With artists who have recorded many singles or albums, I often like to think of say a dozen of their songs that, if I was ever asked, would happily form a ‘best of’compilation album. Many artists would fit that category, perhaps none more so than Bruce Springsteen, the legendary ‘Boss’ of rock, ever since Jon Landau proclaimed him ‘the future of rock ‘n’ roll’ in 1974.
Rock ‘n’ roll is about relevance. It’s about recognising characteristics in your audience and playing appropriate music. But it goes beyond there. That will grant you success perhaps but it makes no promises about longevity. This year’ bright tie-dye T-shirt is soon enough faded and torn,, wiping down garden furniture on the patio.
Songs about Emmy Lou’s bronze skin in the sunset, fumblings in the back seat of a ’63 Chevy’s give way to families, employment and unemployment. Then the internal diatribes about enlistment and foreign wars, unemployment and disillusionment. Laments about friends lost literally or metaphorically in the jungles of Southeast Asia. And before you know it, the city skyline and bustling noise has given way to tumbleweed, dust storms and crystal meth. A life outside the American dream.
Somehow Bruce manages , nearly 5 decades after Landau’s review, to still be relevant. After all who else could start a song with the words “you do the drying, I’ll do the dishes”and get away with it? In anybody else’s hands it would be trite. In Bruce’s hands it becomes a sorry vignette of a failing marriage and the desperate need to believe that all is well. Bruce lays bare the American dream. There is no deerhunter Thanksgiving dinner. Bruce consistently eschews the fairytale endings, leaving the gritty perseverance of the working man.
It’s hard to see how this man with personal wealth of some $650 million can, in any way, be relevant to a steelworker in New Jersey or a border drug runner in New Mexico, or any one of the disenfranchised to whom his songs have spoken. And yet it is. And he speaks in a way that makes every song seem to have been written specially for each listener. There is perhaps nobody who could not find his own song among the many.
Bruce found the pulse some 40 years ago, stripping away many of the more complex instrumentations of the first three albums in favour of the leaner and darker psychosocial simplicities from Darkness on the Edge of Town onward. And he got it right.
Bruce’s longevity is somewhere beyond astonishing. Not only does he appeal strongly to my generation (sixty somethings) but also my children, who grew up to the sound of Bruce on the car stereo on the way to school. When a new generation finds continued relevance and meaning in his songs, you know that he has hit the mother lode.
Here are my favourite songs – my compilation album if you will. I’m sure you have others.
Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, Philadelphia, Living Proof, Ties That Bind, Downbound Train, Born In The USA, Adam Raised A Cain, Promised Land, Independence Day, Brothers Under The Bridge, Nebraska, The River.