Tuesday, January 3, 2012

"But Maybe Everything That Dies, Someday Comes Back."

 
 
30 years ago today was the date that Bruce Springsteen sat down with his guitar, a tape recorder and a head full of things he couldn't live with or live down. The songs he recorded that day became one of the strangest and most powerful albums ever released by a major recording artist-especially at that time. The album was "Nebraska" and to this day it remains a haunting, honest, personal masterpiece. In fact, one of the titles considered for the album was "January 3, 1982".

The tapes were originally just meant as demos for the E Street Band but it soon became clear to everyone involved that they were perfect just the way they were.
That was written by my friend Chris Collins. I'm a day late, I know, but I wanted to get on board with this sentiment that was so masterfully expressed by Chris.
"Nebraska" was hardly the record Bruce Springsteen fans...diehards and fair-weathers alike...wanted as the follow-up to "The River." "Strange" and "powerful" were Chris's memories. Mine seem less romantic, as most of my friends after the first listen, turned "Nebraska" into Odd Job's hat. Now that we've had time to calm down and sock away the initial anger and confusion, "powerful" may be an understatement.
When I was behind the counter at my CD shop, I was "blessed" with the inability to leave at the moment someone would begin to pontificate over the importance of everyone from Sandy Denny to Martin Denny.  Unless breaking through my front window and leaving a full body cut-out like a classic Looney Tunes short was an option, my only choice was to smile and nod. It came with the territory and I learned just as much as I loathed.
But the one artist that always brought out the best (read: worst) in people, was Bruce Springsteen. I had one customer who thought, "I wasn't born in Jersey. I never worked in a factory. I don't like cars," was some sort of ace-in-the-hole, when sharing his contempt for "The Boss." If you're reading this, Mr. Regular Customer who only bought Beatles' bootlegs, you're an asshole.
I wasn't born in Jersey. I've never worked in a factory. And I don't drive. I do have a heart, mind, and soul. And I love music more than I love most things. That should be enough to recognize the brilliance and power of the songwriting and performances on "Nebraska."  
One last memory, though it's a recent one. A friend and I witnessed Bruce and The ESB's full performance of "The River," at Madison Square Garden in November of 2009. It was a night of "moments." But nothing seemed to hit home for either of us, the way "Atlantic City" did. You see, we didn't expect it. But we knew we wanted it, even on a night devoted to "The River."  
It's not as if "Atlantic City" is a concert rarity, like say the piano-only version of "Atlantic City." But it happened to be my friend's favorite Bruce tune, while it sits in my Top 3. I had seen the ESB many times before. This night was my friend's first. The performance of "The River" in its entirety was a gift. The first encore of "Atlantic City" was a miracle.
Thanks Chris for reminding me not only that "Nebraska" is 30 years old, but that few records before and after, can say so much with so little. It's Bruce and a guitar, and sometimes that is all you need.


Well now, ev'rything dies, baby, that's a fact
But maybe ev'rything that dies someday comes back
Put your makeup on, fix your hair up pretty
And meet me tonight in Atlantic City

35 comments:

Anonymous said...

Amen, funk-soul-bruvvah.

My own personal favorite on the album is Reason To Believe, but there's no lack of killer (pun intended) tunes on the whole she-bang. It's just so very satisfying to hear the work of an artist, any artist, at the very top of their game.

regards....

RichD

JAYESSEMM said...

30 years -- wow!

Listening to Nebraska this morning it still cuts to the quick.

I started on the "my favourite song is XXX" but kept rewriting that sentence ten times. I will say that Open All Night with that uncommon rhythm structure and phrasing reminded me then and told me today I don't understand anything about the craft of songwriting. Don't know why it works as it does but it sure does.

Keep warm!

Robin said...

I was born in Jersey (though lived on LI since I was a kid, but still connected to Jersey through family) and fell in love with Bruce when I bought Darkness.... I'd heard Born to Run, thought it good but it didn't connect with me at the time the way Darkness did. Not sure what prompted me to buy Darkness, I just remember buying it and The Ramones' Rocket to Russia at the same time.

I then back-catalogued and bought Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ, I can't deny the title didn't intrigue me as a Jersey shore baby ;), and the line in "Sandy"- "you know that tilt a whirl on the south beach drag..." well since that was my fave ride as a kid, and I got stuck on it too... I made a really personal connection through place.

I then got Wild/Innocent and my journey with Bruce continued and deepened. I enjoyed The River, and songs like "Point Blank" made me think we'd get another album like Darkness. I adored Nebraska immediately, it's still in my top three Bruce- for me, it was a bit of an extension of Darkness, but more daring, starker. He's really displaying his masterful storytelling skills on it, he's matured, yet it's still musical enough that it's not dry (like Tom Joad, which I like but not as much as Nebraska).

