Early 90’s Springsteen and the Duality of Human Nature

The cold wet air could best be described as a “shitmist”.  On the way from Oklahoma City to Dallas.   In the back of the van trying to unlock why, even in the midst of his supposed slump, the early 90’s,  Bruce Springsteen was still able to create works that have staying power.  Strip him of his band, bring in a bunch of session players that lack any discernable personality, record things in a way that is somewhat stiff, and there is still something there if you pay attention. 

With every wish there comes a curse

Listen to the song With Every Wish from his Human Touch album.  It has a dark seductive power to it as it examines someone whose dreams fall short.  In fact I think it is because Springsteen never shies away from the hard truths of reality that his songs are more than one dimensional.  

Any life when viewed from the inside, is simply a series of defeats.
     –  George Orwell

In the midst of life we are in death, etc.
     - Morrissey

This is not to say Springsteen’s music lacks hope or love or joy.  In fact his music is often quite life affirming despite how often darkly realistic his lyrics can be.  They often deal with a loss of innocence as someone grows older and comes to terms with the harsh realities of the world.  But even in spite of this, his characters often carry on.  Although there are characters of his that are on the long slide to oblivion, many also often find love or are determined to bear hardship. 

Springsteen is too smart to ignore complexity.  There are no easy fixes.  Love in and of itself will not solve all problems.  Things can be made better, but there is hard work to do if it is to be so.  Dreams can just as easily circle back to haunt you.  He never forgets the passion of the teenager, but he also never ignores the struggle of adulthood.  It is this duality that gives his work power. 

This duality, this complexity in outlook, means that even his lesser albums have moments that are worth recommending.   I think his most misunderstood album, Human Touch,  has many such moments.  Although it does suffer somewhat from the production and choice of musicians, and it is not a front to back masterpiece, there are a lot of songs where the writing is really sharp.  He also writes a lot of great melodies that bring the lyrics to life, whereas the slightly more critically accepted Lucky Town is slightly too sepia-toned for me, despite a couple great songs. 

I think if you are a fan of his, like I am, and you have ignored this period, it is worth revisiting.  There are also some stellar out takes from this period on the Tracks box set, especially Gave it a Name.  It is clear that Springsteen had read Flannery O’Connor by this point, as he adopts some of her haunted Biblical language to deal with these adulthood struggles. 

As one of our country’s greatest artists, Springsteen is often reduced to a caricature, like many larger than life figures.  (He did himself no favors in the propaganda films serving as music videos that accompanied Born in the U.S.A.)  But he has remained someone that constantly searches for meaning in a fallen world, always aware of the light and dark in our national character.  

Stolen Car by Bruce Springsteen

Stolen car- Bruce Springsteen VINYL: http://youtu.be/UnHy_46DfiE

I met a little girl and I settled down
In a little house out on the edge of town
We got married, and swore we’d never part
Then little by little we drifted from each other’s heart
At first I thought it was just restlessness
That would fade as time went by and our love grew deep
In the end it was something more I guess
That tore us apart and made us weep

And I’m driving a stolen car
Down on Eldridge Avenue
Each night I wait to get caught
But I never do

She asked if I remembered the letters I wrote
When our love was young and bold
She said last night she read those letters
And they made her feel one hundred years old

And I’m driving a stolen car
On a pitch black night
And I’m telling myself I’m gonna be alright
But I ride by night and I travel in fear
That in this darkness I will disappear

I have always love the song by Bruce Springsteen.   Springsteen is somehow able to create a short story with a minimum amount of words.  A song of loneliness and desperation from someone on the margins.  I love the way this song and Drive All Night, both on The River’s second record, are used in the movie Cop Land.  Sylvester Stallone,  playing an uncharacteristically heavy and pathetic small town cop named Freddy Heflin in one of his best performances, listens to the songs with the realization that life has fallen far short of his expectations.  

Afghan Whigs Crime Scene Part One

Whenever I put on the Afghan Whigs album Black Love it strikes me on a visceral emotional level.  It is one of those great front to back records that feels like one piece, even if there is stylistic diversity on the album.  I believe I have mentioned the record before, but I wanted to post the first song off of it, Crime Scene Part One.  It is somehow beautiful and biting at the same time, with a cinematic scope.  It is a song that builds in intensity until it explodes.  It is a great song that never ceases to register with me when it comes on.  Although there is a lot of music I like because of the ideas involved, this is one of those songs that just hits me in the gut.  I believe that Black Love is the highpoint for the Whigs, and this may be my favorite song on an rock n roll album that never lets up.

