LETTER TO ALL YOU OPERATORS BACK IN THE PARK In new Q&A, the postmark is Asbury Park, NJ
Given Bruce Springsteen's barrage of interviews and media appearances in support of Letter to You, our necks are on swivel to make sure we catch them all. We still have a roundup from across the pond to come; in the meantime, here's one we missed last weekend: an interview down the Shore, with the Asbury Park Press's own Chris Jordan.
For the USA Today Network, Jordan spoke with the Local Hero via Zoom, covering subjects from E Street history to Bruce's recent "five-year cycle of self-reflection." A full transcript appears on APP.com.
Jordan considers Letter to You "an affirmation of life in a time, a very unsettling time, when life seems kind of cheap." In response, while stating that he "didn't set out to comment on" the times with Letter to You, Bruce takes the opportunity to do so here:
The recklessness and carelessness that you see from the current administration toward life itself is a disgrace. It's a true disgrace, and it's very insulting to all those who have gotten sick and who have passed away. It's a very sad state of affairs because, really, your job is to comfort those people. Comfort your citizens, comfort your neighbors, comfort your friends. Let them know those who died are irreplaceable. Let them know the nation is weeping for them and that the nation cares about them from the top down. Then do your best to solve the thing as well as you can. But that's been missing. That's a voice that's been missing, and the voice of the value of life is missing from our daily political discourse. So it's been very sad, and I suppose it is something that gets addressed in our record and maybe some folks will find it comforting.
Once again, Springsteen referenced work on a much-anticipated follow-up to the Tracks box set, noting that he originally recorded Letter to You's version of "Janey Needs a Shooter" as a potential Record Store Day release. "[T]hen when I went behind the board and heard it, I said we can't give this away, this is part of an album. It was the first cut we did for Letter to You, and after that I said maybe there's a few others that would take the same sort of treatment.…"
RECAP: VOLUME 14, "FAREWELL TO THE THIEF"
"Remember, America: this is our moment. Vote." Eight years ago, I traveled to Parma, Ohio to watch Bruce Springsteen perform in support of the reelection bid of President Barack Obama [October 18, 2012], on assignment for Backstreets. Though just seven songs long, that remains one of my favorite concert memories of all time. President Clinton "opened" for Bruce.
Before the show, I ran into longtime guitar tech Kevin Buell and front-of-house mixer John Cooper, both of whom wore a look of shock at being recognized, given the event and their out-of-the-public-eye roles in the E Street organization. As Buell went off to do his thing, I told him to toss Bruce the guitar and requested "Zero and Blind Terry."
"Ha, I'll try," Kevin said. "Just vote, man! Our democracy depends on it."
Every good Boss needs a couple key executives, and damn if Buell wasn't pristinely on message with his boss that day. The message rings just as true today and in this election cycle, if not more so; just over eight years later, Bruce was at it once again in the latest episode of From My Home to Yours.
Volume 14: "Farewell to the Thief" was one of the shortest of his DJ sessions so far, at under an hour, put no less powerful for that — and it's remarkable that Bruce had time for his radio show at all, considering all the Letter to You activity. But a compressed set zeroed in on the crucial choice awaiting our Promised Land in the forthcoming election — and on ghosts and goblins, too, but mostly in the form of thematic crossover, Bruce describing this episode as a "Halloween/Election Day monster mash."
The spooky "Martian Hop" opened the show, a one-hit wonder from 1963 and a reminder of Bruce's love for novelty songs, followed by an instrumental interlude of Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells." The latter is better known, perhaps, as music from The Exorcist, and sure enough, Springsteen called for "an exorcism in our nation's capital."
"Hello and welcome, ghouls, fools, witches, blood-sucking politicians, zombie denizens of Washington, DC," Bruce intoned, before reaching for one of his favorite political tunes, Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Run Through the Jungle." If anyone expected the scares to be more along the lines of "Purple People Eater," Bruce made it apparent that this Halloween, the most frightening thing he can think of would be another four years of the current White House occupants: "In just a few days we'll be throwing the bums out. I thought it was a fucking nightmare, but it was so true."
Following "Everybody Knows" from Leonard Cohen, Springsteen described the nightmare:
A good portion of our fine country, to my eye, has been thoroughly hypnotized — brainwashed by a con man from Queens! You mix in some jingoism, some phony patriotism, "fear of a black planet," vanity, narcissism, paranoia, conspiracy theories, and a portion of our nation undergoing mass delusions and teetering on violence… and you're left with the greatest threat to democracy in my lifetime.
"How did he do it?" Springsteen asked, immediately offering an answer in "I Put a Spell on You," performed by Nina Simone — evoking a similar theme explored on the Magic record, which is of course "about magic, but it's also about tricks," as he introduced the title song in 2007.
A spoken-word interlude revisited the 44th president's speech at this year's Democratic National Convention, as we heard the voice of President Obama: "We should expect a president to feel a sense of responsibility for the safety and welfare of all 330 million of us — regardless of what we look like, how we worship, who we love, how much money we have — or who we voted for."
Referring to his meeting in the Oval Office with President-Elect Trump, Obama continued, "I never expected that my successor would embrace my vision or continue my policies. I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously, that he might come to feel the weight of the office and discover some reverence for the democracy that had been placed in his care. But he never did."
Obama's speech became a prologue to one of Springsteen's own protest songs, as a familiar kick drum provided a superb transition into "Death to My Hometown." The Wrecking Ball recording beautifully blends the anger Bruce felt following the 2007-2009 recession with the redemptive qualities his lyrics and music jointly provide.
An instrumental interlude by George Mann, Julius Margolin & Friends provided this episode its title — "Farewell to the Thief!" — and the absurdity of its kazoo paired well with the bipartisanship Springsteen offered. "And now a short message from the opposition!" set up Bryson Gray's "Trump is Your President," which includes such couplets as "'Cause you know this Trump Train don't stop (Choo, Choo) / Tell Beto to please come try to take my Glock (try)." Still, it's catchy; and it made way for a more on-the-nose response to the Trump Train as it transitioned directly into Jay Z's "My President is Black."
"As far as I can gather, this next song sums up the administration's response to combating the coronavirus," Bruce said with no further explanation, and even though there are no words to the Legendary Shack Shakers song, the title said it all: "Thin the Herd." Another track whose title was the message: James Brown's "Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved." Bruce set up "Liar, Liar" by the Castaways: "During his four years in office, the man who is supposed to be the best of us has told more than 20,000 lies."
Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" might have flashed you back many Springsteen moments — from the original River Tour, to President Obama's inauguration (with Pete Seeger), to that event eight years ago in Parma, where Bruce performed it after a minute-long chant of "Vote! Vote! Vote!" The more things change…
Taking the microphone for his lengthiest monologue of the episode, our DJ lamented the lack of recognizable humanity in the current White House, through the words of Elayne Griffin Baker. Over an instrumental by Stephan Moccio, Springsteen offered up a great portion of her viral Facebook post, published on September 2. Bruce read (and at times paraphrased) with great feeling:
There is no art in this White House.
There is no literature. No poetry. No music.
There are no pets in this White House.
No loyal man's best friend. No Socks the family cat.
No kids science fairs.
No times when this president takes off his
blue suit-red tie uniform and becomes human, except when he puts on his white shirt- khaki
pants uniform and hides from the American people to
There are no images of the first family
enjoying themselves together in a moment
No Obamas on the beach in Hawaii
moments, or Bushes fishing in Kennebunkport, no Reagans on horseback, no Kennedys playing touch football on the Cape.…
Where did that country go? Where did all
of the fun and joy and expression of love and happiness go? We used to be the country that did the ice bucket challenge and raised millions for charity.
We used to have a president who calmed and
soothed the nation instead of dividing it.
And a First Lady who planted a garden
instead of ripping one out.
We are rudderless and joyless.
We have lost the cultural aspects of
society that make America great.
We have lost our mojo. Our fun, our happiness.
Our cheering on of others.
The shared experience of humanity that makes it all worth it.
The challenges and the triumphs that we shared and celebrated.
The unique can-do spirit that American
has always been known for.
We are lost.
We have lost so much
In so short a time.
Bruce added a postscript, a singular directive of his own: "On November third, vote them out."
"Democracy" was the second Leonard Cohen selection for the day, played before Pete Seeger's "America the Beautiful" led into "The Promised Land." This last was another lift from the Parma 2012 rally, and it continues to carry deeper meaning following Bruce's thoughts and these 14 pandemic-era episodes of From My Home to Yours.
"And that's our show on this Halloween/Election Eve. Remember, America: this is our moment. Vote."
The Ran-Dells - "Martian Hop"
Instrumental Interlude: Mike Oldfield - "Tubular Bells"
Creedence Clearwater Revival - "Run Through the Jungle"
Instrumental Interlude: Pete Seeger - "America the Beautiful"
Bruce Springsteen - "The Promised Land"
- October 28, 2020 - Brandon Shaw reporting
MAIL SORTING Review Roundup for Letter to You, the album & the film In addition to the Backstreets review of Bruce Springsteen's Letter to You album by Jonathan Pont [here] and the Backstreets review of Thom Zimny's Letter to You film by Caroline Madden [here], there have been plenty of takes written and posted about both the album and the film.
We decided to round them up and divide them into three basic categories: "Love Letters" (very favorable reviews,) "Form Letters" (middle-of-the-road,) and "Hate Mail" (very unfavorable reviews.) Fortunately — and a little surprisingly, given how many are weighing in — nothing has qualified as "Hate" to date. But we'll keep checking the mail.
Update: We finally discovered some "Hate Mail!"
* below denotes a late add.
Love Letters (album)
American Songwriter - Springsteen's Letter to You pays tribute to lost mates and rock "n' roll's spirit - By Lynne Margolis
*Asbury Park Press - Bruce Springsteen, E Street Band glorious on life-affirming Letter to You - By Chris Jordan
The A.V. Club - Letter to You is one of the finest achievements of Bruce Springsteen's career - By Alex McLevy
ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER PODCAST AND LATE-NIGHT TV SHOW
Second and third-day delivery, as Letter to You media tour rolls on
As the push continues for Letter to You, Bruce Springsteen is taking advantage of every format out there. Following initial print interviews, Springsteen's been ringing that Letter to You bell in numerous TV shows (at home and abroad), livestreams, radio (both satellite and terrestrial), and, this week, podcasts. Yesterday's hour-long episode 97 of Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend has Max Weinberg's two Bosses comparing notes with lots of laughs. Today brings Bruce to the Broken Record podcast, with hosts Malcolm Gladwell and Rick Rubin.
That's a lot of firepower for an interview, which virtually guaranteed that the book author and record producer would touch on different aspects of whatever came up. Their podcast, now at 68 episodes, has featured everyone from Nick Lowe to Booker T to Brandi Carlile, so they were ready. The result was among the broader, more revealing discussions with Springsteen in recent years, making this Letter to You whistle-stop a required listen.
It's an informed hour, not only for the music Springsteen describes and performs, but also for the way he characterizes its deepest influences. In this instance, he places both his Irish and Italian heritage in his work, and how he uses each of their traits, something of a first.
Of course, Letter to You took the lead: Springsteen walked his hosts through its inception and then performed a couple songs on guitar, in keeping with a Broken Record theme (granted, these weren't polished, necessarily rehearsed versions). First "If I Was the Priest" (a few good measures, anyway) followed by "Last Man Standing." "Everything came out of that song," Springsteen said of the latter, the first one he wrote for the new LP. "All the rest… came out of the world that I began to create in that song."
A surprise element came in the latter half when the discussion turned toward Nebraska. "The whole record is about a fallen world," said Springsteen, "that we all have to live in." Gladwell sounded particularly jazzed to hear more on the topic, particularly how Springsteen saw it as a transitional record:
I came upon a whole type of writing that really began on The River album with "The River" and with a song called "Stolen Car." It was a narrative type of writing, a storytelling type of writing that maybe would go back to Woody Guthrie or talking blues. It was inspired by books and cinema I was interested in at that moment… creating a character that was wider than just the character that came out of New Jersey. That was just a broader American voice I was interested in at that time.
That led Rubin — ever the producer, eliciting more with short, direct questions — to ask which song Springsteen had composed first for the 1982 album (the title track), followed by a request for Bruce to perform it (he did).
Also in the back half: fond recollections of Springsteen on Broadway, which, like Nebraska, sprang from a related project — Springsteen's January 2017 performance in the East Room of the White House — that took on a whole new life afterward.
I went and I performed it at the White House, about 90 minutes of the play which I put together in about four hours here in this studio. And at the end of the play, Barack Obama, the president got on stage and he said, "Hey, I know you did that just for us, but that should be a show." And so on the way back from Washington, I was with my manager Jon Landau and my wife Patti, and we said, "Yeah that should be a show… so will it?"
Back in tellyvision land, Springsteen returned to The Daily Show with Trevor Noah Monday night for the first time since the Jon Stewart era. His first guest spot with Stewart's successor is Bruce's second U.S. late-night appearance for Letter to You — a thoughtful interview in which Noah focuses on the philosophy behind Springsteen's work in general, rather than the nuts and bolts of the new album.
"It is truly an honor to have you here," Noah begins, "because you are not just an artist, you are not just a successful artist, but in many ways, people would say that you write the story of America in your music." That's a jumping-off point for his line of questioning, about the intent behind Bruce's writing in general and songs like "American Skin (41 Shots)."
You just write what moves you.… I don't operate from a conceptual place first. I operate sort of internally first, and then it becomes outward.… The political aspect in my music is through implication. I try to write good, three-dimensional character studies where I bring lives to life and create breathing, living human beings that you recognize in my music, and then I kind of let the politics speak for itself. Of course some of your own comes through, but I don't consider myself a topical songwriter; I don't consider myself a political songwriter. If anything, at this late age, I would say I'd say I'm a little bit more of a spiritual songwriter, in that that's what's been driving some of my most recent work. That's basically the way I look at my job and what I do.
They go on to discuss Springsteen's work ethic, his European fanbase ("our largest audience… two-thirds of our audience — much, much bigger than the United States"), his thoughts on the upcoming election, and misinterpretations of his songs, "Born in the U.S.A." foremost.
The key to some of my music is, you need to be able to hold two contradictory ideas in your mind at the same time — which is a bit of the measure of adulthood. You need to be able to deal with the fact that a song can be both prideful and critical. And that idea is very central to a lot of my music. Because that's how I feel! I'm proud of my country — I've had an amazing life and gotten the best out of it through living here — but there's a lot to continue to be critical about. So both of those things are going into my music. It's a bit up to the listener to listen well, if you want to get the whole picture.
"It's been a wonderful journey for me, going through your body of music, getting ready for this interview," Noah says as he wraps up. "You've got a brand-new fan."
FIRESIDE CHAT A "Letter to You Day" call-in convo with Bruce — including talk of Tracks 2 and From My Home to Yours Vol. 14 — and more from E Street Radio
On Friday night Bruce Springsteen picked up the phone for E Street Radio's live call-in request show The Wild & the Innocent with Jim Rotolo. Bruce wasn't calling in with a request; he just wanted to "send all my love out to all the folks who've supported us over these years. Me and the E Street Band are so excited about this record. We really feel it's some of our best work in a long, long time and are just glad to be able to get this out to the eyes and the ears and the hearts that are out there."
"We are celebrating Letter to You Day right here on Stone Hill Farm!" Bruce exulted, stating that he was partying "by the fire" at his home with "my lovely wife, my producer Ron Aniello, and my brother-in-law Sean Scialfa."
Patti Scialfa also jumped on the phone quickly to say, "Hey, everybody!" and to note, "We're celebrating Bruce's release outside, socially distanced. We are having a blast!"
"With a drink or two," added Bruce, eliciting a laugh from Patti.
Rotolo asked Springsteen about how quickly Letter to You was made (quickest completion "ever…ever…amazing," Bruce confirmed) and whether he ever thought that he and the E Street Band would be at the point where they could record an entire album with such speed.
Not really…. Three weeks, a month, that was what I used to do with Brendan O'Brien, and I considered that incredibly fast. But this was fast because there were no overdubs or extraneous production. I wanted the sound of the E Street Band very pure. I wanted the instrumentation of the band and nothing else… the guitars, the bass, the drums, two keyboards… and so we just got in the studio and it all just happened. Three hours a song. We were really done in four days, and the fifth day we just kind of listened back and checked out what we had. It was a great, great experience with the band, and it was just a wonderful experience for all of us.
The conversation then turned to the Letter to You film directed by Thom Zimny.
That was amazing. I just said, "Thom, we're gonna go in with the E Street Band. We've never been filmed making an album [from start to finish] before. Come on down and film, and just stay out of the way." That was how the entire project began, and Thom ended up turning it into an incredible film that I think is one of the best things we've ever done, and it's just a lovely piece of work.
"Did you go in," asked Rotolo, "with the intentions of, 'This is going to be a full album?' Or did you just want to get the band together to record some things and see how it goes?"
Well, you always hope that the songs are good, and you don't know until you hear them [played] back. And I didn't demo anything, because the guys requested that I not. So I just played them the song, and then we played it. I don't hear it until the E Street Band makes that noise, y'know? At first or second take in, I'm the audience; I'm standing there listening to what we got. So it was just kinda very fresh and instantaneous. But you don't know [in advance], and after three or four days it was, "I think we got it; we got the whole thing!"
Rotolo then asked Springsteen about the older songs on Letter to You, why those particular songs were chosen, and if there were any other older songs considered.
We were working the year previous on a Tracks 2, so I happened to go through all of the songs that were on the John Hammond demo tape as potential tracks for Tracks 2. And I came across those songs, and I said, "Wow, these are pretty good. I'd be interested to see what it would sound like now with the band playing these songs" — which were pre-Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ, never released… an entire album, at least. So it just sort of grew from that.
Also, I cut "Janey Needs a Shooter" as a single piece for what I thought was going to be a Record Store Day release here in the United States, but it ended up sounding so good, I said, "That sounds like an album cut." And so I just held onto it, and then one thing led to another… It was all sorts of happy accidents happening all over the place.
"I'm sure you're itching as much as everybody else is to get out and play this music live," said Jim.
Well, if I had my way, obviously we'd be rehearsing right now and getting ready to play in the new year. But we'll see what happens… Optimistically, I'm hoping 2022 at the best, you know? I just hope that happens, because I would love to come out and play these songs live for our audience.
Bruce also confirmed that the next edition of his ongoing From My Home To Yours E Street Radio series will air this Wednesday, October 28. Entitled "Farewell to the Thief," it will be centered around Halloween and the U.S. Presidential Election.
I was trying to figure a way… when the virus hit, I said, "Well, how can I continue my conversation with my fans? Maybe a radio show, where I get to play my favorite records and sort of accompany everybody through whatever this experience is that we're going through." I've had a great time putting the shows together, and I'm glad everybody's enjoyed it.
The complete on-air conversation between Jim Rotolo and Bruce Springsteen is now available on-demand to all SiriusXM subscribers with access to online listening and/or the SiriusXM app. It also will be replayed on E Street Radio (SiriusXM channel 20):
Today, Sunday 10/25, @ 5pm ET
Tomorrow, Monday 10/26, @ 7am ET
Tomorrow, Monday 10/26, @ 10am ET
Tomorrow, Monday 10/26, @ 6pm ET
SiriusXM also has posted two audio clips from the interview on YouTube:
More good news from E Street Radio and SiriusXM: This week Live From E Street Nation, with co-hosts Dave Marsh and Jim Rotolo, will return to live broadcasting for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. It's a perfect time for the show to return, offering fans the opportunity to call in and discuss their thoughts on Letter to You and all things Springsteen. Live From E Street Nation is now scheduled to air on SiriusXM channel 20 on Thursdays, 10am-12pm ET, beginning this Thursday, October 29.
And over on SiriusXM Volume, this weekend's edition of Kick Out the Jams with Dave Marsh (which airs on Sundays at 10am ET on SiriusXM channel 106) was devoted entirely to celebrating the heart stoppin', pants droppin', jams kickin', legendary E… STREET… BAND!!! Marsh worked again with Jim Rotolo, his longtime Kick Out the Jams producer/collaborator. They were inspired to create this special edition of the show in the wake of Letter to You's release. Since the album and film place a renewed focus on the band's greatness and importance, Marsh and Rotolo created a two-hour show that dives deeply into the work of the band's members on (and sometimes off) E Street. SiriusXM subscribers can catch an on-demand replay of this special edition of Kick Out the Jams with Dave Marsh and all other recently aired KOTJ shows by listening online or on the SiriusXM app. Just type "Kick Out the Jams with Dave Marsh" in the search engine. While you're at it, you also may want to check out last Sunday's show, which featured plenty of music by and a new interview with Nils Lofgren. - October 25, 2020 - Shawn Poole reporting - special thanks to Jim Rotolo and Vinny Usuriello at E Street Radio - photograph via officialrumbledoll
THE LIGHT ON YONDER MOUNTAIN
As The Big Lookback lights up E Street, Bruce Springsteen affirms life, music, and those closest to him
Toward the end of Reunion-era concerts with the E Street Band, Bruce Springsteen would underscore a crescendo with the affirmation that he could "promise you life right now!" Not an everlasting one, he'd say, as if he needed to draw a line between what he was offering and something else.
