HE’S ON FIRE – SPRINGSTEEN 1985 (part 2)

Seconda parte del articolo su Springsteen tratto da un Newsweek del 1985.

On this tour, for the first time, the more somber songs have moved to the heart of the show. “Highway Patrolman” was a highlight of last year’s concerts—a lovely, heartbreaking song about a cop torn between loyalties to the law and his black-sheep brother. “The River” told the story of a working-class kid trapped in a sad marriage; “Johnny 99” was a laid-off autoworker driven to crime by insurmountable money troubles. And across America last year, the words of “My Hometown” resonated strongly at each stop: “Now Main Street’s whitewashed windows and vacant stores/Seems like there ain ‘t nobody want to come down here no more/ They’re closing down the textile mill across the tracks/Foreman says these jobs are goingboys andthey ain ‘t coming back …. “
Burners: These are grim messages, but Springsteen is too much a rocker at heart to let the sadder songs overwhelm. What makes his shows exhilarating pop events is the ease with which he shifts gears into high-energy burners like “Thunder Road” and “Cadillac Ranch” – songs that encapsulate all the fire and abandon of the rock-and-roll spirit. Springsteen seems to be everywhere at once on the concert stage: high atop a speaker bank, racing up a stairway to play to the people in the back, tearing back down to the lip of the stage. His shows are marathons, often reaching four hours in length. Says E Street guitarist Nils Lofgren, an established Columbia artist who signed on with Springsteen last year, “With Bruce you wind up treating those four hours as if someone said, ‘You’ve got four hours left on earth. What are you going to do with it?’ “

