So I just listened to Western Stars for the first time in a few weeks.
Imagine you're Bruce Springsteen. Just for a moment, imagine that.
You've written "New York City Serenade." You've written "Jungleland." You’ve written "Darkness on the Edge of Town" and "Wreck on the Highway" and "Reason to Believe" and "My Hometown" and "Valentine’s Day." You’ve written "My Beautiful Reward" and you’ve written "My City of Ruins." You’ve written "Matamoros Banks" and "Devil's Arcade."
You've written some of the greatest album closers in the history of rock and roll. And not just because you're one of the greatest writers in the history of rock and roll—although you are—but because you not only understand the importance of sequencing, but are also a master of it.
And yet somehow, after all those—or perhaps because of them—years later you are still capable of writing "Moonlight Motel."
And then…you sit on it for five years. You just leave it in the can.
Because you're Bruce Springsteen.
If you're any other artist, you rush the thing out. Maybe you don't even wait for the rest of the album. You shove the song in the world's face and you scream, "Lookit! Lookit! Look what I can do! Look what I did!"
But you're Bruce Springsteen. So you don't do that. You just...wait. Until you've done a bunch of other stuff and you feel like the time is right to finish up this project and you do and it's a damn masterpiece.
And not of course it is. It's not a given.
There are a lot of truly great artists—absolute titans—who peaked and never again came close to being that great again. In fact, perhaps only Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash have ever come close to doing what Bruce Springsteen has done this century, which is to continue to write and record and release albums which can stand shoulder to shoulder with their very finest work—their very finest work being fine indeed: masterpieces, in fact.
The [mainly younger] guy who once wrote things like:
My father's house shines hard and bright
It stands like a beacon calling me in the night
Calling and calling, so cold and alone
Shining 'cross this dark highway where our sins lie unatoned
You've got to learn to live with what you can't rise above
Like a river that don’t know where it’s flowing
I took a wrong turn and I just kept going
It was a small town bank
It was a mess
Well, I had a gun
You know the rest
They prosecuted some poor sucker in these United States
For teaching that man descended from the apes
They coulda settled that case without a fuss or fight
If they’d seen me chasin’ you, sugar, through the jungle last night
They died to get here a hundred years ago, they’re dyin’ now
The hands that built this country we’re always trying to keep down
If pa’s eyes were windows into a world so deadly and true
Ma, you couldn’t stop me from looking but you kept me from crawlin’ through
41 shots—and we’ll take that ride
Across this bloody river to the other side
41 shots—my boots caked in mud
We’re baptized in these waters and in each other’s blood
You end up like a dog that’s been beat too much
Until you spend half your life just covering up
As I lift my groceries into my car
I turn back for a moment and catch a smile
That blows this whole fucking place apart
Remember all the movies, Terry, we'd go see
Trying to learn to walk like the heroes we thought we had to be
And after all this time, to find we're just like all the rest
can still–can now—write a verse like this:
Now the pool's filled with empty, eight-foot deep
Got dandelions growin' up through the cracks in the concrete
Chain-link fence half-rusted away
Got a sign, says, "Children, be careful how you play"
Your lipstick taste and your whispered secret promised I'd never tell
A half-drunk beer and your breath in my ear
At the Moonlight Motel
And the only thing that could be even better than all this?
Is that he says he's going into the studio with the E Street Band soon for a new album