Re: Sunday NYT Article
- From: "Calvin Jones & the 13th Apostle" <Another_Thin_Line@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Sat, 15 Apr 2006 20:39:37 -0400
"Gordo" <gruffgordon@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote in message
Nice article in the Sunday Arts & Leisure section. "Tracks 2" was
shelved for this?
April 16, 2006
Born to Strum
By WILL HERMES
Asbury Park, N.J.
ON a bright, brisk April afternoon in one of America's most famous faded
seaside resorts, the sycamores are budding and the dogwoods are in bloom.
New construction near the shore points to the town's long-rumored
revitalization. Yet rows of boarded-up homes, along with the crumbling
remains of the old Metropolitan Hotel and the Baronet Theater, suggest that
any turnaround is still a ways off.
Over on Ocean Avenue, a patron sits with a lunchtime shot and beer in the
Wonder Bar, which advertises a dance party tonight with DJ Jersey Joe. Down
the block is the Stone Pony, the nightclub where Bruce Springsteen, the
Jersey Shore's world-famous son, made his name. Among other acts, its
marquee advertises a show by Nils Lofgren, guitarist for Mr. Springsteen's
longtime collaborators, the E Street Band.
Across the street, straddling the boardwalk, is the Convention
Hall-Paramount Theater complex, a majestic structure designed in the 1920's
by Warren & Wetmore, the architects of Grand Central Terminal. Inside the
Paramount - which opened in 1930 with a show featuring the Marx Brothers,
and which shows its age - Mr. Springsteen, 56, is rehearsing new songs with
a new band.
"Do we have an intro on this? No?" Mr. Springsteen yells to the 17 players
surrounding him onstage. "Okay ... one-two-three-four!" The band lurches -
no other word will do - into "John Henry," the folk standard about a heroic
hammer-wielding railroad worker that dates to the 19th century and has
remained a potent American myth.
Mr. Springsteen lifts one leg, scrunches up his face and hollers into his
microphone. Behind him the fiddles of Sam Bardfeld and Soozie Tyrell conjure
Texas swing, while Charles Giordano's accordion adds a Cajun-zydeco feel and
the brass section (with members of the Miami Horns, longtime E Street
associates) kick in some Dixieland braying. Other band members clap and
shout; their boss hammers away on a battered acoustic guitar.
The rehearsal includes versions of other folk standards - the old labor song
"Pay Me My Money Down," the spirituals "O Mary Don't You Weep" and "Eyes on
the Prize," the Irish war ballad "Mrs. McGrath" - whose political weight is
upstaged by their rousing joie de vivre. It also features radically revamped
versions of Mr. Springsteen's "Johnny 99" and "Open All Night" from his 1981
album "Nebraska." The band, which includes Mr. Springsteen's wife, Patti
Scialfa, and Marc Anthony Thompson (who records as Chocolate Genius), makes
a huge, glorious noise, full of tugging cross-rhythms and wayward notes.
Coffeehouse folk music it ain't - sports arena folk is more like it.
The traditional numbers will appear on Mr. Springsteen's new record, "We
Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions," a collection of songs popularized by
the venerable folk singer Pete Seeger, to be released April 25. Mr.
Springsteen and this band begin a European tour in early May, to be followed
by American dates in May and June. He plans to introduce the material at the
New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival on April 30.
If you hear a groan off in the distance, it may be a portion of Mr.
Springsteen's fan base greeting the news of his second consecutive project
forsaking his well-known brand of rock, along with the E Street Band. Since
his last album with the band, "The Rising," in 2002, he has released a
mostly acoustic solo album, last year's "Devils & Dust," and an expanded
reissue of his 1975 classic "Born to Run."
Since much of the material on "Devils & Dust" was written and recorded years
ago, and since "The Seeger Sessions" is his first all-covers collection,
some fans wonder not simply about the future of the E Street Band, but also
if the songwriter may be running low on fuel.
"Nah, I write all the time," Mr. Springsteen said reassuringly, leaning back
on a cream-colored couch in one of the Paramount's small, slightly grimy
dressing rooms after the day's rehearsals were done. "The stuff on 'Devils &
Dust' - I just liked those songs and didn't want to see them get lost. I
have an E Street Band record that I have a lot of stuff written for. I'm
just waiting for the right time to do it."
Sporting a beatnik-style soul patch under his lower lip and with a
remarkable lack of gray in his hair, Mr. Springsteen looked vigorous and
pumped from his afternoon's work. He wore his usual uniform of rumpled
shirt - top buttons undone, sleeves rolled up - jeans, boots, small hoops in
both ears and macramé bracelets circling his left wrist. Holding a large
bottle of Fiji water in his lap, he occasionally stared off toward some
distant point during an animated hourlong conversation, searching for a
word, recalling old times in the neighborhood or offering his ideas about
"The Seeger Sessions" came about, he explained, from a clutch of songs he
recorded in 1997 for a Pete Seeger tribute album titled "Where Have All the
Flowers Gone," released on the Appleseed label. After his "Devils & Dust"
tour last year, he intended to take a break and to release a follow-up to
"Tracks," a 1998 four-disc set of rare odds and ends. He sent a bunch of
recordings to his longtime manager, Jon Landau, and they both agreed there
was something special in the first Seeger session.
