Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Don't Look Back

In Runaway American Dream, I quote the last sentence of Alain de Botton's alternately profound and silly How Proust Can Change Your Life: "Even the finest books deserve to be tossed aside." I thought of that in the car the other night, listening to Dave Marsh's interview with Bruce Springsteen on Sirius Satellite Radio. The part of the talk I heard was entertaining and informative, and Dave is a talented guy, but it's been nearly 30 years since he started writing his first book about Springsteen, and as much as writing Runaway American Dream has made me appreciate Springsteen's work even more than I did before, I don't want to be writing about or interviewing Springsteen in 30 years. Like thousands of others, I have an intimate relationship with his work, and that's all I want.

With that in mind, it feels like the right time to close this seven-month-old blog. As I wrote on this page back in May, I believe "blogs have a natural life and most of them work best when they're associated with something that has a relatively short life." The purpose of this blog was to provide updates, corrections, and (I hoped) the occasional insight while I was actively promoting Runaway American Dream. I'm not anymore, so the overt reason for the blog is at an end. I posted some notes about Springsteen's Boston concert last week because I promised some readers that I would, but I don't want this to turn into a blog where I comment piecemeal on Springsteen's various moves and releases.

In "Lucky Town," Springsteen sings, "First they made me King/Then they made me Pope/Then they brought the rope." I don't want to turn into any of the "they"'s in that lyric. I've written a book about Springsteen that has brought me some attention and some satisfaction. Thanks for reading. On to the next thing...

Jimmy Guterman

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Not the mayor

I have been assured that the man in front of me at the Garden/Fleet/TD/whatever on Friday was not Mayor Menino. In case you were wondering...

Monday, October 31, 2005

The Boss in Boston

I promised a posting regarding Springsteen's solo shows this past weekend in Boston. Rather than write an essay, an activity for which I have neither the time nor the discipline on this very busy Halloween day, here are some random notes, in random order, on Friday night's show. Just a list: very bloggy.


  • If you were worried that Springsteen's audience might be getting younger, you can stop now.
  • An announcement over the PA system before the show requested that we shut up during the performance "due to the intimate nature of the show." As it turns out, "intimate nature" referred mostly to the fold-up seats on the floor, which were roughly 3/5 the size of a typical American's ass.
  • As my concert companion and all-around smart guy Owen O'Donnell said, the best parts of the show were when Springsteen got weird: "Idiot's Delight" and "Johnny 99" through the bullet mic, the unprecedented "Dream Baby Dream." I hope the static yet building "Dream Baby Dream," which is ending almost all the shows, points to something new, just as the night-ending "Land of Hope and Dreams" did on the reunion tour.
  • Maybe a show in which all the songs were distorted beyond recognition would be fun. It would be another way to give tribute to the guys in Suicide.
  • In "Living Proof," "Part Man, Part Monkey," and a couple other songs, Springsteen sang as hard as he does over a full band ... thus making me miss the full band that much more.
  • In Runaway American Dream, I countered Springsteen's offhand comment in Songs that he should have recorded Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J solo. Now I wonder whether he should have recorded Devils & Dust solo. Both on the DVD side of the DualDisc and in concert Friday night, he played the new album's songs more efficiently and persuasively without Brendan O'Brien's arrangements grafted on. If you're going solo, go all the way. Speaking of which, he played several D&D songs Friday night accompanied by an offstage synthesizer. Distracting.
  • His between-song patter was brief, mostly rehearsed, and often about his own fame. It's as if his celebrity is the topic he's most comfortable addressing onstage.
  • There was a guy in the row in front of me, a dead ringer for Boston mayor Tom Menino except this guy was tall (as are all men who sit in front of me at concerts), who would lift his fist or hold up his lighter whenever he heard a line that moved him.
  • Really enjoyed "You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)," on which Springsteen showed off his punk-rock piano skills.
  • He's found yet another way to go at "The River" live. He's reframed this song onstage more times than Alanis Morrissette has rethought her only good album.
  • Why does he keep saying he never wrote songs about relationships before Tunnel of Love, as he did introducing "Tougher Than The Rest"? Does he forget the years he spent writing and recording The River? Sure, "Fade Away" and "I Wanna Marry You" are outside-looking-in relationship songs, but so is "Cautious Man."
  • Springsteen should never again deliver jokes that include the words "Flintstones" and "homoerotic undercurrent" in the same sentence. And interrupting the narrative of "Jesus Was an Only Son" to explain each verse before he sang it was messy.
  • During an impromptu electric-piano "All That Heaven Will Allow," Springsteen seemed delighted during the solo when he hit the right notes.
  • There was a poorly choreographed slow-motion stage "rush" at the end of the main set. As I wrote earlier, don't worry about the audience getting younger.
  • "Growin' Up" on ukelele!
  • I enjoyed the show. I really missed the E Street Band. There are many things Springsteen can do with them that he can't do himself, and very few things he can do himself without them.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Sometimes too much is ... too much

From the mailbag:

"In Chapter 2 of the book, you wrote:

'An early, much longer draft of this chapter (which, honestly, you're lucky not to be reading) played that If-Only-You-Could-Hear-It game. It burrowed through the music that Springsteen made before he signed with Columbia in '72, in great detail. (It had to be great detail, because I had to assume that few readers had access to the music in question). But then I realized that approach was unfair. The music of units like the Rogues, the Castiles, Steel Mill, Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom, and the first Bruce Springsteen Band may be cherished by diehard fans with an addiction to BitTorrent, but it's marginal, juvenilia, early work of a soon-to-be-but-not-yet-major-artist that sheds little light on what makes him great. You can hear bits and pieces of the beginnings of his singing and guitar style, but not much of the songwriter he would become. [...] The more I listened to them, the more I realized the songs are not important to any understanding of Springsteen's subsequent work. [...] Springsteen never plays these songs, he never talks about these songs, he never uses them as source material. Unfortunately, I had to devote many hours listening to that music before I came to that conclusion. But, in the spirit of reissue producers who whittle down 50 hours of archives into one or two CDs of what is worth listening to, I listened to it so you don't have to!'

