A Self Made Man
Trouser Press, 1980-10, by: Wayne King
Bruce's creative juices; the evolution of a myth
He had the reputation as the best guitar player on the Jersey shore. He had led various bands through all styles of rock'n roll: a Southern-based sound, not unlike the Allmann Bros., with Steel Mill; a 10-piece R&B revue with the Bruce Springsteen Band, and a host of other groupings and stylings. By 1972 he was on his own, an eccentric solo act with verbose songs mocking his painful Catholic past. Armed with only his eclectic talent, a guitar and pushy new manager Mike Appel, he auditioned for CBS executive John Hammond. Hammond was mightily impressed by intense and enigmatic tunes like "Arabian Nights," "Growin' Up," "If I Was the Priest" and "Southern Son"; he signed up Bruce Springsteen immediately.
But there were troubles straight out. The scope of Springsteen's songwriting abilities led to a misconception of his talent. John Hammond pictured him as a solo performer (as did Appel), although hed had a few ideas about expanding Springsteen's natural charisma beyond the traditional singer-songwriter image. This confusion resulted in some Columbia promotional genius dreaming up the disastrous "new Dylan" hype. If anything, Springsteen was more updated Beat than new Dylan: his ?50s images, verbal excesses and obsessions with organized religion and the city lacked only a cool jazz backing. Rock was his medium, though, and he quickly left the revival of Beat images and values to Tom Waits.
Problems arose from lack of experience all around. The Jim Cretecos/Mike Appel Production team simply could not realize the rock 'n' roll inherent in Springsteen's songs, and the singer's own ignorance of studio possibilities resulted in the restrained sound of Greetings from Asbury Park (1973). Springsteen played "It's hard to Be a Saint in the City" for John Hammond with a clear idea of the tune as a rock number. Yet the version on vinyl (a last-minute replacement for the anti-war "American Tune," which made it onto some early promotional copies) fades on the final chorus, precisely where in concert the song develops into a jet-propelled guitar duel between Springsteen and Miami Steve Van Zandt.
Many of the conflicts surrounding his image and music were abetted by Springsteen himself. Sometimes it seemed even he didn't know what was going to happen next. At any given moment Danny Federici could move from organ to accordion and Gary Tallent from bass to tuba, as on the folkie aberration "The Bishop Danced" (on the premiere King Biscuit Flower Hour show). Springsteen didn't discard all his folkie tendencies until 1974, and his eclecticism often led to a disjointed show. But it was this drive, this push towards a personal music structure, that was his greatest strength. Rock's best accomplishments come from exploration, but the results must always be true to form. Springsteen most resembles Pete Townshend, whose experiments with larger structures and electronics are always laid on to top of the Who's solid rock foundation.
Springsteen went about things in nearly the opposite way, but the results were often powerfully similar. He took all his discoveries and constantly edited them down, channeling and focusing his explorations into a dynamic, increasingly simple form. Critics misjudged him to be an encyclopedic nostalgist; instead, as Greil Marcus described the Band's music, "[its] richness...is the ability to contain endless combinations of American popular music without imitating any of them.... This was a new sound, but you could recognize yourself in that sound."
His ambitions stimulated his muse; tunes rolled off his pen, and arrangements changed often. More and more he remolded his image from wordy performer to the Boss, the E Street Band leader, a role reflected in ever-increasing soul influences. He still wrote songs that depended for impact on a flow of obscure but enticing words - songs like "And the Band Played" and "Santa Ana":
...and the giants of science spend their days and nights not with wives, not with lovers but searching for the lights they're spotted in the desert on their helicopter flights.
But more and more his writing reflected old soul influences and his storytelling power revealed itself in tales of kids living out desperate lives.
