An Online Springsteen Commentary ’Äì Version 4.01 - 10 Aug 2002 - firstname.lastname@example.org
General Admission: Our Friend or Tool of Satan?
Bruce has recently taken what we see as some well-deserved grief for his decision to impose general admission seating on the floor for this tour.
The issue has been raised most starkly in Cincinnati, where Bruce will be playing this fall. The city banned so-called "festival seating" after eleven people died at a Who concert there on December 3, 1979, and Bruce has sought a variance from the law At least one family member of the dead, to our knowledge, has contacted fan websites and asked for help in contesting his decision.
Perhaps we can be persuaded that general admission seating, as implemented on this tour, is a good and safe deal for the fans. But the burden is on Bruce to say why, and he has made no effort to do so. Jon Landau's initial statement, that the change would bring more energy to the shows, falls appallingly short of the mark. So does the refusal of Bruce's management to comment on the reasons for the change to the Cincinnati media.
So, Bruce, make the case. If you can't, or if you won't, then maybe you should pull out your copy of Before I Get Old, turn to page 510, and read for awhile.
Update: First-hand accounts are now in from DC and MSG. Here's one example that is wholly consistent with what we've heard elsewhere:
"My quick answer after the experience at MSG is that it is the tool of Satan. I say this based on Monday evening's frightening experience. The fans did their jobs, running a GA list and doing the best they could in the circumstances, but the arena and organization took no role, putting us all in a very scary, potentially dangerous situation in the 30 minutes or so before the door opened. The arena had no security, no communication, no nothing to facilitate our entry to the building and we were very close to a stampede Monday night (ok, call it a mini stampede) ... The organization better start playing a more active role in the process or Cincy is going to hear the news."
We heard the same thing about the DC show. (Our article went up in the afternoon before the show started. We liked it, by the way ... from our reserved seats in section 219.) As told to us, the points of entry for the front GA section were so few, and the crowd so large, that people were almost hurt. The adjective we heard was "scary."
This, in our opinion, is among the most perplexing things Bruce Springsteen has ever done. We wrote the text below from the belief that Bruce and his management would never do such a thing without having planned and implemented it carefully. It now seems clear that they haven't. They can consider themselves warned.
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Free The Rising
It's been a long time since the last edition of The Hitter. We're sorry for that, but not totally. Our real lives have kept us from writing and posting here as much as we'd like.That's as it should be, at least if you take The Rising seriously. Among the album's most persistent questions are, what happens when the most important people in your life are gone, or when you take them so much for granted that they might as well not be there at all?
Those are scary questions. To us,
they make the album one of those classics best appreciated in the middle of a
hot, sleepless night, like Exile on Main Street, The Best of Muddy
Waters or Tunnel of Love. They also make the vastly
underappreciated "Let's Be Friends (Skin to Skin)" as central to
the album as "Empty Sky" or "Into the Fire":
And that brings us to The Rising and 9/11, the only thing we could really write about after having been gone so long.
One cannot deny that Bruce has consciously and aggressively sought to link The Rising in the public mind with last year's attacks. Nor can one deny Bruce's personal responsibility for these marketing decisions. As the 1986 interview with Andrea Klein in Backstreets 16 reveals, such decisions are, at least to some extent, another form of expression by Bruce himself, for which he alone is accountable.
We at The Hitter have a problem with Bruce's effort to link The Rising so closely to 9/11 , and it's not the one you might think. We do pause at the fact that The Rising would have sold 50,000 copies in its first week, rather than 500,000, were it not for a horrific terrorist attack. Nonetheless, we reject the notion that Bruce has sought to profit from 9/11. We have no reason to doubt, and many reasons to believe, his compassion for the victims and his understanding of the event.
Our problem with handcuffing The Rising to 9/11 is that it limits and diminishes the songs. We start from the premise that The Rising has a meaning and existence that transcends 9/11. It has to be taken out of that context and allowed to stand on its own if it is going to work. Otherwise, the album is diminished, and ultimately trivialized. It's not just that the songs can be about things other than 9/11, as Bruce has said. It's that they're bigger than 9/11, and have a life of their own.
Many times in the past month, we have read the story of the guy who cried out, "We need you!" to Bruce after the attacks. It's indeed true that popular music can meet particular needs in a specific social context. But that comes with a cost that has not yet been fully appreciated with respect to this album.
For example, writers like Greil Marcus have pointed out how the folk revival of the 1950s and 1960s was linked to civil rights and social liberation, and how one element was to see the music of people like Charley Patton through a strictly social context, as the product of racism and poverty.
The problem was, this stripped the songs of much of their meaning. It handcuffed them to contemporary social beliefs, instead of allowing them to be free, and to speak to something more transcendent. It was only when people like Harry Smith and the Rolling Stones decontextualized these songs that they finally became forever and fully free.
In Smith's case, he took Charley Patton's songs and put them next to Bascon Lamar Lumsford on Anthology of American Folk Music. By taking the songs out of their racial and geographic context, he revealed what made them timeless and compelling, and showed what we all have in common.
Songs exist beyond their social context, and they find their principal meaning elsewhere. They are no less than a window to the soul. If you can't put "Dry Bones" on the CD player in midtown Manhattan and forget that the singer was from Appalachia, forget it was recorded in the 1920s, then you're missing the most important parts.
When set free, songs go where they want, or where they're needed, like "My City of Ruins did after 9/11, even though it had been written about something completely different. It's like Nick Lowe told No Depression last year:
The more I write, the less I really know what happens. You get an idea for a song. Well, where does that come from? I don't know. You just hear a phrase or a little something that just catches you; it's almost like somebody else takes over and does it. It's not actually me. I'm the fella that does the guy's interviews, I make his records for him, I put the chords together, but it's not really me, not the good stuff.
Somehow, somewhere, the songs on The Rising existed before 9/11. They are going to have to exist in a world without it. What will happen to this album when there is another attack, or worse attack?
We think the album will survive, because we think most of it's that good. But it will be hard, because the songs have been so tightly linked with 9/11.
This is not a new problem for Bruce. Ask us on any given Sunday, and we might tell you that Tunnel of Love is Bruce's best album ever. But the damned thing still hasn't survived Julianne Phillips. As a result, its songs have stayed underrepresented in concert, and the album remains a closely-kept secret in the hearts of Bruce's most ardent fans.
We don't want this album to meet the same fate. In our view, the success or failure of this tour depends on its ability to give the songs life beyond 9/11. We're afraid that Bruce is going to have to deal with some confusion on the part of his audience. He's going to have to reconcile their desire for a good time with the fact that they perceive him to be singing about a horrific terrorist attack.
We hope he can pull it off. He'd have an easier time if the songs were allowed to fly away and be free, as they were meant to be.