Considering how much I enjoyed reading your comments on Springsteen's post-1972 work (whether I completely agreed with them or not), I would love to read your detailed analysis of his pre-1972 work! And I'm sure I'm not alone in that sentiment! Is there any chance that you might post that "much longer draft" of Chapter 2 on your website for all of us fans to enjoy?"

Reply: Hmm. I could go for humor or just tell the truth. I'll go with Option B. That section didn't make it into the book because I didn't have anything interesting to say about that music. Either the work of the Castiles, Steel Mill, etc., didn't move me to any insights, or I just didn't have any insights. Either way, I wasn't kidding when I said you were lucky not to be reading it. I just looked at the early version for the first time in a year and I'm glad it's still locked safely in my hard disk in a directory entitled "REJECTED." Sorry.

Two new reviews #2: From Mojo

In the November Mojo, the periodical of record for rockists, James McNair reviews the book. He liked some of it, didn't like some of it. Hey, I feel the same way about it.

Two new reviews #1: From the blogosphere

Blogger Ron Canyon had some kind words to say about the book:


The last few nights I have been buried in music writer Jimmy Guterman's "Runaway American Dream." His goal it seems was to write a book that focuses on the songs, the power of the arrangements and the magic of the words. He seems to shy away from the gossip stuff....Anyway, the book is fun. The guy is definitely a big fan, but quite capable of throwing some criticism here and there. But for the most part he does a good job of laying out factors that fueled so much extra power and drive in to so many songs. The intricacies about the arrangements, the build up of certain songs and the incredible work of various e-street members on certain segments of certain songs (he makes a case for the e-street band being the best American rock band of all time). Most of all I have loved how he has isolated certain lines from songs and remarked things like: Now who in the hell in the history of humankind has ever stated this line. At first it seems like a cut to Springsteen, but then he will say something like: But it works, it sounds natural even though people don’t talk like that.... It has been fun to read as it has brought me back to a very fun time in my life where Springsteen’s lyrics were the soundtrack.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Grushecky: Anything But Lost in the Flood

I'm keeping my mouth shut here until the shows up my way later this month, but others aren't. Sometime Springsteen collaborator Joe Grushecky has a good, angry new song, "Lake Pontchartrain," available via his website and I strongly recommend leaving this feeble page and going there right now.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Chronicled in Austin

Runaway American Dream is reviewed, along with another Springsteen-related book, in this week's Austin Chronicle.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A quiet couple weeks on the posting front

I won't be attending any shows on the upcoming leg of the Devils & Dust tour until it stops in Boston in late October. Due to some pressing deadlines, it's unlikely I'll post here until then. I do remember I promised to write about the show(s) I see.

Non-Springsteen-related benefit concert post

Springsteen will kick off the next leg of his solo tour with a benefit for the Jersey Coast chapter of the American Red Cross on Tuesday night, but I've been asked to pass on the word about another concert, this time in the Boston area. Since a quick look at this blog's server logs suggests that many of its readers live in 617 Nation, I thought I'd pass on this note:

I’m working with a friend to make the below Hurricane Relief Concert a success. I hope you can come, and please forward to any music-loving friends. It’s going to be quite a show.
See you October 5th!
Tickets available at: www.bostonkatrinaconcert.com
NEW MUSIC, NEW HOPE, NEW ORLEANS
Wednesday, October 5th at the Somerville Theatre
Apollo Sunshine – 2005 Boston Music Award winner, their new album is getting rave reviews (www.apollosunshine.com) and see today’s Boston Herald for a feature on the band.
Mieka Pauley – also a 2005 Boston Music Award winner
Protokoll and Furvis
Doors open 7pm - music starts at 8pm.
Tickets $12 on sale now at the box office, concert website and soon to be sold through Ticketmaster.
The funds will be donated to the American Red Cross and the Tipitina's Foundation for Artist Relief, which supports displaced artists and is helping to rebuild the New Orleans music community. All profits will be donated to relief efforts.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Another voice

Dan Kennedy is a fine media critic now doing good work with the students of Northeastern. His weblog is usually devoted to matters of national interest, but he recently weighed in on you-know-who. I don't agree with everything there, but it is provocative and definitely worth reading.

Monday, September 12, 2005

We get letters

Time to empty out the Runaway American Dream mailbag.

Loved the Springsteen book. You should write one about the Stones next.

Several apparent career advisors have suggested just that, probably because the Rolling Stones are touring behind a not-entirely-terrible record and there's a perception that I can write only about oldish white guys with guitars. I did attend the band's opening night at Fenway Park last month, and I witnessed a pretty good band doing pretty good versions of some great old songs. And for a couple of numbers -- the new blues "Back of My Hand" and a recreation of the standard "The Night Time Is the Right Time" in the Ray Charles arrangement -- all those transfusions seemed to pay off and they seemed 100-percent alive. But that was two songs out of 20 or so, and any project that would force me to listen to Undercover of the Night again should be avoided. I am working on another book, but I'm not going to jinx it by blabbing too much about it before it's done. I can either write something or talk about what I'm going to write. When I phrase it that way, it's an easy call.

Why haven't you written more about the current Springsteen tour?

I didn't write about it in the book because it hadn't happened yet, and I didn't write about the earlier legs of the tour on this blog for a variety of reasons, among them general overextension. But enough people have asked that I will weigh in when the tour heads through my town in late October.

Your book got a rave review on the front page of The New York Times Book Review. You must be rolling in it.

