Friday, May 23, 2014

Bruce Springsteen - Dancing In The Dark

Throughout the seventies and eighties Bruce Springsteen was a dominant force in the American music industry. The man was so good at making his experiences, or at least the experiences described in his songs, so relatable that every red blooded American felt like Springsteen was singing about them. Combine that with Springsteen’s ability to consistently create genuine good rock and roll and it should come as no surprise he was a huge commercial success. There are predictable consequences to this sort of fame. When everybody thinks you are singing about them, and you are popular enough to reach all walks of life, it is only a matter of time before somebody is going to be wrong about the connection they think they share with you. For Springsteen, and his music, this manifested itself most humorously when Ronald Reagan used “Born in the USA” as his campaign song, even though “Born in the USA” is a political song that is highly critical of the United States of America and the very politics Reagan supported.


This sort of problem persists elsewhere, and perhaps everywhere, in Springsteen’s discography. There is some misconception that Springsteen is a pop rock star, and he sort of is, because he is “popular,” but his style never really fit the mold of stereotypically pop rock. I think it is rather obvious Springsteen is classic rock or folk rock. When you are pop rock people think you are singing about girls and dancing and fun stuff like that, and with a song title like “Dancing in the Dark” anyone who fails to listen to the lyrical content might just make that assumption.

Bruce Springsteen with a very young
Courteney Cox.
Have you ever seen the music video for “Dancing in The Dark?” The Boss does himself no favours by having one of his most heartfelt songs ever being showcased by him and his band rocking out, having a good time and dancing with Courtney Cox. It is a nice video to be sure but I wonder if it conveys the wrong energy. Now I admit I am in no place to criticize Springsteen, I am just some dude, while he is the Boss, clearly he knows what he is doing, and maybe I am completely wrong about “Dancing in the Dark.” It just seems to me this is a really somber song, a song about loneliness and longing and not just a longing for the love of a woman, but a longing to belong somewhere, and desire for a missing passion for life. The song is deep and emotionally powerful, it just seems to me odd he would choose to express it with a happy fun time video.

It is not really very surprising that “Dancing in the Dark” is often thought of a cheerful pop rock song. Given Springsteen’s unique sort of fame and his unique choice of music video, it is a natural that most casual listeners would regard the song as pop fluff, but they would be wrong. Listen again to “Dancing in the Dark” and feel what Springsteen is saying. A lack of purpose and passion leave a metaphorical gunslinger hanging around feeling tired and empty. Our narrative character has gotten to feeling so low he would be pleased for something small to turn his fate around, even if it was just dancing in the dark with someone. There is all this suggestion that with just a little encouragement, maybe just a little love our gunslinger could turn everything around, but alas “you can’t start a fire without a spark.”

I have noticed a reoccurring imagery in Springsteen songs in regards to music as a companion, something that probably comes naturally to a musician I should think, but in Springsteen’s case it is almost like music is his muse, like music is the inspiration for more music. The presence of a jukebox or radio is typically a good omen in Springsteen songs, “message keeps getting clearer, radio's on and I'm moving 'round the place,” but even in the presence of music our rock star gunslinger man for hire is unhappy with every single detail of his existence. He wants to change everything about himself, “I check my look in the mirror, I wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face.” When you think about it all that way, “Dancing in the Dark” is actually pretty dark and depressing.

Like so many other people I probably would have never noticed how deep and meaningful “Dancing in the Dark” really is if not for Tegan and Sara. As you may know I am madly in love with Tegan and Sara (Sara to be specific) and one day I came across this interview and cover or “Dancing in the Dark.”


The twins tell us pretty much exactly what I said above, that people take for granted how deep and meaningful a song like “Dancing in the Dark” is. Much to my shame it was not until Sara explained this to me that I realized that I too was guilty of not paying proper attention to the poetry and clever nuances of many of Springsteen’s songs. The same likely, and unfortunately, holds true for other musicians and bands but their stories are for another time.

The Tegan and Sara cover is a little more moody, a little more what I would think to expect from “Dancing in the Dark” but then again maybe I am wrong. There is no doubt that “Dancing in the Dark” is in actuality a rather somber and dark song, but perhaps the upbeat rhythm and the good times music video is a deliberate addition of emotional aside. One of the strongest ways to grapple with dark themes is to downplay them, or be strong in spite of the looming shadow that threatens. One of the reasons Springsteen is so popular is that he is able to make people feel good about feeling bad. “Born in the USA” was never a song about American pride, but the strength in which he sang it suggests a different sort of pride, the pride to endure, and maybe that better captures the true American spirit than ordinary patriotism. “Dancing in the Dark” is about loneliness and longing but perhaps by performing the song with a smile and strange confidence Springsteen makes loners like me feel good about being lonely and lost. Maybe Springsteen is a freaking genius.

Until next time, keep on rocking in the free world.

- King of Braves

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Bruce Springsteen - Growin' Up

“Greetings from Asbury Park N.J.” is a very significant album for a variety of reasons. This was Bruce Springsteen’s debut album and right out of the gate Springsteen announces his New Jersey heritage in the title, successfully establishing himself as an American and Jersey icon for the rest of his life. The early works of Springsteen were very different from songs like “Born in the USA” and “Born to Run,” which would make Springsteen famous, at the beginning the Boss was very influenced by Bob Dylan, and it shows as all his early tracks sound like he is trying to sound like Dylan. Also note worthy is the first track on “Greetings from Asbury Park N.J.” is “Blinded by the Light” which was covered by Manfred Mann whose version is considerably more famous. For those of you familiar with Manfred Mann’s cover of “Blinded by the Light” just imagine it being sung by Springsteen while he is trying to sound like Dylan that is exactly what the original version is like, because that is exactly what is going on.