Now that frequent exhortation gets backed up on Letter to You, Springsteen's 20th studio LP, recorded live in his New Jersey home studio with returning co-producer Ron Aniello. A gust of autumn wind blowing down the boardwalk, Letter to You heralds a change of seasons as Springsteen assesses his own life and summons ghosts, backed this time by the power of the E Street Band.
Letter to You follows the thread of the past four years, marked by a best-selling autobiography and its stage companion, Springsteen on Broadway. It recalls The Who By Numbers, which Pete Townshend composed in frustration at the cusp of 30, a response he characterized as an inability to write new music for The Who. Both back-to-basics and introspective, it remains one of Townshend's most deeply moving records.
Nearing 70, Springsteen faced a similar problem — writing for the E Street Band — until one day in 2019 when he didn't. Playing a bespoke guitar he'd received as a gift from an Italian fan outside his Broadway show, he moved from room to room in his house, writing and capturing the songs on his iPhone as he went. He skipped the demo-making process, convened the E Street Band, and taught them the songs on the spot. They finished recording most of it in four days.
Springsteen with the guitar that inspired Letter to You, October 2020 - photograph by Joe DeSalvo
In nearly every respect, the new LP stands in contrast to his last one, Western Stars, which, with its labyrinthine recording history, lush arrangements, and decidedly produced feel, spent years on the shelf. Though it took the scenic route, Western Stars looked carefully at archetypes of the American Male in suspense. Letter to You takes the measure of a more balanced life — more conventional, too, but closer to realizing potential.
Its cover image shows Springsteen in Central Park, evoking a Lion in Winter look. And there's no getting around the fact that Letter to You grapples with aging and mortality, topics that have come up in earlier songs like "Kingdom of Days," "Western Stars," "The Rising," and even "Valentine's Day."
Gone is the comparatively whimsical, upbeat "Cadillac Ranch." Now, Springsteen writes about the end of life in a far more nuanced tone, and the subject frames an entire album, from the "big black train coming down the track" in the opening line to the titular declaration of "I'll See You in My Dreams" at the end. In between, the music often rages against the dying of the light. But if Letter to You is a resistance record, it's rooted in the affirmative: we are alive. For now.…
Thom Zimny and Bruce Springsteen, November 2019 - photograph by Rob DeMartin
INSIDE THE HOUSE OF A THOUSAND GUITARS
The Letter to You Backstreets Interview with Thom Zimny Bruce Springsteen needs a shooter — and so Thom Zimny's list of credits as a filmmaker gets longer all the time.
Following initial work as an editor on Live in New York City, Zimny has gone on to helm film projects of all kinds for Springsteen, from music videos to full concerts, both new and archival. Trained as a documentarian, Zimny also maintains the film archive for Thrill Hill; he puts it to good use as the go-to guy for anything in Bossworld that requires a moving image — that is, when he's not working with Bruce on something entirely new, like short films for "Hunter of Invisible Game" and "A Night With the Jersey Devil." And though Thom has expanded his purview in recent years, directing acclaimed documentaries on Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, his 20-year relationship with Springsteen remains at the center of his life's work.
Zimny has directed seven feature-length Springsteen documentary films, utilizing both new and archival footage: Wings For Wheels: The Making of Born to Run (2005), The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town (2010), Darkness on the Edge of Town, Paramount Theatre, Asbury Park (2010), The Ties That Bind (2015), Springsteen on Broadway (2018), Western Stars (2019), and now the new album companion film Letter to You (2020).
The last of these, an Apple Original (given a surprise early release today), documents Springsteen's 2019 recording session with the E Street Band, a whirlwind affair that resulted in a new album in just five days (or four days, plus one to listen, as the story goes).
Like Western Stars, which Springsteen co-directed, the Letter to You film incorporates new commentary from Bruce, whose voiceover gives context to the songs, extends their themes, and once again turns musical performance into something even more expansive — a "tone poem," in Bruce's parlance. Zimny's vision creates beauty out of the combined elements in the edit. But the foundation of the project alone — going inside the studio, to watch the E Street Band make new music — is enough to capture any fan's attention.
Zimny spoke with Backstreets editor Christopher Phillips shortly before the film's release, to explore the process from its initial spark — sitting around a fire with the Boss, the Beatles on the radio — to the final toast.
CP: The big question everybody gets asked is, what have you been doing with yourself during lockdown? "What did you do during the pandemic?" So I'm wondering: was Letter to You your pandemic project?
TZ: This was the pandemic project. Gratefully, we had finished filming. I had organized the footage and started to "sketch" a little bit, and then this thing arrived that shut us down completely — shut us down in the sense of a film production office. So I cut the movie at home, using FaceTime with Bruce. He would send me ideas by phone, and we made the movie back-and-forth that way.
So much of the creation of Western Stars involved you and Bruce working in the same space, running from one edit bay to the other; did Zoom or FaceTime help enable that, or were you more on your own for this one?
This was definitely different than the collaboration on Western Stars. I was on my own directing it more, in the sense that we couldn't be in the studio, but I did keep that dialogue very close. We were talking every day, we were texting, he was sending ideas for voiceovers, I was sending him things a ton as I started to sketch.… and really, the collaboration was strong on this.
Of all the Bruce movies you've put together, you've really never made the same one twice. Letter to You is centered around songs, but it's not a concert film; it has elements of Western Stars, but it's also showing us something that hasn't happened in decades. You couldn't have made this movie before.
Right. Bruce's work has been a huge influence on me, in the area of editing and also the idea of never repeating yourself. Never repeating yourself is an important mantra to me as a filmmaker.
With Letter to You I had the opportunity to try to revisit an idea that I started to chase when I was a kid, which is: What happens in the studio with the E Street Band? You know, at 16, flipping over the sleeve of The River and seeing a photograph of Jon [Landau] and Bruce at the board — that was the start of wondering about their creative process, about how it must feel to be in the room when one of these songs is created. So I took the opportunity, after 20 years of working with Bruce, to let that 16-year-old come back to the room.
I was able to capture a dream come true: to be in the room when he's demoing the band tracks, working with the full band. I'm looking across the studio, and I'm seeing gestures that reflect the archival footage I've spent so much time with — like, archival footage of Jon and Bruce together in 1978 — and I'm looking at the footage now and getting in the moment and I see these same guys.
There is a beauty in those details, of Jon and Bruce working together, being behind the board, the E Street Band talking…. These are relationships that are so powerful and strong, and you can see that secret silent language of gesture and expression that really conveys their creative process. When they start scribbling on notepads, a few letters and chords, and they have a 30-second discussion about a song they've never heard before and then sit down and this energy explodes.… the camera took it all in. So as a filmmaker, this was a completely different experience, a completely new film.…
- October 22, 2020 - Christopher Phillips reporting
SPRINGSTEENWHILE... A Late Show with Stephen Colbert devoted about half of its October 21 episode to a remote chat with Bruce Springsteen, who spoke from his home studio in Colts Neck, NJ. As one would expect from an encounter with Colbert, the conversation was a mix of giggles and gravity, with Bruce enthusiastically engaged throughout.
Early on, Colbert asked of Springsteen, "How does it feel to have an album and know you can't take it on the road right now?" Before admitting that it "actually is a bit of a drag," Bruce joked, "Well, I do a lot of work in front of my bedroom mirror with the tennis racket. I've completely gone back to when I was 16. I put the album on, I get the tennis racket, and I go for an hour. Matter of fact, I go for three hours, just like the show."
Colbert and Springsteen then discussed how the passing of George Theiss, Bruce's Castiles bandmate, led to the creation of much of the material on Letter to You. Shortly after Theiss' death, said Bruce, "I started to write with the themes of mortality, and lifespan, and music… what it's like being in a band when you're young, what it's like being in a band 50 years later with the same people… It just opened a vein of creativity that lasted for about seven days, in which I wrote almost all of the songs for the album, and that's the way it happens sometimes."
"How about a single line?" asked Colbert. "What's the first Dylan line that jumps out to you?"
Bruce picked the opening lines of "Like a Rolling Stone:" "Once upon a time you dressed so fine; you threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you?" (which he slightly misquoted.) "You were hooked. You were into that story so intensely and so quickly. That's the one that immediately comes to my mind." (Colbert's pick: "My weariness amazes me; I'm branded on my feet." from "Mr. Tambourine Man.")
Colbert noted that Max Weinberg has urged people to listen to Letter to You straight through in its entirety, which led to some discussion on listening to complete albums. Colbert asked Springsteen, "Do you listen to a lot of albums all the way through these days?"
"I listen to some," said Bruce. "I listened to Lana Del Rey's Norman Fucking Rockwell! album all the way through." To which Colbert immediately replied, "Oh my God! How about the song 'The Greatest?!' Can we talk about the song 'The Greatest?!'"
Bruce laughed and replied, "I just love her writing, you know? It's cinematic, and her narrative's great. But the last record I actually listened to all the way through… It was the 45th anniversary of Born to Run, and so I got with a buddy of mine. It was, like, Sunday morning at 11am. I said, 'Come on, we're gonna jump in the car. We're gonna play it from top to bottom, just for the 45th anniversary.'
"So we got in the car," Bruce continued, "and we started driving south a little bit, and the album's running itself down. We get to Asbury Park, I turn and I come up Kingsley Avenue just as 'Born to Run' hits. Down past the Stone Pony, past Convention Hall, into Deal, into West Long Branch, to 7½ West End Court. Just as the intro to 'Jungleland' hits, I'm parked in front of the house where I wrote all of the songs from Born to Run. That was fun.
"So I think it's fun listening to records all the way through, just because they're always more than the sum of their parts, and it's a greater story to tell. And yeah, I would suggest people listen to this one all the way through, too, because you'll have a bigger experience."
After a commercial break, Colbert and Springsteen ruminated a bit on the 2020 loss of an artist they both love: the late, great John Prine. Then on a much lighter note, Colbert congratulated Bruce on reaching his latest "tremendous milestone:" his own emoji.
Finally, before concluding the interview, Colbert asked Bruce if he could pick up one of the many guitars behind him and "play us off with something." We got a bit of an acoustic "Last Man Standing" before Bruce cracked himself up — shortly after singing the "Cuban heels on your boots" line, he admitted, "I forget the rest!"
You can watch the complete episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert with guests Bruce Springsteen and Eva Longoria on CBS.com. You also can watch only the three segments featuring Bruce on YouTube: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. - October 22, 2020 - Shawn Poole reporting
PUTTING THE DRIVE IN FUND DRIVE
BS returns to NPR, talking LTY (and pasta with Pavarotti)
for Morning Edition
Hold on to your totebags, and add National Public Radio to the list of outlets Bruce Springsteen has spoken with for Letter to You. A segment will air on Morning Edition tomorrow, but for a longer listen, NPR has posted Steve Inskeep's interview with the Boss online today.
I got to know Luciano Pavarotti a little bit before he died. I went to his apartment one night and he made me and my wife spaghetti. And so we're sitting and eating and he invites me to the opera. So I go to the opera, which I've never been to in my life, and I watch him perform. And after the opera, we're out having a drink and he says, "What do you think, Bruce? What did you really think of the opera?" I said, "Well, it was incredible." You know, there's no mic; he came out, his voice was, to me, still in fantastic shape. And he says, "Well, yes, but the popular singer has it over the opera singer." I said, "Really? Why is that?" "The popular singer sings the way people speak."
I thought about Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, and I thought: Yeah, that's true; they sing colloquially, the way people speak to one another. That had been what I'd been pursuing in my own songs for quite a few years at that point, but he made it all make sense to me.
Read the feature here for Inskeep's introduction, reflecting on Springsteen's "openness" as well as the Letter to You album and film, and you can listen to their interview above. - October 22, 2020
A WINTER'S TALE Thom Zimny captures the making of Springsteen's 20th studio album in Letter to You
Review by Caroline Madden
The past few years of Bruce Springsteen's career have been very reflective, the now-71-year-old artist looking back at his past to deconstruct his own mythology. Written with introspective candor, his memoir Born to Run delved into his personal demons, childhood memories, and the personal and social events that inspired his songwriting. For the stellar Springsteen on Broadway, Bruce used sharp humor and poetic monologues to dissect the American iconography of his music, such as blue-collar work, cars, and the open road. In Western Stars, he slipped into his cowboy boots to scrutinize the enduring themes of his canon: the tension between rugged individualism and the need to be a part of a community, the lonely, wayward traveler journeying across the expanse of America in search of inner peace and freedom.
Letter to You, a companion film to the album released the same day, is part of this retrospective wave, weighed more heavily by Bruce's awareness of his waning mortality. The "light from the oncoming train," as he has phrased it, illuminates his past, present, and future, and he wields the artistic mediums of song and screen to make sense of his life and ours.
Helmed once again by director Thom Zimny, the 90-minute Letter to You is part behind-the-scenes documentary and part visual album. It follows a similar structure to Western Stars, with Bruce's weathered voice introducing each song performance in the form of a poignant voiceover monologue. This time, the film doesn't present the songs in album order, and two of the 12 songs are omitted, to weave a particular story that honors the "45 year conversation" he has had with his bandmates and fans, one that will continue "'til we're all in the box."
Instead of the pale, arid desert landscapes of Western Stars, we angelically glide over the frozen New Jersey woodlands. This evocative drone photography, shot in austere black and white, is reminiscent of the old pictures of The Castiles ("1965 to 1968, three years," he says, "an eternity in the '60s,") that haunt Springsteen. These hushed snowscapes have a reverent quality that plays both with and against the tone of the Letter to You album. Accompanied by his elegiac compositional score (credited to Springsteen with producer Ron Aniello, and deserving of its own album release), Bruce's image is often superimposed over these wintry vistas, lending him an aura of divine wisdom.
As a third component, joining the wintry scenes outside and the interior warmth of the studio, Zimny once again selects unseen archival footage to place you in the era of Springsteen's formative years. Small clips of everyday lives from the past, as well as performance and other footage of young Bruce and the E Streeters, have a spectral and wistful beauty that fits the album's recurring theme of "ghosts."
As Bruce explains before "Last Man Standing," the songs on Letter to You were inspired by the death of his former Castiles bandmate George Theiss. As "the last living member of the mighty Castiles," Springsteen ruminated on his musical roots and was struck by "the debt that I still owed my Freehold brothers in arms." Letter to You, he says in voiceover, was his way of thanking the friends, bandmates, and fellow students in his "first and greatest school of rock," such as Diana and George Theiss, Bart Haynes, Frank Marziotti, Curt Fluhr, Vinnie Manniello, Paul Popkin, Bob Alfano. With his modern-day E Street Band, Bruce also travels back to the past to re-record and flesh out a few early songs that got away, including what had been acoustic John Hammond demos. Amusingly, they are the only songs that he needs glasses to read, due to their florid, Bob Dylan-esque lyrics.
In between Springsteen's eloquent introductions, we have the electrifying heart of the matter: Springsteen and the E Street Band creating a new album in a matter of days, right before the camera's eye. Zimny gives us a multi-angle view of the studio, capturing the band in all of their creative glory as they trade ideas, laugh, and play with a precision and passion that sizzle like dynamite. There are even a few humorous moments where we get to see why Bruce is dubbed the Boss.
Although we have seen documentaries of their recording process before, the studio footage in Letter to You feels different as it shows the band's return to recording full takes together for the first time since 1984. It is gratifying to witness this near-flawless, "finely tuned instrument of flexibility and power" in their element, with decades of collaboration and friendship behind them. Zimny nimbly captures the buzzing energy in the room that can only come from such a long-lasting partnership.
The rousing "Ghosts" celebrates the "beauty and joy of being in a band and the pain of losing one another," Bruce says. Without the E Street Band, Bruce could never have brought his music to life in the same way, and we get to witness them doing just that: as Springsteen has recently discussed in interviews, this time he eschewed recorded demos to play the band his new compositions on acoustic guitar, allowing them to create their own parts in the moment.
"All of us together are greater than the sum of our individual parts… While in our band, the songs and individual vision are mine, the physical creation of that vision into a real world present belongs to all of us," Springsteen declares.
During their impassioned performances, Zimny gracefully pairs vintage footage of Bruce and the band against their current-day selves. When their young faces blend into the old, the film inspires a nostalgia for what once was and a deep gratitude for what continues to be. How lucky we are to have seen this band endure for so many years. How lucky we are that they have given us a lifetime of music, memories, and happiness.
Music fills the pulpit of Springsteen's life. It is his own form of prayer, as he reveals in his introduction to "The Power of Prayer": "I restricted my prayers to three minutes and a 45 RPM record. The power of pure pop, the beautiful simplicity of melody, a complete character study in a matter of minutes. Life in 180 seconds or less. If you get it right, it has the power of prayer."
We witness the transformative power of music during a moving scene in which the band listens to a playback of album-closer "I'll See You in My Dreams," a mournful elegy to Bruce's dearly departed friends, inspired by his own nightly visions of Clarence, Danny, and others. Zimny concentrates on Jon Landau holding back tears, rapt in the tenderness of Bruce's lyrics.
Death has always preoccupied Bruce, it seems, and beneath the haunting image of rolling clouds, he recalls the terror and wonder of the funerals he attended as a child and his nightly recitation of "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep." His Catholic upbringing "impressed upon my young mind that someday we will close our eyes and the grey evening sky will unfold above us. Bringing that long and endless sleep."
Winter may symbolize death, but Letter to You, despite its frosty landscapes and monochromatic visuals, is not a gloomy experience, ending on a galvanizing note with the smoldering "Burnin' Train."
Springsteen burns, too, with an artistic flame that, like Moses' burning bush, never wanes. "After all this time, I still feel that burning need to communicate. It's there when I wake every morning. It walks alongside of me throughout the day. And it's there when I go to sleep each night. Over the past 50 years, it's never once ceased…. As reliable as the rhythmic beating of my own heart is my need to talk to you," he affirms. It is this intense need, along with the comradery and collaborative artistry on display, that makes the film feel so warm, despite its at-times melancholy subject matter and stark style.
At the end of the film, Springsteen leaves us with a benediction to appreciate the time we have here on earth; he encourages us to treat our loved ones with grace and bask in the beauty of the world around us. Letter to You is a touching time capsule of a band with a deep, unique kinship that can only be forged over time, and a meditative portrait of an artist from humble beginnings, blessed with an observant and empathetic eye, who became not just a rock star but a great philosopher of our times. This heartfelt documentary proves once again that Zimny and Springsteen make excellent collaborators. Bruce has sent us a letter, and its message is clear: when we shake off our mortal cage, our spirits will live on, swirling around in the ether alongside the musical notes that have filled our ears and our souls.
The Letter to You film premieres October 23 via AppleTV, the same day as Bruce Springsteen's latest studio album of the same name. You can sign up for a 7-day free trial by visiting: https://tv.apple.com/.
10/22 Update:The Letter to You film is online now, released a day early by AppleTV
AN APPLE A DAY: LETTER TO YOU RADIO, ALL WEEK Springsteen, Apple Music, and SiriusXM team up for five-part series Bruce Springsteen may not replace Howard Stern on SiriusXM anytime soon, but listeners will have their daily fill of both this week, as Springsteen hosts five days of programming to air on SiriusXM's E Street Radio as well as Apple Music Hits.
Each episode of Letter to You Radio covers a specific era, starting with today's hour-long Episode 1 on the roots of Springsteen's career. Joining for the kick-off is longtime music industry executive Clive Davis — who headed Columbia Records when Springsteen signed to the label in 1972 — and Springsteen's manager Jon Landau.
The other four lead up to Friday's release of Springsteen's new Columbia Records LP, Letter to You. And the topics vary by day:
Tuesday finds Springsteen talking with Eddie Vedder and Dave Grohl about success
Wednesday features a discussion with The Killers' Brandon Flowers about the influence of Bruce's music on younger bands
Thursday, Jon Stewart will talk with Springsteen about the intersection of music and politics
Friday, the coolest DJ in the land Little Steven Van Zandt will join to celebrate the release of the new LP.
