The Hitter 
An Online Springsteen Commentary – Version 5.02- 16 Oct 2003 -

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 really don’t. 

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.

War.  (Huh?)

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 Feb 2003
Version 4.01, 10 Aug 2002

Version 3.06, 28 Nov 2001
Version 3.05, 12 Sep 2001
Version 3.04, 11 Aug 2001
Version 3.03, 8 Apr 2001
Version 3.02, 26 Feb 2001
Version 3.01, 13 Feb 2001
Version 2.08, 3 Jan 2001
Version 2.07, 19 Nov 2000
Version 2.06, 3 Aug 2000
Version 2.05, 12 June 2000
Version 2.04, 22 May 2000
Version 2.03, 9 May 2000
Version 2.02, 12 Feb 2000
Version 1.3, 19 Dec 1999
Version 1.2, 24 Nov 1999
Version 1.1, 15 Nov 1999

You may e-mail us at


Boot Camp
The Boots
Erik Knevelbaard's Links Page
Greasy Lake
Living Proof
Point Blank 
Stone Pony London


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 1986.

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 high-definition?

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 nicknamed “Mikey.”)

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.