Bob Lefsetz -02

Bob Lefsetz Thinks Bruce Springsteen Is Trapped – Ooh Yeah!

Timing is a bitch. Bruce Springsteen’s two-night stand at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena – and Bob’s rambling, inconsistent thoughts on it – coincided with a busy point in my life. But given my love of Springsteen, there was no way I could let it pass without commentary. So I kept the e-mail until I had the time to devote to it. So this is technically a month late, but bashing Lefsetz has no expirations date.

What kind of crazy fucked up world do we live in where the highlight of a Bruce Springsteen show is not only a new song, but one that features rapping?

Crazy fucked-up world, or AWESOME world?

We don’t go to the Springsteen show to look forward, but back. To when we were thin…

I doubt you were ever thin.

… our skin was smooth and our hopes and dreams exceeded our losses, when we still had our optimism.

I don’t have a direct link to the episode, but on the Slate Culture Gabfest recently, Stephen Metcalf noted that Springsteen’s popularity crested just as his audience was becoming more and conservative, at which point his lyrics became more and more decidedly liberal. And even though taking a political stand undoubtedly hurt his commercial prospects, Springsteen has continued to make political statements, which only improved Springsteen’s standing in Metcalf’s eyes. This doesn’t really correspond to what Bob said, but I thought that was an interesting point and wanted to put it somewhere.

Unlike MTV, the Boss blinked. He wanted to reinvent himself, test boundaries, but the audience wouldn’t let him…So Bruce Springsteen brings this almost twenty person troupe on the road to satiate his fans, to help them escape. Unfortunately, he’s a prisoner of their desires. If he played the entire new album, they’d freak, not only go to the bathroom, but change the cries of “Bruce” to boos.

At the April 27 show Bob attended, Bruce played 25 songs: eight of them from “Wrecking Ball,” four from “The Rising,” and two from “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” In other words, more than half of the set was devoted to the past 17 years that his popularity has been in decline. Plus an obscurity from his first album (“Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street”), a classic he rarely plays (“Racing In The Street”) and a medley (counted as one song) of “The Way You Do The Things You Do” and “634-5789.”

So eight songs of the 25 – less than 1/3 – were hits. A prisoner of their desires, indeed.

And as someone who has heard bootlegs of nearly every show on this tour, including the one Bob attended, you can hear the crowd reacting positively to the new material (well, except for the Patriots and Eagles fans who booed the reference to the Giants in “Wrecking Ball,” but fuck those bitter assholes). Bob, check out this video from Seville,  where the crowd was singing the horn part of “Death To My Hometown.”

Billy Joel’s got it right. No one wants to hear the new material.

Hell, he doesn’t even want to write it.

Elton knows this too. They don’t live in fantasy land.

It’s always great when artists admit that they’re washed up.

But the Boss must. Because if he’s not the icon his fans expect, they’ll collapse, like humans deprived of oxygen on the moon.

Maybe Bruce is still an icon to his fans because, unlike Elton John and Billy Joel, he’s still challenging himself, looking for new things to say and give a different show every night. That’s why those two tour together, because they’re a shell of their past greatness with only nostalgia to offer and little desire to put forth the necessary effort. “Working On A Dream” and “Devils & Dust” were failed experiments artistically, but “Magic,” “We Shall Overcome” and “Wrecking Ball” are better than anything most of his contemporaries have put out in the same time frame.

If you could hear Patti Scialfa’s acoustic guitar, you’re a better person than me. Hell, most of the time I couldn’t even hear Nils Lofgren’s electric.

A fair point. The band is so big and Bruce’s guitar so high in the mix that you can only hear Nils (or some of the other instrumentalists) during his solos. As for Patti, I think she’s great, but sometimes I think they’ve gone Robbie-Robertson’s-mic-at-The-Last-Waltz on her guitar.

But the one person who dominated, the engine, the freight train behind this performance, was Max Weinberg. He was on his own riser, right behind the Boss.

The drummer had his own riser! Behind the frontman! Who ever heard of such a thing?

With a tiny kit resembling a bar mitzvah gift.

Or like a guy who worships Ringo. But hey, we’re all Jews here, so I’ll let it slide.

His job was not to dazzle, but to keep time, to anchor this enterprise.

In other words, play drums in a rock n’ roll band.

Watching him was a thrill. You could see the effort this job required.

Max’s playing over the past few tours has been incredible, and I’m actually glad someone noticed enough to put it in print. I think his time with Conan did his playing a world of good, and bringing that back to Bruce is one reason the shows are so good.