The episodes will air at 4pm ET on both SiriusXM and Apple Music Hits; additionally, episodes will become available on Apple Music on demand; we're not yet aware of similar availability for later playback on SiriusXM; it's worth noting that the service hosts all 13 episodes of From My Home to Yours, so there's a good chance that this week's programming will remain online that way, too.
SiriusXM will play each episode a second time at 7pm ET and reprise the programming in its entirety next week.
More Apple Bobbing If it's old-school programming you seek, "Springsteen Week" has Apple users covered there, too: Apple Music TV launched today, and it's a lot like MTV was in 1981 — before it had even aired the live clip of "Rosalita" from Phoenix in 1978! In other words, it's going to focus on music video as we once knew it.
That'll come in handy on Thursday, when the channel features a day-long event, with special programming that will include Springsteen videos and interviews. Read this Ars Technica story for more details.
As for Thursday night's NMD Presents special, Apple Music TV chief Rachel Newman confirms that it will air on the new channel, and she spoke with Variety today about what to expect:
…a fan-only event… broadcast on Apple Music as well as the music video channel — at [11 p.m. ET], just ahead of the album being launched, there's a live event for a thousand superfans who are part of a closed-off virtual environment where they can communicate with Bruce and ask questions; Zane Lowe presents this and they talk about the album and play back it back. We're with the artist as the album is released, so that's quite special.
We can't recall a time when Springsteen participated to such a degree ahead of any record, without a morning show visiting Asbury Park; at least this time, he can sleep in. - By the Editors - October 19, 2020
WATCH NOW: ZANE LOWE INTERVIEWS SPRINGSTEEN
This afternoon, Apple Music has released Bruce Springsteen: The Letter to You Interview, a video Q&A with Zane Lowe (who will also be co-hosting the NMD special with Bruce on Thursday night).
Filmed in his home studio, Springsteen connects with Lowe via Zoom for this hour-long interview, speaking about the album from its recording process down to the individual songs, as well as ruminating on the E Street Band, current events, and more.
If you have iTunes, you can fire it up via Apple Music, or
watch the full hour via YouTube, below.
- October 19, 2020
BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE: NEW NYTIMES Q&A
As we enter Letter to You week, the New York Times kicked things off with a new Springsteen interview on Sunday, courtesy of music critic and former Ringer writer Lindsay Zoladz.
Bruce directly sums up what, to him, the new album is about: "The record is the first record that I've made where the subject is the music itself.… It's about popular music. It's about being in a rock band, over the course of time. And it's also a direct conversation between me and my fans, at a level that I think they've come to expect over the years."
Zoladz notes that Springsteen has "made a record and a film that are in some ways both about the primacy of playing live music at a time when we can’t really experience that"; Bruce looks ahead to a day when we can:
I think there's going to be a process before people are comfortable rubbing up against one another again. But if somebody told me, "That’s never going to happen again" — that would be a big life change for me. That act of playing has been one of the only consistent things in my life since I was 16 years old. I've depended a lot on it not just for my livelihood, but for my emotional well-being. So if somebody said, "Five years from now, maybe" — that's a long time. Particularly at my age. I'm 71, and I'm thinking, "Well I know one thing. I'm in the mood right now to burn the house down for as long as I can."
TRAMPS LIKE US CELEBRATES BTR45 WITH DRIVE-IN CONCERT & MOVIE Next weekend on Long Island, the day after the Letter to You release, Springsteen tribute band Tramps Like Us will celebrate the 45th anniversary of another first-class E Street delivery: 1975's Born to Run. This outdoor concert will feature the classic album played in order, live on stage in its entirety, along with an additional hour of Springsteen favorites and hits. For the full drive-in experience in this Adventureland Drive-In Concerts & Movies series, the Blinded By the Light film will follow.
5-7pm: Live DJ & Trivia 5:00-7:00pm
7pm: StreetFighter (Rolling Stones Tribute)
8:15pm: Tramps Like Us (Born to Run in full + Springsteen Classic)
10pm:Blinded By the Light
The event takes place Saturday, October 24 at Adventureland (2245 Broadhollow Road Farmingdale, NY 11735 ). Lot opens at 5pm, and admission is $99 per car (up to 6 passengers) — watch from inside your vehicle or outside on a lawn chair. Click here for
tickets and further information.
- October 18, 2020
AMERICAN BABYLON AT 25
Produced by Bruce Springsteen, Joe Grushecky & the Houserockers' American Babylon was released on October 17, 1995. A quarter-century after the "October Assault," Ken Rosen looks back with the head Houserocker
at this first Bruce & Joe collaboration
I was gearing up to ask Joe Grushecky about the missing credits for "Comin' Down Maria" and "Talk Show" on his American Babylon album, easing into it by asking about the one credited contributor:
How did Patti [Scialfa]'s contribution come about for "Comin' Down Maria"?
I just had that song. It was just Bruce and I recording it. And one of us (probably me) said, "Hey Patti, want to sit in on this?" So she came over.
Oh well, I thought, that was disappointingly straightforward. But then Joe continued, and he beat me to the punch:
"Comin' Down Maria" and "Talk Show" are both just me and Bruce. We're the only guys playing instruments on those. If there's drum sets, it's probably electronic drums somehow that we did, plus Patti singing on "Comin' Down Maria." The rest of the stuff is just he and I.
Wait. I did not know that. I'm not sure anybody knows that, actually.
Well… I don't think at that point… [laughs sheepishly] We didn't actually want to say how much he had done on the record, because he's pretty much all over it. He's on every track except "No Strings Attached" and "American Babylon." On every other song he is playing or singing or something.
Huh. So, he's on "Talk Show"?
Yeah, that's all him.
Wow. I did not know that.
Well, nobody does. I'm spilling the beans. You're the first guy to know.
That was a genuine surprise, although in retrospect it shouldn't have been. Bruce is all over American Babylon, so why wouldn't we all have at least suspected that he was on these two tracks also — especially since his wife sings on one of them?
The revelation that two officially released tracks with prominent Springsteen contributions have been hiding in plain sight for a quarter-century may have been the biggest reveal of our 75-minute long conversation, but it was far from the only one.
When Joe and I spoke a few months ago as part of his virtual publicity tour for the 40th anniversary of Have a Good Time But Get Out Alive, I mentioned to him that American Babylon has a milestone anniversary this year, too.
That album is one of my favorites — by anybody — of the 1990s. I had just moved from Philadelphia to Portland, I was completely turned off by the grunge movement, and I felt like rock was evolving into something I couldn't find an affinity for. Then came American Babylon, recommended to me by a record store advisor who I never had the chance to properly thank, and I felt my faith restored: someone was still making great East Coast rock 'n' roll, and I played the heck out of that album over the years. (I'm on my third copy, and trust me: American Babylon is not an easy album to find.)
I told Joe I'd love to do a deep-dive with him on American Babylon, and he immediately agreed. Although the anniversary was still a few months away, we took advantage of the steamy dog days of this quarantine summer to take a look back at the making and meaning of Joe's Bruce-produced milestone album.
In a wide-ranging conversation, Joe shared the origins of American Babylon and his working relationship with Bruce; the backstories for several of the album's strongest tracks (including "Homestead" and "Dark and Bloody Ground," co-written with Springsteen); how Joe almost got fired from his day job for having the audacity to record with Bruce; what's next for Joe; and enough record-correcting session detail to require some serious Brucebase revisions.
Our conversation was so rich with color, detail, and stories that I couldn't bring myself to edit it down.
So please join us over on my blog, E Street Shuffle, to read our entire conversation, and my thanks to Backstreets for allowing me to share it with you. - October 17, 2020 - Ken Rosen reporting
NEW MUSIC DAILY PRESENTS: SPRINGSTEEN LIVE ON LTY EVE
Apple Music has announced a live Letter to You event for
Release Eve: on Thursday night, October 22, Bruce Springsteen and Zane Lowe will cohost the NMD Presents Bruce Springsteen event, with the Boss appearing live from New Jersey to answer fan questions and play clips from the Letter to You film.
Ticket registration is open to Apple Music subscribers. As we understand it, U.S. fans will be able to secure tickets to join the virtual room with Bruce, and international fans will be able to watch the event live.
AND ON THE FIFTH DAY, THEY LISTENED U.K.'s Uncut Magazine gets inside for expansive Letter to You feature
A week ahead of its release, the promotion for Bruce Springsteen's new LP has jumped the pond with a lavishly illustrated spread in Uncut, the monthly British music magazine. Titled "The Ties That Bind," the 13-page page cover story features highlights from interviews with most of the E Street Band and Springsteen's manager Jon Landau.
It's a turn from the initial instances of Letter to You press coverage. Current profiles in Rolling Stone and AARP centered on question-and-answer sessions with Springsteen himself, and lengthy biographical recaps; if he spoke to Uncut writer Peter Watts for this story, it was on background.
Letting E Street Band members recount the live experience for Letter to You brings the focus to the music. That perspective forms a major part of the story Watts tells: Max Weinberg, for example, sketched the band's physical placement inside Springsteen's Stone Hill Studio: "We are very close together," Weinberg said of the recording set-up, "which is unlike a concert where we are all spread out." With Springsteen and Van Zandt on either side of him and his drum kit, Weinberg likens their trading ideas mid-song to "watching the tennis match."
While technical details fill in the picture, Steve Van Zandt talked about the writing process for Letter to You, nearly all of which the E Street Band laid down at Springsteen's New Jersey's home studio over a four-day stretch last November. "With this one, before he even started writing," Van Zandt said, Springsteen "was after a real band record. It's a different way of writing, a different subject matter and a different size of song. Those factors all need to be in place before he starts writing."
Nils Lofgren— the self-described "new guy" in the E Street Band, coming up on 37 years — underscored how song structures allowed the band to improvise. "You aren't just trying to place your part on a great track, you are all there together," Lofgren told Watts. "It's interactive and you have to focus and adapt to what the others are doing. That's the standard freedom we get."
Recording live in the studio with the E Street Band was both a first for Lofgren and a return to the ways in which it'd backed Springsteen for The River and Born in the U.S.A.: mostly live, with few overdubs. And in this case, no demos to emulate.
Relying solely on placeholder versions captured on his iPhone, Springsteen taught the band each song in turn by playing it on acoustic guitar. Beginning with the Castiles-inspired elegy "Last Man Standing," they made notes on chord changes and arrangements, then hit record, "making further alterations," Watts writes, "until they got it right" — resulting in no more than a half-dozen takes for any given song. Credit for this back-to-basics approach belongs with Roy Bittan, who suggested it to Springsteen over lunch soon after the new songs materialized ("because when you demo," Bittan told Watts, "it's carved in stone").
The second part of the Uncut package features a breezy review of Letter to You (written by Richard Williams), which, like the first part, offers insight and detail about songs' lyrical and musical components: "One Minute You're Here" starts with a "downbeat Springsteen alone with acoustic guitar," Watts writes; Williams describes the trio of older compositions Springsteen revived for the projects as "homages to the sound of Bob Dylan circa 1965. The triumphant wild mercury swirl of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper is lovingly re-created, while the particular virtue of each song is brought to the fore… dialled down to suit today's sensibility."
"The Ties That Bind" is the cover story of the December 2020 issue of Uncut Magazine, on U.K. newsstands now and available digitally or in print via uncut.co.uk. - By the Editors, October 15, 2020
"Dermot O'Leary, at home in London, links up with his hero Bruce Springsteen, on his farm in New Jersey, to chat about his new album Letter to You - plus some classic tracks picked by Dermot." Premieres Saturday, October 24 at 00:00. - October 13, 2020
Well I got houses 'cross the country honey end to end And everybody buddy wants to be my friend I got a custom emoji for every Tweet I send #springsteenhttps://t.co/qZLY7XBexx
BACKSTREETS PRE-ORDERING IS ON NOW FOR LETTER TO YOU
Each copy comes with an exclusive bonus FREE… and it's pretty Sharp!
Thanks to everyone patiently waiting for our pre-order offer to be ready... it took some time to devise, design, and create our special exclusive, but approval has come down from the top and we're taking pre-orders now!
Every copy of Letter to You we ship, on compact disc or vinyl 2LP, will be accompanied by a special promotional item you'll find nowhere else — an official Letter to You pen-and-notecard set, FREE! The goal was to come up with something as thematically appropriate as our bandanas were for Western Stars, and we have to thank designer Michelle Holme for making it come alive once again.
The handsome 7x5 notecard shows an expanded view of Danny Clinch's Letter to You cover photo; it's blank inside, for your own letter. And the pen, of course, is a Sharpie — Bruce's pen of choice.
Thanks to Michelle, all at the Springsteen organization and Sony/Columbia, who've been so supportive of an extra special something for the fans. This official, promotional-only set is only available to those who pre-order from Backstreet Records.
Letter to You will be released on October 23, and pre-orders will ship out from Backstreet Records with the pen & notecard set ASAP, in the order received.
Thanks as always for supporting what we do! - October 11, 2020
FIVE BY FIVE IN HOTLANTA
Nugs completes the official '78 broadcast set with 9/30/78 "Have you heard the news?" Bruce Springsteen entreats the audience in Atlanta's Fox Theater. "Have you heard the news?" Satisfied with the crowd's response, the E Street Band jumps into "Good Rockin' Tonight," by now a seasoned Darkness tour opener. It's September 30, 1978, and they'd been on the road behind Springsteen's much-awaited fourth album since the end of May. This date was a make-up for a July postponement (due to illness), a situation Bruce apologizes for repeatedly throughout the evening, and promises to make up for.
Neither he nor the audience should have been concerned about their ability to make good on that: while the July E Street Band was already on its A-game, another two months under its belt shows on every possible front — and in good time, because this concert was broadcast regionally around the Southeastern United States.
Today, September 30, 1978 joins Springsteen's Live Archive series to make the Darkness broadcast quintet complete: all five (along with the Roxy, Agora, Passaic, and Winterland) are now official releases in the Springsteen live catalog, with the sonic improvements to match.
None needed an upgrade more than Atlanta. As the story goes, storms in the region wreaked havoc with the airwaves, and a perfect tape has never surfaced. Plangent Processed and freshly mixed from the pre-FM 24-track multis, today's release should finally do the show justice.
In a tour brimming with exceptional shows, '78 tends to be dominated by the Roxy and the Agora, broadcasts heard in real time that you could get a copy of without finding and paying for a bootleg. But Atlanta is no consolation prize: it's a show that is dialed-in from a performance standpoint. Every song is executed near-perfectly, and still abundant with electricity and verve.
The intro to "Spirit in the Night" is one such moment, with not a note out of place, and it thrusts Bruce into a swirl of cosmic magic. "Spirit" is also the moment where the other star of this Atlanta show, the audience, takes its place. You can feel the collective reaction with the first notes; they know what song it is. They hit the "all night!" like they'd been singing it for decades, the women in the audience make their presence known when Bruce starts crawling into Greasy Lake, and everyone yells "goodbye" on cue. "You guys are nuts out there. It's incredible," Bruce says once the song finishes.
Springsteen recounts a 1975 Atlanta show at the Electric Ballroom, where someone in the audience mistook him for Steve: "I said, 'No, no, I'm Bruce! That's Steve!' That was funny." There would be no case of mistaken identity tonight; in fact, Atlanta is one of those shows where the audience yells song requests during every interlude. Bruce acknowledged them before "Independence Day," which followed an exquisite "Darkness on the Edge of Town": listen for the interplay between the verses and the choruses. "The Promised Land" features another audience response on cue, yelling blow away loud enough to make it onto the broadcast; listening at home, you'll probably be moved enough to be yelling it along with them.
After Bruce issues the invitation "Do you think you're ready to prove it all night?" he vocalizes off-mic for a bar or two before executing what can only be characterized as a HOT SHIT guitar intro: not flamboyant, but dynamic and full of tension and so intently true to the original emotional core of the song. The band comes in, and again, it is this perfect meshing of parts that carries the intro.
The '78 "Prove It"'s were also glorious for the verbalized exaltations on the bridge, exquisitely placed "ohhh"s and "uh-huhs," and that's the case here. A guitar solo sharp and sweet, and then the last verse, the last verse! Bruce is half-singing, half-growling "What it means to steal, to cheat, to lie / What it's like to live and die," and you can palpably feel the intensity. The call-and-response at the end, the audience and the band singing "Prove It All Night" back at each other, before The Phantom swings out in front the way that only Danny Federici could do, Roy holding the back line, and there is Bruce playing fast and furious, almost ecstatic, Max holding it all down with military precision. Bruce calls out both Max and Danny at the end for their contributions.
"Racing in the Street" once again highlights the ease with which Danny and Roy could weave and layer and never crowd each other. Bruce's emotions and vocal timbre are just achingly, precisely aligned; it's bright but sharp and a little sad, like the end of summer. He alludes to that, changing lyrics to mention summer being gone, as well as a nod to the audience when he switches "Northeast" to "Southern," and the audience reacts instantly: they are with him, this is truly a scenario where the audience is in concert with the performer. (This, of course, is based on a FM recording of the show, and it is yet to be seen how much of that color makes it onto the official release.)
Bruce prefaces "Thunder Road" with the story we know, how he wrote it in that little house in West End, and — as he referenced in Episode 13 of From My Home to Yours — how he saw a poster for Thunder Road but "never saw the movie. I remember I only saw the poster. But I took the title and I wrote this song, I never thought there was any place that was like this song," and then we're in the desert and there's the poster of Geronimo: "Over on top it said 'LANDLORD,' and he had a big white sign, and painted in red, it said: 'This is the land of peace, love, justice, and no mercy,' and it pointed down this little dirt road that said 'Thunder Road'."
There's an eager intensity to Bruce's lyric delivery, where you can viscerally feel the movement of the car and the wind and the road. The fans are with him here too, delightfully applauding themselves after answering the "Say it!" cue in the first verse.
They have absolutely earned this particular "Jungleland." As emotion builds in the intro, maybe you'll hold an imaginary guitar aloft in your living room just like I did. Bruce's vocal delivery edges into something almost operatic, as though he is overwhelmed by energy and emotion and is doing his best to hold it back. Danny swirls around him like watercolors, and then he is there, beseeching the crowd at the end: "SAY IT NOW," like a Baptist preacher.
We come back to earth with quick and businesslike band intros as the first set — just the first set! — comes to an end. Even at home, or wherever you might be with this in your headphones, you will be glad for a moment to catch your breath, because we still have the second half to come.
When the band returns, Bruce begins: "We're all on the radio tonight, so I wanna say hello to everybody in Atlanta and out there, everybody down in Florida who's listening in, folks out in Austin, Houston and Dallas…. Now, it might be a little early for this next song, but we might not see you around Christmas time, so I've got a story to tell." It's not surprising that "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town" is showing up in September — it was played at the Capitol Theatre shows just a week and a half earlier, and "Santa" had been known to make its appearance in the late summer and early fall.
Apparently this number was accompanied by fake snow, so while some roadies grab brooms and clean up the "popcorn," as Bruce refers to it, he says: "I tell you what we need: we need a broom, and we need a little 'Night Train'!"
Yes, "Night Train" — James Brown's "Night Train," the only time that E Street has ever played "Night Train," in the spirit of Bruce's habit of playing location-specific one-off covers (like "Sea Cruise" at the Naval Academy in Annapolis earlier on the tour).
This isn't vamped, this isn't "stump the band," and while I'm sure that every member of the E Street Band could fake their way through "Night Train," this was clearly rehearsed and planned, Bruce delightfully announcing the various stops, even if they are out of order and include some locations (like Dallas) which aren't in the original — it does not matter, because the E Street Band are playing "Night Train" and it gets tighter as it goes along, Bruce verbally conducting over the bridge, and Clarence playing the hell out of the sax line.
Atlanta featured the '78 sequence of "Fire" / "Candy's Room" / "Because the Night" / "Point Blank" / "She's the One" (with bonus "Not Fade Away" and "Gloria"), certainly a memorable manifestation of that particular narrative arc. (Like, that is a story.) He'd played with the placement of "Candy's Room" and "Fire" (which was, of course, then unreleased) before, but this here is a statement. It takes a particular mindset to sell it and not have it be overbearing. But the E Street Band sound so agile and light on their feet and yet also so goddamn precise that it's intense as all get-out but not ever too much — it's one of those magic nights where they just follow Bruce wherever he goes. By "Not Fade Away" Bruce is definitely, as the kids say, feeling himself, and it is (at least on the original FM-sourced tapes) one of the many delightful moments where you hear E Street on backing vocals. "All must sing," indeed.