Bruce is no more just about "cars" and "Jersey" than The Beatles are just about "holding hands" and "yellow submarines" ;) (Though I do love to listen to him (and them for that matter!) when I drive). Thanks for sharing "Atlantic City", a song that means a lot to me for countless reasons.

Anonymous said...

This is by far my favorite Bruce Springsteen album. The hushed silence of "State Trooper" with the Suicide influenced WHOOOOO-HOO! still gives me chills. I never really got the whole big band sound that he had on all his previous stuff. In fact I had kind of written him off until this. This album has lost nothing over the last 30 years.

Mark Pollock said...

I was a devoted fan, eager to see what came next after 'The River,' but wondering how it could connect with me the way 'Darkness' had. On top of it, I was one of the lowest points of my life, struggling to make ends meet while my marriage ay in tatters. I must have sat on the floor and listened to that album three times straight through, marveling at how Bruce could write songs so bleak yet so beautiful and yet again providing reason to believe. Thanks for the reminder of the anniversary, Sal. It's great having you back.

jon said...

would've given anything to be at that show at msg

James A. Gardner said...

Reason To Believe is a personal favorite of mine, too, not least of which because of the stompin' cover the Beat Farmers did of it. The line on the album that hit closest to home for me 30 years ago, though, was "Mr. State Trooper, please don't stop me ..." Wow, indeed ... 30 years ...

Paul in Brentwood said...

I find myself quoting lyrics from this album more than any of Bruce's others - they capture the pain, pride, fear and humanity of the fictional characters more than practically any other album. This record takes an "adult" to grasp, which is probably why so few people responded positively upon its release. Especially in our economic funk the nation's in, this album bears great relavance to so many, at least, that I see and know. Just listen to that line in "Used Cars" about winning the lottery. That sums up the album for me, though give me any other quote and that'll do as well. Everything dies, baby, that's a fact...

Meanstreets said...

Credit for " Atlantic City " goes to " The Band "......of course....

Sal Nunziato said...

@meanstreets

Of course? I dont get it. Pushing buttons again?

steve simels said...

I was not a fan of it back in the day, although I've come to appreciate it.

However, in my review, I did mention that at least two of the songs would make great movies some day, so I totally felt vindicated when Sean Penn turned "Highway Patrolman" into "The Indian Runner" a few years later.

I should add that Bob Dylan absolutely loves the album.

Meanstreets said...

" Atlantic City " is a " Band " song....B.S just happened to write it....with " Levon " in mind......

I just played it ( loud ) to verify I am correct..........

I am.........

Dan L. said...

brucespringsteen.net has taken note:
http://www.brucespringsteen.net/index.html

Sal Nunziato said...

@Dan L.
Well that feels good! Thanks.

Rick Fry said...

The first time I listened to Nebraska I was disappointed. I thought it was too bleak and melancholy. But now I think it's his best, most brilliant album. My hair still stands on end when I listen to State Trooper.

Anonymous said...

Iwould like to give a mention to "Highway Patrolman":

Me and Frankie laughin' and drinkin',
Nothin' feels better than blood on blood
Takin' turns dancin' with Maria
As the band played "Night of the Johnstown Flood"
I catch him when he's strayin' like any brother would
Man turns his back on his family well he just ain't no good

jane said...

Recently got myself a vintage ATLANTIC CITY charm bracelet and for sure I will be wearing it when Bruce Springsteen plays at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark in July !! Love the song. :-)

The Patman said...

Bruce is my favorite Rock & Roll act, period. I have about 60 bootlegs, and my favorite era for his music is 1973 - 1978.

I HATED Nebraska first time I heard it back in '82. I remember Johnny Cash recorded Johnny 99. Anyway, I wanted something along the lines of Darkness On The Edge of Town.

Caught up with Bruce and the ESB on the Magic tour when they came to Seattle, where he played Reason To Believe and it was the highlight of the show.

For the record, favorite Bruce song of all time: Live 1978 "Prove It All Night" with the piano intro and scorching guitar solo. Still gives me goosebumps.

Outstanding blog you have here, sir.

OldRockr1 said...

I've seen Bruce many time over the years and he very rarely fails to deliver anything less than amazing performances (I tend to gush about the Boss). The River show was special, but for my money the night before was better. E. Street Shuffle in its entirety was really great, but what got me was Human Touch. The albums was my least favorite over the years but I love, love ,love that song. I hadn't heardbitlive since 93 so that was a huge treat.

Anything Should Happen said...

I've come to love it more and more, I soon got sick of Born In The USA and reverted to Nebraska even more.

After a clunky decade after Born In The USA, I returned to the Boss and this.

I am a big Springsteen fan and acknowledge The Wild as a fantastic album, but if I'm honest I feel much more when I listen to Nebraska or his first two albums.

Anything Should Happen said...

BTW, I'm not quite sure what Meanstreet's point is in relation to your post.

Doesn't change the power of the song, most music came from somewhere else.

