Friday Is Boss’ Day: Brucenanny!

Bruce Springsteen could have fit in well among the artists of the 1960s who tried on different hats during their musical journeys – the Byrds go country, Muddy Waters gets psychedelic, Dylan goes electric, then goes country, then gets religion, and so on.  Springsteen’s flirted with a few musical genres over his career but none of these detours have been as controversial as his folk music excursions.

Bruce’s first product for the coffeehouse crowd was, of course, 1982’s Nebraska.  No problem here – this album is a flat-out classic.   So let’s jump ahead to The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995), where Bruce channeled the work of John Steinbeck and Woody Guthrie and alienated a large group of his fans.  You have to admire the courage to step out of his rock-and-roll persona, but first of all, the songs weren’t as powerful as those off Nebraska.  One gets the idea that some of the tunes might have been leftovers – as if to verify that suspicion, the version of “Youngstown” on the E Street Band Live from NYC album just leaves its Tom Joad counterpart in the dust.  And by this time, Springsteen’s “everyman” identification with the working class rang a little phony, coming from a rich rock star who lived in Beverly Hills.  He moved back to Jersey in the mid 1990s, but still … 

Then along came The Seeger Sessions (2006) and its supplemental discs.  Springsteen covered a handful of songs written or popularized by folkie Pete Seeger (still alive, surprisingly) way back in the day.  The move split Springsteen’s fans, some of whom supported the singer’s latest adventure vs. others who were more than ready for another E Street Band album.  (We’re not forgetting Devils and Dust, from 2005, just ignoring it.  The less said about this wreck on the highway, the better.)

Is this what's next for Bruce?

To me, Seeger Sessions – and the “expanded” version, and the Live In Dublin version – illustrates my only problem with Springsteen: he doesn’t seem to mind taking money from his fans.  He forced them to buy three different versions of the same music by adding just enough exclusive content to attract the hard core.  It might be a management thing, certainly record-label greed is in there somewhere, but Springsteen’s a well-documented control freak … can’t he put a stop to this money grubbing?  Remember Tracks and 18 Tracks?  Anyway, that’s why the folk music detour started to feel a little disingenuous – and that’s why I, for one, welcomed Magic and the return of the E Street Band.  Glad he finally figured it out!

(Side note: While in Austin for Alejandro Escovedo’s new CD release last month, someone supposedly “in the know” intimated that Bruce may work with Texas songwriters like Escovedo and Joe Ely sometime in the future.  No, really?)

Today we share some of the highs and lows of the Brucenanny era, including a version of Woody Guthrie’s “Vigilante Man,” from Folkways: A Vision Shared (1988); another Guthrie song, “Plane Wreck at Los Gatos,” which gives Bruce another Rosalita to sing about; the Seeger Sessions version of “For You,” which appeared on a hard-to-find PBS bonus disc; and “Hobo’s Lullaby,” which may or may not be a duet with Pete Seeger.  Listen closely if you want to hear Pete!

MP3: “Vigilante Man

MP3: “Plane Wreck at Los Gatos

MP3: “For You” (live) by Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band

MP3: “Hobo’s Lullaby” by Bruce Springsteen and Pete Seeger

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