By Chris Morrison
I first saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band in 1980 and thought they were one of the best live acts I had ever seen. Great rocky songs played tight with enormous energy. Pub rock at its best. Hearing the same old songs played hundreds of different ways on the latest over-priced heritage tours and one wonders what all the fuss was about.
The whole Springsteen music operation has generated hundreds of millions of dollars over the years. But the outfit is still a bar band – a derivative afterthought to all the great innovative music of the !960s and ’70s. Surprisingly few Springsteen songs are covered by other artists, certainly compared with a master songwriter like Bob Dylan.
Late Dylan is still capable of writing beautiful and poignant material like ‘When the deal goes down” and “Make you feel my love” Name one poignant love song that Springsteen has written. Most of his popular songs were written years ago and the later albums have been filled with dross. Although to be fair, the band is not the only culprit going through the motions and cleaning up on the concert heritage trail.
The live Springsteen band relies on a tight hard-driving sound and slick musical performance licks. Good but hardly groundbreaking stuff. But Springsteen shouts rather than sings and there is only so much you can do with four chords and second-rate lyrics. The lack of a voice is cruelly exposed when he picks up an acoustic guitar and sings from his catalogue of spectacularly dull folk songs.
On the electric stage these days the samey material is partly hidden by drowning it in a big band treatment. A few years ago Nils Lofgren was introduced to play a few lead guitar fireworks, while the excellent sax player Clarence Clemons was replaced on his death by a massive horn section.
Springsteen’s big initial play was to suggest that he was the voice of the US blue collar worker. But it’s wearing a bit thin now when you charge $100 a pop for recycled pop and hang out with all the rich folks in the Democrat party. These days, social media is not short of former fans who suggest his blue-collar storytelling is patronising and condescending. Certainly the first line of Born in the USA – “Born down, in a dead man’s town” suggests that he thinks many people in hometown America live in squalor.
There are plenty of country singers who talk about hard and messy lives but they tend not to wear their political affiliations and prejudices on their sleeves. For them the old showbiz adage – “just shut up and sing” – helps keep all the punters buying the records. But Springsteen can afford to drop a few deplorables, hence his support for Obama and latterly Hillary Clinton.
Just before her defeat in the Presidential election, Springsteen praised Clinton’s record on immigration and climate change and said she had an “actual vision of an America where everyone counts”. Well apart from the deplorables of course, and anyone who lives in Wisconsin.
His great hate figure, to no surprise, is Donald Trump, but when the President refers to places as “shitholes”, they tend to be overseas. Springsteen and all his elite Democrat friends can’t see that the world has moved on and their own identity-ridden and anti-working class solutions have failed. Trump carried the blue collar vote because he had clear and simple messages about bringing back jobs, increasing wages, combating terrorism and curbing illegal immigration.
At the time Springsteen dismissed these as simple and powerful ideas that were all lies. Two years on with the economy powering ahead and blue-collar wages rising in real terms for the first time in about 30 years, one might say that the Boss got it half right.
In 1980 Ronald Reagan won the presidency and Mr Shouty declared himself “pretty frightened”. In the event, it was the Russians that got frightened and lost the Cold War. Less frightened were the Eastern European states that were released from socialist slavery.
Now the song is being replayed (again) and Springsteen says that with Trump he has never know the fear that he now feels. Like many elite liberals in America, he hates the idea of strengthening the border with Mexico. The Boss feels this will “vilify” illegal immigrants – a policy at odds with many American citizens who think that people who break the law should be vilified, or at least returned to their country of origin.
But when you have hundreds of millions in the bank you can afford to virtue signal all you damn well please. As the deplorable rednecks in North Carolina found out a couple of years ago. Sadly, Springsteen was unable to come play any songs about their ghastly existence because he objected to a local “bathroom rights” law stopping ladyboys using the facilities of their choice.
Less who drives down Thunder Road these days, more who uses the Thunder Box!
It’s sad when your musical heroes fade before your eyes. And don’t even get me started on Roger “We don’t need no education” Waters!