Bruce Springsteen, "The River"

>> Friday, February 17, 2012

I kinda hate it when this happens: I actually got ahead on the blog, only to realize as I'm finishing up at the office that I'm not actually ahead because I don't have an entry for today. What to do? I could move up the posts I have queued, but that may mean running around Sunday to get something posted when I'm distracted by other things. I could look and see what's happening in the news, but nothing inspires me enough to write about it; in fact, some of the things in the news triggering the strongest reactions are things that annoy me too much to bother thinking about them.

Hey, what's that on the shuffle play in the background? Bruce Springsteen? "The River"? Hello.

This has long been one of my favorite Boss songs. You have, I think, one of his best melodies, suitably somber and hopeful at the same time. And the payoff line, "Is a dream a lie if it don't come true / Or is it something worse?" just slays me every time I hear it. The image I get in my head every time I hear the song is just so damn vivid, and perhaps ironically, it isn't the image of a river or a couple of kids beside it, but the image of this guy, the character in the song, sitting at a card table in the kitchen with one light on overhead, next to a failing refrigerator and surrounded by linoleum tile and scratched chrome, he's in his undershirt and he's wondering what the hell he's going to do with himself and how everything in his life has led to this dark moment.

The performance at the top of the clip caught my eye because it's obvious from the freeze frame preview that it's an early performance, and then when the clip starts, you have Jackson Browne and, if I'm not mistaken, Bonnie Raitt sitting at a table talking about MUSE: if you know your seventies pop history, your history of liberalism and/or you history of rock music, it isn't too hard to figure out the obvious: this is a clip from No Nukes.

My parents had the album, though an odd thing is that while I remember them playing lots and lots of Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, and I think a fair bit of Bonnie Raitt, I don't actually remember them playing this album all that much, if ever. I'm not sure if that's a reflection of my shoddy memory thirty years after the fact or whether this was a record that just didn't hit their turntable too often for whatever reason.

Before getting on to the other interesting (I think) thing about the above performance, I feel like I need to offer a kind of preemptive disclaimer/brush off: I'm one of these technocratic pro nuclear liberals you occasionally hear about. I mean, I totally get how fucked up the nuclear industry appears and especially how fucked up it appeared in the wake of TMI, and I think anti-nukers have their hearts absolutely in the right place, along with legitimate health and environmental concerns. It's just that I'm also willing to consider the idea that there could be relatively safe, heavily regulated reactors that are, all-in-all, far less politically, medically and environmentally dangerous--not to mention more sustainable--than fossil fuels; which may not be saying much, I also realize. I also need to point out that I don't see this as being either-or: I mean, all things being equal in terms of generation, if it's a choice between uranium and oil, pick uranium, and its a choice between uranium and solar, gods know you go with solar. What I expect we're stuck with is some kind of mix of sources while we figure out how to transition into something safer and cleaner, and I don't think fission should be off the table.

That's a lot more than I really wanted to say about the topic, actually. Because what I'd prefer pointing out in a Friday afternoon post is that whether you agree with MUSE's goals or not, a concert that features Gil Scott-Heron, Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Chaka Khan, Carly Simon and Ry Cooder is so full-of-win right there that it makes up for the fact that James Fucking Taylor (ugh!) is involved. The MUSE concerts featured awesome, awesome lineups, just sayin'.

Now, finally, for the other interesting (to me) thing I alluded to above. The original MUSE concerts were held at Madison Square Garden in September, 1979. The studio version of "The River" was recorded in July or August of 1979. This studio version made its first official appearance in October, 1980 (on an album called, The River--of course you knew that, right?).

So here's Bruce Springsteen, and he's making one of his first appearances in front of a really big, festival-sized, arena crowd, having mostly been playing clubs and auditoriums for the past decade, and he's performing a song which he isn't going to release for another thirteen months and which he only just recorded last month (though, as with much of his material in those days, I'm sure he'd been demoing earlier, alternate versions and/or bits and pieces of the song in front of his usual crowds even prior to that). I mean, how cool is that? I think it kind of goes back to one of the things raised in (and subsequently discussed under) the They Might Be Giants piece the other day, though, I guess, Springsteen didn't exactly have that many quote-unquote "hits" to trot out that night; well--he did have Born To Run, which had done very well, and while Darkness On The Edge Of Town hadn't produced any singles the album itself spent a good bit of time on the charts. Springsteen could have gone out there and done "Born To Run" or "Thunder Road" or "Jungleland", or even "Badlands" or "The Promised Land"; instead, he goes out and blows the crowd away with a song his band may barely know.

That, friends, is showmanship. And balls. Balls and showmanship, absolutely. And that's why he's The Boss.


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