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A couple of weeks ago I reviewed Bruce Springsteen’s new album, High Hopes. It’s a bit of a departure from the way he usually works — unfinished tracks from the vault, no overarching theme, a few covers, etc. — and I wanted to see if I was alone in my overall opinion, which was “Yeah, this is OK, but it’s not blowing me away.” That’s not usually my reaction to a new Springsteen record.

When it was announced that Bruce Springsteen’s new album, High Hopes, was a collection of newly finished outtakes, covers, and studio versions of songs he’s been playing live, I was a bit confused. Even with his prolific output of late, it didn’t seem necessary to release something only two years after Wrecking Ball. Stranger, it seemed like a stopgap – the type of album Matt Springer and I concocted for our “Spare Parts” series a few years ago, hardly the work of someone who famously agonizes over every last detail of song selection and sequence.

I was 17 the year Tunnel of Love was released; Bruce Springsteen was 38 and intent on ruminating, on taking stock, on running down a list of decisions and regrets, looking backward and around himself, because he was unable to see the way forward. I missed that then. To me, the album was just good; I simply didn’t know enough to recognize the pain and confusion that was quite real, quite apparent, had I known what to look for. Everything, it seems, was fair game, fodder for the music—his marriage, his sense of self-worth, his confidence in his ability to get even one thing right. What comes off the groove is not quite an emotional breakdown, but the tears are not far from the edge of his eyelids as he unloads some of the most trenchant, inward-looking lyrics he’d ever write, in a voice that is by turns soft/yearning and brash/cocky, set to music made almost entirely on his own. Tunnel of Love is an album-length meditation on the possibilities of love, as well as its limitations.

The most fun part of doing this series with Matt Springer has been coming up with a concept for each phase of Bruce Springsteen’s career, then coming up with a way to justify it so that it would come across as plausible to even the most obsessive-compulsive Boss fan. For the two of us to speculate on how Springsteen would act is absurd to begin with (and admittedly creepy), but that’s also why we enjoy it so much (because it’s absurd, not because it’s creepy).

Throughout this series, we’ve tried to stay within the boundaries of our perceptions of the real-life Springsteen, and that the only thing different about him is that his the volume of his released output approaches that of his recorded output. However, there are times when our ideas don’t work out as we had hoped, and the rationalizations, even within our own Land Of Make Believe, strain credibility.

Our original intention was to follow Be True with a straightforward rock album culled from the recording sessions held between October 1979 through June 1980. Our justifications made perfect sense artistically. Since he didn’t tour behind Be True, he went back and delivered an incredible dose of blistering arena-friendly rock. He would follow that up in 1981 with a folk-rock record similar to The River album we described in our last installment, which would easily pave the way for Nebraska.

The problem was that Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band were on the road for nearly all of the first two-thirds of 1981. We didn’t feel it made sense to release our version of The River in the middle of a tour, and Bruce wouldn’t want to spend time after the tour sequencing and mastering an album out of a year’s worth of outtakes. After all, the man deserved a break!

What’s been most surprising about working on Spare Parts has been the way our alternate-universe Bruce Springsteen records fit into the gaps left open in the Boss’ regular-universe career. It’s not just that the guy has reams of outtakes that didn’t make the cut for his albums; there are threads to be found in those songs, and tugging on those threads creates additional chapters in the story Springsteen has told over the course of his career.

Dave Lifton and I made the choice to disassemble The River in favor of more frequent, focused releases, one a year, from 1979 to 1981. Still, we have an album titled The River for 1980, and having explored the dark side of the American dream on Darkness on the Edge of Town and the complexities of romantic love on Be True, The River is where those two threads weave together. How are human relationships impacted by that darkness? What happens when love is not enough to redeem the loneliness brought about by the death of dreams? Powerful questions with difficult answers, explored through tremendous songwriting.

