Monday, January 31, 2011

My Favourite 5 Springsteen Videos/Songs

So, I feel like I might not have clearly communicated my love for all the things Springsteen in my last post, entitled "I'm in love with the Gaslight Anthem", or whatever. At any rate, The Boss is one of my all-time, all-time, favourites and since I've been singing "Hungry Heart" to myself for the last 3 days straight, I thought this post might be a way to right myself with the music gods.

Having said that, all that stuff I said about him pandering to the working man is so absolutely, unabashedly true. His attire in the videos are, in order: plaid shirt, sleeves cut off; suit jacket and button up shirt; plaid shirt, sleeves rolled up; coveralls; plain white t-shirt, jeans. So, basically, in three of the five videos he looks like he's just been working on his car in the driveway, one he was actually working on a car, and in the other he looks like a professional musician. And, hilariously, in "Glory Days" which just missed the cut, the video opens with the Boss on a construction site running some enormous super drill... I'm just saying...

After spending the morning watching these videos, the contrast between the Springsteen videos from the 80s and everything that's being done now is really striking. Most of the videos are done in long form, there's a surprising amount of non-song dialogue, there are almost 'scenes', and you almost feel like Springsteen is trying to sell you on his songs. Not in a sleezy way, but in a I really like my music and you should too, sorta way.

In contrast, today, music videos basically don't exist and Much Music and MTV have evolved (or devolved, depending on your point of view) into places for reality shows about rich drug addicted teen mothers celebrating their 16th birthday (or something). But the videos that are being made are either larger than life productions that are symbols of how successful the artist is, or aspires to be (basically every pop/rap/rnb video); or more subversive videos by smaller bands which are deliberate attempts to demonstrate how they don't need an expensive video to enjoy making music (think OK Go).

Frankly, I'd take anyone of these Springsteen videos over 99.9% of the actual music videos being produced today. They're simple, straightforward, and just about the Boss selling his tunes. No agent, no building a brand or crafting an image. If smell what the R.O.B. is cooking, you should check out videos by Colin Medley, Southern Souls, LaundroMatinee, and, of course, the grandfather of these sorts of videos, La Blogotheque all of which are more or less in the grand tradition of... 80s music videos... weak ending...

5. "Born to Run" Born to Run

4. "The River" The River

3. "Hungry Heart" The River

2. "I'm on Fire" Born in the USA

1. "Dancing in the Dark" Born in the USA
... great song... it's my favourite because it's given me my signature wedding dance move: the underbite-shimmy-snap. Also, is that the chick from Cougartown?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang

Not sure whether this blogging thing is going to take again, but what the hell...

On a recent Bill Simmons podcast w/ Adam Carolla they did this bit about Bruce Springsteen and how his music was so overtly, unabashedly, middle-class. They went on about his newest (and most made-up release) Factory about the factory that makes the factories was shutting down... a little over the top... but right on point. The gag being that the Boss would do whatever he could to connect with blue collar middle America. While I don't think his motives are quite as suspect as Simmons and Carolla joked that they were, Springsteen's middle class nostalgia, seems disconnected in the post-internet age. Suffice to say the Boss hasn't been middle class in, say, three decades, so what's he really got to say about losing your job at the steel mill.

I bring this up because my first exposure to The Gaslight Anthem taps into this blue collar theyreshuttingdownthefactorythatmakesthefactories vibe that Springsteen made famous on Born to Run and Born in the U.S.A. Beyond the obvious comparison between the gruff rock voice of lead singer Brian Fallon and Springsteen, both parties seem to capture the anger/confusion/longing for something simpler, of their respective generations.

I think what makes the connection between Fallon and the GLA and Springsteen interesting is how, simultaneously, they are so similar and so different. Both the GLA and Springsteen speak the same NJ blue collar language of the working man, but the more than 30 year gap between the emergence of the GLA and Springsteen is indicative of how that language and how that sub-section of blue collar steel belt America has changed.

In Springsteen's era the group was more populous, starting to wane, but hanging on. As such, the Boss' music seems longing, but hopeful and the edges of his music are softer, more palatable, and somehow seem less important. Maybe this has to do with The Boss as a rock icon or our/my familiarity with his songs, but in comparison American Slang, doesn't quite have the same sense of urgency, or meaning, or personal importance.

For example, when most people (and I've had this argument several times) that most people think "Born in the U.S.A." is a pro-America song, and while the lyrics are decidedly not, the melody might as well be the new American national anthem. In 2011, Springsteen's music feels as though it should be in a commercial for the newest Chevy Pickup Truck.

In contrast, American Slang (the album) and "American Slang" (the song) feels as though without a bigger audience to connect to, that they can speak for downtrodden in New Jersey. American Slang feels as though it's the sound track for the guys who didn't finish high school, and are going to have a tough time of it in a knowledge based economy where manufacturing work doesn't exist in America. Where Springsteen feels like he's selling pickup trucks, the GLA is the soundtrack for the Dicky Eklunds of the world.

None of this is to say that the GLA is better than Springsteen. Springsteen is, IMHO, one of the greatest rock 'n' rollers of all time, and without the Boss, there is no Gaslight Anthem. What I am saying is that the Gaslight Anthem has taken the torch, and from now on they're be speaking for NJ.

"American Slang (acoustic)"

The Gaslight Anthem w/ Bruce Springsteen "The '59 Sound"