Bruce Springsteen News Roundup: On the Fourth of July, in praise of 'Music for Troubled Times'
If Bruce Springsteen is anything like the rest of us -- and we know he is -- he spent the first few months of this pandemic getting things done around the house, catching up on his reading, bing-watching "Ozark" and probably driving Patti a little crazy. ("Patti! Did I ever tell you what my father used to call my guitar?" etc.)
But lately it seems The Boss might be going a little stir crazy, not to mention frustrated at the state of things in this once- (and future?) great nation of ours. Hence "Music for Troubled Times," his absolutely stunning every-other-week DJ stint on E Street Radio, during which he's opined on the social and psychological challenges of living through both a pandemic and one of the nation's greatest periods of racial reckoning since the 1960s. Not to mention playing some amazing music that's shown when it comes to getting into the weeds of this country's musical history, Bruce doesn't mess around. As Ryan D'Agostino noted in Esquire, "you’ll discover songs through the ears of one of the great interpreters of sound for the last fifty years."
But in terms of social commentary, Episode 6 of the series, "Down to the River to Pray," from a few weeks back was probably the most incendiary of the installments so far, with Bruce making more than a few headlines for his takedown of the powers that be (and one particular power that be) to lead off the broadcast:
"Now I had another show prepared for broadcast this week on this strange and eventful summer. But with 100,000-plus Americans dying over the last few months, and the empty shamed response from our leaders, I've been simply pissed off. Those lives deserve better than just being inconvenient statistics for our President's re-election efforts. It's a national disgrace. So instead of celebrating the joys of summer today, we will be contemplating on our current circumstances with the corona virus and the cost it has drawn from our nation. We will be calculating what we lost, sending prayers for the deceased and the families they left behind. So if you are ready for a rock-and-roll requiem, stay tuned. I'm going to start out by sending one to the man sitting behind the resolute desk. With all respect sir, show some consideration and care for your countrymen and your country. Put on a fucking mask!"
It was a performance that led Chris Jordan of the Asbury Park Press to declare Springsteen, along with Howard Stern, part of a growing "radio resistance" to Donald Trump. And far from resting on his laurels, Bruce followed it up with a far-ranging Q&A in The Atlantic (with the New York Times' David Brooks of all people), outlining Springsteen's short but pointed "Playlist for the Trump Era" and delving deeper into his take on Trump's America:
"I believe that our current president is a threat to our democracy. He simply makes any kind of reform that much harder. I don’t know if our democracy could stand another four years of his custodianship. These are all existential threats to our democracy and our American way of life. If you look at all this, you could be pessimistic, but there are positive sides in each of these circumstances. I think we’ve got hope for a vaccine. I think any time there is a 50-foot Black Lives Matter sign leading to the White House, that’s a good sign. And the demonstrations have been white people and black people and brown people gathering together in the enraged name of love. That’s a good sign."
What was interesting about Springsteen's fiery Episode 6 was what he followed it up with: Episode 7, "4th of July, Asbury Park," a rollicking sit-down with compatriots Stevie Van Zandt and Southside Johnny (follow that link for Jay Lustig's amazing transcription) that focuses on their shared musical history and pretty much sidesteps political and social matters altogether. And turns out hearing these three old friends laugh, reminisce and bask in a little well-deserved mutual admiration was exactly the palate cleanser we needed after the last installment's vitriol. Music for Troubled Times, indeed.
How long this series will continue remains to be seen, and I think we'd all agree that if we had to pick, getting down to brass tacks on a new album and post-pandemic tour (where's that vaccine, Dr. Fauci?!) would be preferable to a prolonged stint as a SiriusXM DJ. But I know I'll certainly enjoy it for as long as we have the privilege of listening: It's been one of the few things that's brought some sense and solace over the last few months. Not that I should be surprised, since "sense and solace" could be Bruce's middle name. (Along with Frederick Joseph, natch.)
Meanwhile, that's not all that's been percolating on the Springsteen front. To wit:
• Many call it one of the greatest Reunion Tour shows, including the one meeeellion people who claim to have been there: Sept. 25, 1999 in Philadelphia is the latest official archive release, marking 20 years (!!!) since the end of that momentous run.
• The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame spotlights Springsteen in its From The Vaults series by posting 38 (!) videos of classic performances and appearances by and about Bruce at the Hall's induction ceremonies and concerts.
• David Crosby wants to recruit Bruce for a Biden benefit. (Related: Catch Stevie with the one and only Dr. Jill Biden talking about education in the U.S. this coming Wednesday.)
• This was an unexpected surprise: Bruce's chat with Alan Paul of the Wall Street Journal on collaborating with Dion on his great new album, and on Dion's legacy in general, is nothing short of delightful.
• Jay Weinberg and Slipknot do a fairly intense "Candy's Room" as a Father's Day present for Max.