(insert rueful laughter)

That joke comparing the Springsteen symposium to a Star Trek convention was unfair.

The symposium was this past weekend and I haven't yet talked to anyone who went. We'll see if it was unfair; I'll report later in the week.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Goldmined

Some press clippings arrived in the mail today. One I hadn't seen was from Goldmine:

"Fans of The Boss looking for substance over hype will want a copy of Jimmy Guterman's Runaway American Dream. The books focuses almost entirely on Bruce Springsteen's music, using a series of seven essays to explore the man's tunes and the times and events that shaped them. If you want to know Springsteen's favorite food, this is the wrong book, but if you're interested in what makes him and his art unique, then read on."

Friday, August 26, 2005

Blogged

Runaway American Dream has been blogged by The Digitalyst.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Garbagepickin'

Sorting through the detritus of my family's vacation, I have just been confronted by a small flyer for the Vermont Teddy Bear Company. On the cover, which you should be grateful I'm not reprinting here, there's a teddy bear wearing sunglasses, wearing a white t-shirt, and blue jeans rolled up at the bottom. Aside from the "Mom" heart tattoo on his left arm and the fact that he's a teddy bear, it looks like a shor from the photo sessions for Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A. cover. Indeed, the words "Born in the USA" appear under the bear, along with a trademark notice. The company was founded in 1981 and a quick search suggests they've been using the "USA" slogan only recently. But what if the teddy bear people indeed own the use of that term and they get a piece of Born in the U.S.A.? Yeah, I highly doubt it, too, but at least there'd be some rock'n'roll money coming into Vermont not tarnished by association with Phish.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Nice to be back

Vacation, followed by a lot of interviews, followed by some tight editorial deadlines for other projects, followed by recovery from seeing the Stones at Fenway the other night. Nice to be back.

Some observations and answers to questions:



  • Are there any Springsteen fans who are just casual fans? If so, I haven't met any of 'em. As I participate in interviews to promote Runaway American Dream, I almost always find myself interviewed by a fellow obsessive, someone who wants to argue about a '75 set list or whether the Dec. 29, '80 show at Nassau was better than the New Year's Eve gig. There are a lot of delightfully crazy people out there.

  • And most of them will be at Monmouth University next month for "Glory Days: A Bruce Springsteen Symposium," sponsored by Penn State. A handful of participants have shared their presentations with me, and many more people have asked if I'll be attending. I won't, mostly for logistical reasons. Some of the 100+ presentations seem intriguing, but I suspect there will be a lot of testifying about how Bruce is so great. Think of it as the Q&A session from Somerville in '03, multiplied by hundreds. It might turn out to be great, but it reminds me of the Star Trek conventions I attended when I was 12. I wonder if people will go dressed as their favorite E Street Band member.

  • Did I slight U2 in Runaway American Dream? One reader thinks so.

    "Just finished Runaway American Dream and must say I liked it a lot.
    Refreshingly critical and interesting (almost) song-by-song account of the albums. In my opinion there is however an error in the book when referring to my other favourite band U2. On page 146 you mention that U2 is one of the 'alleged icons of purity' who have accepted corporate sponsorship. I'd like you to expand on this on your weblog. As far as I'm aware U2 has never accepted corporate sponsorship. As you have heard Bruce explain in his induction speech of U2 to the RRHOF, U2 didn't get paid for the iPod commercial (for what reason they did it, is a good question). Other corporate involvement, like Philips for the huge screens of ZooTV and Popmart, cannot be regarded as sponsorship as bands like the Rolling Stones receive. So please elaborate ;-)"


    Gladly.

    It is true that U2 was not paid directly for the "Vertigo" iPod ad, at least according to published reports. But the band does get a piece of all sales of the U2-branded iPod, it does get a larger-than-usual fee for its available-nowhere-else "Complete U2" tracks on iTunes, and Bono in particular has been the best spokesman Apple Computer could have, calling the iPod (during an interview with the Chicago Tribune) "the most beautiful object art in the music world since the electric guitar." I have no doubt that the iPod is a pretty good product, that "Vertigo" is one of the band's greatest songs, that many of the "Complete U2" tracks are worth hearing, and that Bono is sincere when he praises the aesthetics of the iPod. This may not be "corporate sponsorship" by the traditional definition, but there's no question that U2's and Apple's business interests are now intertwined. Bono is out there promoting a product; whether he gets paid directly or indirectly for it is, by the rules of the band's own idealism, irrelevant.


Thursday, August 04, 2005

Looking for the Born to Run Phantom

In Runaway American Dream, I wonder aloud what Dan Federici was doing during the recording of Born to Run. An interviewer from GreasyLake.org asked him that very question recently. The Phantom's "answer":

"Hmmm ... Born to Run -- you know, it was a funny period. If I recall there was a period where we were trying a whole bunch of different sounds and it wasn’t about the individual players, it was more about the sound of the record. If someone had to take a back seat on a particular record, that’s what we did. I think that might have happened to a few guys here and there. Roy may have been more prevalent on one record and maybe not so prevalent on another record, but it didn’t really matter. I never really thought about it."

Hmmm indeed.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Well, I guess that means he read the review

The following letter to the editor will appear in tomorrow's New York Times Book Review:


Greetings From Rumson, N.J.
To the Editor:
Regarding "The Boss Bibliography" (July 3), by A. O. Scott:
The merits of my music and performances over the last 30 years I gladly leave to the fans, critics and writers. On the subject of "image," however, I thought I might be able to provide some simple clarification.
The "saintly, man of the people" thing I occasionally see attached to my name is bull – – – –. It was perhaps invented, like myself, by Jon Landau . . . or maybe by that high school kid somewhere who supposedly wrote "Blowin' in the Wind." Life, art and identity are, of course, much more complicated. How do I know? I heard it in a Bruce Springsteen song.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN
Rumson, N.J.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Next step: fixing the drum parts on Lucky Town

Does Springsteen share the Runaway American Dream position on Human Touch? Last night, in Pittsburgh, he played "Real World" from the album, solo piano, and said "I guess I fucked it up when I recorded it."