Springsteen, friends say, would rather be doing nothing else than playing rock and roll . Behind every show lies a thought that’s central to great rock-and-roll performing—the idea that only this moment matters. Not Yesterday, not tomorrow.
but now. His commitment to the moment is total,andevery show in every city bristles with passion and good
humor. Even the hokey moments are deliriously exciting—like the scene when Springsteen and sax player Clemons ( “The BigMan! The King of the World The Master of Disaster!”) square off at opposite ends of a long arena stage, mock scowling, eyes locked, each playing at full tilt—and then race toward one another to meet at center stage for an exuberant twist, twine or rumba.
Privacy: Offstage, the singer devotes his formidable drive to a more personal pursuit: keeping his private life his own business. He is surrounded by a determined cadre of loyal friends and handlers, none of whom has much enthusiasm for talking to the press, and Springsteen himself hasn’t given an interview since talking to Rolling Stone late last year. “I give my entire energy to the public,” he told his new father-in-law after marrying Julianne Phillips in May. “But this is different. Things that are private should be kept private. ” But privacy is harder than ever to come by. He is not only a bigger star than he has ever been, but a different kind of star—a political symbol, a national symbol … and, let’s face it, a sex symbol, thanks to a rigorous schedule of weight training that has chiseled him a whole new profile.
It’s not his first new look. Over the last dozen years Springsteen has worn several faces: the scowling late-Dylan of the late ’70s, the leather-clad tough of the middle decade, the earringed singer / songwriter of l974.To start with,back in his hometown of Freehold,N.J. he was a scrawny Jersey kid with an Irish father, an Italian mother and a Dutch name. A headstrong boy who chafed under discipline both at home and in parochial school, he felt everything turn when he bought a pawnshop guitar at 13. “It was one of the most beautiful sights I’d ever seen in my life,”he told rock journalist Dave Marsh. “I
had found a way to do everything I wanted to do. ” Hooking up with a local band called the Castiles, Springsteen began playing in Jersey bars. Stints in four more local groups followed before he landed an audition with Columbia executive John Hammond, who years earlier had discovered Billie Holiday and Bob Dylan. Hammond gave the young singer 15 minutes of his time. He was stunned. Springsteen signed with Columbia Records in 1972.
His first LP, “Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.,” was done in just three weeks and showed—maybe too strongly—the influence Dylan had had on Springsteen. Wild torrents of words skittered across the record’s surface: “Madman drummers bummers and Indians in the summer with a teen-age diplomat . . . ” Springsteen sang in the album’s opening line. Nobody was quite sure what that meant. From Dylan, who had been obtuse for a decade by that time, music fans expected such. No one knew what to make of this skinny Jersey kid with the scraggly beard. The second Springsteen LP, “The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle,” pared the verbiage back some, to better effect, and played up the jazzier side of Springsteen’s music. It also introduced characters who under one name or another would populate all the singer’s records from then on: this time out they were Spanish Johnny and Puerto Rican Jane, lonely teens fighting to keep their dreams alive in the big city.A few deejays,including Philadelphia’s Ed Sciaky, began to play the records and talk up Springsteen’s incendiary live shows. Sciaky, then with WMMR recalls with special fondness the first time he heard “Rosalita”: “I thought I’d never hear louder applause. It was like an explosion. “
Unfortunately, ecstatic reception in the clubs didn’t mean big sales in the record
stores. But Springsteen kept working the East Coast circuit and attracting a good measure of critical attention. His best notice came from a young Boston writer named Jon Landau: “I
saw rock and roll future,” he wrote in Boston’s weekly Real Paper in May 1974, after a typically exuberant show at the Harvard Square Theatre. “Its name is Bruce Springsteen.” By October 1975 the singer’s small,fiercely loyal group of fans was convinced that Springsteen couldn’t be held down much longer. They were right. The third LP,”Born to Run,”hit the street like a firecracker,a superb,passionate record that traced a whole heartbreaking day in the lives of Springsteen’s urban heroes. Although some critics dismissed the record’s dense sound and complex song cycle as bombastic, sales were brisk—finally—and the album landed in the Top 10. That’s when the national media came around. NEWSWEEK and Time featured the singer on their covers—both in the same week— initiating a chain reaction of press coverage that focused on Springsteen more as an event than a musician. Something of a backlash resulted, and according to associates the young rocker wasn’t ready. “But he learned a lot from it,” an insider says. “He learned to relax and keep focused on what’s real.”
He would need all his forbearance. A legal wrangle with Mike Appel, his manager at the time, would keep him out of the studio for almost two years, dampening his upward momentum and causing some observers to write him off. Springsteen wasn’t legally free to record again until May 1977, with Jon Landau now along as manager and coproducer. “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” released in 1978, was a grittier work than any of the earlier records—no doubt reflecting the frustrating two-year layoff—and it sounded a theme that Springsteen has continued to address: the terrible gap between expectation and reality in the American dream. Home and family emerged as the only comfort; the title tune reminded listeners how bleak the world can be beyond the safe confines of home, and what a high price it exacts from those who try to break away “Lives on the line dreams are found and lost, ” he sang, “I’ll be there on time and I’ll pay the cost/For wanting things that can only be found/In the darkness on the edge of town. “
Reacbing On subsequent records Springsteen’s America grew darkerstill. “The River,”a double LP released in 1980,boasted some of his most affecting work to date, and ended with a jolt: “Wreck on the Highway,” a somber Hank Williams sound-alike about a young man who sees his own mortality in a late-night auto crash on a deserted highway. This was deeply moving stuff, and there was more on “The River,” but on the whole the record felt bloated, overly fussed over. Springsteen seemed to be reaching toward something new. Two years later he found it: the surprising and heartfelt “Nebraska, ” a bleak collection of folk tunes recorded solo in his New Jersey home. Inspired (if that’s the right word) by the story of serial killer Charles Starkweather, it is his worst-selling LP to date, and his most powerful. “[The album] was about that American isolation,” he told Rolling Stone, “what happens to people when they’re alienated from their friends and their community and their government and their job. Those are the things that keep you sane, that give meaning to life in some fashion . And if they slip away, then anything can happen.” His Iyrics had grown stronger with each album— quicker, terser, more photographic. His live shows had continued to
attract glowing notices, not least for their skillful mingling of rave-up rockers and American Gothic. By the time “Born in the U.S.A.” was released last June, Springsteen
was ready to assume the title of The Great American Rock and Roller. But even those around him are a little surprised at the leap Springsteen has taken this year in the public consciousness. There is a sense that this latest round of frenzy is somehow beyond—a step past even the madness of last year’s American tour. “The depth and width of the attention have taken an exponential jump,” one associate said last week. “We’re only just adjusting to it now.” That means, among other things, fielding ticket requests from high-profile fans in every walk of life—even politics. New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley will be at the Washington show; some White
House staffers, who can usually wangle admittance to any event, won’t. A rumor about a secret VIP ticket list at federally owned RFK Stadium was shot down late last week, and the denial seems credible—even Gray & Co., the Capital’s premier public- relations firm, has been forced to score tickets from scalpers.
In the band, the press of public attention means more excitement focused on the stage. “Right now you’ve got 7 or 8 million people that are fanatic fans, ” Nils Lofgren says. “Two years ago 5 or 6 million of them didn’t know who Bruce was. There’s electricity that won’t ever quite be exactly like this.” Even allowing for rock-star hyperbole, there’s truth to this. And although this may not be the time to fan the flames, there’s one more reason for people to go nuts about this summer’s Springsteen tour: he and the band have been on the road for 13 months, and according to band intimates the last show on this tour—probably in October—will be the band’s last group activity for quite some time. Springsteen won’t go the way of Prince and retire from the stage. but
Lord, the man needs rest. No one is sure when work on the next record will start. This summer tour “seems like a friendly thing to do,” says a Springsteen insider, “a way to say goodbye for a while. ” During his layoff Springsteen will ponder his next album project, although no one around him knows what shape it will take. There is talk of a live record, as there is after every tour, but it’s just talk so far. The singer’s handlers will spend their time fielding offers from people who want to cash in on his huge new fame. There’s been speculation about movie roles, especially in the wake of Springsteen’s good performances in two rock videos—”I’m on Fire” and “Glory Days”—directed by John Sayles. It’s not likely that he’ll accept an outside offer, though. If he does decide to do a movie it will probably be a project of his own devising, like Prince’s “Purple Rain. ” One thing he definitely will not do is accept any of the offers that have come in for commercial endorsements. An associate rolls his eyes toward the ceiling as he promises that Springsteen will never rewrite “Born in the U.S.A.” for a TV commercial.
Some things, after all, are too important to mess around with. Springsteen’s hard core of admirers talk about how he and his music have changed their lives. They mean it literally. Everyone has a story to tell about the decisive moment when he realized that rock and roll
means as much to the man onstage as it does to him. There’s a sense of community in that moment between artist and audience, one that other forms of expression can’t approach for power and immediacy. In that instant, as guitars thunder and hot lights blaze, Springsteen and his fans share above all a conviction that the music means something—that properly applied, rock and roll can heal broken hearts, mend shattered lives, light the way through hard times or at least ease the pain for one thrilling moment. Another rock idol, Mick Jagger, once said, ‘It’s only rock and roll,
but I like it. ” In Springsteen’s world the thought would be different. It’s rock and roll, he might say. And it matters.