And Bruce himself threw off some special leads. After all, even though it is show biz, to do it right, you’ve got to know how to play.

“Even though it’s show biz?” How about “Because it’s show biz?”

And about ninety minutes in, the mixer turned up Garry Tallent’s bass way too loud. I thought I was experiencing a Jaco Pastorius tribute concert. I could hear every one of his notes, but not those of the guitars…and I had a great seat.

Since Bob didn’t write about the clusterfuck of trying to get tickets, I’m positive he used his contacts to snag a ticket for free.

And I’m not nitpicking. I can tolerate a lot. But this was too much.

Let’s see…the sound at an arena concert I didn’t pay for was shitty. But I’m not nitpicking.

And they didn’t do “Jungleland”. Which I thought was a requirement.

CLARENCE CLEMONS IS DEAD, YOU STUPID FUCK! NOBODY ELSE SHOULD EVER PLAY THAT SOLO AGAIN!!

I think Jimmy Buffett has got it right, with his “Big 8″, if you’re gonna play forever, there are certain numbers you should not leave out.

You’re bitching that Springsteen is trapped by his fans’ demands (wrongly), and now you’re saying that he shouldn’t leave out songs?

I don’t have the space to go through this piece, too, but read Bob’s glowing account of Peter Frampton’s concert at the Greek Theater, where he did all of “Frampton Comes Alive.” No disrespect to Frampton, but that’s an artist whose audience – including Bob – only wants the hits, not Bruce’s.

I’m not saying there’s not a good percentage of Bruce’s audience that has little interest in his new songs, but why is it OK for Bob to see Frampton to relive his youth, but not OK for others to do that with Bruce?

In other words, is Bruce trapped by his audience’s desire for nostalgia or is Bob trapped by his?

But they did do “Born To Run”.

Oh, that’s a relief.

And the secondary highlight was a version of “Racing In The Street” that made me tingle. With Roy Bittan’s piano and an understated performance by the Boss, it was a tour de force.

“Racing In The Street” is high on my wish list and this asshole gets it. Life is fucking unfair.

And Tom Morello came out and wowed us on the guitar.

Bruce, trapped by his audience’s desire for nostalgia, brings out a guy his audience has likely never heard of (well, unless they saw the last time he played LA) to play on three post-1995 songs.

And the soul medley was magical.

And when Bruce crowd-surfed from halfway back to the stage we marveled.

But the peak came near the very end. When Bruce brought out Michelle Moore and they performed “Rocky Ground”.

We’ve been traveling over rocky ground. We were all in it together. Protesting the Vietnam war, listening to FM radio, going to the stadium shows. And then suddenly there were winners and losers. Rich and poor.

There has always been winners and losers, rich and poor, Bob. You only noticed it when you became an adult and began to see the world beyond your comfortable middle-class upbringing, which happened to be in the early-70s.

And even if someone told you there was a good new album, you don’t have time to listen to it. You used to be able to kick back and get stoned, now you might do a doobie now and again, but you’re too busy trying to stay afloat to waste any time.

Yeah, it sucks that mortgages and kids and stuff get in the way of getting high and listening to albums. This is why everybody over 30 hates hipsters, because they’re living the lives we can’t have anymore.

So you scrape up a hundred bucks and go to see Bruce Springsteen.

You silly proles don’t have connections like I do.

Who’s like a traveling preacher of old. And despite all the press, most people don’t care. Just you.

Bruce is still able to sell out arenas and stadiums because most people don’t care about him anymore.

And that’s enough. You just want to go to the show and hang with your brethren, whose names you do not know, but whose lives you’re very familiar with. You had the same experiences, you bought “Born To Run”, you went to the show, it energized you, made you think of the possibilities.

And for three hours, the Boss did just that.

Sounds like an amazing show. It’s making me anxious for the shows at Wrigley I’m going to in September.

And I’m not gonna defend a single element of it. Not the songs, the performance or the audience. Either you had to be there, or it was irrelevant.

Let’s see: You just described about six things that knocked you out, and said that the show “energized you” and “made you think of the possibilities,” but you’re not going to defend it? Sounds to me like you’re not only defending it, but praising it in spite of the bad sound and the omission of one song, whose defining feature was performed by someone who died last year.

And he’s not even mentioning the nightly tribute to Clarence Clemons during “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.” How anybody can write about a Springsteen show on this tour and omit that is beyond me.

Once upon a time Bruce Springsteen was hungry. Dismissed by his peers and abused by his dad, he had something to prove. And that’s why we were drawn to him. He was not doing what was expedient, playing by the rules, but forging his own path. And even if you didn’t play music, you could use this as a beacon.

