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So yesterday (January 18) the SOPA de la Dia down at the Farcebook luncheonette centered around the latest threat to our internet way of life, the often uneasy separation of Liberty and Piracy, and the take-THAT whammy of A Day Without BoingBoing.
All this with an underlying note of buzz in anticipation of “We Take Care of Our Own,” the new track from Bruce Springsteen — and a first whack from Wrecking Ball, the long player now taking pre-orders in advance of an early March blitzkrieg.
Comes January 19, however, and the Friendscape is strangely subdued regarding the newly free-range tune, an arena-scale rallystarter with just enough button-pushing repetition of the title to suggest that the author means it to be taken at face value — and just enough spaces between the buttons to suggest that Boss is being just a gentle bit ironic here.
Our pal John Ward put it best, we think: “More product from the anthem factory. I have deep respect for the towering artistry of Springsteen’s youth, but for years he’s been thematically, melodically and rhythmically unimaginative and cliched, playing to the crowd and curating his legacy. What are we supposed to do with this other than punch the air? ‘Yeah! We take care of OUR OWN! Unlike those OTHER guys!’ I’m bored already.”
Dustin Racioppi, a young old-school journalist whose spot-on work generally runs rings around the rest of us mired in the mangroves of the local media, had this to say: “It’s been comedic to watch the proportionate growth of stagnant, hackneyed songwriting and cloying reverence from media and soccer moms from Colts Neck to Belmar. It’s hard to be a fan anymore.” And Sledger-spawned sleuth Wally Stroby correctly points out a distinct note of “Always Something There to Remind Me” (maybe the Naked Eyes version)
Of course, just because these guys sum things up so succinctly doesn’t mean that we could resist chiming in with another 20,000 or so words of our own…
In an image widely disseminated by Facebook group Bruce Springsteen News, the man who makes the News is visible filming a video around Asbury Park, one day prior to his January 15 appearance at the annual Light of Day fundraiser concert.
Clocking in at just under four minutes — a pretty economical running time in a value-menu climate — “We Take Care of Our Own” seems at first spin to be a wayback-machine nod to the Gloriest Days of the 1980s; a thing cut from the amazing technicolor dreamcloth of “We Built This City,” awash with keyboards and punctuated by salvos from the synth-drums we’ve all got shoved back behind the Bowflex in the garage.
Unlike the much-misundersood 80s anthem “Born in the USA” — a cut whose cheery-aid thump trumped its own downbeat themes; transforming it (to the Boss’s chagrin) into a Lee Greenwood-style soundtrack to Reagan era rallies — this one doesn’t seem to us a “character” song in which Bruce steps into the bloody boots of a disillusioned vet or plant-closing casualty.
A lot of time could be spent parsing the identity of “We” or “Our Own” here, but we’re willing to accept the lyrical voice as that of Springsteen his self — nevermind the “work wanted” plea at around 2:20 in the song — a deeply caring guy whose own herculean efforts to save mankind are somehow still never enough in an atmosphere where “the road of good intentions has gone dry as a bone” and “there ain’t no help, the Calvary (sic?) stayed home.”
It’s all driven home with that plain-spoke language that the formerly word-drunk bard of the boardwalk has increasingly adopted with his fanbase in recent years — the patiently patriarchal tone of pre-Homer TV dads that imparts soundbite lessons of genuine value to young Cindy or The Beaver, even as it makes abundantly clear that the wisdom and the authority trickle down in a single direction (parents just love this stuff!).
While we like to think the song is sufficiently Romney-proofed to avoid this sort of kampaign-trail karaoke, there is the sense that the record — neither as “angry” nor as “wild” as pre-release press would have it — arrives crafted to order for an adoring public that skews older, and more upscale suburban, and probably way more conservative than all involved would readily cop to (there is absolutely NO truth to the rumor that the original lyric read “Wheat Cakes Care of Arbonne”).
It’s a trend that really began to accelerate with The Rising‘s rise to meet a post-9/11 demand for some largely noncontroversial words of healing and you-are-there heroism — a diffusion of the anger that was present just a year earlier in “American Skin” and a medicinal work performed with the sense that it was summoned into being by popular demand.
