Pardon Our Mess
You may have noticed that the layout and
design of The Hitter is not as attractive as it once was. That’s because we don’t know how to
design a web page. It’s true. We
Seriously, with the last issue, we began
writing and uploading the issues from an iBook, and have been designing the
page using Microsoft Word instead on Netscape Composer. If anyone can recommend some
easy and cheap web page software for Mac, we’d be most obliged.
By the way, in case you have ever wondered,
The Hitter is not a “blog.” A blog publishes all the time, and, consequently, prints a
lot of things that make no sense.
We publish far less frequently, and, consequently, publish somewhat
fewer things that make no sense.
How you felt about Bruce’s frequent
comments from the stage about the American invasion of Iraq depended largely
on whether you agreed with him.
That’s the uncomfortable truth that Bruce
himself has elided – notably, in his public defense of the Dixie Chicks, when
he claimed that he was simply defending their right to speak out. The fact, left unstated by
Bruce, is that he plainly agreed with the comments Natalie Maines had
made. Indeed, he had made even
more provocative comments himself, suggesting to Ken Tucker of Entertainment
Weekly that President Bush had fabricated the reasons for the war in
order to bolster his domestic political standing.
We disagree with Bruce about the war. Yet what bothers us also is the
didacticism he has displayed in talking about it. As a songwriter, Bruce has
explored complex, troubling, polarizing issues like the death penalty, by
examining all sides and showing respect for the characters on each. He has displayed none of those skills
here. Instead, he has relied
largely on ad hominem arguments that sound remarkably like his comments on
Nicaragua and El Salvador in 1984, and which make those past comments seem
far cheaper in retrospect.
Having chosen to enter the debate about
the war, Bruce owes it to his fans to explain and defend his position
fully. He should sit down for an
interview with Rolling Stone or The New York Times, speak far more extensively on the subject than he
did with Ken Tucker or from the stage, and make his case.
Why is Iraq like Vietnam, and not like
World War II? Why does “Born in
the USA” apply here, and not “Youngstown”? (“We built the tanks and bombs that won this country’s
wars …”) What leads Bruce to conclude that the Bush administration knowingly
fabricated the war, and did not simply make a strategic misjudgment? Is it possible that the
administration was right, or at least reasonable at the time, about the
threat Iraq posed?
These are the sorts of hard questions that
Bruce Springsteen the songwriter would never shirk. Bruce Springsteen the performer has chosen to evade
them. He does his fans a
disservice in the process.
Read Past Issues
Version 5.01, 21
10 Aug 2002
Version 3.06, 28
Version 3.05, 12
Version 3.04, 11
Version 3.03, 8
Version 3.02, 26
Version 3.01, 13
Version 2.08, 3
Version 2.07, 19
Version 2.06, 3
Version 2.05, 12
Version 2.04, 22
Version 2.03, 9
Version 2.02, 12
Version 1.3, 19
Version 1.2, 24
Version 1.1, 15
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It Ain’t No Sin To Be Glad You’re Alive …
So be glad, dammit.
Other artists had this problem. “Hot Springs’ star is still Robert
Johnson,” wrote Melody Maker in 1937. “It is too bad that Vocalion, which is the only company
that takes regular trips through the backwoods of the South, records no work
songs or songs of protest by Negro artists.”
Still, Bruce Springsteen seems unique
in the level of dissatisfaction he routinely evokes from his most devoted
fans. Every album, every show,
every project is weighed against what might have been.
Unfortunately for Bruce, he is seen as limitless in talent and energy,
and the expectations always surpass reality.
The latest spin of this cycle has come
with word of The Essential Bruce Springsteen, a Sony-spawned greatest-hits project that we
ourselves admittedly greeted with little enthusiasm. (If you want greatest hits, why not
buy Greatest Hits?)
However, it soon became known that a limited edition of the set would
come with a bonus third disc containing rarities, live performances and outtakes.
We have heard at least three different
track lists for Disc 3. Each has
been bogus to some degree. Yet two things were striking. The first was the coolness of some of
the rumored material – “County Fair,” the acoustic demo of “Countin’ on a
Miracle,” “Code of Silence,” and so on.