I WANT THE YOUNG, DESPERATE BRUCE BACK! HOW DARE HE BECOME RICH, MEET THE LOVE OF HIS LIFE, GROW UP, RAISE A FAMILY AND BE HAPPY? GIMME “DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN!” AGAIN!

And we don’t take care of our own.

Which is why Springsteen wrote the song, to remind us that we’re supposed to. How do you get “Rocky Ground” but not that?

The Boss blew his chance by releasing a substandard cut that radio wouldn’t play anyway. You lead with your best. Which in this case is “Rocky Ground”.

I love “Rocky Ground” but if you think a song built upon a drum loop and Biblical imagery with a 16-bar rap in it would get more airplay on classic rock and AAA radio than “We Take Care Of Our Own,” you’re a twit.

I didn’t see a single African-American face in the audience. But we all embraced Michelle Moore’s rap above.

We were typical Hollywood liberals. We congratulated ourselves for liking something with rap in it (because it wasn’t, you know, that kind of rap). Then, after the concert, we rolled up our windows and locked our doors as we drove out of South Central LA.

Because deep inside we know we’re all in it together. And that things have taken a wrong turn. That we’re truly been traveling over rocky ground. And there’s no smooth highway in sight.

Once in a while, Bob gets it.

Music still has more power than any other artistic medium.

But you’ve got to take your best shot.

“Billy Joel’s got it right. No one wants to hear the new material. Elton knows this too.”

Our whole nation is in ruins. But maybe this could be our new anthem.

“They don’t live in fantasy land. But the Boss must.”

Maybe we could all sing this together. Black and white and Democrat and Republican.

Maybe Bob lives in the fantasy land.

Set Bruce Springsteen free. Let him grow old like you and me. Don’t make him play his hits, that’s selfish.

Wait, first you say he should be more like BIlly, Elton and Buffett and only play the hits. Now you’re saying that he should concentrate on the new material? CAN YOU PLEASE NOT CONTRADICT YOURSELF IN THE SPAN OF 1500 WORDS?

But the Boss must adapt to the new world. No albums, just a steady stream of music. We shouldn’t have to discover “Rocky Ground” in concert. Buried deep in the album, most people in attendance last night had never even heard it.

And if he had just released it on its own, to an audience that doesn’t buy singles, even fewer people would have heard it. At least with the album there was, as Bob pointed out, a ton of press. A standalone single wouldn’t have generated nearly as much.

The Boss should continue to play to his fans, but it’s time for him to try to convert some new people too, to recapture the power he once had.

It’s time for him to move forward.

You mean like using drum loops and samples and rap on his albums?

To take up the challenge.

Had Bob written this 10-15 years ago, it would have made sense. But in the past few years, he’s appeared with people like Morello, Arcade Fire, The Gaslight Anthem, and other acts Bob has no knowledge of because he ignores recommendations from his friends. If that’s not moving forward, then what is?

And it’s time for the rest of us to regain our optimism, to link arms, to try to save our country.

Remember, folks, this is coming from a guy who thinks you suck and wrote the epic, “Things I Hate.”




  • Liverbird

    Brilliant as ever.

  • http://powerpop.blogspot.com Steve Simels

    I said it over at your Facebook link and I’ll say it again: I have absolutely no idea when anybody has every taken this guy seriously. He’s a quintessential blowhard barroom know-it-all, and almost invariably full of shit.

  • http://www.wingsforwheels.net dslifton

    Thanks, guys.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeffrey.symynkywicz Jeffrey Symynkywicz

    And a blow hard from both sides of his mouth, too. Don’t know if I’ve ever seen that before. But a great point by point comeuppance, Dave. Thanks!

  • Scott Peterson

    Serious question: does Bob ever re-read his own pieces before he hits “send”?

  • http://www.wingsforwheels.net dslifton

    If he did, there wouldn’t be nearly as many grammatical mistakes.

  • Mark

    He’s a complete tool, as you regularly point out with great humor, and this is one of his most egregious pieces of contradictory, self-involved crap. My only quibble: I love Devils & Dust, which laid the groundwork for Magic, his best album of the millenium (IMHO).

  • http://www.wingsforwheels.net dslifton

    I like the stories of Devils & Dust. I just don’t think that much of it worked as songs.

    But that tour knocked me on my ass. Talk about not giving the fans what they want. Absolutely incredible.

  • Mark

    That’s how I felt about Tom Joad. There are a couple of songs on D&D that read better than they play, but the album grew and grew on me. Probably because it spoke to the darkness in the country without clubbing me over the head with it.

