Monday, October 19, 2009

Announcing a Springsteen marathon

The most interesting musical act in the country right now is, once again, Bruce Springsteen. Unfortunately, the second most interesting act are those merry madcaps from the commercials.

They dress up in medieval garb, play pirates in seafood restaurants, rock it out on rollercoasters -- and do it all while based in the cellar of the plucky lead singer’s girlfriend’s house.

I just love those guys.

And I love Bruce. He’s in the midst of a record setting tour that’ll play to in excess of two million people. That’s a lot of discretionary spending in tough times.

I saw him in Pittsburgh last spring and wrote a blog that I hope The Almighty is a lot like The Boss.

The post caught the attention of some guys who were doing a book about the 30th anniversary of Springsteen’s release “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” They asked me to contribute a few paragraphs about what the album meant to me.

The result was included in the book, “The Light In Darkness,” available for $40. As with many cool things I’m asked to do, I didn’t get a dime for it and certainly didn’t mind. It took me about 10 minutes and, really, I didn’t have anything better to do.

Springsteen is, to me and many of my friends, an endlessly fascinating topic. Even when he stinks, and he frequently does, he’s still riveting.

And he’s still trying. He never mails it in. His songs mean something. So much of his music parallels our American journey.

On this tour, he’s begun playing some of his seminal albums in their entireties. He’s played “Born to Run,” “Darkness” and “Born in The U.S.A.” in various venues, including at the final shows where he and band mates closed Giants Stadium in advance of the wrecking ball (he wrote a song, “Wrecking Ball,” just for the occasion). The album sequences only account for about 1/3 of the three-hour shows so it’s not just an artistic indulgence for those who long to hear other favorites.

It generated much discussion among fans about the album we’d most like to hear.

As I wanted to make an informed decision, I decided I was going to play every Springsteen song in my iTunes library in the order in which they were released. That’s 317 songs over 23.4 hours.

It occurred to me that Springsteen might be the only artist worthy of such devoted listening.

I love the Stones, but there’s no real arc to their music. They began kicking ass in 1962 and are still kicking ass nearly 50 years later. Amazing. But to play their songs in order over a week or so would be like reading a book and already knowing how it ends. Not to demean my favorite band, but there’s no depth there. You know what you’re getting.

Van Morrison? He’s peerless, but he’s not telling me the story of my life or that of my country.

I’ve long argued that Tom Petty is the superior songwriter to Springsteen and I mean it. Petty’s released just one bad song (“A Wasted Life,” on 1982’s Long after Dark). Springsteen had one really bad decade. But Petty lacks Springsteen's topical gravitas.

You could do it with Dylan, but it would take too long and, as much as I love Dylan, I sense there would be long spans of tedium that might turn me off to Dylan for a long time. And I don’t want that to happen.

So I’m doing it with Bruce. In about a week or so -- consider yourself warned -- I’ll be coming back with a detailed critique of every Bruce album, all 30 of them, and what it was like to listen to them all in order over one week. All the exuberant highs and head-scratching lows.

I’m doing it because Bruce is in the middle of a remarkable tour that is appealing to the masses on a historic scale. I’m doing it because for nearly four decades, he’s been one of our most compelling artists, one who’s already left an indelible legacy of great, vital rock ‘n’ roll that will long endure.

I’m doing it because, really, I don’t have anything better to do.

And I doing it because I already did it with the gang from and found that to be about seven of the most enjoyable listening minutes I’ve ever spent.

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