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 …