The Morricone-styled intro to "Rosalita" gives everyone a chance to simmer down, but not for long, because this is a "Rosie" on steroids. It is so insanely energetic that you can't believe what you are hearing. Slightly more expanded band intros here — "A warm round of applause for Miami Steve Van Zandt" — before ending with, "Wherever you are, you can't hide! Come out tonight!" bringing us to the end of the second set.
"I wanna thank everybody for coming down to the show tonight. I wanna say we're sorry about missing you the last time, I got sick for a few days there… I know there's a lot of people listening, and I'd like to thank all you folks here in Atlanta and all those people who supported the band over the past two or three years when we were having a hard time, I just wanna thank you very much."
"Born to Run" takes us into the repeated query, "Are you ready for the Tenth? Are you ready for the Tenth?" no less than four times; the Medley comes complete with "I've been asked by the management at the theater to advise anyone with a weak stomach or a weak heart to please step into the lobby during the next section of the show! For you folks out there in radioland, this next portion is strictly visual."
But the show is still not over. Coming back out yet one more time, Bruce declares, "You wanted us to do another one, all you had to do was…. raise your hand!" leading into an outstanding rendition of the E Street favorite and Eddie Floyd classic. It's prime "All must sing" time, the band members joining in with gusto.
In the last chorus, Bruce charges the listeners at home: "Now, everybody out there on the radio, I want you to get up… I want you to walk over to your dial, I want you to turn it up as loud as it'll go, I want you to open up all the windows in the house, and if the cops come knocking at your door, tell 'em 'Too bad,' and if they keep on knocking, tell 'em to send all the complaints to Columbia Records in New York City, New York!"
The glee tinged with relief in Bruce's voice in the final number betrays that he knows this one was a keeper. Forty-two years later, it still is.
- October 9, 2020 - Caryn Rose reporting - cover photograph by PJay Plutzer
WE HAVE SEEN INDUCTION CEREMONY FUTURE
Springsteen to induct Landau in Rock Hall event broadcast November 7
Just because the Rock Hall's live Induction Ceremony in May had to be COVID-cancelled, doesn't mean we won't get to see Bruce Springsteen honor his longtime manager, producer, and friend (and pioneering rock journaist) Jon Landau.
New plans have been announced for the induction event, which will now be presented as an HBO special next month — and Springsteen is on the official roster.
No one gives better speech.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 2020 Induction debuts Saturday, November 7 at 8pm ET on HBO and will stream on HBO Max; it will also be simulcast on SiriusXM.
"While this year’s program will be different than those of years past," says Joel Peresman, President and CEO of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, "we look forward to recognizing [the Class of 2020's] impact on the industry, their fans and the next generation of artists."
Springsteen will welcome Landau in with the Class of 2020 by presenting him the Ahmet Ertegun award, which honors "songwriters, producers, disc jockeys, record executives, journalists and other industry professionals who have had a major influence on rock 'n' roll." Visit rockhall.com for more information.
- October 8, 2020
ALRIGHT, ALRIGHT: BRUCE RETURNS TO GN SHOW, 10/23
With just over two weeks to go until Letter to You, we're getting wind of some promotional appearances. The first to be officially announced: Bruce Springsteen will be a guest on The Graham Norton Show on release day itself, Friday, October 23. Likely via video call — we doubt he'll be sitting on the couch, as he was for his first visit in 2019 (pictured above) — Bruce will join Lily James, Matthew McConaughey, and musical guest Sam Smith. The show airs Fridays at 10:35pm on BBC1 and BBC iPlayer in the U.K., or later via BBC America in the U.S. - October 8, 2020
photograph by Danny Clinch
RECAP: VOLUME 13, "MY KINGDOM FOR A CAR" The road is life, and radio on! Okay, we've got 66 twice, plus 88, add 2-4-6-8… with an 85, carry the 6… ah, screw it — cars were made to get us away from stuff like math, right?
It was only a matter of time before Bruce Springsteen's theme-time radio show landed his all-time favorite metaphor, and in Volume 13 of From My Home to Yours he welcomes "car freaks, gearheads, fellow travelers, and listeners from coast to coast and around the world" to his "tribute to the automobile and the open road," titled "My Kingdom for a Car."
Even at a full 90 minutes, Volume 13 feels streamlined: no long stories over instrumental beds, just driving songs — driving in all senses of the word — from here to the horizon. The radio's on, and Springsteen is the DJ hearing your prayer. Bruce being King of the Car Song, it's fascinating to see what made his cut — to hear the ones that made him nod his head and think, "Yeah, that's on the list."
The episode title, "My Kingdom for a Car," comes from a 1970 Phil Ochs song. The lyrics scan like a template for Springsteen's career-full of auto imagery: "flyin' down a highway of gold," "I am master of all that's flying by me," "I'm racin' with the wind in my hair," and…
Come to me baby
We will leave this path it was not made for man
We'll find a new land
But the traffic is jammed
He cues up a cover version by one of his many favorite undersung bands, giving Nashville's Jason and the Scorchers their From My Home to Yours debut.
It's a, yes, scorching slab of U.S. Highway rock 'n' roll — and for more Americana, we later get Guy Clark ("one of our great Texas singer-songwriters") and Bruce's old pal Jackson Browne — but Volume 13 also reminds us that the car song is not a purely American phenomenon. A triple-shot of The Clash, the Tom Robinson Band, and the Screaming Blue Messiahs is proof positive that the Brits know their way around the motorway, even if they're driving on the opposite side.
The car song is not a white phenomenon, either: four songs in a row featuring black artists span seven decades. An incredible obscure cut from 2016, "American Muscle" by the duo 1 AMVRKA (pronounced "One America"), is balanced by the truly foundational "No Particular Place to Go" by "the master" Chuck Berry. From one song to the next, it's a reminder that while Springsteen will always be rooted in the classics, he never stops checking out next year's model, either.
In that same stretch, "Rocket 88" ("credited to Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, who were actually Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm") is followed by Sir Mix-a-Lot's "My Hooptie." Our DJ offers some background on the seminal "Rocket 88" — "considered by many to be the first rock 'n' roll record, and of course, its subject is the car" — but he holds the full detailing package for the "one of my favorite and funniest old-school rappers, out of Seattle, Washington":
A "hooptie" is any car that meets the following:
a. Driver must enter car through passenger side
b. Three different brands and size tires, three of them missing hubcaps
c. Exhaust pipe is held up by half a wire clothes hanger; the other half of said hanger replaces the antenna
d. Backfires every three blocks, the loudest backfire being when car is turned off
e. Must open door at drive-thru window, as the windows do not roll down
f. You only get one AM station, and the 1970s tape deck eats all tapes inserted
g. You must manually move the blinker lever up and down as it no longer blinks on its own
h. Has had the same temporary registration sticker in the window for past 18 months
i. Despite all the above, still has $200 professional tint job
Springsteen introduces the Clash's "Brand New Cadillac" (a Vince Taylor cover) with a portion of "In an Instant," a poem by Caren Krutsinger:
She was getting out of a beautiful navy blue Cadillac with red seats.
She was more exotic than the car; her date was a handsome creature too.
With dark skin and dark eyes that danced. He was delighted with her.
This was at least fifty years ago and I have never forgotten
A glimpse of her beautiful leg as she exited this fantastic car.
The Vulgar Boatmen's "Drive Somewhere" is a selection that we never would have predicted but gets a top J.D. Power rating in our book. "A real beauty," Bruce calls it, and the band "fabulously unknown." Like Depeche Mode's "great version of 'Route 66'," it's also a reminder that, while college radio in the 1980s practically existed to be an "alternative" to music like Springsteen's, the Boss was still paying attention. Screaming Blue Messiahs are in that niche as well: "They garnered wide critical acclaim, and unfortunately limited commercial success, particularly here in America," Bruce says. "They however, without a doubt, are one of the great bands of the '80s." And besides, how could he not play a song called "Jesus Chrysler Drives a Dodge"?
Bob Dylan's "From a Buick 6" is given a particular place of honor, propped up between two quotes from Jack Kerouac's On the Road.
The only people for me are the mad ones… who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.…
Following the Dylan track, Bruce notes that it's "from the history-making Highway 61 Revisited album. I played that record til it fell to pieces on my little box stereo in my bedroom in Freehold, New Jersey. It remains a modern masterpiece." And then the Kerouac chaser:
…because he had no place he could stay in without getting tired of it and because there was nowhere to go but everywhere, our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again. We had longer ways to go. Keep rolling under the stars. The road is life.
Volume 12: "Summer's End" demonstrated that Bruce could be perfectly happy going an episode without playing his own music. Not this time, not this subject. Springsteen songs haunt the playlist even when they're not there: you won't hear him sing "roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair," but you will hear Robert Mitchum's "The Ballad of Thunder Road," from the 1958 film. It's a two-for-one, evoking his own wings-for-wheels masterpiece without playing it. "And yeah, folks," he says, "this is where I got the title."
It's not the only ghost of a Springsteen song here, either, as later he tells a story you're sure is going to lead in to a particular Nebraska track:
Your dad and his car: those were two things that could not be separated. All I remember was my old man coming home, bringing home a new used car. Park it out on the grass in the backyard. We'd all come hustling out of the house, stand around it — couldn't get in it yet, not til he said it was all right. But we'd run our hands over the fins, all over the hood, and finally Pop would say, "All right, everybody in!" And we'd hustle in that car. He'd start that thing up, slip it into gear, and pull us out on the main street, and we just went for a cruise. And for a short while we felt like the Springsteen family are the kings of this highway! It was just one of the deepest memories of my childhood.
But after that story, there's really no need for "Used Cars." In just one of many hard lefts and quick gear changes, he spins a cover of Marc Cohn's "Silver Thunderbird" instead, refreshingly sung by Jo Dee Messina in strong voice.
Of course, Bruce has enough of his own car songs to fill up a 90-minute mix and then some. I've made one; you've probably made one; The Live Series has made one, too. So for his own personal selections, Bruce goes way off-road, steering around such biggies as "Racing in the Street" and "Stolen Car."
"Open All Night," probably his purest car song (about the car itself and the experience of driving, rather than the characters inside), is here, but not in its original Nebraska form; instead, Bruce breaks out the Sessions Band jump-blues performance from Live in Dublin. And who would have predicted "Brothers Under the Bridges ('83)"? Springsteen says more about the outtake (released on Tracks) here than he ever has: "A very distinctive version from the one I cut later, about these young street racers out in the Midwest, building their cars in garages over the winter, bringing them out in the spring, and running them down on the dry lake beds."
After "Bridges," we get a third Kerouac passage…
I was surprised, as always, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility.
…as well as a true "all-time classic" about that very feeling: Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers' "Roadrunner." The song's late-night ride is a precursor to "Open All Night" and "State Trooper," transposed from Jersey to the burbs of Boston. In Richman's world, the radio isn't jammed up — it's on, and hey-ho, he's in love with modern rock 'n' roll. Of the zillion driving songs that could have been left by the wayside, this one feels crucial — and its position in the set suggests the DJ thinks so too.
There's only one thing left to do from there… and that's "Drive All Night." A perfect, perfectly obvious choice worth steering right into.
"Stay safe, stay healthy and strong behind the wheel. Keep your radio on, and God bless you."
Nelson Riddle & His Orchestra - "Theme From Route 66"
Jason and the Scorchers - "My Kingdom for a Car"
Depeche Mode - "Route 66"
Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats - "Rocket 88"
Sir Mix-a-Lot - "My Hooptie"
1 AMVRKA - "American Muscle"
Chuck Berry - "No Particular Place to Go"
[Poetry reading] Caren Krutsinger's "In an Instant"
The Clash - "Brand New Cadillac"
Tom Robinson Band - "2-4-6-8 Motorway"
The Screaming Blue Messiahs - "Jesus Chrysler Drives a Dodge"
Fleshtones - "Ride Your Pony"
Nas (featuring Charlie WIlson) - "Car #85"
Robert Mitchum - "Ballad of Thunder Road"
Bruce Springsteen and the Sessions Band - "Open All Night" (Live in Dublin)
[Reading] Jack Kerouac's On the Road (excerpt 1)
Bob Dylan - "From a Buick 6"
[Reading] Jack Kerouac's On the Road (excerpt 2)
Jackson Browne - "Running on Empty" (live)
Jo Dee Messina - "Silver Thunderbird"
Guy Clark - "Out in the Parking Lot"
The Vulgar Boatmen - "Drive Somewhere"
Bruce Springsteen - "Brothers Under the Bridges ('83)"
[Reading] Jack Kerouac's On the Road (excerpt 3)
Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers - "Roadrunner"
Bruce Springsteen - "Drive All Night"
- October 7, 2020 - Christopher Phillips reporting
October 23 to bring Letter to You album and documentary film When a motion picture expanded on the music and message of 2019's Western Stars, it did so four months after the album's release date. Later this month, Bruce Springsteen's new album and its accompanying film will hit on the same day.
On October 23, AppleTV+ will premiere Bruce Springsteen's Letter to You, a "feature-length verité documentary" from Apple Original Films offering "a behind-the-scenes look at the iconic artist's creative process" that is also "a tribute to the E Street Band, to rock music itself and to the role it has played in Springsteen's life."
"Throughout the documentary, Springsteen shares his thoughts and feelings behind Letter to You and puts the new music into the context of his entire body of work," states this afternoon's Apple press release. "In that way, it's the next piece in the autobiographical series that began with the memoir Born to Run, continued with Springsteen on Broadway and advanced through his film Western Stars."
Springsteen gets writing credit on the new film, with sole directing credit going to Thom Zimny, Bruce's frequent film collaborator and Western Stars co-director. According to the press release, the new doc:
features full performances from the E Street Band, in-studio footage, never-before-seen archival material and a deeper look into Letter to You from Springsteen himself.
captures Springsteen recording Letter to You live with the full E Street Band, and includes final take performances of ten originals from the new record.
While the music videos for "Letter to You" and "Ghosts" have provided glimpses of the Letter to You studio sessions, a new trailer offers a better sense of what to expect in the feature-length doc:
Bruce Springsteen's Letter to You is produced by Jon Landau and Zimny and co-produced by Barbara Carr, with Springsteen serving as executive producer. - October 5, 2020
This Just In: The next installment in the Live Archive series will be released one week from today on Friday, October 9. Grab your ticket and your suitcase, but leave your sunglasses at home.
FRANKENSTEEN REBORN… TO BE WORN Just in time for Halloween 2020, Frank Caruso's visionof 10/31/84 transforms intolimited "Gory Days Tour merch"
It's no secret that the real-life horror of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will be spoiling a lot of Halloween fun this year. Enjoying Halloween 2020 may be trickier than usual, but there still are some treats to be found. Thanks to our friend Frank Caruso, the artist who collaborated with Bruce Springsteen on the Outlaw Pete picture book, we're thrilled to offer something special for our readers this Rocktober.
Last Halloween, in celebration of the 35th anniversary of Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band's October 31, 1984 concert at the legendary L.A. Sports Arena, Frank provided us with his own unique artistic vision of the opening of that night's show — an imaginative (and extremely funny) set of visuals to accompany and enhance Bruce's storytelling. In the process, Caruso "Halloweenified" Bruce Springsteen (aka Dr. Frankensteen's Monster) as well as the entire 1984 version of the E Street Band, their audience, and even the L.A. Sports Arena itself. Click here to read all about it in detail.
One year later, as we prepare for a very different kind of Halloween, Frank has transformed his artwork into an awesome nod to vintage tour merch — a new tee designed as something that fans could've purchased during Dr. Frankensteen and the Sonic Booo's legendary mid-1980s Gory Days Tour. Missed that tour? Well, at least now you can buy a shirt and tell everybody you were there.
Caruso even transformed our Backstreets logo on the sleeve into something more thematically appropriate, including an ingenious alteration of those iconic sneakers.
Click here to pre-order now!
We'll base our limited print run for this T-shirt on the number of pre-orders we receive, shirt to print and ship by late October 2020. Pre-order now to guarantee availability of your size.
- October 2, 2020 - Shawn Poole reporting - all artwork and design by Frank Caruso – Check out more from Frank Caruso on his Instagram page.
SCHOLARDARITY Check out the wicked-cool TeachRock shirt from Frank Caruso,and catch up on TeachRock's important work in the midst of the pandemic.
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, one of the most pressing concerns is how to continue offering public education in the safest and most engaging ways possible. Not surprisingly, TeachRock, the organization founded by Steven Van Zandt with a Founders' Board that included Bruce Springsteen, is at the forefront of this important issue.
The Los Angeles Unified School District — the second largest school district in the U.S. — recently approved the first-ever complete course built entirely around TeachRock's extensive online library of lesson plans and unit plans, made available to all teachers with no costs or fees whatsoever. Brian Fritch and Michael Sinclair from Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School, where the course was designed and launched, appeared on the latest episode of Little Steven's Roadshow to discuss the course and how TeachRock inspired it. Click here to view an excerpt of their conversation, or click here to watch the entire L.A.-themed episode of the Roadshow, with Fritch's and Sinclair's complete appearance beginning at the 4:27 mark. You also can click here to read the course outline.
Meanwhile, Frank Caruso, the artist who collaborated with Bruce Springsteen on the book Outlaw Pete, has come up with a wicked-cool way to support TeachRock's important work financially. Caruso designed a special TeachRock shirt inspired by Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul's classic "Solidarity," with proceeds from all shirt sales benefiting TeachRock through its funding organization, the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation.
Below is video of an online conversation between Rock and Roll Forever Foundation/TeachRock Executive Director Bill Carbone and Frank Caruso, in which Caruso relates how he created the latest TeachRock shirt:
999½ WON'T DO Ken Rosen's E Street Shuffle blog hits the thousand-day mark From Backstreets HQ, we're sending out congratulations to a friend and fellow traveler in the Springsteen universe, Ken Rosen. His blog estreetshuffle.com just hit a major milestone: 1,000 consecutive days of unique Bruce content. That's right, today's meditation on "Moonlight Motel" makes a thousand original daily posts, stretching all the way back to January 5, 2018.
What started out as Ken's attempt to blog his way through every (!) song Bruce has written, recorded, or covered, has turned into the blogosphere equivalent of a four-and-a-half-hour marathon concert — with no intermission.
Through his "Roll of the Dice" series, Ken takes a deep dive into Bruce's entire catalog. Each day's song is chosen at random — he calls that "the core of the blog." Google's randomizer feeds him each day's assignment.
Ken has also painstakingly compiled archive materials, interviews, and clips that commemorate each day in Springsteen history in his "Kingdom of Days" posts — which began "just as a way for me to organize all my facts and recordings, but it quickly became one of the most popular features of the site." Now, tweets also serve as daily reminders of fans' shared history.
Educated as a historian, Ken tells us his vision for the blog was "pretty much set from its inception: a comprehensive, encyclopedic, yet highly subjective analysis of Bruce's entire catalog."
What he didn't know is that it would turn into a daily commitment. "That was an accident," he says. "I'd pre-loaded the blog with a week or two of content when I launched…. Around one month in, I realized I hadn't skipped a day, and then I decided to make that a hallmark of the blog as well."
Ken's typical desktop setup [open image in new window to enarge]: "It has my calendar mapped out (which will give interested parties a sneak peak at what lies ahead), my newspaper archives (with a cool classified ad from ’72 for anyone who zooms in for it), and my master tracking spreadsheet telling me which songs I have left to write about."
When asked about favorite moments from the past thousand days, Ken highlights the work he has done digging into and exploring Bruce's pre-label material — "I really love the Bruce Springsteen Band period in particular and spend a lot of time on it," he says.
One example: his breakdown of a little-known 30-minute Steel Mill jam "Garden State Parkway Blues," in which he not only introduces it to the uninitiated (with a link to quality audio of the track), but also traces its roots to The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Napoleon XIV's "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!" while connecting certain elements to future tracks like "Kitty's Back" and "Cadillac Ranch." A worthwhile read (and listen).
Ken Rosen with his wife, Beth, outside the Walter Kerr Theatre on 48th Street
So where does one go after post #1,000? Ken says there are roughly 650 songs left to cover, which will keep him running well into 2022. And despite the occasional "stress dream" about a multi-disc archival release pushing the finish line into 2023, he has no regrets about tacking on an additional daily commitment to an already busy family and work life — it's a labor of love, and like any marathon runner, he's still enjoying the high.
From all of us here at Backstreets, congrats Ken — and here's to a thousand more! - September 30, 2020 - Dante Cutrona and Christopher Phillips reporting
TAKING A SPIN WITH TOBY SCOTT
As the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recently announced, "one of the most iconic car lyrics in music history" is now on display in Cleveland,
a '69 Chevelle that once belonged to Bruce Springsteen. And you'd better believe it's got "a 396, Fuelie heads and a Hurst on the floor." Bruce gifted the Chevy
to Toby Scott in 1988, who has loaned it to the Rock Hall — it's waiting tonight on the museum's lower level.