Resurrected from days of Dr. Zoom and His Sonic Boom was "You Mean So Much to Me" (later covered on the first Jukes LP as a duet by Southside Johnny and Ronnie Spector, herself a goddess in the crucial Spector pantheon). "Zero and Blind Terry" and "The Beat Song," both recorded for the second album, emphasized Springsteen's growing concern with teen escape and its means. "Zero" was not unlike Del Shannon's "Stranger in Town" - a tale of two kids on the run - but degenerated into a paranoid fantasy where "Terry's dad hired some troopers to kill Zero and bring Terry back home." "The Beat Song" contained a few phrases later into "Born to Run," and kicked off with display of developing automobile ethos:
Well Billy bought a Chevy for the coupe deluxe Chrome wheels, stick shift, hey, give her gas, pop the clutch... The highway id alive tonight, so baby do not be frightened There's somethin' 'bout a pretty girl on a sweet summer night that gets this boy excited.
Though the tune featured a peppy Farfisa sound reminiscent of so many of Springsteen's Nuggets-era faves, both "The Beat Song" and "Zero" were not quite ready because he had not yet developed his own rock songwriting style. Their action takes place in suburbs and on highways; Springsteen was still thinking soul, and soul's action is pure city.
And so his ambition led him to tackle the biggest city of them all on 1973's The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle. "New York City Serenade" was first tried out on stage, an entirely different idea from what it became: just Springsteen and Clarence Clemons would come out to start the show. (Slow, mostly solo openings were a Springsteen stage rule for the next few years.) The tune fit in more with Greetings material:
...and with a tommygun blast he got the people screamin', runnin' from the streets 'Til he falls helpless in Time Square just like street scum cryin' "New York City kills her young, New York City kills her young" From a tenement window a baby cries.
From that rather wild view, Springsteen stretched out the music and cut the words down to a more impressionistic picture. To finish the sound tapestry he added ghostly strings, whistling through his man-made urban canyons.
The city, its characters and a fascination with sound dominated The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle. The tittle song, a raucous R&B party/noise number, was derived from Major Lance's "Monkey Time." "Kitty's Back" built off a blues base into a wild piece of improvisation; it was to be the instrumental showpiece for the next two years. The real signpost for the future, though, was "Incident on 57th Street." Springsteen was now entering his West Side Story period, and finally finding his own voice in his songwriting. Wisely, with the second album he had chosen to display his influences openly. Now he had to dig deeper into his own vision, his own perspective on rock history, to make good on all the possibilities his talent promised.
Towards that end, Springsteen used the stage to try out his experiments. The E Street Band was tightened by replacing drummer "Mad Dog" Vini Lopez with Ernest "Boom" Carter, a friend of keyboardist David Sancious. Shows were getting longer and wilder; old rockers were tossed into the mayhem, arrangements changed almost nightly, and new compositions were being revised and added on all the time.
Tying into the past to create a context for his work, Springsteen began to feature regularly oldies that were closest to the spirit of his own ideas. "The future of rock'n roll" had to assimilate rock's past before distilling (his idea of) its essence into his work. Thus Rufus Thomas's "Walking the Dog," Fats Domino's "Let the Four Winds Blow" and "I'm Ready," the Chiffons' "A Love So Fine" (recorded later, during the Born to Run sessions), teendream master Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell" and "No Money Down" all worked their way into the act.
Sandwiched around these numbers were new versions of older songs; the drive toward new form caused Springsteen to change his mind on the best way to present set compositions. "The E Street Shuffle," for instance, was played at the LP version's tempo for a while, but soon slowed down and eventually became the setting for a tall tale of Springsteen's initial meeting with future King of the World Master of the Universe Clemons. "For You" evolved into an excruciatingly beautiful piece, with Springsteen alone at the piano; the entire mood of the song and the show itself was transformed by his haunting vocal. "New York City Serenade," a constant up until Born to Run, became even longer and more intensetruly epic in proportion.