If MS doesn't like it, fair enough, but the comment seems a tad petty.

FRANCIE said...

SAL, Thanks for sharing your wonderful insight Being a Springsteen fan from early days, NEBRASKA does rate up there in my book. Was at the River concert at MSG and thought Atlantic City was a wonderful addition to the songlist. Best of all so HAPPY CHRIS had the chance to rock it to the song she so anticipated !!!

Anonymous said...

I was at the Wild And The Innocent show the night before, and I cried, got chills, danced, and was moved in so many different ways ( after about 60 or so Bruce shows ) that I'm always reminded that Bruce is able to move his listeners in more ways and to more different emotions than most artists in any medium. Usually only film has this type of range, but Bruce has all of the film director's tools at his disposal. The same guy that made Nebraska sand Santa Claus is comin to Town and wrote Red Headed Woman. Humor, pathos, insight, inspiration, sensible integrity, and political wisdom. All of those of us who know what he's capable of bringing to the table are richer for it.
Also glad that Sal got some recognition from the official site.
( PS I think Meanstreets is joking, along the lines that Levon stole that song from Bruce, and while it's good, I think Bruce inhabits the feeling of that song better. Levon merely makes it a Band song. )

boupierre said...

A great cover of Atlantic City is done by Levon Helms (drummer and vocalist of The Band).

It is one of the very rare situations where the cover version of Springsteen is better than the original in my opinion

Heindrich said...

I live in Cape Town, South Africa and a big fan of Bruce's music, especially the older stuff. His songs are universal and the stories in his songs aloso happened in "my hometown". My favourite song on Nebraska is Used Cars - about a child who is embitterded with the humiliations of poverty. We were struggeling financially and my dad used to buy old used cars. My mom used to sit in the back seat and I was in front with my dad. When I listen to that song it still makes me wanna cry.

Greetings from Africa

big bad wolf said...

well, the band did end up doing atlantic city and doing it pretty well on jericho, but it's great cause it's beautifully written, not cause it might sound like it should have been the band. cold fact: the band would never have written a lyric as hauntingly insistent as maybe everything that dies someday comes back.

great as atlantic city is, i like nebraska as much and my favorite line is from state trooper---only thing that i've got been bothering me my whole life.

Anonymous said...

Reason To Believe

Anonymous said...

great post, sal. and thanks for the bobby bland reminder the other day....

David Handelman said...

While I like the songs on the album, I appreciated them more once he played them with his band (sacrilege?) -- and thus when I go back to this album I actually listen to the NEBRASKA LIVE bootleg which, I am quite certain, I bought at NYCD.

Anonymous said...

I've liked Bruce Springsteen since hearing him at work singing Born to Run. While attending school at Indiana University 78-82, no one there I associated with liked Bruce. I've always liked his voice and the feelings he emits when he sings. He always laughs in concert and actually looks like he's having a good time. When I first heard Nebraska, I just sat there and kept playing it. I love the album and for the record, the songs and sentiment's he pours out are the ONLY ones I remember in my day to day life. The lines from 'Used Cars' and Highway Patrolman "Man turns his back on his family well he just ain't no good" and "I ain't ever gonna ride in no used car again" just pop up in my mind out of nowhere from time to time. I thank Bruce for having the courage to produce such a work.

bglobe313 said...

Hi,

I'm glad to see others admitting that, as was true for me, they did not like "Nebraska" when it first came out.

By then I had heard bootlegs of the 78 tour, and I really missed that wild and intense rock and roll music.

Now I like Nebraska very much -- have the bootlegs with the missing songs and alternate takes -- and see where it fits with the whole story.

Ace K.

P.S. It is 100 times better than "Tom Joad".

big bad wolf said...

nebraska is probably only 10x better than tom joad. nebraska is springsteen finding things he wanted to tell us; joad is springsteen setting out things he knows we need to hear. nebraska is an album of demos; joad is an album of lessons. nebraska works on its own terms; joad needed the band to liberate the, often impressively constructed, songs from the didactic purpose of the album. nebraska is bruce springsteen human; joad is bruce springsteen person with importnat things to say. joad is the springsteen tom morello wants to be. the wonderful saving irony of live rock is that springsteen and morello's guitars gave life to the pointed simulacra of youngstown, joad, and others.

soundsource said...

just a late thought and not sure how you go about proving it's correctness but I think there are more covers of songs off of Nebraska then any other Bruce album. Now Bruce isn't a big coverer to begin with but that must say something. I think.

eriepresley said...

I was a Mormon missionary in Japan in 1982 when Nebraska came out. We weren't allowed to listen to any other kind of music than gospel. I snuck in a music store and bought a Sony walkman and the Nebraska cassette and would listen to it on the sly. It remains one of my all time favorites.

Giovanni Madurini said...

NEBRASKA? Simply the BEST!
Greetings from Italy