Bruce Springsteen – Opher’s World pays tribute to genius.

Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen came roaring out of New Jersey with a fire in his belly. The Record Companies were still on the look-out for the next Bob Dylan and latching on to a whole series of people from John Prine through Loudon Wainwright to Dan Bern without unearthing him yet. They were getting desperate for the next big thing. In Bruce there were many who thought he might just assume the mantle. In those barren days of the 70s he was being touted as the saviour of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
His work with the E Street band was high energy Rock ‘n’ Roll with a difference. That difference was the poetic lyrics and various other influences that he doused the songs in such as Funk, Latin and Folk. You could feel the ambition spraying into the air with the sweat. But you could also feel the enjoyment and passion. He wanted to give the audience a good show for their money and he loved the music.
I personally never really got into those first two albums though Bruce brought them to life on stage. The live recordings of those songs really did motor. It was probably the production that didn’t do it for me. You most likely had to be there.
Back then in the early seventies there wasn’t much else around with energy. It had gone into the Country Rock of the Eagles along with the remnants of the sixties bands and some bland new glammed up Heavy Metal. The Punk movement was underway in the New York clubs but on centre stage Bruce had a free run.
The lyrics for me were OK. They were poetic and told stories with nice imagery but they didn’t seem to have any substance to them. I wanted some social significance, some political clout.
It was the ‘Born to Run’ album that made me sit up and take notice. The title track was a belter and connected. Then there was Thunder Road and Jungleland. The production was fuller and had more impact.
This was 1974/5 and Rock was in the doldrums. Bruce was providing that energy that Punk was later going to kick in with. The hype was going through the roof. This was when Producer Jon Landau ratcheted it up a notch with his ‘I saw Rock ‘n’ Roll’s future –and it’s name is Bruce Springsteen. It did not seem to unduly faze Bruce though. He went on with his energetic shows, showmanship and song-writing.
When ‘Darkness at the Edge of Town’ came out I thought he’d hit a new high. I liked the sound. It was crisper. I liked the songs and lyrics like ‘Badlands’, Adam Raised a Cain’, ‘The Promised Land’ and ‘Darkness at the Edge of Town’ had more of a political/social edge to them that I could relate to without losing any of the tension and energy. He was hitting his stride.
By now Bruce was big but it did not stop himself aligning himself to political campaigns. If he was receiving advice to appear neutral he was ignoring it. Over the years Bruce has supported Amnesty International, protested against nuclear energy, Supported Democratic hopefuls John Kerry and Barrack Obama, and supported labour unions and Gay Rights. He refused to allow corporations to use his songs in advertising. One of my favourite Bruce statements is the live introduction he gave to the Dylan song Chimes of Freedom on the Amnesty International tour. It was an articulate piece of oratory that, unlike most spoken introduction, I never grow tired of listening to. It sent chills through me. The version of the song was not half bad either. He’s not afraid to stick his head above the parapet.
The double album ‘The River’ continued the development with two stunning tracks in ‘The River’ and ‘Independence Day’. They told stories of youth and culture that were clever and thought provoking. It was beginning to look as if the Dylan comparisons were not misplaced.
Nebraska was a bit of a strange one. After recording it with the E Street Band they opted to release the raw demo tracks that Bruce had produced at home. It was a powerful album and a powerful statement. The sombre mood was hardly material for the commercial market but the songs were strong and it was widely acclaimed.
The monster album for Bruce was the incredible ‘Born in the USA’ with its anthemic title track. The beefed up Springsteen took the stage and was incongruously compared to the right-wing caricature of Sylvester Stallone. The production was crisp and more commercial than anything he had so far produced. The iconography was captivating with Springsteen posing in all sorts of macho shapes with bulging muscles, veins standing out, guitar held like a weapon with American flags as backgrounds. The right-wingers ignored the content of the song, which was an indictment of the treatment of the Vietnam veterans and one of angry defiance, (well they probably couldn’t read or think anyway) and latched on to the image and chorus. Bruce found himself being lauded by guys who probably diametrically opposed to everything he stood for and being placed in the Ronal Reagan camp. It must have been distressing.
After that the career seemed to lose impetus and coherence for me despite huge commercial success. I craved for more substance. There were occasional brilliant songs but no overall great albums. It looked to me as if Bruce was content to coast. That’s a shame because I would have liked to see him harnessing that huge talent to some of the causes that so desperately need addressing.
It’s not too late. He could still come out in support of dealing with the Population crisis that is destroying the planet, or ally himself to saving the wilderness before every last tree is sawn down and every mammal butchered. He might have allied himself to the drive for greater equality and fairness. He has the sensibilities, fame and song-writing skill to make a difference.
We need that rampant force to do some good. Bruce was a ferocious monster. That passion that was brought to bear to support Amnesty International could be rekindled with a new project.
Bruce is one of Rock’s greats. He achieved what he set out to do. But I’m greedy. I wanted more.