Flirted With You All My Life by Vic Chesnutt

I have long been a Vic Chesnutt fan.  He was one of our most brilliant songwriters before he took his own life.  The above song, Flirted With You All My Life, is just about as powerful as songwriting gets.  It doesn’t flinch from the bleakness of human experience, yet their is something truly beautiful about it as well.  Normally I would post the lyrics, but I think it is best if they unravel while listening, as he plays with expectations during the first half of the song.  I love the creeping death cartoon music of the intro, followed by the transcendent almost African sounding music in parts of the proper song.  This song still gives me the chills when I listen to it, as I realize someone is tapping into the unexplainable and profound.  A true masterpiece.

Below is a live performance of this song recorded near the end of Chesnutt’s life.  It is almost hard to watch because of the emotions laid bare.

Bjork New Record and Stonemilk Video

Bjork has a new album out called Vulnicura.  I have not gotten to hear it in full yet, but above is the first song on the album.  I became a big fan of hers after some friends took me to see one of her concert movies at the Alamo Drafthouse a couple years back.  I walked in just looking for something to do, and left blown away by how powerful and original her music was.  My favorite record of hers is probably Homogenic.  I’m looking forward to hearing her new record at some point as the clips I’ve heard sound promising.

Vini Reilly’s Chronicle

One of my favorite guitarists is Vini Reilly.   Under the moniker the Durutti Column, he has released a vast amount of deeply emotional and often beautiful music.   The music he makes is hard to describe, because any description makes it seem less unique and engaging then it truly is.  He switches between insturmentals with songs that feature sampled voices, female singers, and his own soft whisper of a voice.  The music is mostly slow, hypnotic, and trancelike.  It can often be more akin to listening to classical music than pop music, although there are pop hooks in some of it.  It is almost always beautiful and calming, even if there is often also an aspect of melancholia to it.  It has much in common with some of Brian Eno’s work, but Reilly’s guitar almost always brings an unmistakable sound to the proceedings.  Unlike a lot of mellow or ambient music,  that may be great at creating a mood, only to dissipate when it comes from the background to the foreground, Reilly’s work holds up under closer inspection. 

Reilly is a a guitar hero whose technical abilities are always used towards the aim of emotion first.  It is extremely melodic and textural.  When he plays electric he often has a echo like sound that bounces around the aural spectrum.  Unlike many that drench their guitar in reverb and delay, Reilly can really play.  His use of effects helps create his signature sound and always adds to the feeling of what he is playing. 

Reilly was a fixture in the Manchester post punk scene.  Often undervalued, and being prone to depression, Reilly has had many hurdles to overcome.  However, he has always turned his struggles into beautiful art. 

The newest Durutti Column album, Chronicle, is a worthy addition to his cannon.  If you buy it digitally you get 25 songs for the price of one record.  This album would serve as a great introduction to his music.  As a whole it is as strong as almost anything he has done, even if there no single piece that rises to the heights of some of his most well know pieces like the song Otis

The original Chronicle was meant to be a piece that served as a retrospective to his life.  Between the initial premier of some of the music and the final release, Reilly suffered a series of strokes and the end of a long term relationship.   Reilly, someone that always seems to preserver despite being deemed fragile by many, reworked the material and recorded new pieces after these hardships.  He even had to learn to play guitar all over, despite being told by doctors that he might never play again. 

Other than the deeply emotional qualities of the work, one would never know that this album almost didn’t come to be in its current form.  It ranks among his best work.  There are people that write songs and there are people that just are music.  Reilly is of the latter description.  Every time he plays you feel as if his soul is laid bare.  This is exquisitely beautiful stuff.  Whether you get this album or something else by him, his work deserves a place in every music lover’s collection.  

Check out the song Synergetic on YouTube for an idea of how beautiful this music can be.  I am unfortunately on the road and cannot embed videos until I am home. 

Soccer Player Kung fu and Southpaw Grammar

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Eric Cantonas Infamous Kung Fu Kick Inspires South Paw Grammer

I realized I just posted an article about the Smiths yesterday.  However, while lionizing the Smiths is commonplace in the press, the same cannot always be said about journalists attitude towards the Morrissey album Southpaw Grammar.  It is not only one of my favorite Morrissey albums, but one of my favorite guitar albums of all-time.  The duo of Boz Boorer and Alain Whyte not only create many memorable hooks, but also create a beautifully menacing atmosphere with the help of producer Steve Lillywhite.  It is the loud distorted cousin to Morrissey’s Vauxhall and I, my favorite album and also this albums predecessor.  While Vauxhall and I was largely reflective, this album looks outwards, often examining working class violence in England.  Yet despite these albums being opposites in many regards, there is a kind of dark reverb drenched atmosphere in the production of both albums that makes them complimentary to each other.

Somehow I never knew about Eric Cantonas and his Kung fu kick and its inspiration to Morrissey, or if so I forgot.  I found that piece of the article highly entertaining.  A great read about an excellent album.