel crap.
    And what about ‘dancing in the dark’ with that skank from “Friends,” hmmm?
    Nice video, doode.
    He’s got a bad desire.
    He’s on fire.
    In the mire.
    Funeral pyre….
    If Bono went solo, he would approximate the heinousness that is Bruce Springsteen.

  80. The reason so many Springsteen-written tunes have been covered in interesting ways by other acts is that, for all his rawk-gawd, faux-folkie pretense, Bruce is, at his heart, a disciple of good ol’ fashioned rock n’ roll, r&b and soul, absorbed through his pores from stacks of old 45s and radiated into his bones by the AM waves from WINS, WMCA and WABC (ding!). Before Bruuuuuuuuceeeee there was Cousin Brucie. The man can write a 3-minute Tasmanian Gorilla of a pop song. He may not bother to exercise that talent anymore, and modern radio wouldn’t know what to do with a verse-chorus-verse-bridge-verse-chorus monster if it up and clamped itself on the P.D.’s vitals, said vitals having been replaced by a robot playlist some time ago, anyway.

    If Bruce had to go into the Witness Protection Program I suppose a Nashville publishing house might be able to give “Dylan Woods” a writing contract. Country seems to still allow a few actual songs to make it on their charts.

    Kevin

    N.B. It’s deuce , meaning a car, like “The Little Deuce Coupe.” No feminine hygeine products are implied.

  81. I remember when punks started to show up in the ’80s; the sight of them enraged certain boomers.

    You don’t remember much. I can remember when punks started to show up in the ’70s.

  82. I was a punk before you were a punk.

  83. I’ve been reluctant to add anything because I can’t discuss music with the same erudition and depth of knowledge as the people on this thread. But what the hell.
    I’m 41 – either a young Boomer or an old Gen Xer (I prefer the latter, cos I was born after JFK died) (and Boomers irritate me) – and I started listening to BS when I was in junior high. After listening to all that crappy 70s pop – please note, I was not musically sophisticated; I spent my allowances, willingly, on Bay City Roller albums and I’m pretty sure I recall buying “Seasons in the Sun” as a single – Bruce was pretty impressive. I clearly remember the first time one of my friends’ brothers played TWTIATESS for us, and that’s still my favorite Bruce. Asbury Park, great. Darkness, not bad. BITHUSA, not so much, but it was the 80s and I had no better taste than anyone else (obviously – I still remember all the lyrics to Billy Don’t Be a Hero and I spent my college job money, willingly, on the Thompson Twins. And you know what? I still like Meat Loaf.)
    Where was I? Oh yeah – Born in the USA. Dancing in the Dark. Courtney. CHEESE. Even in 1985, with my shoulder pads and my Andrew McCarthy crush and my Synchronicity T shirt, I watched that video and I thought “That ain’t right.” And then some Serious Rock Critic – don’t know if it was Marsh, or someone else, but I know for certain it was in Rolling Stone – wrote a gushing wet buttkiss review of BITUSA and specifically mentioned the DITD video and the reviewer stated, with what I can only assume was a straight face (there was no irony in the 80s, was there?) that the video confirmed Springsteen was one of the best “rock dancers” around.
    WTF? What’s a “rock dancer”? Is this a large field? Is being the best one a big deal? And is what Bruce did in that video really considered dancing? I don’t think that’s dancing…I think that’s Middle Age White Guy Rocking Back and Forth Granted, Yes, More or Less in Time to the Music, but it’s not dancing. Some people think what Mick Jagger does is dancing (I think it looks like he needs Dilantin), but that was not that. That video was appalling. The reviewer should have been appalled. I mean, I was appalled and, as I think I have mentioned, I was listening to the Thompson Twins (and Night Ranger. Night. Ranger.) at the time.
    I never could look at Bruce the same way again, and I never could buy into any of his subsequent incarnations. And Working Class Rock Star Millionaire Populists bug me more than Boomers. Bono is marginally less retchful than Bruce, or John COUGAR Mellancamp or Steve Earle, but only marginally.
    Anyway – yeah, supposedly serious critics have long treated Bruce the way Tom Cruise treats L Ron. I still like a lot of the guy’s music; but then I would, wouldn’t I?

  84. I never understood Bruce and his fame, I own Tunnel of Love (good), the best of (good). Then I purchased the dual release albums in the mid 90’s (titles erased from my mind – listened too a handful of times) absolute crap. Heavy handed crap. Saw the concert. It was long, had Patti Scialfi and Maria McKee’s second guitarist (Shayne Fontayne). I skipped Nebraska, Skipped Ghost, will skip Devils and Dust. I don’t need political lectures from someone who has made more money then god.

    I appreciate when artists don’t speak to the burning issues of the day. Please don’t display your sub par high school education on us.

    I get your a disaffected middle class youth and you don’t deserve all you have – been there (w/o the wealth of course) got over that.

    For a good acoustic album, Maria McKee has a new one (Peddlin Dreams). I am sure she is a quasi marxist of some sort but she has so far had the good sense to keep it quiet (probably because no one would care).

    All I ask of Bruce and the like is just entertain me.

  85. “Bruce has been a bit of a bore since the “No Nukes” concerts.”

    Well, at least at No Nukes, BS didn’t join in the preaching; he just came out and played. But that’s kinda the point, ain’t it?

  86. Man, I haven’t heard Maria McKee in decades – I still have the first Lone Justice (on cassette tape.) I need to fix that, and I’m gonna get Peddlin Dreams.

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