Wednesday, October 3, 2007


Malcolm found the culture section of the latest Sunday Times distinctly different and even uplifting. Two articles, the cover story on Bruce Springsteen's latest album, and a shorter piece on Harry Connick Jr gave an excuse to sit awhile and inbibe two pints of London Pride.

Now, putting those two together, the Boss and Connick, indicate that Malcolm's taste is not so much catholic as schizophrenic. However...

Magic crossed Malcolm's horizon a short while back, when a pre-release copy turned up on the less reputable reaches of the Net. He made the mistake of having the JBLs cranked up for the opening chord. Radio Nowhere, alas for Malcolm's hearing, is another Springsteen anthem. After that things calm down.

The fifth track, Gypsy Biker, takes it back home to where the original Springsteen came from:
The speculators made their money on the blood you shed,
Your momma's pulled the sheets up off your bed,
Profiteers on James Street sold your shoes and clothes:
Ain't nobody talkin' because everybody knows
We pulled your cycle up back the garage and polished up the chrome--
Our gypsy biker coming home.
Now, Springsteen is nothing if not a story-teller, and this is so cryptic it's going to keep the anoraks at work for the foreseeable future. From a distance, Malcolm is something at a loss. There is a James Street in Newark (it has been a long-running and less-than-successful saga of urban renewal). The context, though, is clear.

The death of Terry Magovern, of Springsteen's inner circle, is noted by the elegiac final track, Terry's Song:
Well, they built the Titanic to be one of a kind, but many ships have ruled the seas.
They built the Eiffel Tower to stand alone, but they could build another if they please.
Taj Mahal, the pyramids of Egypt, are unique I suppose
But when they built you, brother, they broke the mould.
That one's done with unplugged acoustic guitar (presumably Steve van Zandt), piano and harmonica only, which makes it semi-detached from what goes before, but perhaps also a roman a clé to the whole album. For Malcolm, there's a Woody Guthrie influence in that lyric.

Pretty well everything else in the disc has a resonance in the Iraq mess, so read Gypsy Biker, and the other tracks with care. They say a lot more than a casual first hearing. The New York Times's AO Scott, reviewing the album in terms just a little to close to Dan Cairns in the Sunday Times for comfort or coincidence, went to the core:
The stories told in songs like “Gypsy Biker” and “The Devil’s Arcade” are vignettes of private loss suffered by the lovers and friends of soldiers whose lives were shattered or ended in Iraq. “The record is a tallying of cost and of loss,” Mr. Springsteen said. “That’s the burden of adulthood, period. But that’s the burden of adulthood in these times, squared.”

In conversation, Mr. Springsteen has a lot to say about what has happened in America over the last six years: “Disheartening and heartbreaking. Not to mention enraging” is how he sums it up.
Perhaps the most explicit comment comes in the ninth track, Born to Die. Those who know these things (unlike Malcolm) see this song having affinities to REM. Malcolm sticks with that title a moment, probing the mind to find what it echoes:
"How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake?"
That's Lieutenant John Kerry, posing the unanswerable question to the Fulbright Hearing, on 22nd April, 1971. Which Springsteen transmutes into:
We took the highway till the road went black,
We marked Truth Or Consequences on our map.
A voice drifted up from the radio,
We saw the voice from long ago.

Who'll be the last to die for a mistake,
The last to die for a mistake?
Whose blood will spill, whose heart will break?
Who'll be the last to die for a mistake?
Malcolm. a snapper -up of ill-considered trifles, notices that Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, is off Interstate 25. On his copy of Rand McNally, when the road turns black here, one is heading east into the White Sands Testing Ground, at the northern end of which is Trinity Site, the original Ground Zero of the first atomic-bomb test.

The track, number six, that has the critics salivating and being prompted into Beach Boys Pet Sounds comparisons, Girls in their Summer Clothes, did less for Malcolm. Here's Uncut:
... the album's best moment is its most restrained and contemplative. Girls In Their Summer Clothes is a gorgeous, heartbreaking lament, the simple man-in-love content of, say, All That Heaven Will Allow now soured by the cruel inevitabilities: it sounds, as it was, written by a man pushing 60, watching balefully as those girls "pass me by".
Well. OK. If that's what rocks your boat. It's still not going to demote Sandy or Rosalita off Malcolm's iPod playlist.

One last thing. In the stage rehearsal seen by AO Scott at Asbury Park, the E-Street Band:
... segue from “The Rising” to their next number ...
... until a dissonant organ ring came in to signal a change of key and the thunderous opening of “Last to Die.” It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that Mr. Springsteen’s take on the post-9/11 history of the United States can be measured in the space between the choruses of those two songs. The audience is hurled from a rousing exhortation (“Come on up to the rising”) to a grim, familiar question: “Who’ll be the last to die for a mistake?”
As Malcolm's Brooklyn-born son-in-law would say, "Enough, already".

But. Malcolm, what about Harry Connick?

Ah, that can wait.

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RobShorrock said...

This album has that edge, melencholy and heart I remember when I was sixteen - without the fizz and scratches. It just sent me back their immediately. A wonderful and fulfilling record.

By the way this link will take you three of the tracks at CNet download (a legal and very good site)



Malcolm Redfellow said...


Wish I had been sixteen when Springsteen was first up for it. All I had to go on was early Stones.

I get the point, though.

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