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

A request to interviewers

Yes, as it turns out, I do know what my next book is going to be and I've started it already. But there's no guarantee that (a) I'll finish it, or (b) it'll be worth publishing. So please don't ask me "What's next for Jimmy Guterman?" I'll talk about it when it's real, not while it's in progress.

Monday, July 25, 2005

I'd rather have a steak than a stake

In the likely event that most of you don't read The Buffalo News, you have have missed the article "THE OLD BRUCE, ON THE LOOSE; CRITICS OF NEW ALBUM BY SPRINGSTEEN IGNORE SOME VITAL HISTORY," by the paper's pop-music critic Jeff Miers, which begins:


Jimmy Guterman begins his terrific new book, "Runaway American Dream," with a telling bit of self-deprecation. "Just what the world needs; another book about Bruce Springsteen," he writes.
Guterman drives a stake right through the heart of the matter; Springsteen, who brings his new tour to HSBC Arena on Monday, has inspired prodigious amounts of critical blathering, perhaps more than any other artist of his generation.

The article ran more than 10 days ago -- on July 15 -- so it's no longer on the website's free side.

The People mention, in its entirety

RUNAWAY AMERICAN DREAM by Jimmy Guterman. Written by a music journalist who has been reporting about Springsteen since the '70s, this group of essays details the singer's enduring cultural impact.
Copyright 2005 Time Inc.

The Nexis listing says there's a photo in it, I know not of what.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Person who needs People

I haven't bought a copy of People since they put John Lennon's killer on the cover, but I'm told Runaway American Dream is mentioned in the current issue.

Also, Newsday panned the book this week:


It's no coincidence that the Bob Dylan-studies bibliography is longer than the Springsteen one: Dylan's more prolific, his lyrics are weirder, he drags each song through multiple arrangements and he's cultivated an air of personal mystery that only encourages fanatical guessing games. Still, Springsteen's long overdue for a book that takes the listener on a tour through the recordings and performances of his 30-year career, in much the same way that Paul Williams did with his superb three-volume "Bob Dylan: Performing Artist." Jimmy Guterman is comfortably colloquial ("please feel free to talk back, throw the book around the room"), and he's done his research; it's refreshing to hear from somebody who's as familiar with bootlegged live recordings of "The E Street Shuffle" as with side one of "Born in the U.S.A."

Unfortunately, Guterman's conversational tone often drifts into that of an ingratiating English teacher, one who addresses his audience as "folks" and commands "Now let's wait a minute" as he insouciantly condescends. And for what profundities must the reader suffer such treatment? "A tough rocker" is the sobriquet used to unhelpfully describe at least four different songs, while "The Ghost of Tom Joad" is "as accomplished lyrically as any record you can name, but it's musically quite samey." By the time Guterman weighs in on the last tour ("'If I Should Fall Behind' looked fake but felt real; the choreography in 'My City of Ruins' may well have been as real as anything in life but looked fake"), you'll have thrown the book plenty.

Different strokes...

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

No crystal ball

Note to interviewers: I have no idea what "Bruce is going to do next." Have lunch, maybe?

Monday, July 18, 2005

The Bruce Springsteen of rock critics, or something like that

I promised I’d write about this, so here goes.

Jon Landau was the Bruce Springsteen of rock critics: smart and diverse tastes, deep emotional commitment to his material, intent on sharing his excitement with anyone who’ll listen. It’s Too Late To Stop Now: A Rock and Roll Journal, published in 1972, is a collection of the best of his late-‘60s and early-‘70s essays on pop music.

I don’t want to go on too long here, except to indicate (a) these essays are really interesting and provocative, (b) you oughta read ‘em, and (c) as I wrote last week I wish I’d reread this while I was researching Runaway American Dream. His big-picture predictions about what rock’n’roll in the ‘70s would be like turned out to be true (with The Pretender and Darkness on the Edge of Town, he helped make his own predictions come true), his dissections of how he saw the Rolling Stones peaking are surprising – especially since Exile on Main Street was still in progress, and his essay on Aretha Franklin and King Curtis’s legendary Fillmore West extravaganza is a lovely as anything written about soul this side of Peter Guralnick. His most piercing comments are directed toward Bob Dylan: he writes Self-Portrait “will be one of the most bought and least played records of recent years” and his reading of Blonde on Blonde will reveal something new even to those of us who’ve heard the record too many times to count. And anyone who writes sentence that includes “The Doors” and “dead end” is likely to come up with work that is beloved by me.

Landau wrote with a personal voice. He was unafraid of first person, and his work drew power from personal experience (concerts to Brandeis). His most famous piece, of course, wasn’t written until 1974 and is not included in the book. It’s his review of a Springsteen performance at the Harvard Square Theater in Cambridge, the one that included the (in)famous line, “I saw rock & roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.” It ends with some of the most telling, beautiful, and instructive lines ever written about any kind of criticism: “As long as I write about rock, my mission is to tell a stranger about it—just as long as I remember that I’m the stranger I’m writing for.” If you can surprise yourself, you might just surprise your audience. It’s the mission for any writer, in any field.

In the Thicke of It

Someone just sent me a video file of Clarence's unfortunately short-lived band, C.C. and the Red Bank Rockers, performing on Alan Thicke's fortunately short-lived late-night show Thicke of the Night. The performances of the three songs are all strong (thank you, J.T. Bowen), but for the final song, the Springsteen-penned "Savin' Up," host Thicke joins the band on backup vocals. Ugh.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

I can't stop thinking!

