Tuesday, April 28, 2009

How should rockers grow old?

Please, enough torture! I confess, I confess everything!

Did you know that at Gitmo they used Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA in their ‘psychological operations’ (along with Metallica and Britney, amongst others)? Given the song's lyrics, it’s an interesting choice. Defiantly self-aware or appallingly the opposite?

Springsteen is one of a group of Grand Old Men of Rock, the vast and continuing prolificacy of which has seriously affected the topography of my CD collection. The other members of this group are Bob Dylan (obviously), Van Morrison (probably too prolific if we’re honest), Tom Waits (consistently excellent), Morrissey (uneven), David Bowie (even unevener) and, more lately and thanks to the persistent badgering of my excellent friend Martpol, Nick Cave.

Admirable old geezers, all of them, their many albums dominate my shelves. Ploughing on against the odds, in and out of fashion, just doin’ it cos it’s got to be done. Dylan and Springsteen have attained wisdom and musical enlightenment. Van still hasn’t found what he’s looking for. Bowie is as Bowie does. Waits and Cave are cunning old foxes burrowing ever deeper into their mad um, foxholes. Morrissey is still whingeing inimitably away.

The greatest of these is of course Dylan, and I’m going to see him tomorrow night in Birmingham’s National Indoor Arena. So if there are any messages you want me to pass on, just let me know and I’ll bellow them during quiet moments.

But Springsteen is generally underestimated. The Promised Land kept playing in my head as I was writing about a Cardiff stag night and the tone infected the post, possibly because I saw Springsteen at the Millennium Stadium in that very city last year. Anyway, the words seemed apt enough.

It’s interesting to compare the ferocity of that performance of the song in 1978 (embedded in the stag post) with a more contemporary performance. The Promised Land is a lame sort of Obama-ish ‘things can only get better’ singalong these days. But in 1978 when Springsteen was 29 years old, it was about something quite different, and it seems Bruce no longer believes in it.

Now that he’s 59 he believes in very different things: cities of ruins and girls in summer clothes. And devils and dust, and rising again.

Nick Cave doesn't believe in an interventionist God, but Van is still trying to. Tom Waits believes in the Devil and Bowie believes in himself. Morrissey believes everyone is out to get him, whereas Dylan, I think, believes in Love and the meaninglessness of Time.


Stephen Fawcus said...

Your CD collection sounds similar to mine, except I've never been able to "get" Springsteen's greatness. I like some of his songs and I accept the fact I don't appreciate him is purely down to my tastes.
Van the Man has been performing his great Astral Weeks album in it's entirety lately, apparently he's even been cracking jokes during the concerts, if you can believe it.

The Old Batsman said...

I'm partial to Darkness On The Edge Of Town myself, especially Racing In The Street. At the risk of everything I ever write being about cricket, the Elvis of Hampshire, Mark Nicholas considers himself 'the world's leading authority on Springsteen'. Strange, but somehow reassuring.

Brit said...

Darkness is my fave too, OB, (A good place to start, Stephen. Stick it in the car and force yourself to listen to it six times in a row. Beat yourself into submission - usually works for me when I don't get something I feel I ought to) though he's only excreted one total dud, which was Human Touch.

Re: Mark Nicholas, I'd have thought him more of a Sting/Coldplay kinda guy, you know, a bit smoother - but maybe I can see it.

will said...

I used to care very deeply indeed about modern music, but I find that I am rapidly losing interest in it. ...Although I will never lose interest in driving along the road late at night when 'Born to Run' suddenly comes on the radio.

It's just a shame in those moments that I'm tootling down a B road in a sensible hatchback and not gunning across the lonely salt flats in a rocket powered V8 muscle car

Kev said...

"Don't you know there ain't no devil/ that's just God when he's drunk" -Tom Waits. One of my favourite ever lyrics.

I have recently come around completely on the subject Springsteen aided by his live in Dublin album with the sessions band, which is sensational. Many people have recomended Nick Cave to me but I've never gotten it, I may have to make another attempt.

David said...

Rockers should, of course, live fast, die young and leave a good looking corpse, at least metaphorically. If, at 66, Mick can't get no satisfaction, he's probably out of luck.

Nige said...

So how was His Bobness?

Anonymous said...

Nebraska - best album ever.

Brit said...

Glad you asked that, Nige. Full report a bit later.

And yes, Elberry. I went though an obsessive Nebraska phase a few years ago. Curious album, but Altantic City perhaps his best song?