Monday, March 05, 2012

Something Like a Preface to My Review of the Songs on Bruce Springsteen's Wrecking Ball

by Gregg Chadwick

"Wrecking Ball sounds like it's quite possibly Bruce’s best album in a quarter century, for what my opinion's worth. It's bracing and subversive and furious and sonically fearless. It's going to give voice to a generation. Certainly to an era. In that regard I'd put it shoulder to shoulder with Born to Run, Highway 61 Revisited, Exile on Main Street, London Calling, and American Idiot. Indelible. I hate hyperbole, but I've got to say I stand in awe of Bruce's ability to make music this angry and relevant and authentic at any stage of his career, never mind 40 years on. Thank God for him."
-Novelist Dennis Lehane

Bruce Springsteen's new album, Wrecking Ball (Listen to the full album streaming here), was officially released in Europe and Australia today and will make its debut in the U.S.tomorrow - March 6, 2012. Over the past two weeks I have been writing song by song reviews of the album and have found that readers from Italy, the Netherlands, France and the United States have linked to my essays. Thanks for the thoughts and comments from Bonzo at the Italian Springsteen forum Loose Ends, Human Touch at the French Springsteen forum Land of Hope and Dreams, No Surrender81 at the Springsteen fan site Backstreets,  Judge Brown at the Springsteen tribute page Greasy Lake, and the Dutch writer Glory Cookie in his post De Gospel van Springsteen.

I also want to thank my brother Kent for the years of Springsteen related discussions and concerts. Our Springsteen connection goes way back - though I must say that I am the only son born in New Jersey. (My brother is a native Virginian.) We spent many of our summers visiting my grandparents in Montclair, Garwood, or Toms River. And we often searched in vain for the houses that my parents grew up in Newark. But it was our trips to the Jersey Shore that hold some of the most vivid memories. Aunt Jeanne lived in a small apartment in Asbury Park which we would visit at least once each summer, before we hit the creosote and saltwater taffy perfumed magic at the boardwalk. My brother and his friends would play Skee-Ball while I would gamble at the record arcades trying to win LP's. I was heavily into funk in those days as well as 60's soul and then added Bruce Springsteen to my playlist as soon as I heard the newly released single, Born to Run, as I  drove my first car around the suburbs and into Washington DC to visit the museums, and attend classes at the Corcoran School of Art.

Under the El

Gregg Chadwick
Under the El
30"x20" oil on linen 2012 

A couple of years later, in the summer of 1978, I steeped myself in John Steinbeck novels and the paintings of Edward Hopper. My soundtrack was Bruce Springsteen's fourth album Darkness on the Edge of Town, which to me sounded like a distillation of Steinbeck, Hopper and Woody Guthrie. 

I had just finished my freshman year at UCLA and  this was my first summer on the Monterey Bay in central California. The pace of life was so much slower than Los Angeles or Washington DC and I found time for study and reflection in the hours after my temp job finished. I would go for a run through Point Lobos after work to clear my head and then would sit with East of Eden or The Grapes of Wrath until the sun went down. I would paint late into the night trying to get these new inspirations onto canvas. I had a lot to learn but I was dogged and I let my failures lead me onto new paths.

Gregg Chadwick
Study for a Portrait of Woody Guthrie
16"x12" oil on linen 2012
The highways around Monterey were wide open in the late 1970's and the gas crisis wouldn't hit until after the fall of the Shah in Iran in 1979. Like a character in a Springsteen song I would drive to find out where I was going. Images that still need to be painted flooded in:

Early morning light on farm workers in the fields outside Salinas.
The crumbling docks of Cannery Row seemingly melting in the sea air.
Rows of US soldiers waiting their turn on the target line at Fort Ord.

On the 1st of July, I took Highway 101 up from the bay to Berkeley. I met my brother and a group of his friends at the edge of the UC campus and we wandered until we found the Berkeley Community Theater. Throughout my high school years in the suburbs of DC, my older brother Kent was studying at UC Davis and I cherished the moments we had together. Each time we reunited seemed like an epiphany. We talked and argued about life, art, politics, poetry, spirituality and music. We had seen a few concerts together on the east coast starting with a J Geils gig in Asbury Park. But neither one of us had seen Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band play live. Until that night in Berkeley. 

The concert was a revelation, almost a rock n' roll revival. But there was also an undercurrent of pain and empathy. Two songs stood out for me that night. The first was Springsteen's haunting, solo piano version of The Promise which became a sound that I tried to get into my paintings from that day forward. The second was Bruce and the E Street Band's electrifying version of Because the Night. I knew that Springsteen had penned the song and then given the not quite finished work to Patti Smith to complete and record. I took that song on as my romantic talisman. Somewhere down the line I knew I would find a partner who would feel the passion from those haunting lines and that searing music just as I did. My wife, MarySue, and I found each other in 2003 and  our friend, the singer/songwriter Kelly Colbert performed a scorchingly hot version of Because the Night at our wedding on 7/7/07.

MarySue Greets Our Dear Friend Julian Murillo at Our Wedding  7/7/07
photo by Sabine Pearlman

So, please put on Wrecking Ball, turn it up loud and wander through my thoughts on the songs:

Song by Song Reviews of Wrecking Ball on Speed of Life:

Did ANYONE see SPRINGSTEEN on Fallon last night!!! Buy his new album. It is so genius its hard to even believe. Just mind-blowing passion.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band with Tom Morello Play
Death to My Hometown on Late Night w/ Jimmy Fallon (3/2/12)

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band with Tom Morello Play
Jack of All Trades on Late Night w/ Jimmy Fallon (3/2/12)

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band 
with Tom Morello and The Roots
Play The E Street Shuffle on Late Night w/ Jimmy Fallon (3/2/12)

Bruce Springsteen Week Conclusion on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon
(Entire Show - Friday, March 2, 2012)

More at:

"Bruce Springsteen's widescreen vision of America on Wrecking Ball is filled with terror, tension, tenacity and above all else, triumph which may not replenish your bank account, but it will replenish your soul."
-Anthony Kuzminski, Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball, antiMusic
All Things Shining by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly
The Working Man's Voice - The Wall Street Journal
Onstage and Backstage with Springsteen at Late Night with Jimmy Fallon
Bruce Springsteen, Théatre Marigny press conferenceParis, February 2012
Springsteen Visits Fallon: Streaming Videos

Stream Bruce's new album  in its entirety now at the newly redesigned Springsteen website:

Don't Miss This Upcoming Event on NPR:
NPR Music will broadcast Bruce Springsteen's keynote speech from the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas. The live webcast of that address will take place on NPR Music on March 15 at noon Central time.

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