So I'm in the car doing an errand, listening to the radio, and "The Ties That Bind" comes on. As I'm waiting for my favorite part of the song--Max's double snare shot under Clarence's sax solo--it hits me that this isn't a song about the romantic ties that bind: It's a song about Springsteen's (idealized) relationship with his audience. Listen to the song with that in mind and you'll agree.

Why didn't I realize this before the book was due?!

A reader notes two errors but delivers a kudo nonetheless

You've got "Jessie's Girl" by R. Springfield as "Jesse's Girl."
And Lionel Ritchie should be Lionel Richie
Good book.

Errors duly noted.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Campus Boss

I'm quoted at the end of this piece in the Albany Times-Union about the academic taming of Springsteen.

Washington Post review

One Bob Ivry reviewed Runaway American Dream along with one of the recent story collections for The Washington Post. You can read his review in full here and I've excerpted his part about my book:



Meeting Across the River is a good beach read for folks with an affinity for crime yarns or Springsteen. There are even winks of humor. "I've seen the future of organized crime in Ireland, and it's Rory Sullivan," Paul Charles writes of his main character in "In the Midnight Hour." Those who get that in-joke (Springsteen was once famously described as "rock-and-roll's future") will appreciate Jimmy Guterman's Runaway American Dream. Guterman, whose previous books concerned Jerry Lee Lewis and the worst rock albums of all time, examines just about every song Springsteen ever performed. The author's grasp of minutiae is mind-blowing. He knows, for instance, that Springsteen kicked off a 1980 show in Ann Arbor by forgetting the words to "Born to Run" and that drummer Max Weinberg has never played a solo in his three decades with Bruce's E Street Band.


Despite the obvious frothing fandom, Guterman is able to keep his head from spinning off. He credits Springsteen's longevity to conservative musical impulses -- "he hasn't changed much in the more than 30 years since he started recording" -- and takes a jab at the Boss's post-9/11 album, "The Rising," by warning that "the problem with being called the savior of rock-and-roll for almost your entire adult life is that eventually you believe it, at least partly."


Ultimately, however, Guterman can't keep himself from going over the top. He extols Springsteen as the hardest-working man in showbiz who sets "an almost impossible standard to meet" and lionizes the eight-piece E Streeters as America's greatest rock-and-roll band. Guterman is good-natured about dishing up such hyperbole: "Well, what's the point in writing a book about a band if you don't believe something superlative about them?" To counter the inevitable backlash, he lines up other likely contestants: the Allman Brothers Band, the Band, Booker T. and the MGs, the Byrds, Crazy Horse, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Elvis when he was with Scotty Moore and Bill Black, the Pretenders, the Ramones and X. All are found lacking by comparison.


But wait. Where are the Grateful Dead and Nirvana, two bands that ought to make anybody's list of finalists? Guterman leaves them out, which is scandal enough, but in the final analysis a forgotten band or two may not matter. Notice how Guterman avoids anointing any Americans as the best rock band in the world. That's because stacking the Yanks up against the best of the Brits -- the Stones, the Who, Led Zeppelin, the Sex Pistols, the Clash and, oh yeah, the Beatles -- would result in a massacre. Maybe there's something in the English water. Maybe Americans' vaunted rugged individualism compels stateside combos to implode. But Springsteen's greatest triumph -- and Guterman fails to describe it with the eloquence it deserves -- could only be the work of an American. He was able to use faith in the redeeming power of the music to build a community that included both performers and fans. He stepped out of the darkness and somehow turned a dead man's town into a land of hope and dreams.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company




I dislike blogs where authors talk back to critics, so I'm not going to that here. This is intended as a repository of information, not a place to settle scores.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

It's Too Late To Rewrite Now

One of the failures of Runaway American Dream is that I didn't reread Jon Landau's It's Too Late To Stop Now before I set pen to paper or fingers to keyboard or whatever it is I did. If I had Landau's collection of late-'60s/early-'70s essays fresh in my mind, I would have been able to explore how the records he has made with Springsteen have taken some of his theories and feelings about rock'n'roll and put them into practice. I will attempt to do so on this page in the entries to come.

What I do want to indicate now is how wonderful the book is. (The Straight Arrow hardcover is long out of print, but it's easily available at reasonable prices via the usual online sources.) He combines personal and aesthetic judgments with ease and style, and what comes through most loud and clear is the guy's ambition. In the best of these essays (particularly the one that gives the collection a title and "Confessions of an Aging Rock Critic"), he attempts to take everything he knows and share it with it through the prism of the rock'n'roll he loves and understands deeply. Music fans should be grateful he switched jobs in 1975 and we're lucky to have him as a practicioner -- but his voice as an observer with authority and wit is greatly missed.

(differing opinion, c/o Robert Christgau)

Reviewed by HeadButler

Jesse Kornbluth, aka HeadButler, was kind enough to review the book today:


There's one in every crowd --- the kid who knows all about music. He makes the best mix tapes. He tells you about the concerts you must see. And he can talk about the music he loves in a way that makes you want to do nothing more than slam his favorite in your CD and crank it way up.


Jimmy Guterman is that guy, and Bruce Springsteen is his expertise, and the good news is that he's no pedant --- "Runaway American Dream" is just his side of the conversation he'd have with you over a beer. His theme is meaning: what it is about Springsteen's songs that makes them matter, decade after decade. His method is radical; mostly, he considers concerts and looks at how Bruce paints a self-portrait over the course of an evening. (And, yes, he's been going to Springsteen concerts almost from the beginning of Bruce's career.)


