This post was originally part of an email conversation. Read here for more details.
by Nick Maple
From: Nick Maple
Sent: 18 July 2008 16:57
To: Ben Smith
Cc: Chris Stoneman; John Klein; Bradbeer, Alexander; Jonathan Odom
Subject: RE: Musical Journey : Bruce Springsteen
I’m a simple man- music needs to tell a story or create images that I can identify with. I have never found a band or singer that gets a story across in a song as well as Springsteen and while I can never pretend to identify with the plight of the poor and downtrodden in new jersey over the last 30 years, there is something intrinsically universal about the themes Bruce sings about. Whether its family bond, community, or heartache, the imagery from the stories he creates is unbelievably vivid.
I will also not pretend I know all hiss albums inside out. He has done many proper ‘rock’ albums, but I’ve always identified more with the quieter, reflective ones. This email is more about this side of Bruce, not that I don’t enjoy the sing along anthems, especially live.
You have to start with the classic ‘Born In The USA’ album. While not my favourite, the lyrics are still quite startling and angry even by today’s standards. He’s raging about Vietnam and the treatment of the poor, which makes most of the US reaction to it at the time slightly bizarre, as they viewed the album as a classic slice of rock Americana.
Please listen to track 5, ‘Downbound Train’ over and over again , as it pretty much sums up everything I love about him.
If after listening to this you don’t like it, then you might not have a soul. If on the other hand you do like it, then I think we can be best buddies for ever. One of my favourite albums of all time, if not Number One. Bleak and harrowing at times, and yet has that classic undertone of hope. Reminds me of a Steinbeck novel.
Reason to believe
Devils and Dust
A stripped down album, and the first real sign that Bruce’s voice is only gonna get better with age. In ten years his voice will be amazing and will be remembered along side Johnny Cash. Fact.
Devils and dust
We Shall Overcome – The Seeger Sessions
My understanding is this album was recorded completely live in a studio in one take. The great thing about this is you can hear in the songs Bruce shouting when sections need to come in, i.e “Wind!” or “Horns!”. Epic. Completely different to his other albums as they are all covers of Seegar songs or sea shanties but soooo good.
O Mary don’t you weep
My Oklahoma home
The Ghost Of Tom Joad
Will be honest, have only been listening to this album for a while but please listen to the title track and ‘Highway 29.’ Monster.
Albums like ‘The Rising’ (with the E Street Band) and ‘Born To Run’ are great but reckon you should try the above first.
Obviously this is all only my opinion. Feel slightly embarrassed writing about an American institution to two Americans but hey ho. Secondly I know very little about him personally and why he wrote a style of album when he did – but then I think that’s not really the point. Please give a moment to listen to ‘Nebraska’ in full with no distractions and I think you’ll get to know what he’s all about.
Sorry this has turned into a bit of a love in. Tried not to. Failed.
Further listening: Decembrists’ ‘Crane Wife’ and Hold Steady’s ‘Boys and Girls In America’
A lovely addition from Nick there, I’m sure you’d agree. Thanks to this post, and other rants (Jamie Atkins was the first by several years), I got into The Boss and a year later found myself enjoying one of the greatest gigs of my entire life at Glastonbury 2009, a snippet of which can be seen above. The choice of song may be obvious, but I’d heard this song a million times before hearing it properly and falling for it.
And yes, in case you were thinking it, at 2:52 that is Alex ‘Sandy’ Bradbeer held above the crowd, with me just in front posing in my fabled festival shirt and Kiwi Bin himself nearby. Nick had upgraded to living in an Ecuadorian slum by this point, but thanks are still due. Thanks Nick.
For a full Spotify playlist of all the songs mentioned above, click here.
The highways jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive,
Everybodys out on the run tonight but there’s no place left to hide,
Together Wendy we’ll live with the sadness,
I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul,
Someday girl I don’t know when, we’re gonna get to that place,
Where we really want to go and we’ll walk in the sun,
But till then tramps like us, baby we were born to run.