There’s the notion of the E Street Band, in whatever form it now exists (the forthcoming album is credited just to Bruce) as some sort of Justice League, charged with responding to whatever national crisis of conscience or giant starfish attack currently threatens our American way of life. With Springsteen an increasingly soured Superman, still trying to keep us puny earthlings from nuking ourselves into oblivion even as he ponders his reasons for ever presuming to walk among us in the first place.
Shit, we don’t doubt the man’s aforementioned good intentions for a moment. In an age when it’s as easy to become a celebrity as it is to build faux-finished Fortresses of Solitude monuments around one’s ego, Bruce Springsteen remains remarkably approachable, refreshingly centered, and committed to an idealistic code that’s arguably upped the ante for every public figure who dares pitch their two cents in on any pressing issue of the day.
His very presence at a benefit show catapults said event into a serious stratosphere of awareness and excitement — and the genuine sweat equity that he puts into these endeavors has challenged performers of all makes and models to a friendly race toward pop-cultural canonization; a phenomenon that’s found its most fruitful flowering in the Mantle-’n-Maris competition with Jon Bon “Soul Kitchen” Jovi.
All of us in this neck of the weeds feel possessive of this artist who has defined us more than we’ve defined him. Many of us would likely take a bullet for him, or push him from the path of that rogue Weezers Italian Ice truck. Few of us wish to contemplate a Jersey Shore without his approving Tillie-head shining in the skies above.
One can even make the case that this correspondent can literally thank Mr. Springsteen for the roof over his own head. The historic 19th century Asbury Park house that we rented living space in as of a few months ago — a place that nearly met its own wrecking ball in the dismal days of the mid 1990s — once received a cash gift from Bruce toward much-needed restoration of the roof, thanks to the efforts of (since departed from Asbury) Kate Mellina. So thank you, The Boss — and if you’re reading this, we seem to have sprung a little leak in the ceiling of the upstairs back bathroom.
That said, we’re getting the feeling that Bruce is getting as frustrated playing squarely to the stadium throngs as we are having to listen to it, and that we — an actual Asbury Park person whose further frustrations have involved things like food stamps, bankruptcy, underemployment and an ongoing inability to be accepted into the contestant pool for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire — have pretty much nothing in common with the man’s fans.
We feel this frustration because we know that there’s a brilliant, creative, even dangerous artist at work in there. The guy who ventured far from E Street to record the stark weather report that was Nebraska. The guy who’s curveballed concert audiences with covers of songs by Suicide and an occasionally scratched itch for distorto guitar solos. The guy who rather shockingly pink-slipped the E Streeters and left Monmouth County for the badlands of LA some years back; ditching the working-dog look for some sharp-dressed duds and writing songs that looked at modern life from the sexual-politics side of the bed (before apparently coming to the realization that he was NOT the biggest fish in the Hollywood firmament).
We cling to these flashes of fuck-you incandescence, and we pine for the next time that the man flips off the fanfair barnacles who continue to confine his career course to the most well traveled, clearly marked and dredged-out channels. With the lumbering, expensive E Street Band having fallen out of warranty — and the wobbling ice floes of the music-biz meltdown fairly crying out for a different approach than special-edition box sets and supersized stadium shows — maybe the time is coming to lead and see who’s got the guts to follow; to REALLY take care of your own. Us, we’ll take whatever crumbs we’re thrown.
UPDATE! STOP THE PRESSES! No sooner did we “30″ this epic rant than we received a text from The Press Room, that welcome new addition to downtown Asbury’s live music clubscape (and the partial scene of Springsteen’s January 14 vidshoot in and around the bistros, boards and boulevards of the place Where Music Lives, Laughs and Loves). SO…NEW BOSS VIDEO, SHOTS IN THE PRESS ROOM, read the senses-shattering cell-o-gram. FEEL LIKE DOING A WRITE UP ON THE HOTTEST SPOT IN TOWN? Aye, that we might just do, mateys, because it’s nice to stay busy, and to feel wanted, and like we sez…