Guterman is both wonderfully enthusiastic ("the most exciting segue ever on a rock 'n roll record") and blissfully objective ("he hasn't changed much in the more than 30 years since he started recording"). And he is shrewd: The title phrase, "Runaway American dream," speaks to "both the optimism...and the less pleasant reality of a dream gone awry."


Springsteen is, Guterman notes, "a multimillionaire guitar player" who goes back to "a five-star hotel" after every concert. In these pages, he shows us why we never think that, why we see our battles as his, and why, after all the hoopla, there's still a lot about Springsteen to excite and inspire us. The pages fly by like a guitar solo that you could stand to hear more of.


--- by Jesse Kornbluth, for HeadButler.com


Copyright 2005 by Head Butler Inc.

Monday, July 11, 2005

OnPoint recording

If you missed it Friday night (and, face it, chances are you did), you can hear it here.

Friday, July 08, 2005

What the woman who identified herself as "The Phone Girl" said right before I went on the air this morning

"Snoopy and the Dude will be in the studio, but Bulldog will be conducting the interview."

Thursday, July 07, 2005

On Point tomorrow night

I hope you have something better to do on a Friday night, but if like me you often have Tom Ashbrook keep you company while you clean the kitchen, you may be interested in hearing me talk about Runaway American Dream live on Friday, July 8, from 8 to 9 pm, on On Point.

It's never too late

Just reread Jon Landau's collection of essays, It's Too Late To Stop Now, which I haven't cracked since I was in college in the early '80s. I wish I had reread it before I wrote Runaway American Dream last year, as it is full of tidbits relevant to understanding Landau's subsequent work as Springsteen's producer and manager. I'll weigh in on these over the next few days.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Weirdest nonquestion asked me by an interviewer so far

"So, you wrote a book about Bruce Springsteen." Then he paused for a response.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Bruce Springsteen-Cat Stevens Connection

According to this, Cat Stevens produced Jimmy Cliff's original version of "Trapped." Go figure.

Monday, July 04, 2005

The Sandinista Project, too

This page has been receiving far more traffic than usual over this long weekend, most likely as a result of the Times review. So, since I have the attention of more people here than usual, I'd like to introduce you to another of my activities: The Sandinista Project, a tribute to one of the weirdest records ever made. We're still accepting passengers...

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Times review

The New York Times roundup of Springsteen books, including mine, is here. I'm grateful and surprised, and I should note that the previous book attributed to me, The Worst Rock'n'Roll Record Of All Time, was not written by me alone: It would have been impossible to complete and infinitely less fun to write without my friend and collaborator Owen O'Donnell.

Here's the excerpt of A.O. Scott's essay that concerns Runaway American Dream:

To my mind, no one has written better about the texture and rhythm of a Springsteen show than Jimmy Guterman. His new book, RUNAWAY AMERICAN DREAM: Listening to Bruce Springsteen (Da Capo, paper, $15.95), is a collection of loose, energetic essays that, as they meander and overlap, add up to a passionate, highly subjective portrait of the artist in relation to his public. Guterman, whose other books include The Worst Rock 'n' Roll Records of All Time, makes some interesting and occasionally counterintuitive judgments about Springsteen's records, but his greatest knack is for using particular shows and tours to set up wide-ranging excursions into musical history. His perspective -- the one on which rock criticism was founded in the late 1960's -- is that of the smart guy in the audience, plucking ideas and emotions out of the stream of familiar songs and wondering what, beyond the price of the ticket, it all amounts to.

Guterman's understanding of the bond between Springsteen and his audience, a phenomenon empirically observed at who knows how many stadium, arena and club shows, is both nuanced and incisive, as is his description of the songwriting ethic that guarantees that bond. Since Darkness on the Edge of Town, Springsteen, according to Guterman, has told "accurate, unflinching stories of the people who weren't as lucky as he was. As he looked out at the vast stadium crowds, he must have known those were the people filling the stadiums. They still needed to see a reflection of themselves onstage; Springsteen still needed to deliver that."

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Third of July, Times Square

Those interested in this book should read the New York Times Book Review on Sunday.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The best way to kill typos...

...is to print more books. I'm delighted to report that a second printing was just ordered. No more Tim Joad!

Monday, June 27, 2005

Reunited

In the last chapter of Runaway American Dream, I write about the E Street Band reunions and mention, briefly, how reunions tend to stink. The Chicago Tribune's Mark Caro is America's poet laureate of reunion bands and he delivers the dirt here (read quickly before you have to pay for it).

Friday, June 24, 2005

Rising thought of the day

Just listened to the piano that introduces "My City of Ruins" and I think I've found a surprising antecedent: Compare it to the descending piano figures in The Band's "The Weight."

As Neil Young has been know to say from the stage when people in the crowd shout requests: It's all one song.

How not to summarize months of work between radio-station commercials

I've started doing interviews to promote Runaway American Dream. I'm grateful for the attention and it's fun to talk about the book, but it's pretty clear why I write for a living and not talk. I listened back to a tape of one to discover that I used the word "um" more than "Springsteen." The interviewers have been quite knowledgeable so far -- they've all actually read the book, which I know is not always the case -- and they've been eager to challenge some of my arguments. I've got plenty more interviews scheduled for July; I hope I do a better job of sounding like I've read the book, too.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Show us your work

Someone wrote me to ask if there's a transcript available of the John Mellencamp interview I cite in Chapter One. There sure is: It's here.

Thanks to Owen O'Donnell for alerting me to it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

"there's a lot of Jersey in Paris"

Jesse Kornbluth writes up the Paris show earlier this week. (Visit his site.)