Scott, for 38 years Bruce's engineer and jack-of-all-audio trades, says it's "a car [Bruce and I] had driven around New Jersey on many an occasion. Although not the inspiration for the song 'Racing in the Street,' [that song's] opening lines describe it exactly."
On his way to deliver the loaner, Scott stopped off at Sweetwater Sound in Ft. Wayne, IN, where he talked shop with Sweetwater's Mitch Gallagher for the musical gear company's YouTube channel. With Toby Scott being an integral part of Bruce's record-making from The River and Nebraska into the 21st Century, their conversation is well worth a watch:
The discussion may be particularly interesting in light of Letter to You. Announcing the forthcoming record, Springsteen zeroed in on the full-band recording experience: "I love the sound of the E Street Band playing completely live in the studio."
To find another time the E Street Band approached recording this way, you have to go back to Scott's earliest days tracking Bruce and the band, during sessions for The River and Born in the U.S.A. Toby recalls how the Power Station sessions began for the latter (after he fine-tuned the snare drum reverb), and we're reminded that in the right hands, it's a method that can produce magic.
"Born in the U.S.A." was the first song. And after they had sort of figured out the song and the arrangement and everything, the whole band started. As I remember, it was all seven players playing, which is: drums, bass, two keyboards, two guitars, and Clarence playing percussion — Clarence was out in the lounge, looking through a hole in the door into the studio. They did this take of "Born in the U.S.A.," and I just leaned back and I went, "Wow, that sounds like something else." Chuck Plotkin and Jon Landau were there, and we were like, "Wow." Bruce came in and heard it, went "This is great! I think they did a couple more takes, and we moved on.
Since that time, earlier this year, I was given permission and a copy of the archived Pro Tools version (pulled off of the master 24-track). And, on occasion when I get the opportunity, I can play that back — where people who are at the venue or the playback can hear the individual instruments, to hear what they sound like. And it's very cool — even for me, to think, "Wow! That snare drum sounds really good! I did a good job!" [laughs]
You solo the lead vocal, and you hear it [isolated], and you can hear the drums in the background. That's a live take lead vocal. He's that good.
As a studio engineer, Toby says he was "spoiled for years" by Springsteen: "In many, many of Bruce's songs, the guitar and vocal that you hear on the radio is the first take, the first pass. I know I never tuned any of his vocals. Bob Clearmountain, who mixed a lot of them, only [tuned] slightly here and there. The man sings on-pitch and in-key, and any variation of that is generally what we can call 'artist's license.'"
Toby also discusses the "studio in a box" he developed to record live shows, how his rough mixes help guide Clearmountain's final mixes, outfitting Springsteen's home studio, and more. - September 28, 2020 - Christopher Phillips reporting - photographs courtesy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
"IT'S TO YOU! IT'S A LETTER TO YOU!"
Bruce leaves no room for misinterpretation in new AARP interview
A second Letter to You interview with Bruce Springsteen has appeared — following Brian Hiatt's for Rolling Stone, AARP Magazine Editor in Chief Robert Love spoke to the Boss for another exclusive cover story, "Bruce Springsteen's Powerful Return to Rock."
Previously, Love wrote an extensive interview feature with Bob Dylan for the magazine. Turns out, with so many of our rock 'n' roll heroes now past 70 and the non-profit aimed at those 50 and older, AARP reaches those long thought of as "the kids." They're still alright. We won't dwell on it.
Calling Bruce's 20th "a high-octane ride through love, loss and the richness of a long life," Love steers clear of politics and gets Bruce talking about the album, beginning with its very title.
"Is it a letter to your younger self?" I ask. "Is it to your children? Your wife? Your fans? To me?"
Springsteen chuckles at the question: "It's to you! It's a letter to you! Whoever is listening. And, yeah, it is a summing up of what I've tried to do over the course of my 45, 50 years now, working."
They discuss Bruce's return to the rock vein and the inspiration behind his songwriting, particularly how the death of Castiles singer George Theiss sparked much of the new writing;
we get more background on several of the new songs, Bruce even recalling one that went unfinished, called "Death Is Not the End."
A Q&A section further expands the range of topics (including an update on his mother living with Alzheimer's). Supplementary features from the AARP archives include:
- September 25, 2020 - photographs by Danny Clinch
TOGETHER, LIKE SPIRITS IN THE NIGHT Second Letter to You single, video — "Ghosts" is streaming now A new Letter to You single arrived this morning: following the title track from two weeks ago, "Ghosts" is the second song from Bruce Springsteen’s October 23 album, and it’s a pulse-quickener. Try listening without imagining what it would will sound like in concert, surrounded by 20,000 of your closest friends.
The song serves twin moments: remembrances of things past and the promise of life… right now. Springsteen takes it a step further. In a press release, he characterizes the song as being "about the beauty and joy of being in a band, and the pain of losing one another to illness and time."
"'Ghosts' tries to speak to the spirit of the music itself, something none of us owns but can only discover and share together," he says. "In the E Street Band, it resides in our collective soul, powered by the heart."
You can listen now to "Ghosts" on many digital music services, and watch a slightly shorter lyric video for the song here:
Thom Zimny directed the clip, which as the press release notes, "includes clips of the E Street Band tracking Letter to You in-studio, interspersed with archival snapshots of Springsteen's earliest years as a musician in local bands like The Castiles" plus "career-spanning concert footage." It’s also our first glimpse of Jake Clemons in the Letter to You sessions, his saxophone the cherry on top of the return of this classic E Street sound. - September 25, 2020
GOOD COMPANIONS FOR SPRINGSTEEN'S BIRTHDAY
E Streeters and many more to wish Bruce a happy 71
If you caught the Spring-Nuts' "Land of Hope and Dreams" video above — a rousing collaboration with musicians and fans (and Telegraph Hill Records) perfoming a quarantine group rendition of Springsteen's inspiring modern classic — you might have thought that was plenty to celebrate Bruce's 71st.
But no... to really get NUTS, you've gotta put together a video birthday card to the man that lasts well over half an hour.
If you've got the time tonight, grab a bottle of tequila (Patrón preferred), kick back, and fire it up to celebrate:
We're honored to join so many Springsteen fans, fellow artists, compadres, and compatriots for these big Boss birthday greetings, sending wishes his way today to try and close that "distance" everybody's talking about. In order of appearance:
Howie and Julie Chaz (founders of Spring-Nuts)
Jack Roig (founder of The Stone Pony)
Eileen Chapman (director, Bruce Springsteen Archives)
Billy Hector (Fairlanes)
Sarfraz Manzoor (author of Greetings From Bury Park)
Gurinder Chadha (director / producer, Blinded By the Light)
Chris Philips (Backstreets)
Brian Fallon (The Gaslight Anthem)
Matt and Eryn O'Ree
Lee Mrowicki (DJ, The Stone Pony)
Tom Cunningham (radio DJ, Springsteen on Sunday / 107.1 The Boss)
Rich Russo (Little Steven's Underground Garage)
Jeff Kazee (performs "Hearts of Stone")
Bobby Mahoney (performing "Born to Run")
Joe D'Urso (performing "Used Cars")
Eddie Testa (performing "Having a Party")
Debbie Delisa and Friends (The Wonder Bar)
La Bamba (performing "Happy Birthday")
Gary U.S. Bonds (performing "This Little Girl")
Jesse Malin (performing "Hungry Heart")
Willie Nile (performing "Wild One")
Vini "Maddog" Lopez / Dawn Bearce
Nils Lofgren (singing "Happy Birthday")
Southside Johnny Lyon
Little Steven, Maureen, and Edie Van Zandt
Danny Clinch / Rachel Dobken (performing "Atlantic City")
LAID DOWN YOUR MONEY? NOW, PLAY YOUR PART Listening to 1980's "First Time" with "Hungry Heart" Most recording artists remember hearing themselves on the radio for the first time. Bruce Springsteen reprised a different tale about "Hungry Heart," the first single from The River in 1980: the first time an audience sang it for him.
That role reversal was a lead element in the Rolling Stone serial The First Time, where pop culture figures recount significant events. Springsteen initially recalled the River-era first to Jimmy Fallon in a 2012 Tonight Show appearance; with RS he also talks about first hearing the Beatles, Elvis, and Dylan; and later, buying punk and Hank Williams records.
"Hungry Heart" wasn't even out when Springsteen hit the road in 1980, and neither was The River. Though the single became something of a signature moment in his performances, it wasn't by design, at least when the tour began: Springsteen played it for the first time in St. Louis, eleven dates in, then not again for another four before it came back for good.
Though a “Hungry Heart” single was in the works, it didn’t show up on stage until the tour’s eleventh concert on October 18, 1980, in St. Louis, MO. Above, a clip of that debut live performance.
Hearing embryonic versions now, one gets the sense that something was up: after each cheerful, familiar start, the band would come way down, then Springsteen would try different introductions, from a meditation on inner conflict ("this is… 'Sometimes I think I do, but then again, I think I don't'"), to a sketch ofa barroom scene, where the song becomes a patron's tale of woe.
With "Hungry Heart" making its way toward Number Five, it would become an every-nighter on world tours behind The River and Born in the U.S.A. In this clip, recorded at the Los Angeles Sports Arena on November 1, 1980, he imagines a barroom conversation as the song begins.
Whether prompted by something akin to a cue — one can easily imagine Springsteen gesturing in time with Max Weinberg's snare shot — the moment had arrived in late November, when an audience would fill that space and lay claim to what was theirs anyway. That's what happens when a song makes it into the top ten — or is on its way (see "Born in the U.S.A.," 1984).
In this clip, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform "Hungry Heart" at the Rosemont Horizon on November 20, 1980. Springsteen recounts this moment as a "First Time" — hearing his audience take over the song's opening verse.
"The entire audience sang it back, and it ended up being an incredible show," says Springsteen now. "And from that point on — this is way pre-internet — people sang it every single night. That was exciting. It was very exciting."
If he had been cautious in 1980 about the prospect of a hit single — he was surely aware of the push to Top 40 radio — he gladly stood aside that night in Rosemont, a Chicago suburb. Which musician worth their salt wouldn't want to hear fans packed in an arena sing their song? (also see "Born in the U.S.A.," 1984).
By design or accident (or simply the natural course "Hungry Heart" would take), the venue that night, the Rosemont Horizon, played its part: it had notoriously lousy acoustics. Now Allstate Arena, it was, Springsteen says, "one of the most awful-sounding places I've ever been in."
Somehow, it had the missing ingredient, and with it, "Hungry Heart" had reached the tipping point. Those echoey acoustics could have created just the right feedback loop, in which Springsteen encouraged a crowd that could really hear themselves — or maybe they did sing at a higher volume in Chicago. A 1984 recordingfrom the same venue captured what sounded like a roar as fans sang their part on "Thunder Road," which had long hinted at the role "Hungry Heart" took on.
Though audiences had sung a couplet's worth of "Thunder Road" for years, this recording from July 17, 1984, reveals both the limits of the Rosemont Horizon's acoustics and the power of fans' voices.
Why didn't this "First Time" moment happen earlier? We'll never know. A recording from the week before in Baton Rouge reveals its audience was so close, as was Houston's on the first night. The second night, Springsteen played it straight, coming in on the first verse exactly as he does on the record. Then it was on to Chicago, where the arithmetic would change for good on November 20. By the next show, in Largo, Maryland, the new first verse of "Hungry Heart" sounded like what it was and would be forever more: a part of the show. - September 22, 2020 - Jonathan Pont reporting
FIRST TIME HE CROSSED HIS HEART... THAT'S ELSEWHERE
Watch Springsteen share some musical memories with RS
In Jon Blistein's latest installment of their The First Time series, Rolling Stone has Bruce Springsteen recalling numerous firsts: when a song first changed his life; when his audience first sang "Hungry Heart" back to him; when he first heard punk rock,
Hank Williams, and Bob Dylan; his first time playing in a band — and it's not the Castiles. Watch below to hear more about The Merchants, and more.
- September 21, 2020
A POSTCARD ON SUNDAY As we await his full Letter, Springsteen in lockdown still feels "as vital as I've ever felt in my life" in RS cover feature Like many of us, Bruce Springsteen is stuck at home because of the pandemic. But with Letter to You arriving on October 23 — and a raft of projects perhaps not far behind — he's making the most of his time: probably the least surprising thing about today's Brian Hiatt feature in Rolling Stone, a cover story, is that Springsteen has a third album "in the can." A putative follow-up to last year's Western Stars and Letter to You is just one mystery the article touches on. (Springsteen "declined to elaborate" on that unnamed project.)
Other topics of Hiatt's feature — for which the Shore native drove to Springsteen's New Jersey farm for a day of conversation, music, and film — are equally familiar, be it the Castiles, or Clarence Clemons, or when he foresees a return to normalcy.
For Springsteen, that means playing live with the E Street Band. A tour, he told Hiatt, was due to start in the spring of 2021. Now, Springsteen says, it's looking more like 2022. "I'm going to consider myself lucky if I lose just a year of touring life," he says.
Particularly because I feel the band is capable of playing at the very, very, very top, or better than, of its game right now. And I feel as vital as I've ever felt in my life.… It's not being able to do something that is a fundamental life force, something I've lived for since I was 16 years old.
Nothing can stand in for the live experience, not even jamming remotely with Dropkick Murphys. "It's always fun," Springsteen says. "But it was very strange to put yourself in a room with a band and then stop. So it's not something I'd want to make a career out of."
He's engaging his creativity in other ways: Hiatt's piece echoed Patti Scialfa, who recently described the home studio she shares with Springsteen as a hive of activity (Hiatt doesn't share the unfamiliar title spied atop the top sheet on a music stand). New projects jockey alongside older ones: there's the long-rumored follow-up to Tracks, a supposed collection of both various "lost albums" and individual songs.
Springsteen elaborates on the speed with which Letter to You took shape. One catalyst: skipping the demo-making process. That suggestion came from Roy Bittan and hearkened back to the days when Springsteen would teach the band new compositions by simply playing them on guitar. This time, to remind himself of what he'd written, Springsteen recorded on his iPhone as he went along, going room-to-room in his house to do so.
After the title track dropped in mid-September, a few more of the LP's details have emerged, whether the lyrics for "Rainmaker" — which Springsteen reveals he wrote some years ago, bringing instant recalibration to arguments that it was "about" Donald Trump — or "House of a Thousand Guitars," which imagines a rock 'n' roll "heaven on Earth."
That stage seems to grow more crowded, which Letter to You doesn't avoid. Springsteen, the last surviving member of his first band, The Castiles, channels that awareness in "Last Man Standing," telling how "You count the names of the missing as you count off time"; he reckons further with mortality in "Ghosts," which Hiatt quotes:
I turn up the volume and let the spirits be my guide
Meet you, brother and sister, on the other side
A key takeaway from Hiatt's cover story is the resuscitation of the E Street Band sound on Letter to You. Springsteen speaks of self-consciously steering away from the classic sonic chemistry of Born to Run: "from that record onward, I didn't have anybody play that fundamental 'E Street' style. I didn't want to repeat myself."
But with Letter to You, Springsteen has allowed himself and the band to steer back. "At one point in the sessions," Hiatt writes, "Springsteen actually told Bittan to play more 'E Street.' 'It makes me chuckle,' says Bittan, "because there were times when he said, 'Don't play it like E Street!'"
Springsteen thinks of it like this: "It's just like, 'Hey, what would be creative? What would be fun for the fans? What would we enjoy doing?' It's sort of your own set of rules be damned."
He answered that in part by recording contemporary versions of three songs from his earliest years on Columbia Records: "Janey Needs a Shooter," "If I Was the Priest," and "Song to Orphans." (In "The New Timer" we detail the history of each.)
Springsteen allays any fears that this kind of retrospection brings with it an air of finality: "I plan to have a long road in front of me.… Some of my recent projects have been kind of summational, but really, for me, it's summational for this stage of my work life. I've got a lot left to do, and I plan to carry on."
Much more — on the new material, the state of the Nation, what he's learned from the Black Lives Matter movement, a Zimny-shot Letter to You film, and more — in Hiatt's "Ghosts, Guitars, and the E Street Shuffle: How Bruce Springsteen confronted death, saw Clarence in his dreams, and knocked out a raw and rocking new album with the world's greatest bar band," with photography by Danny Clinch, from the October 2020 Rolling Stone issue no. 1344. - By the Editors, September 20, 2020
I KNOW SOMEDAY I'LL FIND THE KEY Archive Series Returns to NJ for third summer '84 Meadowlands release Over 15 days in August 1984, while Born in the U.S.A. was riding a seven-week spot at #1, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played ten shows in New Jersey — an unheard-of arena run at the time — that felt like a victory lap even though the tour was only 19 dates in.
Tickets for the Brendan Byrne Arena shows went on sale June 19 and sold out in a day — and this was back when you had to be physically present to buy your tickets. It was only the beginning. The world tour for Born in the U.S.A. would continue for another year.
Even so, the Meadowlands run was so important it's fitting that this is its third release in the Archive Series. The first night, August 5, was released back in 2015; the final one, August 20, a legendary show featuring the return of Little Steven and the Miami Horns and an emotional "Drift Away," was released in 2018. This stand coincides with the moment when Bruce broke out from his core audience to a much bigger place in popular culture. Just after the Jersey run, he appeared on the cover of People magazine, clean-shaven and flashing his new pearly whites. He'd caught the biggest wave of his career.
We've known that the August 6 show was professionally recorded because of three previous official releases: the searing version of "Trapped" (included on the 1985 We Are the World album); and both "Nebraska" and "No Surrender" (on Springsteen's own Live/1975-85, in 1986).
Brendan Byrne Arena August 6, 1984 captures a great example of a summer 1984 show. After a few weeks of set list experimentation, "Born in the U.S.A." became the standard opener. I'm struck by the ambition of the show and how well the band incorporated such diverse new material, including four songs from Nebraska, which was clearly a challenge for an audience ready to rock on a hot August night.
Springsteen was still weeks away from having to distance himself from President Reagan (Bruce responded by aligning himself both on stage and off with food banks for the remainder of the tour). But the show conveys a clear message: that all is not right with America, that to be "Born in the U.S.A." is not a call to thoughtless flag-waving.
The first set digs deep into the dark side, especially when Bruce introduces songs. The set-up for "Nebraska" — remarks which were not included on Live/1975-85 — sounds prescient about our current machine-driven divisions: "They say that all the new technology and everything are supposed to be bringing the world a whole lot closer to you," Springsteen says, "but it seems like there's more people today that feel isolated from their jobs and isolated from their family and community and government, more and more all the time until… you feel a certain sense of powerlessness sometimes… you just explode." The performance is riveting and bleak; the classic version of Jimmy Cliff's "Trapped" follows like an eruption, having lain waiting under the quiet violence of "Nebraska."
The spoken introductions to "My Hometown" are different on the three Brendan Byrne '84 releases, but each involves coming to terms with a home once left behind.
On this night, Bruce recalls learning years later that "the monument" in Freehold, where the Castiles posed for their first promo photos [right], honored the Revolutionary War Battle of Monmouth. His story is as relevant as ever, in our time of national reckoning over public statues.
Bruce speaks of similar memorials he visited on a pre-tour trip: "I went down to Washington, and I saw the Lincoln Memorial, which is really something to see. Not far from that is the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial…. It got important to me as I got older to know a little more about where I was coming from, and where we all are coming from, before I could understand and see where we're going right now…. Because everything that happens here happens in your name, and in my name, and we all kind of share the responsibility and the shame and the glory."
In the second set, the E Street Band just flat-out rocks, and the audience goes crazy. The opening run crackles with definitive versions of "Cadillac Ranch," "Hungry Heart," and "Dancing in the Dark." The band is tight and fast, and Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici weave in and out with just the right flourishes. "Fire" and "Pink Cadillac" sustain the energy and the crowd's interest, even though Bruce hadn't released "Fire" himself (the Pointer Sisters had a big hit with it in 1979, taking it to number two) and "Pink Cadillac" was a B-side. "Bobby Jean" and "Racing in the Street" added a loving, emotional coda to the mostly hijinks-filled second set, with an especially poignant vocal on "Racing."
Springsteen has always chosen covers from deep in rock 'n' roll history that thrilled crowds and fit with his own music — and often emphasized a set of ideas. This is on display in excelsis in this show's finale, which features the Rolling Stones' "Street Fighting Man" (its first appearance in the Archives Series) and the medley of the Isley Brothers' "Twist and Shout" tagged with the Contours' "Do You Love Me." You can hear a guy who schooled himself on AM radio, soaking in early-'60s soul and the British invasion to create a rock 'n' roll version of himself, posing in front of the mirror (in his Castiles days, one wonders if Bruce first heard "Do You Love Me" in garage rock versions by the Dave Clark Five or The Kingsmen).