The second was the level of disappointment the purported lists
evoked. One got the sense that,
to satisfy the die-hards, Disc 3 would have to include “A Gun in Every Home,”
“Balboa Versus the Earth-Slayer,” a 1982 studio performance of “Atlantic
City,” and the tracks Bruce supposedly recorded with the Desert Rose Band in
Disc 3 has not been the only recent
object of fan misgivings. We’ve
heard them expressed about the scheduled DVD release of Live in Barcelona,
said to be the entire
2002 show that was broadcast in part on MTV Europe. Some fans objected to the
release of a show already seen in large part through the magic of
bootlegging, and asked, why not one of the 2003 stadium shows filmed in
And then there’s the stadium
shows. It now seems clear that,
somewhere around late August, Bruce lost his mind and began playing pretty
much whatever he wanted. However,
he created a frenzy of expectation that not even a souped-up “Johnny 99”
could satisfy. People asked,
where’s the solo piano “Real World”?
Why does Bob Dylan sound so bad?
The irony of it all is that, in each
of these instances, Bruce gave die-hard fans what they profess to want. They want more material from the
vaults, so he proposed to provide it.
They want an entire concert on DVD, so he prepared to put it out. They want his shows to be like that
Elvis Costello tour with the Imposters, where a fan would spin a big wheel of
song titles to see what the band would play next; and he gave us “County
Fair” in Darien Lake.
But it has ever been thus. Fans wondered what Bruce would sound
like without the E Street Band, and then couldn’t wait for him to bring the
boys back. They clamored for an
acoustic tour, and then wished he would plug in again. They wanted him to move away from the
retrospective focus of the 1999 tour, but cheered when “Kitty’s Back”
returned in 2002.
It’s not correct to claim that fan
dissatisfaction is universal, or even dominant, in the Springsteen
world. Every Internet forum has
its “Bruce doesn’t owe us anything” thread. The debate runs pretty strongly in both directions. (There is a universally loved,
respected and extremely smart fan on some of the forums we frequent who is
Also, by way of confession, we at The Hitter have been among the most merciless of hanging judges. We railed against the Frankensteining
of Live 1975-85. We denounced the decline of CD singles in the early
1990s. We condemned the
oxymoronic Complete Video Anthology as the most offensive media
release since Leni Riefenstahl turned in her Nazi party card. (Okay, so it wasn’t that
bad.) And so on and so forth.
But if dissatisfaction with Bruce is
neither universal nor dominant, it’s still persistent. And as we have gotten older, we have
come to doubt our reflexive instincts toward it. As with Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove, our reflexes still get the better of us from time
to time. But we keep them under
better control than we used to.
Partly, this is because of
self-awareness. We are
perfectionists. Bruce is a perfectionist. His manager is a perfectionist. (Who was a rock critic, for Pete’s sake: “Despite
Jimi’s musical brilliance and the group’s total precision, the poor quality
of the songs, and the inanity of the lyrics, too often get in the way
…”) Bruce has been touted as the
ultimate artist for people like us, always confounding limits in the service
of spontaneity and truth – whether by spurning corporate sponsorship of his
tours, or by running onto the stage in Seattle in 1978 and leaping into “Rave
On” after everyone had left.
But our kinder, gentler outlook owes
mostly to the fact that Bruce’s performances have taken a radically different
and positive direction over the last ten years. Where several years used to pass between projects, now he
is constantly active. Where the
basic structure of his live set remained essentially the same for many years,
now it has varied significantly.
Where the shows once seemed backward-looking, now they are anchored by
songs like “Land of Hope and Dreams” that are rooted firmly in the here and
now. Where almost everything Bruce did once seemed carefully considered, now
he can play “Janey Don’t You Lose Heart” or appear in a John Cusack movie and
people will hardly notice.
All of this provides ample reason to
think that this is a pretty good time to be a Springsteen fan. Projects like the Essential
CD, the Barcelona DVD or
the stadium shows should be judged on their merits, not by comparing them to
some little girl’s dream that can’t ever come true.