Friday, June 17, 2005

Dream ... with the fishes

If you've attended all but the first handful of shows on the tour behind Devils & Dust, you've heard Springsteen end the encore with a version of Suicide's "Dream Baby Dream." It sounds like an extended lullaby and serves as a benediction to the show. It's a long way away from the original version, which you ought to hear. It's available on a CD that collects, strangely, the duo's second album and demo tapes for its first. Suicide's "Dream Baby Dream" gets across on that same Lou Reed voice it seemed every New York band was appropriating in the late 70s and early 80s. It does not sound like a lullaby. Instead, it sounds like Alan Vega is singing over the body of someone he has just murdered.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Actually, I'm more of a root beer guy

Posted the other day by someone on the rec.music.artists.springsteen newsgroup:

"You have to admire a rock writer who starts Chapter Two with a discussion of his rocky love affair with Proust (right down to which translations he likes) and a transition that uses de Botton's How Proust Can Change Your Life to introduce the Bruce Tramp's fondness for minutaie. He'd be a fun guy to have a beer with."

Entering the blogosphere

I see the publication of Runaway American Dream has prodded a colleague to tell a story. Thanks for the pointer, Steve.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Official release date

Well, I'm in a good mood today. Thanks again to Da Capo for the opportunity. I am eager to hear from readers -- now that you can actually buy the thing.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Previewin' on the Backstreets

In the latest issue of Backstreets is a preview/review/something of Runaway American Dream, calling it

"another refreshing addition to the Boss bookshelf. Not a bio, not a guide, but a series of seven essays that focus on Springsteen's music, with wit and insight. They're personal essays, sure, but with the musical and historical context that keeps them from reading like diary entries, or worse, testimonials. (If you've read The Worst Rock'n'Roll Records of All Time, which Guterman co-wrote with Owen O'Donnell, you'll have some idea of the voice here.) Guterman tells Backstreets: 'I recognize that the world needs a new book about Springsteen about as much as it needs another Matrix sequel, but Runaway American Dream seeks to chew over the questions we Bruce nuts have been asking for decades. Among other things, it defends the Arthur Baker 12-inch remixes, includes references to both Marcel Proust and the Contras, begs Springsteen never to play "Mary's Place" again, compares Bob Dylan to Grandpa Simpson, suggests why some unreleased songs deserve to remain unreleased, and includes a scene in which Sam Phillips tells me that everything I know is wrong. It's also, to my limited knowledge, the only book about Springsteen in which the author almost kills Max Weinberg by accident."

(Quoting myself in a blog entry: Could this be any more self-referential?)

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

G-A-R-R-Y

Typo alert: Sometimes in the book, bassist extraordinaire Garry W. Tallent's name is spelled correctly. In other places, his first name loses one "r." I apologize to Garry, his fans, and my readers.

I'm going to stop looking for typos in my own published book now. It's humbling and there's nothing I can do to fix 'em. So from now on, all typo entries here will be as a result of discoveries by the readers. I hope there aren't too many of 'em (typos, that is, not readers).

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Early review #2: Publishers Weekly

The following review appears in Publishers Weekly:

Now in his 50s, the Boss, aka Bruce Springsteen, is selling more records and concert tickets than he did in his 20s--proving his fans' admiration runs deep. Editor and journalist Guterman (coauthor of The Worst Rock-and-Roll Records of All Time ) poignantly expresses his own love of the man and his music in this warm, absorbing collection of seven essays. He takes readers through a song-by-song analysis of Springsteen recordings and concerts going back to the 1970s. He weighs the relative merits of song selection, concert length and venue, and duly notes the comings and goings of various band mates, wives and girlfriends. Yet for all his admiration, Guterman doesn't get lost in minutiae or mired in nostalgia. He chattily discusses such topics as the shift in Springsteen's music starting with Born to Run , as it became more traditional, mainstream "white rock'n'roll"; and Springsteen's uneasy back-and-forth between "pure artistic statements" like Nebraska and The Ghost of Tom Joad and more "frankly commercial enterprises" like Born in the U.S.A. With subtle wit, real emotion and exactly the right combination of journalistic street smarts and music fan geekiness, Guterman has scored a success. (July)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Early review #1: Booklist

The following review appears in Booklist:

As the subtitle makes clear, this is about Bruce Springsteen's music; its perspective is that of a self-proclaimed "literate fan." Throughout, Guterman addresses Springsteen's strength--his consistency--and weakness--his musical conservatism. Though the curtain rises on the controversial Vote for Change 2004 tour, when Springsteen and like-minded musicians crisscrossed the country for Democratic presidential challenger John Kerry, Guterman comments on Springsteen's body of work: the "friendliness" of Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., the optimism of Born to Run, and so forth. He discusses Bruce the Artist, who mostly pleases himself, and Bruce the Performer, everyman's favorite rock and roller, and how these "Two Bruces" have taken turns throughout his career, one releasing pure artistic statements, and the other blatantly commercial product. He dissects even such stinkers as Human Touch ("boring" and full of "genuinely not-good songs"), seeming surprised, indeed almost offended, that Springsteen could have a bad record in him. Still, Guterman points out, in almost every live performance, Springsteen lives up to impossibly high standards. A must for Bruce fans. - June Sawyers

© 2005 American Library Association.

Typo update

First copies arrived in the mail today, which means -- alas -- I have confirmed some typos, which I must report here.

The most embarrassing (so far) remains one I referenced earlier: the presence of an album called The Ghost of Tim Joad in the introduction (page viii).

An early reader found two more toward the end of the galley, but we fixed 'em before we got to final books.