"Street Fighting Man," a set regular on the '84 tour, goes a little darker, calling up the memory of the uprisings of 1968 in the U.S. and Europe. The big driving chords are a great fit for the E Street Band (Patti Scialfa really shines here, too). But in an interview for Musician in 1984 conducted just before these Jersey shows, Chet Flippo asked Springsteen if covering the song was a political statement, and Bruce was cautious.
"I don't know," Bruce told Flippo, "I like that one line in the song, 'What can a poor boy do but play for a rock and roll band?' It's one of the greatest rock and roll lines of all time. It just seemed right for me to do it. It's just fun. In that spot of the night it just fits in there. It's just so driving, man. After 'Born to Run,' we got to go up. That's the trick. 'Cause it's hard to find songs for our encore. You gotta go up and then you gotta go up again. It has tremendous chord changes, that song."
In a presidential election year, right on the verge of taking a more active political stance himself, you can hear Springsteen grapple with the question posed by the song. He ends the show with a cry of "Let freedom ring," which too often got heard as an uncomplicated celebration.
Fast forward 36 years to another presidential election year, another summer of "marching, charging feet" and "palace revolution." And wouldn't you know it: the poor boy's still singing in a rock 'n' roll band.
RECAP: VOLUME 12, "SUMMER'S END" Come lay down in the cool grass with me, let’s watch that summer fade With an episode called "Summer's End" — not only a general evocation of loss but a shared title with John Prine’s de facto farewell — it felt fair to brace for a wrist-slitter in Volume 12 of From My Home to Yours. In the same way that In the Wee Small Hours and Sings for Only the Lonely ought to come with a warning sticker. And as Bruce cued up the Beach Boys' "Caroline No" to start, that mood felt right on track:
Break my heart I want to go and cry It's so sad to watch a sweet thing die
But the silver lining around a melancholy cloud comes from the fact that Springsteen loves this time of year. A goodbye to summer aches a little less when it's a hello to "locals' summer":
E Street Nation, fans, friends, back-to-schoolers, and listeners from coast to coast: welcome to our end-of-summer spectacular!
It is always a bittersweet time of year, but it is my favorite season: September and October, locals' summer. Our Shore summer guests have headed home, and the beaches, boardwalks, and sea are ours. A blissful six weeks of summer weather. Dry air, west winds, good waves, and warm fires await.
In Sinatra terms, Volume 12 was more "Summer Wind" (today's closing track) than "Angel Eyes" — wistful, no doubt, but also shot through with warm nostalgia, as Bruce maintains his belief that this season holds "perfect days." And the whole thing flew by like painted kites — the shortest episode so far, at just over an hour. Fleeting, like the summer, but laced with "wild, feral magic" from down the Shore.
This was a tight, strictly thematic set, with no room for FMHTY mainstays like Bob Dylan or even his own music (sorry, "Girls in Their Summer Clothes"; sorry, anyone who hoped for another Letter to You sneak peek). Springsteen dealt squarely with this time of the season, and he put a finer point on the feeling with an excerpt from Stanley Kunitz's "End of Summer":
The end of summer stirs so many conflicting feelings. It's the season whose end is most pronounced. It is truly the end of something wonderful and the beginning of something new. Fall, with its fair days, dry winds, and unknown-ness.
Blue poured into summer blue, A hawk broke from his cloudless tower, The roof of the silo blazed, and I knew That part of my life was over.
Springsteen spun "one of my favorite Doors songs," some "raw, sexy, late-summer doo-wop" from the Chantels, and "The Green Fields of Summer" by favorite Beantown guest Peter Wolf, sung with Neko Case: "I don't know if you've gotten any of Pete's post-J.Geils records, but they are uniformly brilliant, and I'd hustle to add them to my record collection."
"Summer's Kiss" may be a deep cut for many, but for those of us who revere Greg Dulli and the Afghan Whigs, the appearance here of the Black Love climax on Bruce's playlist was a gratifying, fist-pumping coup de grace. It's such a perfect choice for a "Summer's End" playlist… but who knew the Boss would think so, too? Dulli's a Springsteen fan; is it reciprocal? Here it was: "I love the Afghan Whigs," Bruce said. And the selection was even cooler with this introduction connecting three works across centuries:
Shakespeare. Othello's last words to Desdemona:
I kissed thee ere I killed thee. No way but this, Killing myself, to die upon a kiss.
I think I stole that for "Born to Run."
As Dulli sings "Come lay down in the cool grass with me, baby let's watch that summer fade," Vol. 12 is not only a seasonal, chronological follow-up to Vol 8: "Summertime Summertime," but a perfect sequel (the three episodes between notwithstanding) in songs and stories. Springsteen connects songs across the two episodes, answering Vol. 8's answer record with yet another one, to describe what it's like after a day at Manasquan:
Man, all I remember was coming home from the beach to my folks' with sand everywhere. Sand in my pants, sand all over the car, sand in all your toys, sand in your ears, sand in your hair! This is the Drifters with "I've Got Sand in My Shoes," which was an answer record by the way, to "Under the Boardwalk," which was an answer record to "Up on the Roof" — a perfect summer triplicate.
Dwelling on this time of year — his birthday season, it's worth remembering — Springsteen revisits the "lasting love affair with the desert" he described in Born to Run and Springsteen on Broadway:
In 1990, just after my 40th birthday, at the end of summer, my friends and I would motorcycle across the Mojave. I always found something endlessly reassuring and comforting in all the nothingness of the desert. My mind at ease, we'd ride for days on state roads, with nothing but Four Corner desert towns at 100-mile intervals to break our hejira — our travels.
With eternity laid out before you, you ride under a sun so blistering you had to cover every inch of exposed skin. With long-sleeve blue-jean shirts, full jeans, gloves, wet bandanas covering our faces, we'd ride til dark and then bunk in roadside motels. Sitting outside of our rooms, nursing beers, rehashing the day's ride, listening to some music. Just there, in the company of smoldering heat and a few other travelers, with their own reasons for being on these deserted back roads.
The next morning, you'd watch Air Force jets heading for desert test ranges, leaving six-string vapor trails across the September Mojave sky. We'd bungee our backpacks to our bikes, soak our bandanas in the sink, tie one around your neck, the other around your nose and mouth, fire up some thunder, and ready to go ride straight into the featureless sky.
Iain Archer's "Summer Jets" is a stirring, propulsive soundtrack for the moment, the singer-songwriter (Snow Patrol, Tired Pony) "gazing skyward" at those jet trails. Beck, too, in Sea Change mode, provides more aural ache in the form of an instrumental and a track from Morning Phase as Bruce keeps building a mosaic of memories from the same time, other years.
The end of summer always felt like a small death. Back to school, locked behind a desk, as the streets were still warm and basking in the freedom of the September summer sun. But come Labor Day, it was as if folks just flipped a switch and seemed determined to deny the late-summer paradise of empty beaches and perfect days, thriving at their most beautifully seductive outside the windows of their offices, factories, and schools. That was something I was never able to do.
And these were the days when that loss ached at me: unfinished summer business, lost love affairs, unrequited summer crushes, girls still waiting on quiet corners for summer boyfriends. All this hovered over me like the pungent scent of suntan oil on the tanned, unfamiliar skin of all of those out-of-state girls — who've now returned to school, and Mom and Pop, and chilly days and nights, and who have put you away with all the other townies, in a box labeled, SUMMER.
Death becomes literal as Springsteen does indeed fire up the John Prine song that gives this episode its title, in honor of the towering singer-songwriter "who we tragically lost to COVID.… his beautiful 'Summer's End.'" In one of Prine's last recordings, from 2018's The Tree of Forgiveness, he sings:
Summer's end's around the bend just flying The swimming suits are on the line just drying…
Just like that ol' house we thought was haunted Summer's end came faster than we wanted
Bruce calls Prine a "national treasure"; he calls Van Morrison "The Maestro." But it's Brian Wilson who's really the patron saint of this episode. From the Pet Sounds opener to a doubleshot of "Think About the Days" into "Summer's Gone" (with "Summer Turns to High," R.E.M.'s "beautiful tribute" to Wilson, in between), Bruce asks, "What would summer be without Brian Wilson?"
Beach Boys or no, summer wouldn't be endless. Even Bruce's childhood memories preserve that sense of "part of my life is over" transition, from summer to fall, from outgrown bathing suits to glimpses ("don't look!") of the adult world.
By four on the beach, the weekend after Labor Day, there is a thin, drifting coolness in the air. The sun will soon be marking its late-summer season descent over the peaked beach cottages at Manasquan. My sister Ginny and I are wrapped, fully burka-like, in beach towels, changing from our bathing suits into our pajamas for one last feature at the drive-in before the beginning of school and the end of all that is good. My mother is nearby, standing guard as we reach out and hand her sand-filled swimsuits that, as we are growing now, we may never see again.
We grab hot dogs and ice cream for dinner at Carlson's Corner. We watch burly men pull in striped bass and fluke off the Manasquan jetty. And we chase each other around the pavilion where today the ghost of my beautiful grandmother sits, enjoying the late-summer ocean breeze. And then, we're all packed in the car heading off to the Shore drive-in.
By dusk, Ginny and I are 'neath the arc of the huge screen and the playground below with a dozen or more other kids, holding on to the roundabout until we come uncorked, spinning off in a dizzy trance.
Then dusk, and here come the cartoons — classic Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny — and it's a run back to the car as we hear my dad leaning on the car horn, egging on the main feature. The screen clock starts ticking down, ten minutes for snacks and bathrooms before the show starts, and it's on.
Tonight, we'll see just one film — something my parents wanted to see called Blonde in a White Convertible — that has my mother telling us, "Don't look! Don't look!" for certain adult scenes. And then it's an early ride home.
About halfway back, on a pitch-black Route 33 — slightly past the recently defunct Cowboy City theme park, where at one time you could see a cheeseball shoot-out on Main Street, any weekend afternoon — a young buck comes bolting out of the wooded Earle Naval Ammunition depot on the right side of the highway and leaps over the hood of the car, its body filling the entire windshield, its left eye shining with blood, animal spirits, and fear. And we are only measurable inches away from eternity. Before he miraculously disappears into the woods, a late-summer spirit on the far side of the highway.
The car is in an uproar. We have crossed paths with wild, feral magic.
Summer is over.
Springsteen returned to the present to wrap with a sayonara to this particular summer of discontent, 2020: "And what a summer it's been. I hope you took your summer pleasures where you could find them, and we'll look forward to a better 2021.… treat yourself to one more late-summer swim, another grilled hamburger and french fries, and if the ice cream man is still running through your neighborhood, pick one up for me: soft vanilla dipped in chocolate, please. As for me, I'm going for an ocean swim right now.
"So until we meet again, stay strong, stay smart, stay healthy, stay safe, stay summer… and I'll see you on the beach."
The Beach Boys - "Caroline No"
The Doors - "Summer's Almost Gone"
The Chantels - "Summer's Love"
[Poetry reading] Stanley Kunitz's "End of Summer" (excerpt)
Peter Wolf with Neko Case - "The Green Fields of Summer"
Afghan Whigs - "Summer's Kiss"
The Motels - "Suddenly Last Summer"
The Drifters - "I've Got Sand in My Shoes"
Instrumental interlude: Beck - "Phase"
Iain Archer - "Summer Jets"
R.E.M. - "Summer Turns to High"
Instrumental interlude: Beck - "Cycle"
Beck - "Morning"
John Prine - "Summer's End"
Instrumental interlude: Michael Andrews - "A Long Summer Since Passed"
Van Morrison - "These Are the Days"
The Beach Boys - "Think About the Days"
The Beach Boys - "Summer's Gone"
Instrumental interlude: San Holo - "One Thing"
Instrumental interlude: Lupe Fiasco - "Summer"
Frank Sinatra - "Summer Wind"
- September 16, 2020 - Christopher Phillips reporting
NEED NOT BE PRESENT TO WIN
Whether you'll be in the crowd or not, we're taking questions and requests for Max. Get 'em out by Friday!
If you missed the opportunity to put a question to Max Weinberg for Season 1 of Mighty Max's Monday Memories, here's a second chance.
With two socially distanced shows coming up for Max Weinberg's Jukebox, he's taking requests and questions in advance via askmax(at)backstreets.com — and you don't have to be
attending the shows in Oceanport, NJ, to play along at home.
The Mighty One tells us he'll be taking a good amount of questions and requests from people who aren't attending the concerts, with streaming plans just a little bit down the road.
So if you've got any song requests for Max Weinberg's Jukebox, from the scroll below...
...or questions for the Mighty One himself,
please send them along with your name and hometown to askmax(at)backstreets.com. Emailing by this Friday will assure we're able to pass along all questions and requests.
Also, congralautions to Max's daughter Ali Rogin on the publication of her book, Beat Breast Cancer Like a Boss; she and Max appeared together this afternoon in a virtual launch party and book discussion on Facebook Live, which is now archived so you can watch it here. - September 15, 2020 - still of Max Weinberg captured from the "Letter to You" video, directed by Thom Zimny with photography by Rob DeMartin
EVERYBODY RISE UP
By request! In addition to our "Rise Up" crew-neck tee, we'll also be printing a "Rise Up" Women's V-neck tee, on the same soft, lightweight tri-blend fabric. Each of these shirts will be printed in a limited run, based on the number of pre-orders we receive — we'll finalize things this week, in order to print and ship by early October.... so pre-order now to guarantee availability of your size:
We'll be donating a portion of the proceeds of the sale of each shirt to HeadCount, a non-partisan organization that uses the power of music to register voters and promote participation in democracy. Learn more about the 501(c)(3) at headcount.org.
WELCOME TO BOSSTON COLLEGE BC parent/alum Chris Eidt watches Bruce address the "coronial generation"
Our first-born was nearly four months old the first time my wife and I both together left him for more than two hours. His grandmother came down from New Hampshire, and we took a ten-hour escape to Albany — where we saw our first live show from the Rising tour. That four-month-old is now a freshman at Boston College. After years of indoctrination to Bruce Springsteen's music and a few concerts of his own, it feels fitting that his first extended time away from his parents, his time of growin' up, is in part connected to Bruce.
Last night, two weeks after campus move-in, the university held their First Year Academic Convocation, the official welcome to the newest students. This day for the Boston College community included a noontime Mass of the Holy Spirit, a 470-year tradition among Jesuit academic institutions in which the community gathers to thank God for the gifts of creation and salvation and to seek the guidance and wisdom of the Holy Spirit in the coming year. President Fr. William Leahy S.J., is his homily, talked about the call we are given to "bear lasting fruit to the world" and how being "committed to growing in community meant to not only welcome and value those in our midst but to hold obligation to object to those around us that harm and wound." Engaging in our community and world in this way would come up again on this day.
In the evening, with torches aglow, these young students would normally take their "First Flight" procession through campus that both previews the walk they will take on graduation day and sets the mind to the journey they are beginning, charged to set the world on fire. The destination is the arena — where Eagles play the games — for a keynote address from an author with messages on engaging with the world, developing a habit of discernment, and forming an identity. For otherwise it is as true today as it was in 1985 that "blind faith in your leaders, or anything, will get you killed." And indeed, Bruce Springsteen would be delivering this year's Convocation Address.
This being 2020 and still in the middle of a pandemic, the social engagement side of this event was virtual. First Flight was grounded, and the much-anticipated meeting with the Boss was moved to residence halls to be watched on iPads, computer screens, and TVs. Even the gift of live streaming this event globally seemed to take a little shine off of something uniquely for the BC class of '24. Maybe this is the first lesson in sharing and engagement.
Bruce's gift of communication is not in music alone. While Springsteen on Broadway brought a different level of attention to his storytelling, his skill for delivering a message via spoken word may still be underrated. The lectern is nothing but a different kind of stage, and his ability to paint with words is moving. I am drawn in by the eulogies written to Danny and Clarence, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction of U2, or the 2012 SXSW keynote. And last night, his address to my son and his peers.
Framed by his studio, the tease of guitars and a mixing board in the background, Bruce first noted their common ground, stating, "like you, I am a high school graduate." He shared a regret about not going to college and having to make up his education on his own, imploring the students to make the most of this time in their lives.
"The life of the mind is paramount. The life of the mind is a beautiful thing — along with spiritual life it is the apotheosis of human experience. Take pleasure in your body and your physical life in your youth. Don't waste it, because the aches and pains are coming. But in this place you will not neglect the life of your mind."
He turned part-parent, part-coach, and did the Jesuits proud in teeing up taking advantage of the privilege at hand. "What you are about to embark upon is the greatest adventure of your young life," Springsteen continued. "You can waste it, half-ass your way through it, or you can absorb every minute of what you are experiencing and come out on the other end an individual of expanded vision, of intellectual vigor, of spiritual character and grace fully prepared to meet he world on its own terms."
The second half of the prepared remarks aligned to the Born to Run study guide prepared for the incoming freshman class. Noting that we will soon be looking to them, the "coronial generation," for answers to a better, safer world, Bruce shared his ideas on where to start. He took a walk though finding satisfying work, to immerse yourself into relationships ("to love and let yourself be loved"), to learn to be an informed and engaged citizen, and to heal thyself by "loving your neighbor, your friends, your family, your partner, and yourself."
The conversation on citizenship was more off-study-guide, but it brought the Jesuit ideal of being a man or woman for others to into focus. "Your country needs you: your vision, your energy, your love. Yes, love your country, but never fail to be critical when it comes to your country living up to your and its ideals."
The surprisingly short address clocked in about a minute less than it takes to listen to "Jungleland." More Boss Time followed, though, with a 20-minute, prepared Q&A session of ten questions posed by BC students.
The questions covered topics from the book including passages on the loss of innocence, the legacy of "American Skin (41 Shots)," and finding and holding onto the magic of "1 +1 = 3." Bruce was asked about facing pressure to conform, maintaining confidence ("even today I am a mess of insecurities"), taking risks in music ("I had no other skills and nothing to lose") and the role of faith in musical inspiration ("I consider myself a spiritual songwriter — I write for the soul"), and what he was most proud of ("my relationship with my wife"). The obviously overlooked — or moderated out — question was, will you pick a guitar and play us a song?
There was no-cross promotion this night. It was about and for the students. Yet on the day a Letter to You was announced, it was clear that this time with them was his letter to these students. I think about how many parents in the recent graduation-and-leaving-home cycle wrote their version of this letter (mine was fittingly in the form of a "To Do List") to their son or daughter where we summoned up all our hearts found true in our desire to see them achieve their hopes and dreams.
Last night wasn't just a presentation, it was an intimate exhortation from Bruce to engage and commit that echoes the love we have for our children. Our children, not being treated as children, need to hear that from people other than their parents. Bruce delivered, giving a message of work, commitment, and love to the many but it was received directly and personally. To my son and fellow, much younger, Eagles: Go set the world on fire.
In the archived video below, Springsteen's portion of the 2020 First Year Academic Convocation begins at the 25:50 mark
- September 11, 2020 - Chris Eidt reporting
THE NEW TIMER
Three old songs are new again on Letter to You Letter to You, Bruce Springsteen's twentieth studio album, arrives as some of its predecessors have: revisiting songs he'd previously recorded, performed, or given away to fellow musicians. Though all spring from new E Street Band sessions, at least three of the album's 12 tracks have a backstory, dating to Bruce's earliest years as a young artist just signing to Columbia Records in the early 1970s.
From "Sherry Darling" and "Independence Day" to "Because the Night," "This Hard Land," and "Long Time Comin'," many Springsteen songs had lives before finding space on a studio recording and emerging in a traditional sense. "Land of Hope and Dreams" and "American Skin (41 Shots)" served as hallmarks of the 1999/2000 Reunion Tour before getting cut in the studio for Wrecking Ball (2012) and High Hopes (2014).
In 1995, when Springsteen reassembled the E Street Band in the studio for Greatest Hits, he came not only with material written for the occasion, but also with several tunes he'd had in his back pocket: "This Hard Land" had been kicking around for more than a decade. The final sequence of Letter to You suggests a similar framework.
In both thought and expression, Letter to You happened very quickly. Springsteen told Martin Scorsese at a May 2019 Netflix event in Los Angeles that he'd been inspired over the course of a couple weeks, by the end of which he'd written "almost an album's worth of material for the [E Street] Band." As he did in the 1995 sessions, Springsteen also revisited older songs when the band convened late last year, this time from further back than ever.