Blinded By The Light (The Original Version)

Perhaps the best thing about “Greetings from Asbury Park N.J.” is that is simply a great folk rock album, and that’s kind of important to me. Like any first effort a lot of youthful passion is poured into every track, the young Springsteen had a lot to say and like any young person he was unfiltered and maybe even unfocused when finally given the chance to fully express himself through rock and roll. I love albums like “Greetings from Asbury Park N.J.” for that reason. Another thing I like about it is that David Bowie, my friend and yours, has covered at least two songs from this album, “Growin’ Up” and “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City.”

Young Srpingsteen.
“Growin’ Up” is predictably about growing up, but it is also about so much more. The lyrics are a constant barrage of metaphors. Springsteen sings about aging out of childhood into rebellious youth with lines like; “when they said, ‘sit down,’ I stood up.”

The entire second verse introduces some very powerful imagery about becoming a rock star, again capturing that adventurous and rebellious attitude of youth;

“The flag of piracy flew from my mast, my sails were set wing to wing.
I had a jukebox graduate for first mate, she couldn't sail but she sure could sing.
I pushed B-52 and bombed them with the blues with my gear set stubborn on standing.
I broke all the rules, strafed my old high school, never once gave thought to landing.
I hid in the clouded wrath of the crowd, but when they said, ‘come down,’ I threw up.
Ooh... growin' up.”

I love the second line of the second verse, the jukebox could sure sing. I always thought the last line “when they said, “come down,” I flew up,” but the lyric sheet evidently disagrees with me. I mean flying up makes sense, he sings about sailing away and bombing people and being in the “clouded wrath of the crowd,” but hey, what do I know.

Springsteen wowed he had and would “bomb” people with the blues, and stubbornly refused to return to his childhood. This could mean so many things, like he is rejecting a different path set before by his parents or other past expectations and instead is embracing the emotional and mystical beauty of music. If the metaphors are to be taken at all literally this implies he is embracing the impossible which is the very spirit of rock and roll.

The beginning of the third verse is a further extension of impossible rock adventure metaphors, but there is a certain flair within that reminds me a lot of David Bowie;

“I took month-long vacations in the stratosphere, and you know it's really hard to hold your breath.
I swear I lost everything I ever loved or feared, I was the cosmic kid in full costume dress.”

Man it’s really hard to hold your breath, hilarious.

In 1973 David Bowie was the
cosmic kid in full costume.
I first heard “Growin’ Up” as a cover song by David Bowie off of the thirty year anniversary release of 1974’s “Diamond Dogs.” The studio recording of Bowie performing “Gorwin’ Up” had been initially recorded back in 1974 but it was never properly released until a nineties compilation album and then later again on the anniversary release of “Diamond Dogs.” The song, epically the third verse, fits Bowie so well. In 1973 when “Growin’ Up” was written and released David Bowie was the cosmic kid in full costume dress, and he did command the night brigade, and he sort of took month long vacations in the stratosphere. Of course everything fantastic and psychedelic within the song “Growin’ Up” is easily relatable to Ziggy Stardust the character Bowie was portraying at that time.

David Bowie - Growin' Up

I once heard that Springsteen had written “Growin’ Up” for David Bowie, and that is was about him, and this made a lot of sense to me, but I cannot find any citation regarding the matter now, so it is entirely possible that I am misremembering something or was at one point misinformed, still this theory is reasonable, it would make sense if the song was written about Bowie. Nonetheless it is easy to project the song onto Bowie and it is even easier understand why Bowie would take an interest in this song and want to do a cover it. When Bowie dissolved the Spider from Mars he was in many ways growing up. Around the time “Diamond Dog” Bowie had rooted his feet to the ground and find a nice little place is stardom forever.

Any really good example of poetry allows itself to be imagined in a variety of similar but different ways. “Growin’ Up” can be taken as simply a song about growing up, but it is also a song about finding yourself, and believing in the person you find. “Growin’ Up” is about becoming a musician and experiencing the magical voyage of artistic discovery. We can also spin it as a song about Ziggy Stardust and/or David Bowie. Lastly I dare say anyone can project this song onto themselves, the very general message of self exploration and youthful adventure into uncertain adulthood is something we have all experienced.

Perhaps the most apt and important interpretation of “Growin’ Up” is that it is a song about Bruce Springsteen himself. Sure he is growing up, he can’t help it, but also he is coming into his own. The man Springsteen soon became after the release of “Greetings from Asbury Park N.J” was very much the adventurer described in this song. “Growin’ Up” is an introduction to Bruce Springsteen, the man, the musician and the Boss; and what a great introduction, a perfect song to be included on a debut album resulting in a perfect debut album.

Also, it is hard to be a saint in the city;

Bruce Springsteen - It's Hard To Be A Saint In The City

David Bowie - It's Hard To Be A Saint In The City

- King of Braves