An Online Springsteen Commentary – Version 5.01- 21 Feb 2003 - firstname.lastname@example.org
This week, Kevin Kinder, the moderator of the Luckytown Digest, said that he would fold the list after more than 11 years. His stated reasons were easily understandable to us at The Hitter, which publishes even less often than the Digest recently did. He cited work and family obligations, and his belief that the Digest was becoming less useful in a world now chock-full of Springsteen Internet groups.
Kevin may be right that Luckytown will not be missed. But only in the same way that the Continental Congress isn’t missed, or the Works Progress Administration, or the League of Nations. First called the Backstreets Digest, it was the first really significant Internet forum for Bruce’s music. It paved the way for RMAS, Greasy Lake and the host of other discussion forums that exist today, and brought together fans from around the world. Reading about a show like the March 23, 1993 Count Basie benefit on the Backstreets Digest was like receiving a coded message from another planet, in a way that people today might find hard to understand.
Indeed, whether or not there’s a place for the Digest today, it’s worth asking whether there will ever again be one place on the Internet with the quality of Bruce discussion it enjoyed during its glory days of the early to mid-‘90s.
Two things made the Digest a strong forum and perhaps impossible to recreate today. The first was technology. In the early ‘90s, there weren’t a lot of people with Internet access. Discussions were smaller, more intense, more transparent and more manageable. Indeed, it was what Kevin found to be the Digest’s unmanageable size that led him to spearhead the creation of RMAS and drain some of the traffic – a step that perhaps worked too well.
The second thing that made the Digest so strong in its day, and that should not be underestimated, was the intelligence and goodwill of its moderator. When we were on the Digest, Kevin Kinder plainly cared about Bruce, his music, and the people who posted to the list. His steady example of inclusion, moderation and respect is useful for all of us.
Bruce Springsteen may not know how much he owes Kevin Kinder, although we think he probably does; we at The Hitter have always suspected that Bruce’s general silence toward the fan community masks a degree of genuine interest and care.
But to us it’s clear. Kevin Kinder ranks with Lou Cohan,
Dave Marsh, Charley Cross and only a handful of others who, through their
work, have helped thousands of fans become a genuine community. We thank him for that and wish him
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Only the hopelessly self-absorbed could have left Bruce Springsteen’s benefit concert for DoubleTake Magazine Thursday night at the Somerville Theatre outside Boston doubting they had seen something extraordinary. By talking extensively about the ideas behind his songs, he opened himself to his audience like he never has before. Whether he succeeded in engaging the audience in those ideas is questionable, through little fault of his own.
The obvious comparison is to the 1990 Christic Institute benefits, another solo acoustic moment of introspection for Bruce. But this comparison fails; these were the Anti-Christic shows. Here, we had the comfort of old friends like “Blinded by the Light” and “Growin’ Up.” It’s easy to forget sometimes how much we love these songs and how badly we need them. As Bruce said himself, their joy is a central part of his work.
Bruce’s own expressions in Somerville were also deeper than they were at the 1990 shows. For example, it’s now clear from Bruce himself why he still plays “Darkness of the Edge of Town” at almost every show. Along with “The Promised Land”, he plainly finds it among the most critical songs of his catalog, advancing the ideas of transcendence and human dignity that drive his music.
As Bruce told it Thursday night, the character in the last verse of “Darkness” is not like those in “The River,” who find themselves powerless against social forces they can’t control. This is someone who, even after losing it all, still has something left – himself – and he puts it on the line. It’s Muddy Waters singing “Mannish Boy,” or John Lennon singing, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.“
Bruce’s insights were not just about the lyrics, either. Who would have thought that “Stolen Car” and “Brilliant Disguise” both took the rhythm of songs like “Save the Last Dance for Me” to convey the suggestion of sex? Or that the modal chord structure of “The River” was crafted to recall American folk music and thus give the sense of being trapped by fate and history? Unlike the meaning of a line like “pumped his way into his hat,” these ideas were not “self-explanatory.” They were unexpectedly cool.
Yet the most interesting revelations from Bruce may have been the inadvertent ones. In remarks that echoed the story he told about Bob Dylan when he introduced “57 Channels” at the second Christic show, Bruce talked about his father and said: All of us wear masks to present ourselves to the world. I’m wearing one right now.
There were a number of moments Thursday night when the mask dropped. Some of them were fascinating, like when Bruce talked about writing the last verse of “Nebraska” and left out the fact that it contained the words of Charles Starkweather himself. Some of the moments were fun and charming, such as when he bashfully glossed over some of the weirder lyrics of “Growin’ Up” and “Blinded by the Light.”
Some of them were neither fun nor charming. Thursday night, we saw the Bruce Springsteen who detests cameras (“Don’t do that … or I’ll kill you”); who was amused yet unnerved by one woman’s front-row dancing; who retains his Joad-era penchant for talking crudely about sex. These open displays of impatience, fear and earthiness make you wonder whether he, like his father, wears much less of a mask than most people do.
All of this amounted to an extraordinary night of revelation from Bruce, all to engage his audience in the ideas and craft that drive his music. Yet did the audience respond? From where we sat in the Somerville Theatre, we’re not sure it did.
The question-and-answer session had to be the single most dispiriting thing we’ve seen or heard about at a Bruce concert since Terence Trent D’Arby got booed. The questions were notable for their utter failure to engage any of the ideas that Bruce tried to convey. In fact, almost all of them were notable for their self-centeredness.
Like one questioner, we’d like Bruce to release official bootlegs, too. But for what purpose? So we can have something else to buy? So we can hear the music in a little better quality than a Sony D8 can provide? The official editorial position of The Hitter is that the proper reason for wanting these things is for others … not for us. We know that this music can change lives, because it changed ours. If we believe in the music, if we care about its message, then we must want everyone to have the chance to hear it like we did.
Like another questioner seemed to be saying, we don’t like the general admission policy either. We’ve said so on this page. But it’s not because it makes it harder for us to get good tickets. Rather, we think it shows a lack of responsibility for the safety of the fans, and an indifference to their enjoyment of the show.
Little of this idealism, little of this commitment, was evident in the questions Bruce took from his fans Thursday night. Bruce laid down the gauntlet for us several times. When he talked about “Darkness on the Edge of Town” at the beginning of the show, he said the line, “I’ll be on that hill” reflected not only the character’s commitment to act, but the performer’s commitment to be there for the audience, and the audience’s commitment to stand with the performer. During the Q&A, he talked about the meaning of the word “concert,” and how it meant that the performer and the audience were to act together.
And yet the gauntlet was left sitting on the floor. We fans have a weird and dysfunctional relationship with Bruce Springsteen. He holds us back, and yet from time to time he drops the mask and draws us in. Then we let him down, and the mask goes back on.