The Hitter
An Online Springsteen Commentary - Version 1.3 - 19 December 1999 -


Boot Camp
The Boots 
Greasy Lake
Point Blank 
Where the Rivers Meet

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Version 1.2, 24 November 1999
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" was about...when did we live down on 6th Avenue?  We had that place, ...69...68...68...1968 and me and Steve we were living in Asbury Park on this place down on 6th Ave., 1610 (giggle).  I remember that place because it was the only time we used to live together; was in the attic.  We had this place up in the attic.  I had the couch...did you have a bed?  I don't think you had a bed.  We had two couches and I...remember the joint for two reasons.  One because it was the only time I ever washed the dishes.  I...flooded...I left the water uh I went and talked on the phone for an hour; flooded all the apartments downstairs.  The other reason was I went to the dentist.  Now you guys go every month or something (laugh).  That was in 1968.  I went again last month (laugh).  Passed the test. Anyway we were living down in this joint and working down, down along the beach in this bar and I remember it was Christmas Eve and we were feeling low 'cause we didn't have no girl friends, we didn't have no money and had no folks and that and so we were sitting there.  We went home early, you know, put the...uh...put the old Pop Tarts in the oven, you know, the toaster and we went to bed.  It was the night before Christmas all through the house there was nothing to eat but Pop Tarts.  So anyway we're sleeping (some guy in the audience yells out).  This is the quiet part, give me a few minutes will you?  (snore)  We always slept standing up with our guitars on so we'd be ready for action in case anybody wanted to sign us up...giggles.  Anyway we hear this noise up on the roof, right?  Now we're old, I mean we were eighteen right?  He was seventeen.  We don't believe in none of this Santa Claus stuff.  We didn't go for any of that stuff, you know? But just in case I left a little note underneath my pillow saying what I wanted.  We hear this sound up on the roof, we figure it's burglars trying to break in...steal our guitars, steal our amps...steal our money.  So anyway we climb out on the roof. Now out on the roof is real dark.  There's no big light like that and we can't see too good but we see somebody trying to stuff something in that chimney.  Now we know it's these burglars coming to rob us so we sneak up on this dude.  I say Steve show him the karate move man!  We get him...all right, Steven come on (thunk!).  Oh oh shit, oh we got his got him man, you got him, no you got him, go on, go on see, see is he out?  Is he out?  Oh oh!  Oh shit!  We fucking knocked out Santa Claus man!  Oh man I thought he was dead a long time ago.  My father told me he was dead when I was six years old, that's how come I never got presents after that.  Goddamn it.  I don't know what to do now.  Wait 'til my little sister hears about this.  Probably supposed to be like in China by now or something.  What the hell was he stuffing in the chimney.  Hey he was stuffing my present in there...57 Chevy...with a brunette in the front seat.  Oh!  Some Christmas!  Oh shit, Santa you all right man?  Better try and wake this cat up man. Santa...ho-ho-ho all that stuff.  Give me some of that snow, bring it on over here (audience cheers) Not THAT kind!  Jeez! Sorry Santa.  Think he's coming around man.  Hey Santa let me hear you baby.  (Ho-Ho-Ho) Oh the dude's all right man (Ho-Ho-Ho)..."

That Was the Decade That Was.

Millennium musings are popping up all over the place.  And your humble Springsteen commentary page is no exception.  The end of the year has got us thinking, not so much about the past thousand years, but about the last ten -- what they've meant for Bruce, and what they've meant for us fans.

So it is that, as we wrap some last-minute Christmas presents, it's one particular show that sticks out in our mind -- one that we think stands as a turning point in Bruce's career.

That would be the Count Basie show on March 23, 1993.  We think history will show that that was the one moment when he turned it all around.  Before the show, Bruce was at his lowest ebb.  Afterwards, it looked like one of those moments of clarity that transforms the protagonist and sets him off in a new direction that is true to himself.

Lord only knows if that's the way he really felt.  But for the fan community, the moment was electrifying.  He junked the two-set structure and played songs he had never done in years ("Does This Bus Stop on 82d Street"), songs he had never done at all ("This Hard Land"), songs you never would have imagined him doing in a million years ("Achy Breaky Heart"), and songs that he had neglected even though they were among his very best ("Janey Don't You Lose Heart," "When You're Alone"). 

And from the outside looking in, it looked transformative.  It was not long afterward that we got "Streets of Philadelphia," in which Bruce proved he could write something new and different; the remarkable "October Assault" tour with Joe Grushecky, in which he proved he could still rock; and The Ghost of Tom Joad, in which he proved again he had the capacity to risk everything.  In our view, the solo acoustic tour which followed stands as the absolute pinnacle of this decade.

What is telling is the irrelevance of the E Street Band to the arc of this growth.  That the Blood Brothers film was not wholly on the up-and-up is betrayed by a close examination of the band interviews, which resemble nothing so much as that WKRP in Cincinnati episode in which Herb Tarlek, who finds himself the focus of a "reality-based" television show, bamboozles each of his co-workers to bleat before the cameras that he is "a hard worker, a loyal husband and all-around good guy."  It's also betrayed by Christopher Sandford's new book Point Blank, which quoted "one of the more classically minded, not to say scholarly" band members -- this year! -- to note that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction was held on "the Ides of March, a good day for a backstabbing."

More relevant is the fact that the band's apparent role this decade has been to serve commercial ends -- not artistic ones. Greatest Hits  reflected no real creativity, but rather a "Streets of Philadelphia"-driven effort to recapture market relevance, a fact lent only further weight by the outtakes that surfaced on E Street Records' Deep Down in the Vaults. Both the Greatest Hits and Tracks sessions showed a penchant on Bruce's part to use the band to rework material initially attempted elsewhere, and then to ditch it as unsatisfactory.

And while the performances on this year's tour have been remarkable, particularly from Bruce, Max, Steven and Nils, they reflect no new vision, no new direction.  ("Land of Hope and Dreams" is the exception that proves the rule.)  We recently heard one of the shows from Brian Wilson's comeback tour this year, and we were struck by the similarity between the two tours.  Both were hugely entertaining and well-performed, far better than expected or feared, yet largely retrospective, still raising the nagging question of whether the artists' best days were behind them.

Certainly this is a far more open question for Bruce Springsteen than for Brian Wilson.  In fact, we think the lesson to be learned from the 1990s is that all of the evidence is in Bruce's favor.

What we think Bruce should do in 2000 is recapture the spirit of Count Basie.  Take some risks.  End the tour.  Write some new songs.  Record a new album.  Let Max return to Conan, and Garry and Roy to their respective studios.  This may not be what the fans want.  But it may be best for Bruce.  We would far rather see him record an album like Steve Earle's The Mountain, as we would a live album, or an album like Human Touch.

And with that, The Hitter wishes you a Merry Christmas and a gear New Year!