I am only 36.
Considering my deep affection for the 1980s, you probably already guessed my age.
i grew up an introvert who spent all her time in her bedroom listening to music. My mother accidentally introduced me to bands like Frankie Goes to Hollywood by buying me compilation albums (Motion ’84 had both “Two Tribes” and “Relax” on it). But a large part of my youth was spent listening to radio, and both Top 40 and the Classic Rock station played Bruce Springsteen. I was seven when Born in the U.S.A. was released, and that album was everywhere for a good two years. Since I’m an obsessive about music, it didn’t take me long to discover Nebraska and Born To Run, and I have loved the Boss ever since.
Fast forward two decades and my lovely teenage daughter and I having a discussion about music ( this time about the ridiculous amount of All Time Low accumulating on my iTunes). Gwen is very much a music nerd. She has everything ranging from Mozart to Swedish House Mafia on her iPod, with a specific fondness for show tunes and tattooed screaming boys in eyeliner and skinny jeans. She is just coming into her own though when it comes to classic rock and roll. She’s familiar with the collected works of the Kinks, the Beatles, Dylan, Springsteen, the whole list of rock gods. As she points out, she has heard them all her life. But she has never been a big fan of Dylan and Springsteen as singers.
“I respect their writing,” she told me. “They are second to none. But I cannot stand their voices when they sing.”
This conversation has been replayed over and over again over the years, as her fondness for their writing has grown. She’s a post-millennial, born to a world where Kurt Cobain has always been dead and Bob Marley is merely a ganja smoking poster dude. Her sisters, both born in the 21st Century, are even more intractable on the subject of music. They both somehow think Katy Perry is the greatest thing ever.
It has got worse as time marches onward. Then I read articles like this one, and I go- “Wait a sec? Am I now the old one here?”
I mean, Bruce to me is absolutely iconic. I didn’t understand the nuances of “Born In The U.S.A.” and “Glory Days” when I was seven, but I got that there was something very grown up happening in “I’m On Fire”, and “Dancing in the Dark” is a fabulous dance rock song. I get that he fell of the radar in the 1990s before coming back as the elder statesman type. I even get that there are people out there who are deeply offended that he sings about working class life despite being a gazillionaire ( I don’t get why this is something to be offended by, but I do get that some people are offended by it). But when E.J. Dickson in his piece talks about Bruce lacking the importance of a Michael Jackson, or a Neil Young, I just get depressed. I mean, Bruce defined the essence of rock and roll to me. The best songs were always about cars and girls. The Beach Boys taught me that.
Bruce reveres all the same stuff I revere- 60s girl groups, the Wall of Sound, the spirit of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie (Bruce’s album of folk covers is possibly the great folk album of the new millennium). It flits into his music, and I recognize these influences and I adore them and him. He grew up working class and made good, but he’s not a total prick and still sees the world as unequal. He is politically active and charitable. Why shouldn’t he be using Tom Joad as an inspiration to create a moody dark folk song (or, alternately, an absolute kick ass, searing punk folk rock song with some trading of lick with Tom Morello)? Why do you all hate him?
So I went back to my daughter, where she thought about it and said something rather smart.
“He’s not dark enough. Except for “The River”, that shit is depressing, and not in a good way. He’s not pop enough. There isn’t a “Let’s Dance” in his repertoire. He’s straight up rock. Hipsters hate him because he’s earnest. Conservatives hate him because he really didn’t write “Born in the U.S.A.” for Reagan to bask in. Liberals forget about him in favour of ”authentic” liberal musicians like Morello. He has a loyal fan base, but they tend to forget he’s written some crap along the way, and most of that crap was in the era you tend to obsess over for different reasons. He isn’t as inflammatory as the punk bands, he’s not a pretty of the boy bands, he’s older than the rock bands. He’s become Middle Of the Road, Mum. Sorry.”
I sometimes hate how clever she is.
I’m not saying everyone should like Bruce. No, wait, I am saying everyone should like Bruce. But I know there are people who dislike him for actual, musical reasons (Jim DeRogatis, I am looking at you). But if my daughter is correct in her assessment that Bruce is now the MOR apex of rock music, I’m even more depressed. Because Bruce is the definition of rock and roll. He’s the blues, folk, country, soul, gospel-all wrapped up in a Fender stratocaster.
Then it comes down to the hardest truth of them all.
Maybe the roots of rock and roll have been forever tarnished by the fracturing of genres. Bruce’s folk tendencies may get him respect in a couple of decades, when Tom Joad gets it’s much needed revival and reconsideration. He’ll be moved into the folk revivalist category, lyrically if not musically- I think he has done more to expand the musical vocabulary of folk more than anyone this side of Dylan. But rock and roll maybe really is dead and has been for a long time. We’ve come a long way from “Rocket 88″. Nothing sounds like it any more.
My eldest daughter, as i have already mentioned, has a wide and varied music collection of her own. But she also admits to having large holes in her collection. Her lack of music from the 1950s is a sore spot with me. As much as I love Rogers and Hammerstein, why not listen to some Bill Haley, Buddy Holly, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis? Hell, in this case Billy Fury and Cliff Richard is acceptable in my view. Vince Taylor- he directly influenced the Clash, for crying out loud!
Again, her response comes down to this- “They’re not exciting enough.”
Somewhere, the puritans that went ballistic over Elvis on Sullivan are rolling in their graves.
It really is that simple, though, isn’t it? Rock and roll began as the ultimate musical rebellion. Then other bands came along and added to the experience, making new genres more exciting, and leaving good old rock and roll in the dust.
As Bruce turns 64 this month, approaching the age where one begins thinking about retirement, and he’s on tour with his legendary band, the E-Street Band. Long time sax man Clarence Clemons and piano player Danny Federici have both passed on, making the end seem much closer than I’m ready to believe. Rumours as always persist about more music and more tour dates. Bruce has been more prolific and more consistent than many of his contemporaries, and still more successful on the charts (name the last Mellencamp song you heard anywhere).
Remind me to play my kids Bruce’s cover of “Quarter to Three” later. No “Let’s Dance” my ass.