I've found one more. It's a typo all right, but the sentence still works ... so I'll keep it to myself.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Detail of the day

Even Springsteen records that aren't of the top rank reveal more and more from repeated listenings. Most people won't get to "Matamoros Banks," the last song on the album, since Devils & Dust is destined to be one of those records that earns a great deal of respect but not that many listenings. Anyway, in the first verse of the song, Springsteen's dead narrator mentions that his eyes are "open to the stars," because "turtles eat the skin from your eyes." It's a wild detail that gives the story weight -- and I have no idea whether it's physically true. The song's lyric has a going-backward-in-time gimmick that doesn't quite come off, but the image of the dead man with his eyes exposed to the sky will stay with this listener for a long time.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Creep

Where are the creeps in Devils & Dust? For a record intended to be about people struggling, it seems like everyone gets a shot at redemption. Even the john in "Reno" experiences grace (or, at least, he says he does). And in The Rising, listeners experienced a September 11 and aftermath full of heroes and victims: no bad guys, only bad circumstances. It's not only the bravehearted whose stories are worth telling. One could argue that Springsteen wrote some of his best lyrics in "Nebraska" when he tried to get inside killer Charlie Starkweather's head. This new album, for all its elemental sound, needs some down-to-earth evil to round things out. In the world of Devils & Dust, even those who fail are brimming with dignity. That's only part of the story. Creeps make up part of the world, too. They're great subjects for songs.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

One way of looking at Devils & Dust...

...is to ask the question, "Has Springsteen ever made a great record with a band other than the E Streeters?" I'd argue the answer is "No." Nebraska is inarguably great, but he didn't work with any other musicians on that record and the resulting insularity and claustropobia are two big reasons Nebraska is a record for the ages.

Devils & Dust sounds like it's supposed to be an entirely solo album, which goes a long way toward explaining why Springsteen's tour supporting the set has been completely solo, give or take an occasional guest star. Indeed, Springsteen sounds disconnected from the other instruments on Devils & Dust. I don't know for sure, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Springsteen just handed off his solo tapes to Brendan O'Brien and had his producer oversee the overdubbing of the other instruments. On some songs, like the title track, that method makes for some interesting tension. On others, it makes the accompaniment seem superfluous, tacked-on. And you can never say that about the E Street Band, even on their lesser work.

There are other ways of looking at the album, and I plan to do so over the next few days.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Why a blog?

Yeah, I know, what could be trendier? And didn't I have one years ago that I've long since abandoned? Well, I do think that blogs have a natural life and most of them work best when they're associated with something that has a relatively short life. I've got another blog chronicling my work producing a tribute to the Clash's Sandinista and that will go away after that project is complete (if it's ever complete, but that's another story). Similarly, I hope this modest page will be a good place for me to publish updates (particularly regarding the new album and tour), share my embarrassment over typos and errors, and give information about publicity-related activities for the book. After the book runs its course, so will this blog.

First typo found

Looks like there's a reference in the book to a record called The Ghost of Tim Joad. Ugh. I've been trying to come up with a joke about The Ghost of Tom Joad meeting the Replacements' Tim, but I've failed. It doesn't make me feel better to learn that I'm not the first one to make this mistake. No matter how obsessive you are with your copy, sometimes this happens. So please buy extra copies of the book for your friends so Da Capo has to print a second edition quickly and I can fix it.

Weighing in on the Devil

Some early readers of the book (it's still not out officially) have noted that it doesn't cover Devils & Dust in great depth. Indeed, the DualDisc was released while this book was in production already and is addressed, briefly, in the introduction. Here's what I wrote to end the introduction, after a brief section that discussed Springsteen's role in the 2004 election (a role examined in far more detail in the main text of the book):

"Devils & Dust, packed with older songs but much of it recorded in late ’04 when it felt like the nation could go either way, is filled with the outsider voices that Springsteen’s songs have employed as narrators since the very first song on his very first album. The new album is musically more diverse than The Ghost of Tom Joad. It's as if Springsteen experimented with how much he could flesh out solo-acoustic arrangements yet still have something that felt more like a solo album than an E Street affair. Steve Jordan’s forceful, spare drums, for example, are the big reason the title number delivers more musically than just a regurgitation of the
"Blood Brothers" melody. Nebraska notwithstanding, the guy makes better records when there are other musicians playing alongside him. Some of these outsider characters Springsteen lets speak for themselves, as in the uncensored nastiness of "Reno." Others speak with the benefit of Springsteen’s intelligence. Characters like the soldier in the title track and the boxer in "The Hitter" relate their stories with a perspective far beyond what the real folks standing in their shoes would be likely to offer. Devils & Dust is full of songs that may not be literally true, but emotionally most of the tales are inarguable. And sometimes, as in "Long Time Comin'," he allows the narrator something approaching peace. That peace may be fleeting, it may even be illusory, but Springsteen’s work has long maintained that any respite from this dark world is a welcome one. Earlier this month [I wrote this March 29, 2005] the Asbury Park Press ran a short piece about several fans waiting outside the town’s Convention Center while Springsteen rehearsed inside, preparing for the tour to support Devils & Dust. The fans waited more than three hours, listening to the muffled sounds within, before Springsteen emerged and signed some autographs for them on the way to his Range Rover. When Springsteen learned how long they had been waiting, he smiled and said, "You kids need to get a life." Get a life? What is it makes life worth living? Springsteen has been thinking about that on record and onstage for a long time now. This book hopes to follow Springsteen as he considers this question from many angles."

That's insufficient, of course, but the book was conceived and 99-percent complete before the new record was announced. So I'll use this space over the next week or so to think about the new record and the tour that comes to my adopted hometown tomorrow night.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

So Much for an Original Title

A pal just pointed out another volume with the same name. Be grateful my book doesn't include 40 hand-drawn illustrations ... unless you like stick figures.

As publication date is only a month away, I'll now start posting regularly to this page.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Runaway American Dream

Hi, I'm Jimmy Guterman. I'm presenting this page to augment my book Runaway American Dream (mercenary Amazon link), which Da Capo Press will publish on June 14. I'll use this page to post updates, correct errors, and do whatever else feels right. Thanks for visiting.