» Contact Us
» Advertise With Us
» Newspaper Ads
Bruce Springsteen swings a "Wrecking Ball" at anger, loss and healing
"You can never go wrong (being) p***ed off in rock 'n' roll."
That's what Bruce Springsteen told a gathering of journalists during mid-February in France. And that certainly seems to be the case with his new album, "Wrecking Ball."
The politically charged set, a musical state of the union inspired by the wake of America's late 2000s economic collapse, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart last month and atop charts in 14 other countries, with strong and mostly sell-out ticket sales for the Wrecking Ball Tour with his E Street Band. It shows a continuing appetite for the veteran New Jersey rocker known as The Boss nearly 40 years after his first release, as well as the global impact of his message this time around.
"There was really no accountability for years and years," Springsteen, 62, explained at the Theatre Marigny in Paris. "People lost their homes, and I had friends who were losing their homes, and nobody went to jail. Nobody was responsible. People lost enormous amounts of their net worth.
"Previous to Occupy Wall Street, there was no pushback: there was no movement, there was no voice that was saying just how outrageous...that a basic theft had occurred that struck at the heart of what the entire American idea was about. It was a complete disregard of history, of context, of community. It was all about, "What can I get today?"
"It was just an enormous fault line that cracked the American system wide open, and I think its repercussions are just beginning to really, really be felt."
From Righteous To Rage
Before the theme of "Wrecking Ball" surfaced, Springsteen and his new producer Ron Aniello -- a hitmaker for Lifehouse, Days of the New and others who had previously worked with Springsteen's wife, Patti Scialfa -- had started what he calls "almost a gospel album package." "I spent on-and-off about a year on that one before I threw it out -- which is something I do every once in awhile," he said. "I wrote 30 or 40 songs before these songs" for "Wrecking Ball."
Key to the change was "We Take Care of Our Own," "Wrecking Ball's" opening track and first single. Springsteen wrote it "somewhere around 2009 or 2010 and...put it away in my book." But when he switched from gospel to topical, he realized it would present the central idea for the album.
"That song...asks the question that the rest of the record tries to answer -- which is, of course, DO we take care of our own?" Springsteen explains. "And we often don't. We don't provide an equal playing field for all our citizens...The rest of the record tries to answer the questions that come up in the last verse of that song -- Where are the merciful hearts? Where is the work that I need? Where is the spirit that reigns over me? Where are the eyes that see?
"My work has always been about judging the distance between American reality and the American dream -- how far is that at any given moment?...I'm always measuring that distance -- How close are we? How far are we? Everything from 'Darkness on the Edge of Town,' 'The River' to 'Nebraska,' 'Born in the U.S.A.,' 'The Ghost of Tom Joad,' those are all records that were always taking the measure of that distance."
The message is resonating with the audience as clearly as it ever has -- and with Springsteen's E Street Band members, most of whom didn't even play on the album.
"It's a beautiful record, a great melting pot like Bruce always is," guitarist Nils Lofgren noted tour rehearsals. It's very powerful songwriting. It's just kind of that slice of life viewpoint that Bruce does so well, and in such a global, deep way. It's inspiring to listen to."
The Cost Of Being The Boss
It also inspires interpretations, both from critics and from all sides of the political divide. Springsteen's music has been co-opted in the past -- most famously the 1984 anthem "Born in the U.S.A." by then-President Ronald Regan during his campaign for a second term -- and Springsteen himself has actively campaigned for John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008 (including a rally on the Eastern Michigan University campus). And if both the left and the right, the blue and the red blame each other for NOT taking care of our own, Springsteen has resigned himself to letting the debate rage around him.
"I write carefully and precisely, and I believe clearly," he said. "Then you put it out there and people hear it, and then it's up to them. And if you're missing it, you're not quite thinking hard enough; you know, you need to go back and take a second look sometimes.
"But I don't want to cede those feelings to just the right side of the street. I don't like to do that, which is why my work is often claimed by different political groups, because there is a feeling of patriotism underneath. That's something I've had...in my best music. But at the same time, it's a very critical, questioning, often angry sort of patriotism. That's not something I'm prepared to give up for fear that somebody might simplify what I'm saying."