Envy Bruce Springsteen. He not only releases two of the definitive albums of the 1970s (Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town), but even found time to fire off top forty hits for other artists between records (“Fire,” “Because the Night”). As it turns out, he also had upwards of forty unreleased songs from the same era sitting around in the vaults waiting for their day in the sun.

A handful of those forty-plus vault tunes made it out on the four-CD Tracks compilation in 1998, and now another twenty-two songs will see release on The Promise: The Lost Sessions from Darkness On The Edge Of Town. It’s a two-disc collection that also factors as a major component of an epic boxed set celebrating the release and recording of the Darkness record. That box features a documentary, tons of live and studio footage, and the remastered Darkness album itself, alongside these twenty-two songs.

It’s enough to make a Brucehead drool with anticipation, sure, but should an average fan of the Boss and his music care?

Even if you’re one of those folks with an old beat-up copy of Born to Run in your CD rack and little else from Springsteen, The Promise is a pretty amazing compilation. It takes the listener down any number of potential avenues where Springsteen’s music could have gone in the period between his great romantic opus to pop potential, Born to Run, and his stark exploration of the end of that road, Darkness on the Edge of Town.

Six years ago I was fed up with the state of affairs in Bootleg City, but determined to do something about it.

A small group of Bootleg City school board members — David Byrne, Bob Marley, and myself — were tired of being constantly undermined by Mayor Cass, who we felt had a personal agenda. Additionally, a young whippersnapper named Matthew Boles had recently joined the board, and he quickly aligned himself with the mayor in a not-so-subtle move to advance his political career, without any concern for who he might be stepping on as he made his way up the government ladder. (You might be shocked to hear this about Boles, but over the past six years I’ve come to learn that this is merely everyday behavior for him. It seems that you can never truly trust someone who’s a fan of the Little River Band.)

On a quiet December afternoon, Byrne gave me a call to let me know that he had tickets to see a special Bruce Springsteen holiday concert in neighboring Asbury Park. (I say “neighboring,” but in reality it’s about a five-hour drive from Bootleg City.) He and I had things to discuss, especially our mutual growing concerns about the way our fair city was falling apart in the dictatorlike hands of Mayor Cass. I suggested to Byrne that he should grab some of his royalty checks from Stop Making Sense for gas money and invite Marley along for the trip, and soon we were on our way to Asbury Park, NJ!

Bruce Springsteen Concert Tickets Still Available At Less-Than-Retail Prices

Dear Bruce,

I’m writing to you as a longtime fan. I’ve been to about 60 shows, going back over 35 years. I can’t begin to tell you how important your music has been to me. As a proud son of New Jersey, I’m grateful for the respect you’ve brought to our state for your art, and for the way you’ve lived your life.

For a number of those years, I’ve been bothered by the dramatic announcements by your advisers that the latest on-sale has sold out in “five seconds” or whatever, when the fact is that those shows are not sold out at all. There are thousands of tickets being held back. The effect of this, for the less savvy or inexperienced concertgoer, is to drive people into the arms of scalpers in the near term, because they’re afraid that if they don’t pay the exorbitant prices they’ll miss out. The fact is that if they would wait, they would find that thousands of tickets suddenly appear out of nowhere shortly before the show from official sources, not to mention the additional thousands that are offered on eBay, or various message boards, at face value, or less.

I admit it. I’m jaded. After seeing more than 50 Bruce Springsteen shows over the years, with and without the E Street Band, it’s gotten to the point where I just don’t look forward to the shows as much as I used to. The thing is, while I might not look forward to the shows with the same youthful eagerness, I always seem to leave the shows feeling re-energized, my ever more flagging faith in rock and roll renewed. That’s certainly what happened when I saw Springsteen and the band on the first night of their recent two night stand at the Izod Arena.

While I’m sure the E Street Band plays great shows all over the world, and I’ve seen a few in other cities myself, there is nothing quite like seeing them at home in NJ. It’s like a bunch of dear old friends getting together for a few hours to party like we used to back in the day. We might not be that young anymore, but we show a little faith, and our faith is rewarded.