We don't yet know how closely any of the three — "Janey Needs a Shooter," "If I Was the Priest," and "Song For Orphans" — might resemble previously known arrangements. To prepare for their modern E Street renditions, it's worth (re)acquainting ourselves with what has come before.
JANEY NEEDS A SHOOTER It was a contender, alright: Springsteen considered "Janey Needs a Shooter" to some degree for each record from Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. through The River. That ubiquity, across eras and arrangements, makes it something of a wild card here. One early '70s take features Springsteen on piano (and was actually cut to acetate at the time, suggesting more serious interest).
A later one, probably from the spring of 1979, finds Springsteen working out the words over an acoustic guitar.
A rocking E Street Band rehearsal intrigues the most, likely recorded in Springsteen's own living room in May of that same year. Its crude sound, captured on a boom box (or something like it), probably isn't sufficient to simply drop on to a studio LP, but it's a clue nonetheless: it sounds nuanced, its parts both in place and practiced.
That rehearsal take intertwines with Warren Zevon, who recorded and released "Jeannie Needs a Shooter" in 1980. Intrigued by Bruce's title, Zevon borrowed it and went on to write what he called a "cowboy song," using neither the storyline nor the melody contained in Springsteen's original. In fact, Zevon's tale on Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School is closer in spirit to classic Americana, like John Phillips' "Me and My Uncle," which became one of the Grateful Dead's most oft-performed numbers.
From different angles, both songwriters aim squarely at the patriarchy. Zevon's is a classic boy-meets-girl tale, which becomes boy-meets-her-father, who happens to be a law man. Springsteen's composition — initially spelled "Janie" — features a different spin, with heroics predicated not on Janie's Old Man, but instead on a series of interlopers — a doctor, a proctor, a mechanic, and a cop (Janey's job Springsteen leaves to the imagination).
Both in melody and verse, the 1973 piano version sounds like the prequel to "Incident on 57th Street," with Spanish Johnny in an aspirational space, telling stories of the men Janie would "turn down like dope" — seeing himself as a protector ("I'm staying here tonight baby, and I won't let you slide"). Turning over the Wild and Innocent, it's a different story when easy money lures him away. Six years later, the 1979 full-band version combines that 57th Street spirit with that of the future River cut "The Price You Pay."
IF I WAS THE PRIEST
Also known as (the more grammatically correct) "If I Were the Priest"
"If I Was the Priest" was one of 12 songs Bruce Springsteen played for John Hammond during his May 3, 1972 audition in New York City, which landed him on Columbia Records shortly thereafter. Five would appear on Greetings, and a quarter-century later, four of the solo acoustic recordings from this very audition reel ("Mary Queen of Arkansas," "It's Hard to be a Saint in the City, "Growin' Up," and "Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street") would appear on Tracks. While Bruce performed most of these for Hammond on acoustic guitar, he played "Priest" on piano.
Like other compositions Springsteen played that day, such as "Arabian Nights" and "Cowboys of the Sea," "If I Was the Priest" might have gone by the wayside had it not been included in a batch of demos Mike Appel used to shop Springsteen originals to other artists.
These recordings made their way to Intersong Music, a publishing agency in the U.K.; thanks to these "London Publishing Demos," which Bruce recorded in mid-1972, "If I Was the Priest" found a home with Allan Clarke in England. The Hollies singer covered Springsteen's unreleased "If I Was the Priest" for his 1974 self-titled solo album.
Though the swagger at the outset of Springsteen's piano-based demo sounds promising (and prescient of The Rolling Stones' "Loving Cup"), it wasn't a contender for the first LP. There's no mistaking it for more upbeat numbers like "Blinded by the Light" and "Spirit in the Night," which Springsteen wrote at the prompting of label chief Clive Davis, who rejected an initial sequence of Greetings for having "no hits."
A studio version of "If I Was the Priest" was part of a batch of early recordings slated for a gray-market release in the mid-'90s called Prodigal Son; pirate versions of that proposed title emerged, with "Priest" released on Before the Fame. Springsteen appeared in court in the U.K. — in coat and tie, no less — to quash the "official" release and eventually prevailed in retaining his rights.
SONG FOR ORPHANS
Also known over the years as "Song to the Orphans," "Song of the Orphans," et al.
Like "Janey" and "Priest," "Song for Orphans" has a rich history that its obscurity may not suggest. Springsteen performed this one live in 1972 and '73. Tagged back then as a so-called "New Dylan," a 1973 radio performance seems instead to portend something like Neil Young's "Campaigner."
It only took on a Dylanesque feel when Springsteen brought it back in 2005, at the end of the Devils & Dust tour in Trenton, New Jersey (an Archive Series release in 2019). Apparently, Springsteen had heard a bygone version of "Orphans" on Sirius' newly-launched E Street Radio channel, which prompted one of two breakout performances ("I think this is an outtake from Greetings From Asbury Park that's never been released," Springsteen said. "You're not going to know this bastard — then again, some of you just might!")
Widely bootlegged, the song's origins date to 1972, when it was included in the same publishing demos as "If I Was the Priest." Springsteen apparently kept the song in consideration after his first two albums; it appeared on an early song list for Born to Run [pictured above, 1974]. Like "If I Was the Priest," a studio recording of "Song for Orphans" was part of the Prodigal Son material, appearing on The Early Years and other gray-market titles.
How it fits in with contemporary material has us wondering, though the "Song For Orphans" narrative would not feel out of place on Western Stars. Its position in the Letter to You sequence — a denouement, perhaps, before the dream finale — is enticing. Springsteen tends to obsess over the narrative thread an LP weaves from start to finish; penultimate tracks have ranged from "Spirit in the Night" and "Meeting Across the River" to "Dancing in the Dark" to "Hello Sunshine." Stay tuned.
Of course, all this is just history. It remains to be seen how Springsteen has reworked with these slices of juvenilia as he returned to them as a man of 70, rather than an artist in his 20s just starting out — what the modern-day E Street Band brings to them, and how he positions them to tell a new story on Letter to You. - September 9, 2020 - Jonathan Pont, Christopher Phillips, and Erik Flannigan reporting
SPRINGSTEEN DELIVERS: NEW ALBUM IS OFFICIAL!
Recorded with the E Street Band, Letter to You arrives October 23
It's a red-letter day. A Shore Fire Media announcement has confirmed that a new Bruce Springsteen studio album, his 20th, is just around the corner: Letter to You is scheduled for October 23 from Columbia Records, on vinyl and CD.
The announcement comes accompanied by a first listen, via a video for the title track:
Along with the sound of the single, this morning's press release differentiates the forthcoming album immediately from Western Stars, headlining Letter to You as a "rock album featuring the E Street Band" and later describing it as a "rock album fueled by the band's heart-stopping, house-rocking signature sound."
Springsteen co-produced the 12-track Letter to You with Ron Aniello, recording at Springsteen's home studio in New Jersey in late 2019 — meaning pre-quarantine, and the band did indeed record together as a unit, harkening back to sessions for The River and Born in the U.S.A. In fact,
as Bruce tells it, this is the "livest" they've ever been in the studio:
"I love the sound of the E Street Band playing completely live in the studio, in a way we've never done before, and with no overdubs," Springsteen says. "We made the album in only five days, and it turned out to be one of the greatest recording experiences I’ve ever had."
For the five-day session, Springsteen reconvened Roy Bittan, Nils Lofgren, Patti Scialfa, Garry Tallent, Stevie Van Zandt, Max Weinberg, Charlie Giordano and Jake Clemons.
"I love the emotional nature of Letter to You,” says Springsteen. And while we don't know precisely the story it will tell, song titles suggest that the artist is taking stock and looking back over his 50-year career — especially given that three of the songs date back to its beginning. As the press release states, "Letter to You includes nine recently written Springsteen songs, as well as new recordings of three of his legendary, but previously unreleased, compositions from the 1970s, 'Janey Needs a Shooter,' 'If I Was the Priest,' and 'Song for Orphans.'"
1. One Minute You're Here
2. Letter to You
3. Burnin' Train
4. Janey Needs a Shooter
5. Last Man Standing
6. The Power of Prayer
7. House of a Thousand Guitars
9. If I Was the Priest
11. Song for Orphans
12. I’ll See You in My Dreams
Letter to You was mixed by Bob Clearmountain and mastered by Bob Ludwig. The album's cover photo was taken in 2018 by Danny Clinch, at Central Park West and 72nd Street in NYC, near where Springsteen was staying during his Springsteen on Broadway run.
We'll have pre-ordering information available soon for the album; for those who dug such recent Backstreet Records exclusives as the Springsteen on Broadway pin and Western Stars bandana, we're working to nail down another exclusive item for our readers.
Also watch this space for more information on those three songs that date back to the 1970s — though as for precisely how they fit in with the newer tracks on Letter to You, we'll all be waiting until October for that. - September 10, 2020 - photograph by Danny Clinch
One of the hallmarks of any Max Weinberg show — especially Max Weinberg's Jukebox — is his interaction with the crowd, from taking questions to playing song requests. But with new distancing rules in place to keep concertgoers and performers safe, what's a bandleader to do?
"I'm calling it 'Distant Socializing,' as all safety protocols are in place," says Max.
"Widely spaced tables, masks, sanitizing stations, the works. But I will still be taking song requests and questions — the same way we did it for Mighty Max’s Monday Memories."
Below we're posting the song scroll that Max plays at his Jukebox shows for fans in the crowd to pick what they want to hear. This time, fans will help create the setlist in advance.
If you'll be attending the Blu Grotto concerts, take a look at this repertoire of more than 200 classics, and send your request to askmax(at)backstreets.com — we'll pass on all requests to the Mighty One before the shows.
We originally set up that email address for Mighty Max's Monday Memories, the virtual Q&A series Max started in the spring to help keep us all entertained during lockdown, answering questions from Backstreets readers around the globe. If you missed any of its five episodes, we highly recommend you spend some time with MMMM on his YouTube or Instagram accounts.
Though Max wrapped up Season 1 in June, his intention has been to return to the format somehow — and the upcoming concerts will give him another chance to answer more questions. So you can send song requests and/or questionsfor Max to askmax(at)backstreets.com — please include your name and hometown, too, and we'll make sure he receives them! - September 9, 2020
A LUST SO FINE: HAPPY 5th TO JESSE JACKSON'S PODCAST Ask a tramp like us what they miss the most about the lack of concerts this year, and one of the answers you'll most certainly hear is: connection.
The excitement of seeing our favorite band make music on the spot is certainly a main draw, but there's something about being in the presence of thousands of fellow fans united by a common interest that heightens the experience.
Our social networks (the real kind) are filled with people we've met at shows, and every concert is both a family reunion and expansion. In these COVID days, we miss that connection. We have online networks like BTX and Facebook, of course, but text-based messages can't match the fidelity of those in-person relationships.
But there's at least one place where deep fan connections still happen, forged and fostered by podcaster Jesse Jackson. Jesse's podcast Set Lusting Bruce (a play on the obsessive fan's never-ending chase for the elusive rarities) celebrates its fifth anniversary today, continuing a long string of conversations with Springsteen fans sharing their stories, experiences, and why Bruce Springsteen matters to them.
Set Lusting Bruce host Jesse Jackson
Music podcasts are a pretty well-trod genre, and even a search for Springsteen podcasts will turn up more than a handful. Several are worthwhile; SLB has a claim to being the first, and it is unique in Jesse's insistence on keeping the focus on the fan rather than the artist.
The inspiration for SLB came after Jesse, already a veteran pop culture podcaster with series on Doctor Who and Game of Thrones, did a guest-host stint on an a podcast called Eighties Retro Overdrive published by Southgate Media Group, focusing on Bruce Springsteen's albums of the 1980s. After the episode, Jesse mused to SMG co-founder Rob Southgate that he was considering starting a Springsteen-focused podcast inspired by the film Springsteen & I.
The idea of an ongoing podcast series focusing exclusively on fan stories might have sounded dubious to some, but Rob had a firm belief that if you're passionate about something, you should podcast about it. So was born Set Lusting Bruce, and in an era where most podcasts don't last more than ten episodes and a few months, five years and almost 600 episodes later, it's still going strong.
SLB's reach has grown considerably in those five years, but as Jesse notes, listeners aren't the focus of his quest. "I just want to talk to interesting people."
And he certainly does: Jesse's guests span a wide spectrum from well-known superfans like Stan Goldstein and Dan French to fans more notable for their day jobs, like famed comic book writer Ron Marz and The Simpsons showrunner Mike Scully. His latest episode features actress Maureen Van Zandt, who of course has a uniquely up-close-and-personal perspective to share.
But Jesse's favorite guests are often the ones with deeply personal stories of how Bruce's music helped them or their loved ones face life's challenges, like Tom French, whose prematurely born daughter survived with the help of Bruce's music, or J'aimee Brooker, who used Bruce's music to help her disabled son learn to communicate.
Jesse believes every fan has a story, and he's learned over the course of the series how to elicit them, almost always starting conversations by asking about what kind of music filled guests' household while they were growing up, and usually ending by asking "Is there anything I didn't ask you that I should have?" Jesse learned the importance of that last one after he wrapped an episode, thanked his guest, and the guest replied (after the recording had stopped), "sometime I should tell you about how I got drunk with the E Street Band!"
And then there's the "Mary question," sure to elicit thought-provoking responses from Springsteen fans (you'll have to listen to an episode to see why).
In recent months, Set Lusting Bruce has gone further afield with its guests and topics, slowly morphing from a podcast about Springsteen fans to a podcast about music fans, where the host just so happen to be especially into Bruce.
"My bread and butter are talking to Springsteen fans, but I like meeting people who are passionate about a topic," Jesse explains, and since his focus is on the fan, the conversation often follows the guest's passion from Bruce to wherever it may lead. "When you blog or podcast, you publish for an audience of one. I'm having good conversations, and I hope my listeners are enjoying them."
When asked how long he envisions the series running, Jesse replied, "I've thought about that… how much is this is about I want people to hear, and how much is me just enjoying doing it?" Sometimes the effort and energy required gets to him, "but then there's that great conversation where an hour and a half flies by, and it feels like we're just getting started. It's worth it for that. As long as my wife will put up with me, and as long as I'm enjoying it, I don't plan on ending anytime soon."
Jesse admits to finding it more challenging these days to find new people to talk to, however. "I'm petrified that I'm going to reach the point where I don't have anyone scheduled and don't have any episodes in the can, and oh my god, what am I going to put out next week?"
As a former guest myself, I can vouch for the ease, comfort, and natural flow that Jesse ensures each and every guest experiences. He even once accommodated a guest who was self-conscious about her English secondary-language skills by sending her his questions in advance, allowing her to record her answers, and then weaving her responses with his own to produce a remarkably natural sounding conversation.
So if you've got a story to tell and you're missing those rich conversations between passionate Springsteen fans, Jesse's got a slot on his schedule reserved just for you. Reach out to him at setlustingbruce(at)gmail.com. To subscribe, simply go to your favorite podcast player and choose the Subscribe option.
Happy fifth anniversary, SLB, and here's to the next five years!
BOSTON COLLEGE GOES BACK TO SCHOOL WITH THE BOSS
Bruce Springsteen to address First Year BC students this week
Boston College announced in April that the common reading for incoming freshmen of the Class of 2024 is Bruce Springsteen's autobiography, Born to Run. In July the students received a copy of the book, and a detailed reading guideframes how to approach the text both as the story of Springsteen's life as well as inspiration for students "to reflect on their own story."
This is far from the first time that Bruce has made it to a college curriculum. I have been teaching "Springsteen's American Vision" for 15 years, and there are dozens of other courses that focus on various elements of Bruce's work, whether religion, social class, gender, region, or the history of rock 'n' roll.
This is not a college course, however, but a welcoming — an invitation to cultivate, with their new community, habits of intellect and discernment. Students are not required to listen to the music, watch the live performances, read the interviews, or engage the scholarly literature. And truth be told, they likely do not know much of Bruce's work. (At Rutgers, where I teach, students take my course because their parents raised them as fans, and it's New Jersey.)
Boston College, a Jesuit institution, did not choose the book because Springsteen is a world-renowned, iconic musician and public figure (nor because his son Evan graduated from there in 2012). They selected it because his autobiography has already taken its place as a master work of literature that invites reflection on our own journey and how our understanding of it shapes who we are today and how we engage the world.
That last piece is critical to Jesuit education, and it is essential to Bruce's story as the autobiography probes the realms of "work, faith, family" and how Springsteen's adult understanding of his past shapes his present and future.
Born to Run is nothing if not the story of Bruce's growth. It is a work that offers remarkable access to his inner life. Students at Boston College may find the material on religion especially pertinent as Bruce discusses both his estrangement from Catholicism and its lasting hold over him.
He also discusses his bouts with depression and anxiety and admits to seeing a psychiatrist. I hope these passages give struggling students comfort. If Bruce Springsteen still suffers, perhaps they will see their own problems as unexceptional and manageable.
The irony of a community college drop-out composing a lyrical work that is now required reading at college is likely not lost on anyone (including Bruce, one imagines). This is perhaps the greatest gift that reading Born to Run offers: testimony to the power of education.
Bruce hated school and grew up in a house devoid of books, yet he chose to devour literature and film and remade himself into an intellectual. That noun has lost favor, yet it is something of which to be proud, a person who engages ideas and thinks critically.
Bruce name drops Willy Loman and Starbuck in Born to Run, and I hope students at Boston College are encouraged to read Death of a Salesman and Moby-Dick, the works where these characters come to life, and hundreds of other books as well. That is the reason to go to college: not to find a vocation, but to get an education.
The reading guide opens with the question, "Why Read a Book?" In the age of Snapchat and Instagram, an age of dwindling attention spans, reading a book may seem like a staggering task. A book, however, is the best way to get outside oneself, to think about others and in doing so reflect on ourselves.
I only wish, in addition to the reading guide, Boston College provided a listening guide. I hope students take the time to play Springsteen's music. At a minimum, they should blast the track that gives the autobiography its title.
When they do, they will doubtless relate to a protagonist who is trying to cope with the "runaway American dream," just as these students begin their journey and try to figure out their path.
They will also learn that both autobiography and song are about the search for love. That is the eternal message of Springsteen's life and work: "love is wild, love is real."
Having read the book, students at Boston College will receive an additional treat: this Thursday, September 10, Bruce will virtually address the class of 2024 at its First Year Academic Convocation. He no doubt will continue to tell his story and offer words of inspiration for these dark and difficult days. Hopefully, he will also bring his guitar.
Boston College is making a public stream available of Springsteen's address,via bc.edu on September 10 at 7pm.
Backstreets contributor Shawn Poole recently recorded an hour-plus conversation (via Zoom) with New Jersey-based film critic Caroline Madden, centered around her book Springsteen as Soundtrack: The Sound of the Boss in Film and Television. Poole and Madden cover all 13 of the films and television series that each got a chapter's worth of attention in her book — nearly all of which are available for streaming over this long weekend or in the days to come.
Madden discusses each production's effective usage of Springsteen's music, as well as what she learned from her interviews for the book with the great independent filmmaker John Sayles (among the first to receive permission from Springsteen to use his music in a film) and longtime Springsteen manager Jon Landau (who once served as Rolling Stone's Record and Film Editor back in his days as one of pop-culture's most perceptive published critics.)
You've probably seen at least some of these movies and shows before, but it's also likely that you haven't seen them all, and Madden provides some fresh insight for a rewatch. We highly recommend her book — published by McFarland, it's aimed at a textbook market and priced accordingly, but it's certainly not too academic for any fans interested in reading more about the use of Springsteen's music on screen. Click here to score a signed copy from Backstreet Records. - September 6, 2020
LAND OF HOPE AND STREAMS: NEW YORK IS ROCKIN'
Catch Willie Nile's virtual album release show over the long weekend
The pandemic isn't stopping our favorite artists from getting new music out there, and Willie Nile recently put out his 13th studio album, New York at Night. Check out clips for "New York is Rockin'" and "Under This Roof"
for a taste — it's inspiring, invigorating stuff, as we've come to expect.
Promoting new material is trickier these days, with no real chances to gig; but Willie managed to put his full band together last week at NYC's Bowery Electric for a socially distanced concert to celebrate the new album, and you can still watch it online in its entirety for a few more days. This "Run Free" clip is taken from the full streaming concert:
SHOULDER TO SHOULDER AND HEART TO HEART Point Blank at 40 On September 3, 1980 — 40 years ago today — Dan French mailed out the first issue of his fanzine, Point Blank. I have one in front of me as I type. It has been appreciated and cared for: the A4 paper has yellowed ever so slightly over the years; the corners have rounded as readers repeatedly turned the pages; the two staples equally spaced along the left edge leave slight rust stains. Number 1 opens with an ink outline of Springsteen in one of his signature poses, the neck of his guitar coming out of a barely visible left hand, his body skinned with acknowledgements, credits, and production and printing information typed on a typewriter.