"Whenever I'd get tired of what I was working on, I'd go back to it," the
singer said of the session tape, which included "Jesse James," "My Oklahoma
Home," "Pretty Boy Floyd" and the only song ultimately used for the
"Flowers" tribute, "We Shall Overcome." "Listening to it was a relief, you
know? It was just people playing. It sounded like fun."
The idea for "Tracks Volume 2" was shelved, and seven years after the first
Seeger session, Mr. Springsteen reconvened the same musicians to record
again in the same setting: the living room of his farmhouse in Rumson, N.J.
Microphones were set up, candles were lighted, alcoholic beverages were
poured. It was quite a crowd. The horn section had to be relegated to the
hall. (A DVD feature included with "The Seeger Sessions" shows the band at
work and play; Mr. Springsteen in particular seems to have imbibed a bit.)
"It allowed me to go back to some of the musical eclecticness I enjoyed in
my early days and just be musical," he said enthusiastically. "There's jazz
in there. Swing. Sam brings this Eastern European thing; Soozie's a totally
down-home country sound. 'Jacob's Ladder' has this Kansas City-Dixieland
horn thing on top of the gospel. There's no straight two-and-four, no rock
tempos. This band rolls."
Mr. Springsteen also spoke about the difficulty of tackling songs that have
accrued tremendous cultural weight, like the CD's title track, a civil
rights anthem in the 60's.
"When the idea came up to do 'We Shall Overcome,' I was like, 'I can't do
that,' " he said. "Everyone knows that song as an icon. But what was it
before it became that? So I went back and looked and realized: 'Oh, this is
a prayer. I can do that. I know how to pray.'
"The approach to the song is, I start with this very alienated person,
because that's me," he said, laughing. "That never changes. And the guy can
barely sing it - he can barely believe it. But as he moves into it, and
people start singing with him, he finds his place in the song, in history,
and that alienation eases."
One thing Mr. Springsteen seemed reluctant to address, except in the
abstract, was the political side to the material on "The Seeger Sessions."
Mr. Seeger, who turns 87 next month, is of course a hero of the left, a
musician, songwriter and song collector-historian who helped spur the
politically tinged folk music revival of the 50's and 60's. He spoke out
against the Vietnam War and has remained an activist, notably on
"That's there," Mr. Springsteen said of the political element. "But I
approached the entire thing musically. I didn't come to it with any
ideological perspective, or idea of showing this or that. I just took the
songs that I liked from Pete's records."
Mr. Seeger, who declined to be interviewed, is currently busy completing an
expanded edition of his autobiographical songbook "Where Have All the
Flowers Gone," first published in 1993. But while he was not involved in Mr.
Springsteen's project, he said he was happy to hear about it.
Mr. Springsteen's own political involvement has occurred in fits and starts.
He was thrust into the political spotlight in 1984 when Ronald Reagan, in
his re-election campaign, tried hitching a ride on the popularity of Mr.
Springsteen's huge hit "Born in the U.S.A." - a complex song about America's
treatment of Vietnam veterans whose simple chorus lent itself to easy
jingoism. More recently, he wrote the song "American Skin (41 Shots)" about
the controversial shooting of Amadou Diallo by New York City police
officers, and lent his support to John Kerry's presidential bid, moves that
displeased some fans.
While Mr. Springsteen claims to have approached the material on "The Seeger
Sessions" without a political agenda, he acknowledges that context can color
things, and suggests that ideology is in the ear of the beholder. "What
makes these songs vital, and catch fire now," he said, "is all the
connections you're making, in your head, to this moment."
Indeed. "Mrs. McGrath," a mother's lament for her son who lost his legs on
the battlefield, carries powerful resonance in the era of Cindy Sheehan. And
one can only imagine how the boisterous Mardi Gras version of "Pay Me My
Money Down" will go over at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in
front of thousands of locals still awaiting government relief in the wake of
There were many more questions worth asking Mr. Springsteen. But his
associates were pounding on the dressing room door. There was plenty of work
to do before their day was done.
So, to cut to the chase: Has he been following this season of HBO's New
Jersey gangster drama, "The Sopranos," in which the guitarist Steve Van
Zandt - Mr. Springsteen's right-hand man in the E Street Band - plays Silvio
Dante, right-hand man to the mob boss Tony Soprano?
"You know, I missed the last two episodes, what with working on all this,
but someone told me Stevie's been having aspirations to boss-dom," said the
artist still known to fans as the Boss, with a grin. "I got to see this!"
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