More than one of our old friends was missing at this show. Organist Danny Federici is gone, a victim of melanoma, but his presence is very real at every show. On this night, drummer Max Weinberg was also absent due to his Conan O’Brian commitments, ceding the drum throne to his son Jay for the evening. The 18-year-old Weinberg was a dominant force throughout the show, giving the older guys and ladies a bit of a kick in the ass now and then, and upping the energy quotient substantially. Springsteen’s sheer joy and pride in the young drummer was evident throughout the show. The Big Man, Clarence Clemons, was moving slow, and sitting at some points, but his sound is still as big as his giant heart.

basementsongs

imgoindownsinglecoverI wasn’t supposed to be at this concert. A conscious decision was made not to spend money on a ticket to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band when they landed at the L.A. Sports Arena in support of Springsteen’s new album, Working on a Dream. No, I wasn’t supposed to be there, but Springsteen’s outstanding Super Bowl halftime extravaganza occurred the night before tickets went on sale. When that show concluded and I’d informed Sophie that I wouldn’t be in attendance at the April 15th show, she looked at me with pleading eyes and said, “But you have to go, Daddy, you just have to.” The next morning, after tickets were nearly sold out, Julie called me up to see if I’d purchased a seat. Upon informing her “no” she simply said, “Dude, you can’t miss Bruce.” It’s as if they both could see that maybe my soul needed some uplift and that maybe I would get that injection of life from the heart-pounding, soul-stopping E Street Band. While I still had Julie on the phone, I bit the bullet and bought my ticket.

As a general rule, when seeing Bruce Springsteen in concert, I do not check out the setlists from any show leading up to the one I’m attending. The thinking is that I don’t want to ruin the surprise of what Springsteen will be playing. However, I’ve been to enough of his shows to know that the Boss is constantly calling an audible, and lately he’s been taking requests from the crowd and pulling out rarities on a nightly basis. I decided to approach the evening differently. Instead of blindingly entering the venue without any idea what would be played, I decided to be informed — to embrace the ritualistic aspect of Springsteen’s performance, and offer an objective review for the Basement Songs a mere seven hours after the show wrapped. Going into last night’s show, I was well aware of the standard setlist and which songs would probably get played.

Still, I expected a different feel from the Bruce and the band on this night for they are a different E Street Band than the one I saw in Anaheim in April of last year.

workingsingleEach spring when Great Strides rolls around and we begin fundraising for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Julie and I do our best to write a letter that grabs people’s attentions and hopefully inspires them to make a donation. This is actually a pretty tough task. We want to convey how devastating cystic fibrosis is, yet still rejoice in the fact that our son, Jacob, is doing well. We want to share that although Jacob’s health continues to be good, living with the disease has really taken a toll on him emotionally this year. And while we are incredibly fortunate that Jacob is doing well, lives are lost everyday. Despite the medical breakthroughs being made each day, children and adults fighting for their lives are losing their battle with cystic fibrosis.

Last week, as we toured our daughter Sophie’s classroom for open house, hanging on the bulletin board was a paper she’d written in class about her greatest wishes. Included among her noble thoughts was this one:

“I wish my brother didn’t have cystic fibrosis. He has to do breathing treatments two times a day and take many pills. Sometimes he gets so sick he has to go in the hospital.”

These succinct, simple words by our beautiful 10-year-old daughter brought tears to our eyes, summing up what our entire family, both blood and extended, are feeling.

Back in December, I purchased the title track/first single to Bruce Springsteen’s latest. As the song has received regular airplay in our house since then, the words have taken on deeper meaning.

I’m working on a dream
Though trouble can feel like it’s here to stay
I’m working on a dream
Our love will chase the trouble away

I’m working on a dream
Though it can feel so far away
I’m working on a dream
And our love will make it real someday