Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Heart & Soul

"I met a little girl and I settled down,
In a little house out on the edge of town
We got married, and swore we'd never part
Then little by little we drifted from each other's hearts"

"At first I thought it was just restlessness
That would fade as time went by and our love grew deep
In the end it was something more I guess
That tore us apart and made us weep"

I can hear an acoustic guitar and a voice like gravel. I can see the rave reviews. I know I'll buy the record and be disappointed. This is a story I have heard before. Who cares?
But then this happens.

"And I'm driving a stolen car
Down on Eldridge Avenue
Each night I wait to get caught
But I never do"

I'm not sure I trusted Bruce Springsteen when "The River" was first released. But I trust him now. Trust is everything. And the sucker-punch transition from the first two verses into the chorus is this man's most valuable asset. It is the ability to keep you believing, even when you're feeling as if you're being led down that same path over and over again.

It's his uncanny ability to shove all his shit, YOUR shit, in your face and then somehow ameliorate all fears, by letting go and not caring how you look or sound. It's crying the words "heart and soul" over and over and over in "Drive All Night" until you can't take it anymore, and then wishing it would still go on, once it stops.

"The River" is a special record. It's not without its flaws. But those flaws are manageable. I witnessed Bruce and the E Street Band perform "The River" in its entirety three times. The very first time in 2009. January of this year. Last night. I felt a bit jealous when The Boss let all of Brooklyn know that it was the last performance of "The River" and that the set "would open up" in Europe. Man, you gotta love those possibilities. And yet, if I had another chance to hear it all again, I'd do it all again.
That's because I trust the man. If he's in, I'm in.

I watched half of the arena file out to either piss or get a drink during "Independence Day" and then again during "Point Blank" and again during "Stolen Car." I saw someone Shazam "The River." I did. She actually said, "It's called The River." Ah, so what? It's all about what you take from what he gives. Right?



Joeye said...

Great read Sal!! Drive all Night still one of my favorites.

Jim G said...

Point Blank and Stolen Car I can see stepping out for, but Independence Day? Do these people not have dads? And the sax solo, while its always the same, is sublime to these ears. Simple, heartfelt and always wishing Clarence or Jake would take twelve more bars (at least).

Nice post as usual.

Charlie Messing said...

The River is his only one I perform - don't know if anyone else has covered it. You got a good heart, Sal. And here's to the day.

Heather Taylor said...

Caught him last month in Oakland. As for dads and kids, Independence Day just tore me to pieces. Point Blank was amazing. Wreck On the Highway was a killer, especially with his, albeit short, reflection about life, its brevity and how all we have is time to do the right things in life for those we love. The next day, a student came racing into my classroom to see if I was all right. "Why?" I asked. Because, my student told me, a family, whose description matched mine, car and number of children and all, had all died. At the same time during the show, in a wreck on the highway...No kidding.


Steve Mc said...

Having bought a ticket for one of the European shows on the basis that it was a River show, I'm a little bit gutted he's not doing the full album. I know that he'll probably do a lot of the album, but I have a feeling it'll be the upbeat tunes I've hear him play lots of times and the more sombre, rarer tunes like Stolen Car, ID, Drive All Night, Point Blank won't figure. Grrr....

big bad wolf said...

My path with Bruce has been almost the opposite of yours, Sal. I trusted Bruce when the River came out. I am not entirely sure I trust him anymore. He's a great live act still, but the performative part is more forwarded. I can live with that. It's that he is more preachy; that he seems sometimes to mistake his success and wealth for a right to pronounce, and his fortune (in both senses) for something that makes him, like all benefactors better than us. all of that make me trust him less; he's less like us. when the River came out, it felt more like shared experience, shared discoveries, even if the discoveries shared were hard ones.

the music is still magnificent, but for me, the trust is less

Sal Nunziato said...

Big Bad Wolf,

I guess it wasn't clear that I was talking about trusting the songs. Those who aren't fans of Bruce might hear a basic lyric like the first verse in "Stolen Car" and quickly give up and I would understand. But if you trust in his ability as writer, you're rewarded with the first chorus, which at least for me, changes the game completely. I bet there are screenwriters who couldn't explain an entire movie in so few words.