So where does Springsteen stand in this particular election year? He noted that despite his activity last decade, "I'm not a professional campaigner, and every four years I don't think, 'I'm gonna pick a guy and go out for him.' I'd prefer to stay on the sidelines...You're better off with a certain distance from the seat of power." He did, however, voice support for Obama's re-election -- "I think he did a lot of good things. He kept GM alive, which was incredibly important to Detroit, Michigan...He brought some sanity to the top level of government." -- but added that he's disappointed by a lack of progress in issues such as health care and job creation.
New Sparks Fly On E Street
Mostly Springsteen is happy to let "Wrecking Ball's" songs speak for him. The job at hand now is spreading the world around the world -- North America at the moment, Europe during the spring and summer and, presumably, more dates on these shores later in the year. The shows are built around the "Wrecking Ball" songs, which Lofgren said "have evolved into more of an E Street Band presentation, but they're still authentic and true to the spirit of the record" but also draw liberally from Springsteen's other work, including early favorites such as "E Street Shuffle," "Kitty's Back" and the rare "Thundercrack," and a soul medley that includes the Temptations' Motown hit "The Way You Do the Things You Do."
"I have a big audience," Springsteen noted. "I have Democrats, I have plenty of Republicans, I have people who just come to dance and enjoy themselves, and people who are interested in the social aspects of what I'm writing about. And I've really just enjoyed it all, so I just enjoy having that conversation."
It's also Springsteen and the E Street Band's first outing since the June 2011 death of saxophonist Clarence Clemons, arguably a more crushing blow than losing keyboardist Danny Federici in 2008. Both absences are noted during the show; early on Springsteen notes that "some of us are not here" but tells crowds "as long as we're here and you're here, then they're here." And he offers a pause of tribute during "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," after singing about when "the Big Man joined the band."
Nevertheless, Clemons' absence (he played on two "Wrecking Ball" songs before his death) is deeply felt. Lofgren said he's "still started I'm not standing next to" Clemons, as he had since 1984. And Springsteen noted that, "Losing Clarence is like losing something elemental. It's like losing the rain, or air. And that's a part of life. The currents of life affect even the dream world of popular music; there's no escape. And so that is just something that's going to be missing.
"The thrust of the music will still be what it is, but it's a big loss. Any time you lose...you know, we lost Danny, and these are guys that you've been with for 35 or 40 years, and you just enjoyed them being there, you know? But you move on. Life doesn't wait."
Springsteen's solution has been to expand the band to 16 or 17 members, including a five-piece horn section -- "It takes a village to replace the Big Man! It takes many men!" -- but Clemons' nephew Jake is clearly the heir apparent, featured on his uncle's signature solos throughout the shows.
"Clarence mentioned Jake to me quite a few years ago," Springsteen recalled, "and he was on the road with us a bit during the last tour, and he plays very well. He's also been around the band and understands what our band is about. We were together with Clarence the week he passed away, and there's a good musical and spiritual connection to Jake.
"So I'm excited about it. I think i's going to add to the new conversation about these things that we're going to have with the audience when we come out on stage."
From his vantage point, meanwhile, Lofgren feels that "it was a good call to carry on this way, and I know Clarence is up there and encouraging us to sing and play our hearts out and spread some healing, which the world really needs, through music."
And, Lofgren added, that presentation "is pretty powerful and evolving, and we're just scratching the surface. It all keeps being a beautiful musical surprise, for us and for the audience, because that's the kind of band we're best at being.
"So I'm just hoping that if things go well and everyone is OK with their families, and particularly Bruce and Patti, that they will certainly keep their options open for it to continue. This is a very special musical adventure. It's very powerful and healing for me, so I'll be there whenever (Springsteen) wants to do it, and I think everyone else feels the same way."
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 12, at the Palace of Auburn Hills, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are $95, $62 and $35. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
Send your thoughts and comments to