The next installment of Sages of the Subway is "in the can," so to speak, and should be posted on the Wanted web site sometime soon.
Audience questions will be posed to the panelists, with their responses posted here later.
Q: Where the heck have you been lately?
A: The Hitter admits to drawing inspiration from excellent fanzines like The 910, that publish pretty much whenever they feel like it.
Seriously, we actually have a real job, and it's been kind of busy lately. But we'll try to stay on a more regular schedule. And we appreciate your patience. Sorry for the wait.
Q: What happened to that column on the Philly ALD tapes?
A: Lost to the ages, unfortunately, because it was accidentally deleted from both the web server and the hard drive. Suffice it to say, we didn't much like them, and the reviews of that expensive Japanese boxed set have largely backed us up.
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Coming Soon... The Hitter's
Give Up! Never Surrender!"
Last weekend, The Hitter watched Galaxy Quest, the Tim Allen movie about a group of actors in a Star Trek-like television show who end up meeting real aliens. (We'll confess right now to our fondness for lowbrow comedy. There's a whole list of three-hour-long Steven Spielberg movies that we'll probably never see on video, because we just can't handle them on a Friday night at the end of a long week.)
There were two things that struck us about the movie. One was its portrayal of the relationship between the actors and their fans. The movie is bookended by scenes at a sci-fi convention, populated by a bunch of Trekker-like adolescents who take the show way too seriously. At first, they irritate the actors, and we laugh at them. But eventually we realize that they know something that the actors don't. They were responding to the show's ideals of teamwork, courage and camaraderie (the commander's catch phrase has a certain Boss-like air to it: "Never give up! Never surrender!"), while using those ideals to fill empty spaces in their own lives.
That brings us to the other thing that struck us, which was the movie's suggestion that even a staged and contrived performance can take on a validity of its own. Among Galaxy Quest's protagonists are a race of childlike aliens who believe that the television series really happened, and who refer to its episodes as "historical documents." At first, the actors don't understand. But once again, they end up realizing that the aliens know something that they don't. Basing an entire society on the show may seem pathetic, the movie seems to suggest, but in some ways it's a heckuva lot smarter than the way we do things now.
Anybody who thinks that there's nothing in common between the Trekkers in Galaxy Quest and die-hard Springsteen fans should think again. We bet that if somebody did a survey, they'd find that the percentage of Tracks purchasers who had attended a sci-fi convention is markedly higher than that of the population at large. (We'd like to think that both traits correlate with intelligence. But we tried that argument in the seventh grade, and we got beat up in the halls for two weeks.)
Nobody can deny that we take Bruce's performances extremely seriously. That we sometimes irritate Bruce and the band in the process has been amply reported. (By the way, who would be the E Street Band equivalent of Alan Rickman's Galaxy Quest character ... Max?) Normal people do not sit and argue whether the 3/24/77 show was better than the 3/25/77 show. That we care whether the live B-side of "Incident on 57th Street" crossfades the 12-31-80 performance with crowd noise from the 7/7/78 Roxy show suggests that maybe we ought to get a life. For our part, The Hitter cheerfully confesses to having participated in such debates.
But on the other hand, we die-hard fans do know something that a lot of other people do not. Chiefly, we respond especially strongly to the romanticism and idealism of Bruce's music. Maybe it's the heightened presence of these elements in The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle and Tunnel of Love that makes these albums way more popular among hard-core fans than, say, Born in the U.S.A. And maybe the reason some people still complain about the overdubs on Live 1975-85 is that they perceive a contradiction with the ideal of integrity that they see in Bruce's work.
One of the most disturbing things about this tour is the number of people who attend and still don't seem to get these ideals. In the most recent issue of DoubleTake, Daniel Wolff points out the irony between Bruce's emerging focus on issues of poverty, exploitation and individual dignity, and the fact that the tour is being attended by an audience that is disproportionately affluent and indifferent to these issues. You know, the people who get up to go to the bathroom during "The Ghost of Tom Joad." Listening to the circulating ALD tape of 8/22/99, you can barely hear Bruce dedicate "Ghost" to Robert Coles. You can bet that few others did, and that even fewer understood why. Let's hear it for cold beer at a reasonable price.
Now, readers of this august publication and its ongoing panel discussion know that we've been all over the map on the current tour. Bruce has choreographed the show down to the tiniest gesture. To someone who initially responded to the freedom of Bruce's early performances -- again, to the ideal of integrity -- that can be pretty hard to swallow.
Nonetheless, the tour is starting to wear down our resistance. Like Galaxy Quest suggests, even a staged and contrived performance can take on a validity of its own. We must have listened to tapes of "Ramrod" from this tour eighty billion times now, and we still haven't heard it enough. We're finding ourselves looking forward to Madison Square Garden, not so much because Bruce is doing more interesting things with the set, but because by most accounts the show somehow seems to be transcending the sum of its parts. Anybody who's ever been to somebody else's church knows that ritual, even standing alone, can be a very powerful thing.
In his book, Mystery Train, Greil
Marcus once wrote that a great artist deserves a great audience.
We think Bruce fits that description. Whether it applies to his audience
is a question we won't presume to answer. But our attitude is kind
of like Tony Soprano's, when his wife angrily told him that she wanted
their kids to have a father. "They got one. This one.
Me. Tony Soprano. And all that comes with it."