As for trusting the man, I still do. I don't mind his preaching. I don't mind his wealth. The man has done plenty good. I can't give up on a guy because he has more money than I do or tries to help more than I do.

A walk in the woods said...

Cool review. "The River" is not the part of Bruce I love the most - that would be "Wild, Innocent" and "Born To Run" LP and, believe it or not, much of his recorded work the last 12 years.

But I do love many of the songs from the early sides of "The River." And I do love that he still cares as much as ever.

big bad wolf said...


I got you. I had that kind of trust in Bruce when the River came out. I think I had it, in large part, because i had trust in the man too. If Bruce thought this was worth it, I was willing to take the journey.

It's not that I don't trust Bruce now, or that wealth and prominence have fundamentally changed him (he appears to be a good guy, and he absolutely helps out more than most). It's that I think the prominence altered the relationship between Bruce and the audience. Such alteration is inescapable when someone achieves success and fame on such a larger scale. what bothers me (though not, i admit, when i am at his shows) is that the alteration, in my view, affected Bruce's songwriting and performance.

Stolen car and born in the usa are two good songs to illustrate what i see as the problem. in 1980 if one trusted him, one went along and found he trusted us to get it. since the early 90s, his songs (not all, but too many of them) tell us what we should think of the songs. they tend toward cliff notes, rather than novelistic; they tend to instruct, rather than help us discover.

I really wonder if a lot of this didn't come about as a result of the misunderstanding of the song born in the usa. for me, the brilliance of that song was the way it captured the hurt ambiguity of the narrator. He still believed, even though he didn't; he grasped that the culture that made him, discounted him, betrayed him also suggested ideals and critiques that allowed him to persist, and yet he recognized an irrationality to his persistence (burning down the road, but nowhere to go), to his attachment to ideals and the possibility of useful critiques. the music advanced all these ideas, it was strong, a pounding beat, dissonant. the song, like stolen car, is full, deep.

When the jingoists highjacked it, bruce reacted by playing, for years, the song as a slow blues. the message, as best i could make out, was that now no one would highjack the song. But slowing the song down, removing its ambiguities, making it unmistakeable mournful showed bruce didn't trust us as much anymore. and i think his songwriting shows that. he rarely invites us for the ride of discovery anymore; he takes us on guided tours, pointing out what is significant. many of the songs are really good, as are many of the albums, but i don't feel, as i did through born in the usa, that trust relationship on either side.

that said, i still love the music, and i want to say that his live shows pretty much made me realize life could be survivable as a 70s teenager and 30 years later they pulled me through a very bad patch.

jeff said...

There is included with The River boxed set an hour documentary called "The Ties That Bind." In it Bruce, talks about how the album came together and the genesis of some of the songs, which he plays on an acoustic guitar, while sitting in front of his garage. I'm a Bruce fan all my adult life, but even so the documentary is a major revelation. The way he explains and plays Independence Day and is almost in tears at the end of it makes me think he is writing in this case not about an imagined situation but about his father. I don't think I've ever heard a better rendition of that song.

Then he talks about Point Blank, and what a shame that so many people left during that song, which is one of the albums's anchors. That whole last side was deliberately a collection of songs that say goodbye in one way or another. Point Blank is on the third side but is no less powerful. The imagery in that last verse of Point Blank is really the work of a writer who is already great, reaching and finding something even greater.

Chris Collins said...

"trust" is such a great word. It's exactly the right word. I may not like all of "The River" (why in Gods name would you leave off "Where the Bands Are" or "Loose Ends" or "Party Lights" and include "I'm a Rocker"??) but I trust the artist who wants to present that as a piece of work. And because of that I'll go for the ride.

Anonymous said...

Hello all...no, please remain seated,

there are other songs from that album that don't speak to me as powerfully as they once did, but Stolen Car still does. A mighty, mighty piece.