I have no idea how Dan pulled this off; the spacing is absolutely perfect. Dan describes Point Blank as "an unofficial and casual fanzine for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. It is non-profit-making, aiming only to promote the improvement of conditions for Springsteen fans, particularly the deprived British variety." Handwritten on the neck of the guitar: "No. 1 in a possible series. . ."
Point Blank would eventually have a run of 12 issues, ending in 1992 with a special double issue dedicated to Springsteen's 1992 tour of the United Kingdom.
Improving conditions for Springsteen fans was something Dan felt a need to do because, as he wrote for a British Museum/BBC post about Point Blank in 1980, Bruce fans "were isolated, with little means of making contact, sharing news, and communicating our shared interest." Music fans didn't have forums or Facebook or Twitter; they had to wait until news trickled out in magazines like Rolling Stone, Melody Maker, or Crawdaddy.
At some point Dan came across Ken Viola and Lou Cohan's bi-coastal U.S. fanzine first published in 1978, Thunder Road, and, later, Gary Desmond's Liverpool-based fanzine, Candy's Room, which also celebrated its 40th anniversary this year. He thought he'd give it a try, as he wrote in a 30th anniversary essay, "as a way to meet other Bruce Springsteen fans, in a world before the internet and email, when the only way to connect with people was to place a small ad in a paper and wait to see what would happen."
It was, as Jeff Matthews, founder of the fanzine Rendezvous, wrote me in an email about the importance of Point Blank,
the age of pen pals, stamp addressed envelopes and 50p fanzines. Cassette tape trading, Bruce quizzes, concert meet ups, next album speculation and rumors — this was great fun and it united fans around the world with one common cause. Forty years ago, as a young Bruce fan, and thanks mainly to the fanzines like Backstreets, Point Blank, and Candy's Room, we clung onto every little bit of Bruce trivia like gold dust. And the friendship and community extended, for me, outside of his music and led me to Dan French in 1981. So thanks to Dan French and Point Blank magazine for many, many years of community and true brotherly friendship.
The desire to build community is one of the motivating factors among the more than a dozen Springsteen fanzine founders and contributors I've spoken to over the years. And Point Blank, just as so much of what Dan has done as a Springsteen fan and for other fans, breathes community. In Number 1 alone, Dan immediately thanks "Thunder Road and Candy's Room for the idea," and the issue contains a page of letters, an article dedicated to Thunder Road, and detailed information on how fans can buy each of them. Reading this in 1980, when you felt like an isolated Springsteen fan, would show you that you're not alone, that there are other tramps out there yearning to connect and celebrate the man whose music has brought meaning to their lives.
Number 1 was composed almost exclusively by Dan. He advertised it in various music magazines with such success that only a few months later 80% of Number 2 was composed by outside contributors. People were hungry and wanted to be involved. Dan quickly sold the initial print run of 200 and had to reprint Number 1 many times. Same with Numbers 2 and 3, and by 1982 Dan had to consider them out of print so he could concentrate on putting together future issues.
Each issue feels more confident, with more diverse voices, exclusive content, coverage of more musicians, sophisticated layouts, and funny cartoons, but each still holds that kitchen-table cut-and-paste DIY Xerox aesthetic that is so endearing of 1980s fanzines. When you hold it in your hands, you are holding fandom in its purest form. It led Dan from the hours composing, crafting, and organizing pages to the concerts themselves. For Dan, writing in The Fever fanzine in 1983, "It was most encouraging to stand outside the concert halls during Bruce's tour holding the magazine and to be approached by readers and correspondents I'd never met before, and even stay with them for the provincial shows."
Point Blank, like so many fanzines before and after, was a "social media" that led not to clicks and likes, but to human connection. And eventually to meeting Bruce and handing him a copy of Point Blank.
In 2010, Dan created a free online archive of Wild and Innocent Productions materials: scanned PDFs of all 12 Point Blank issues; a five-issue publication, Songs to Orphans, which provided lyrics to many of Springsteen's unreleased songs; links to collaborations with other fanzine creators; and many work-product documents. We encourage you to look at each of the issues and artifacts, as there are some real gems, such as:
A photo gallery with behind-the-scenes photos of Bruce and many of the band members, including this photo of Bruce holding a copy of Point Blank at the Newcastle airport, in May 1981.
And my favorite issue of Point Blank, Number 5 (1982), which contains a revealing early interview of Bruce after his April 26, 1981, show at Forest National in Brussels by Marc Didden and translated by Ria Aeschlimann. For me, this is fanzines at their best: there's no way I would have ever found this interview, and if I did it probably would have been in the original language.
In the interview Bruce gives glimpses of his love of music that comes through so well in his current From My Home to Yours series. When asked about covering Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land," Bruce's response shows his emerging confidence in being overtly political from the stage, his indignation about the state of the country, and how he sees his lineage as a political artist: "I sing that song to let people know that America belongs to everybody who lives there: the Blacks, Chicanos, Indians, Chinese and the whites, no matter what the Ku Klux Klan may think about that. You know what gave me such a thrill tonight? That the whole audience went 'booo. . .' when I said the words, 'Ku Klux Klan.' I never got that reaction before. That strengthens my conviction to strike out against those kinds of people. . . . It's time someone took on the reality of the '80s. I'll do my best."
Point Blank emerged with The River, when Bruce was just beginning to gain world-wide fame and confidence in his political voice, published through the behemoth that was Born in the U.S.A and the shock of Bruce breaking up the E Street Band, and came to a close when Bruce was grappling how that fame affected his life and, as we would later learn, his mental health. In other words, Point Blank was there for some of Springsteen's most complex and challenging years, with Dan documenting, recording, and sharing.
Through it all, Dan ensured that Point Blank stayed true to its original goals: build community, celebrate music, and have fun while doing it. And, yet, perhaps even more significant is the legacy of generosity, humility, and caring for all fans that Dan fostered through his fanzine and his activities since. He's been a brother-in-arms and true friend to Backstreets, which shares the same birth year. All Springsteen fans, whether they realize it or not, should be indebted to what Dan French has created for and gifted to our community over the last 40 years.
- September 3, 2020 - Bill Wolff reporting - Associate Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Saint Joseph's University, Wolff is the editor of Bruce Springsteen and Popular Music and is working on Springsteen Zines: An Oral History of Springsteen Fanzines.
RECAP: VOLUME 11, A "LABOR DAY EXTRAVAGANZA" From My Home to Yours hears America singing The eleventh episode of From My Home to Yours is a Labor Day special, and it brings to mind a weird little armchair criticism Bruce Springsteen receives from time to time: how can he still speak to or even understand the concerns of the working class? Now that he's, y'know, a rich rock 'n' roll star?
"It always comes up," Bruce told Backstreets in 2004. "I've settled into the fact that I'll be answering that question for the rest of my working life." It's a misguided question for all sorts of reasons, but as he noted then, it especially denotes "a tremendously muddled idea of how writers write."
Volume 11 is very much about the writers writing. As workers work, the writers write, and it's all reflected not only in the songs on Bruce's new Labor Day playlist but in the poems he recites throughout. Poetry abounds — from his own literal poetry readings to the spoken word of Patti Smith's breathless "Piss Factory" from 1974 — blurring lines between 20th century poets and songrwiters, their mutual inclination to capture a nation at work.
Greetings E Street Nation, friends, fans and listeners from coast to coast! Welcome to our Labor Day extravaganza. Today we are celebrating the American working man and woman — all the folks that keep our world spinning 'round and 'round.
Pop hits, sincere paeans to American industry, warnings about "working for the man,"
ironic and even grieving takes on labor, it's all here. Because our DJ knows a thing or two about work. He'll work hard for your love, as the hardest-working man in show business, and yeah, he knows about the working class, too. The working, the working, the working life (if you're surprised his own "Factory" didn't show up, maybe it's because the aforementioned "Piss Factory" is, he says, "one of the best songs about factory work I've ever heard").
From the cold open of Aaron Copland's stirring "Fanfare for the Common Man," Bruce moves on to Roy Orbison. "The Great One" (as Bruce calls Roy O.) did write "Working for the Man," speaking of writers, and it's only one of five tracks on the list with "work" in the title.
Six, if you count Philip Levine's moving "What Work Is," a poem Bruce recites in full. His own "Working on the Highway" is represented in a cover by Joe Ely ("a great friend of mine… fabulous singer/songwriter/rocker out of Texas").
Organized labor receives plenty of focus, starting with a timely stand-up bit by Jimmy Tingle from his 2008 comedy album Jimmy Tingle for President:
We have all these great holidays, they all have meaning — nobody even knows what they mean anymore! Like, Labor Day: people don't even realize what Labor Day's about. People protested, they demonstrated, they had to sacrifice for things like… the 40-hour work week, benefits, to abolish child labor in this country, safe standards in factories! Some people lost their jobs; some people lost their lives. People don't even realize it — it's completly off the radar. People go, "Labor Day, Labor Day, Labor Day, let me think... are the liqour stores open? Or do we have to drive to New Hampshire?"
Oh, you can't scare Bruce, he's sticking to the union… and the union is also repped here by Woody Guthrie's "Union Maid" (a portion of it, anyway) and Joe Hill's "Rebel Girl," as sung by Hazel Dickens on the 1990 Smithsonian Folkways collection of Hill's songs, Don't Mourn - Organize! Songs of Labor.
This portion of the show shines a light on Hill, a labor activist and songwriter who paid the death penalty just over 100 years ago. Bruce takes us back to his own one-off performance of an old union anthem about the man: "Joe Hill" (AKA "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night"), from the High Hopes tour stop in Tampa. The 1936 Earl Robinson composition was popularized by Pete Seeger and FMHTY favorite Paul Robeson (and later, Joan Baez); in some ways it's a precursor to "The Ghost of Tom Joad" and "We Are Alive." Bruce spins his own recording here, performed on May 1, 2014 — International Workers Day — as "a salute for the union folks here tonight."
Digging that one out of his live archives, the DJ expanded on the song with some biographical details (which he may well remember from reading his Howard Zinn) and even a poem — Hill's last piece of writing, from the night before his death:
Born in 1879, Joe Hill was a Swedish-American labor activist and a member of the Industrial Workers of the World — better known as the Wobblies. He was dubiously convicted of a murder and executed by firing squad on November 19, 1915 at Utah's Sugar House Prison. This was his last will and testament:
My Will is easy to decide,
For there is nothing to divide
My kin don't need to fuss and moan—
"Moss does not cling to a rolling stone"
My body?—Oh!—If I could choose
I would want to ashes it reduce,
And let the merry breezes blow
My dust to where some flowers grow
Perhaps some fading flower then
Would come to life and bloom again
This is my Last and Final Will —
Good luck to all of you,
Public Enemy's "Fight the Power," an "all-time classic" in the mix, bursts right out of Bruce's live "Joe Hill," conjoining these two songs written a half-century apart. "To make everybody see, in order to fight the powers that be?" It's there you'll find Joe Hill.
There's plenty of workplace diversity in the viewpoints here, and the spirit of Adele Springsteen's work shoes is in the mix as much as Douglas's factory whistle."Let's send one to the working women out there!" Bruce says at one point, reaching for Mick Flavin's "Working Woman" rather than a mainstay like Merle Haggard's "Workin' Man Blues." He later underscores the point by adding Valerie June's "Workin' Woman Blues" to the playlist. And then there's "the Queen of Disco, Donna Summer":
She works hard for the money! I had the pleasure of writing a song and doing a session with Donna and Quincy Jones in the mid-'80s. She was absolutely lovely. I originally wrote "Cover Me" for her, and then Mr. Landau heard it and, doing his duty as my manager, advised me to keep it. So I wrote a song "Protection" for her and recorded it with her. Good… but no "Cover Me."
You can listen to the Donna Summer recording here — that's Bruce on the guitar lead (and subtly, his vocal in the fade-out). He recorded "Protection" with the E Street Band in 1982, but his own version has yet to be officially released.
It's better than he seems to think.
Even further back in Bruce's back pages, today's a good day to remember that this is a guy who had a freakin' band called Steel Mill. Which made his recitation of Langston Hughes's "Steel Mills" all the more resonant —
That grind and grind,
That grind out new steel
And grind away the lives
Of men, —
In the sunset
Are great black silhouettes
Against the sky.
In the dawn
They belch red fire.
The mills —
Grinding new steel,
*In his recitation, Bruce's delivers the last two lines as "Grinding out new steel / Grinding out new steel"
— though the real masterstroke was following this with his own "Youngstown."
"Steel Mills" is typically considered Langston Hughes's first poem. When he was in high school in Cleveland, his stepfather worked in Ohio steel mills; the poet wrote this at the age of fourteen. Which seems astonishingly young — but then, Springsteen knows all about what a 14-year-old kid can take in.
Once again, the idea that a successful artist can no longer have much to say on this subject ignores the power of his own formative years in a working class family — fully formative years, as evidenced by the Born to Run bio, the Broadway show, and this very radio show. In the stories he's been telling, Bruce's childhood never seems that far away. Again and again (especially in Volume 8, "Summertime Summertime") we're reminded that he is regularly in touch with the boy who grew up commanding the night brigade. His younger self — who watched as work brought joy and indentity to his mother, struggle and darkness to his father — seems always in reach of his psyche, and his childhood has always informed his writing on the recurring subject of work.
And if "you grow up and you calm down" about such things… well, as the Clash would have it, you're "working for the clampdown."
That classic London Calling track appears here "in these days of evil Presidentes" as a Springsteen cover, again from the High Hopes tour — with heavy labor from Tom Morello (who makes several appearances today, as part of Bruce's 2014 live band as well as in Rage Against the Machine's "Ghost of Tom Joad" cover).
A Clash song would likely have made the new DJ set no matter the subject, considering the recent birthday celebration for Joe Strummer (in which Bruce calls the Clash leader "my great, great departed friend and brother that I never had… my inspiration for the past 40 years"). But "Clampdown" in particular is an important facet in this 90-minute playlist about the value and dangers of "working hard" and "working for the man."
"Clampdown" goes right into another live E Street Band performance, learning all those facts real good in "Badlands" from Tempe 1980 — "Live at Arizona State University, November 1980, the night after Ronald Reagan was elected President" — and we'll return to the Reagan era in full force toward the end of this set.
Of course, the backdrop for this episode is not only Monday's Labor Day holiday, but also a COVID-parallel epidemic of joblessness in this country. As reported by the Washington Post,based on Department of Labor figures as of August 27, there are 27 million Americans receiving some type of unemployment assistance.
That's a frightening figure, especially for anyone who understands, as Springsteen has expressed it, that "the lack of work creates a loss of self." Bruce spoke on the subject after the Great Recession at a 2012 press conference for Wrecking Ball, emphasizing that the human cost of unemployment is "devastating. People have to work. The country should strive for full employment. It's the single thing that brings a sense of self and self-esteem, and a sense of place, a sense of belonging." Eight years later, he offers encouragement for those out of work.
On this Labor Day we have to pause and think of the millions of Americans who have been displaced and left jobless by the coronavirus. There is little as painful as to be without productive work. So for this Labor Day, we send our prayers up for a healthy working nation in the coming days, months, and years ahead.
Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up" was the accompanying long-distance dedication, and it came in the midst of a summational pack of songs from the mid-'80s that recall the height of the Reagan era.
It's interesting that when Bruce Springsteen thinks of "working songs," even he still thinks of "heartland rock." After all the commercialization and co-optation and parodies and gauzy effects of the decade, still standing tall in Volume 11 is the music of the genre's holy trinity: Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, and ("my friend… terrific American songwriter") John Mellencamp. "Pink Houses" is the pick for JCM, his perfect slice of Americana and early-'84 Top 10 hit, which he and Bruce finally sang together last year.
For Seger, it's 1986's "Like a Rock" charging from the gate. Liberated from its heavy rotation in Chevy truck commercials (much as they may have actually benefitted auto workers in his home state), we're reminded that the song was never about chassis and tailgates at all, but about a lot of other things: the passage of time, aging and idealism, pride and sense of self, and yeah, the dignity and purpose hard work brings to a body. Stretched out here for its full length, rather than in 15- and 30-second spots, "Like a Rock" reintroduces itself as a lean and potent piece of craft — the sound, in the end, not of autoworkers welding, but of writers writing.
The song's sense of dignity is where you knew all this would wind up, this journey through all these aspects of labor, workin' neath the wheel, from the fields to unions to the Charlotte County road gang. And when the foreman calls time, Bruce lands on New Jersey's own Walt Whitman — all hail the Service Area in Cherry Hill — with a recitation of "I Hear America Singing."
"That's our show for today, folks. Until we meet again, stay strong, stay healthy, stay safe… and have a wonderful Labor Day."
Aaron Copland - "Fanfare for the Common Man"
Roy Orbison - "Workin' for the Man"
Joe Ely - "Working on the Highway"
Mick Flavin - "Working Woman"
Jimmy Tingle - "Labor Day"
[Poetry reading] Langston Hughes's "Steel Mills"
Bruce Springsteen - "Youngstown"
Woody Guthrie - "Union Maid"
Hazel Dickens - "Rebel Girl"
[Poetry reading] Joe Hill's "My Last Will"
Bruce Springsteen - "Joe Hill" (live in Tampa, FL, 5/1/14)
Public Enemy - "Fight the Power"
Bruce Springsteen - "Clampdown" (live in Sunrise, FL, 4/29/14)
Bruce Springsteen - "Badlands" (live in Tempe, AZ, 11/5/80)
[Poetry reading] Philip Levine's "What Work Is"
Rage Against the Machine - "The Ghost of Tom Joad"
Donna Summer - "She Works Hard for the Money"
Valerie June - "Workin' Woman Blues"
Patti Smith - "Piss Factory"
John Mellencamp - "Pink Houses"
Peter Gabriel - "Don't Give Up"
Bob Seger - "Like a Rock"
Instrumental interlude: Ola Gjello - "Crystal Sky"
[Poetry reading] Walt Whitman's "I Hear America Singing"
- September 2, 2020 - Christopher Phillips reporting
THE WORKING, THE WORKING, JUST THE WORKING EPISODE From My Home to Yours rolls back out this week with Volume 11
One thing that's really helping us get through this year is Bruce Springsteen's E Street Radio show, FromMy Home to Yours. Though it's generally on a bi-weekly schedule, you never quite know when to expect the DJ to return with a new episode, so it's always good to have a definitive heads-up. And this week... he's bringing it in again.
Volume 11 of From My Home to Yours will be a Labor Day special, airing for the first time tomorrow morning (Wednesday, September 2 at 10am Eastern) and rebroadcasting throughout the holiday weekend. According to the SiriusXM blog, Volume 11 will be dedicated "to workers around the country":
From "Factory" to "Working on the Highway," Bruce Springsteen has written and performed so many songs about the American working men and women. And in honor of Labor Day, the legendary musician will dedicate a special episode of his exclusive SiriusXM series, From My Home to Yours, to workers around the country.… featuring songs from Woody Guthrie, Joe Hill, Patti Smith, Public Enemy, Rage Against The Machine, Donna Summer, Bob Seger, Roy Orbison, and more.
If you miss the initial airing, Volume 11 will also be available On Demand on the SiriusXM app, as well as repeating on E Street Radio:
THE BOSS 19-track covers compilation CD from Ace Records (UK) IN STOCK NOW
Backstreet Records is the mailorder division of Backstreets, delivering Springsteen merchandise to fans for more than 25 years. We carry numerous collectibles, tour shirts, books, magazines, and imported CDs and records.
The world's best selection of Springsteen collectibles, all available by mail.
Nils & Stevie talk about the "masterpiece" Letter to You album with Forbes
"Read: Bruce Springsteen’s message to the Boston College class of 2024" FULL TRANSCRIPT [America Magazine]
"The Israeli roots of Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run' [Jpost.com]
We also post all known concert dates for some of our favorite Jersey Shore (and Shore-adopted) musicians:
Joe D'Urso... and more.
For more information on upcoming shows such as these, check out our Concert Calendar.
Many from the Springsteen community banded together to preserve this Asbury Park landmark.... and Tillie has now been saved!
Check our Save Tillie page for the latest developments.
THE SPRINGSTEEN SPECIAL COLLECTION
Organized by Backstreets in 2001, this storehouse of Boss books and magazines is the largest such collection outside of Bruce's mother's basement. Thanks to the generosity of fans around the world, total holdings are now well over 11,000. But the collection is by no means complete.