  • Guy Smiley

    I’ve been so up and down on Bruce in recent years, and apart from the Seeger Sessions album and a handful of original songs I haven’t cared for much of his work over the past 25 years or so…

    BUT…

    …Lefsetz is way-y off base here. I like the Wrecking Ball album, better than any of Bruce’s other albums of original songs since Tunnel of Love, at least, and there’s something inspiring about Bruce wanting to push his music forward, challenging his audience, and still making vital music. I also greatly appreciate his more overt socio-political commentary. I felt like Bruce needed to be doing that ages ago.
    In these scary times where insane Tea Partiers have to be taken seriously, we need a voice of sanity like Bruce’s. Also, the fact that he’s still playing his heart out at (almost 63) and showing the stamina of someone half his age is just incredible. Wrecking Ball, while pretty solid for the most part, is never going to replace Born To Run or Darkness in my mind or heart.. But Bruce still has plenty to say, and Wrecking Ball’s still an important album that deserves to be heard.
    Look, I love Billy Joel and I like his music (and his entire catalogue), on the whole, more than I do Bruce’s, but even I have to admit that Billy’s just an oldies act now. An oldies act with an incredible run of albums and songs to draw from, but in spite of (more or less) “retiring” with a great album (the underrated River of Dreams) he hasn’t written anything new in almost 20 years and got old, fat, drunk (he’s sober now, I believe) and decided to merely coast on his past. In other words, the exact opposite of Bruce. Bruce is the same age, but he hasn’t gotten “old” the way Billy has.

    Bruce hasn’t rested on his laurels, and even if I haven’t always cared for everything he’s done the past two decades (or more) he’s still a show I try not to miss if he comes to my town. Supposedly, he’s going to play more hits at the stadium shows this summer. So that will please those fans. Doesn’t mean he should abandon his muse though. Lefsetz is full of shit, and then he contradicts himself later in his own stupid writeup.

  • DT

    Play “Jungleland!” But don’t play the old stuff anymore!
    Release new music! But don’t release new albums!
    Bruce must do new things! Isn’t it cool how Bruce is doing new things!
    Good God.
    Right now I am fairly certain there are people in locked psychiatric wards screaming into broken pay phones who are more coherent than Mr. Lefsetz.

  • Malchus

    I was at both shows and night 2 ranks as one of the best I saw in the 9 E Street Band shows I’ve been to in 10+ years. Bruce was on his game, loose, and in full command of the crowd. Was the band a little large? Sure. But the man is trying to fill the huge void left by the passings of Danny and Clarence. But this was no “oldies” show. Unlike the “Working on a Dream” tour, these current shows featured 8…EIGHT songs from the new album. They all rocked and the crowd was into every single one. Plus the band played for 3 mother f’n hours! I could go on and on (hearing “Something in the Night” for the 1st time, Nils showing Tom Morello how it’s done with his “Youngstown” solo) but what’s the point. Lefsetz is an idiot

  • Jonny the friendly lawyer

    Well said. I’m a big Elvis Costello fan and don’t really listen to his records from the past 15 years, but I sure don’t object to his going in new directions and not standing still on a proven formula. Like Bruce, he’s always great live and worth seeing whenever he’s in town, no matter what he’s promoting. And Bruce can still pull out a great tune once in a while (e.g. “Girls In their Summer Clothes”). I’m not apologizing for “Outlaw Pete” or anything, but that’s besides the point.

  • http://digitaldreamdoor.com/pages/best_songs-Power-Pop.html Brett Alan

    I don’t understand why you feel the need to give him so much publicity. What do you SEE in this guy? I mean, I could understand spending time knocking down someone who is really prominent, but if not for Popdose I never would have heard of this guy. And I’d have been better off.

  • RS Crabby

    I am beginning to think that Lefsetz is the Rush Limbaugh of rock journalism. Sometimes hes right, most of the time he’s blowing smoke throw his ass…er ears.

  • http://www.popdose.com/ DwDunphy

    I especially appreciated the line of him saying “I can tolerate a lot,” as I still have enough short-term memory to remember the epic “Things I Hate” tirade. Seems to me he would most hate a reminder that he can’t tolerate anything at all.

    Big ups for this entry, Dave.

  • http://www.wingsforwheels.net dslifton

    What I see is an opportunity to mock.

  • http://notthatyoung.blogspot.com SteveC

    I’ve come to appreciate Weinberg’s playing more and more. I think he (and Tallent!) are criminally overlooked as far as how much they add to the band.