was bruce springsteen ever blinded by the light? (part 1)

IT’S 6:36 IN THE MORNING and I had just dropped Berni off at work. I turned on the radio to the oldies sta­tion and lo and be­hold, there was Bruce Spring­steen’s ‘Blinded By The Light.’ De­lighted I sat back and lis­tened, then re­al­ized that I had never heard the record on the radio be­fore!

 I re­member get­ting the first al­bums, GREETINGS FROM ASBURY PARK, N.J. and THE WILD, THE INNOCENT, AND THE E STREET SHUFFLE, prob­ably some time in 1975 when word of his live per­for­mances were finding there way in­land from the Jersey shore but prior to Spring­steen’s third album blowing things wide open.

 

This is part 1 in a se­ries of es­says on Spring­steen’s first com­mer­cially is­sued single, Blinded By The Light / The Angel, from 1973.

 

The first two al­bums left many (most?) lis­teners luke­warm to­wards Bruce as a recording artist, in­cluding me. Still, I knew people that had driven hours to the shore to check him out and re­turned con­verted. 

But first, a di­gres­sion: I used to—heck, I still want to—lump all rock- and soul-based pop music after 1972 or so into a dis­mis­sive cat­e­gory such post-‘60s-music and be done with most of it. But this year is de­bat­able as a cut-off, as I would be dis­missing such gems as REMAIN IN LIGHT and LONDON CALLING and THE PRETENDERS and ARMED FORCES the whole THRILLER phe­nom­enon and so, soooooo many others. 

Still, there was some­thing missing from most “post ’60s music” …

What? Me argue?!!?

I also used to argue (that’s past tense be­cause it was waaaay back yonder in those afore­men­tioned ’70s) that Bruce Spring­steen stood out from the pack of the ‘70s as a giant of sorts in pop­ular music with, per­haps, only Elvis Costello and, to a lesser de­gree, Tom Petty, sharing his talent, vi­sion, am­bi­tion, daring, and com­mit­ment to the con­ti­nuity of his pre­de­ces­sors of the pre­vious decades.

I also used to argue (past tense again) that had he and his band recorded ten years ear­lier, then Bruce Spring­steen & the E Street Band might have been con­sid­ered a sort of more-focused ver­sion of Mitch Ryder & the De­troit Wheels. Why? Be­cause, hey, Bruce and band wrote their own songs-—although the other band may have had the better singer!

With the re­lease of the BORN TO RUN album in 1975, Springsteen’s ca­reer as a recording artist and, per­haps es­pe­cially, as a per­forming artist, was the apoth­e­osis of all that the rock mu­si­cians of the pre­vious gen­er­a­tion had hoped to achieve with the form. But that was not how the first two years as a recording artist went down. And there are sev­eral key sto­ries about those first years, one in­volves his man­age­ment.

What faux Americana?

In the May 2, 2005 edi­tion of Slate, the on­line mag­a­zine of news and opinion, Stephen Met­calf (“Slate’s critic at large”) wrote a piece ti­tled “Faux Amer­i­cana” and sub­ti­tled it “Why I Still Love Bruce Spring­steen.” The ar­ticle deals with Springsteen’s re­la­tion­ship with his manager/producer, Jon Landau, and his re­la­tion­ship with his au­di­ence.

Met­calf ar­gues that the latter is based on a per­ceived image of the singer’s al­le­giance to the working class of America, much of which is man­u­fac­tured and ma­nip­u­lated (and ma­nip­u­la­tive). Met­calf’s ar­gu­ment is thus:

“By 1978, the en­dearing Jersey wharf rat in Spring­steen had been re­fined away. In its place was a ma­jestic Amer­ican sim­pleton with a generic heart­land twang, ob­sessed with cars, Mary, the Man, and the bit­ter­ness be­tween fa­thers and sons.

Spring­steen has been aug­menting and re­fining that per­sona for so long now that it’s hard to re­call its status, not only as an in­ven­tion but an in­ven­tion whose origin wasn’t even Bruce Spring­steen.”

Mind you, Met­calf is not deroga­tory: he is merely ex­plaining Bruce’s trans­for­ma­tion from an am­bi­tious young per­former in bars and clubs on the Jersey shore who, after coming under Landau’s sway, self-consciously cre­ated a mythos around the Bruce “The Boss” Spring­steen that we know now. Met­calf noted: 

“In his early live shows, Bruce Spring­steen had a habit of rat­tling off, while the band vamped softly in the back­ground, some thor­oughly im­plau­sible story from his youth. This he punc­tu­ated with a shy, wheezing laugh that let you know he didn’t for a second buy into his own bull­shit.

Thirty years later, and largely thanks to Landau, Spring­steen is no longer a mu­si­cian. He’s a be­lief system. And, like any be­lief system worth its salt, he brooks no in-between. You’re ei­ther in or you’re out.”

And this is so, and so Spring­steen takes his place along­side such other un­nec­es­sarily de­i­fied names as Elvis, Bea­tles, Dylan, Stones, and Michael Jackson.

“This has so­lid­i­fied Bruce’s standing with his base, for whom he re­mains a god of total rock au­then­ticity. But it’s killed him with everyone else. To a le­gion of de­vout non-believers … Bruce is more a phe­nom­enon akin to Di­a­netics or Tin­ker­bell than ‘the new Dylan,’ as the Co­lumbia Records pro­mo­tions ma­chine once hyped him.” 

Much of that ‘new Dylan’ hype was based on the ver­bosity of Bruce’s first al­bums and their all-over-the-place, poetic-leaning/poetic-wannabe im­agery. And Blinded By The Light is a per­fect ex­ample …

 

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