"Epic" is as useful a word as any to describe Springsteen's songwriting attempts of this period. Although his ambition, coupled with a growing fanatical appreciation of his talent, was leading up to a post-Born to Run backlash that hasn't yet died out, it was at this time that he shifted into high gear. "Born to Run" was written and laid down in early summer, 1974, its layers of guitars, strings and even a female chorus (in one of the dozens of mixes) a striking example of the man's desire to put everything into his music. "Jungleland" also popped into shows around this time, drastically different from the final product, with even a swing jazz middle (probably the last contribution of jazz-oriented Sancious, who departed with Carter in August to be replaced by Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg).
Compositions were coming out slowly, but Springsteen's conception of them was dramatically broad and varied. He had shifted his focus from big-city soul to its white equivalent (say, from Ben E. King to Phil Spector) but held onto strings as an essential part of the orchestral sound in his head. Violinist Suki Lahav, wife of engineer Louis Lahav, joined the band in the fall. In December and January, 1975, Springsteen headed to the studio to make a new record.
Springsteen's attempts at making Born to Run were to be frustrating, and unfortunately set the norm for his work habits in the studio from then on (in one word: lonnng). The new material demanded a unified texture but he could not decide which elements to take out of the impossibly tangled tapestry of sounds that made them up. Strings added to most of the longer numbers fit in nicely since they had been written on piano and not guitar. "Backstreets" was once sweetened this way; "Jungleland" also featured strings in place of the saxophone solo.
The enormity of the project and the band's impoverished state put them back on the road in February, delaying completion of the LP but helping out in other ways. Weinberg and Bittan were settling in and expanding the range of the E Street Band; this was better accomplished on stage than in the studio. Rock history has consistently shown that live work clears up many problems studios create, for - in concert - songs must communicate more directly to satisfy the audience. Songs also became tighter and harder with roadwork., and this was exactly where expansive Springsteen's newest compositions needed help. His performances helped boil down his style to the monolithic sound on Born to Run.
A radio broadcast from the Main Point in Philadelphia (a rabidly-Springsteen town) in early 1975 demonstrated how far he had come and, conversely, how much further he had to go. Springsteen opened with a tremendously changed " Incident on 57th Street" - just voice, violin and piano blended together tenderly. He followed it with a rowdy, trashy version of Harold Dorman's "Mountain of Love"; joining wonderful rock junk to a fragile arrangement of one of his greatest streets enhanced both. As the show rolled on, Springsteen alternately confused and dazzled the crowd with still-developing tunes like "She's the One" and "Thunder Road." The latter, including a Latinate instrumental ending, contained most of the finished lyrics except, curiously, the phrase "Thunder Road." He even tackled Dylan, using Lahav's yearning violin to cry out "I Want You."
By testing new material on radio in an area where he should have been doing his damnedes to consolidate his popularity - such as playing standards straight - Springsteen displayed not only his conviction but the desperation of his musical dilemma. Yet even a month on the road didn't clear things up.
Springsteen ended up at New York's Record Plant with new co-producer John Landau, and spent what he has since called the worst time of his life living behind soundproofed walls. He dug deep - not only into rock'n' roll past - but his own; he revived a few lines from "Santa Ana" for "She's the One," and went back as far as "Jazz Musician" (auditioned for John Hammond) to get some words for "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out." That he still wasn't satisfied after the record was completed was proven by his itchy desire to scrap it all and record the Bottom Line (New York) dates, and perhaps by the evolution of "Thunder Road" and "She's the One."
The versions heard at the Main Point were altered greatly as Springsteens searched for what he wanted. "She's the One" was strangely violent: "You were with me in New York the time they pushed real hard and baby I got beat/You left me wasted - wasted, darlin', right there in the street." It also contained more than a few chunks of what became "Backstreets": "... and we hated the cops/I hated the lies, and I hated the truth that ran us down. "Finally whittled down to the album's ode to an impossible angel, Springsteen added a chugging harmonica introduction after Born to Run's release, and later incorporated Bo Diddley's "Mona" into its rhythmic opening.
"Thunder Road" changed even more. Originally "Walking in the Streets" (which melody eventually became "Thunder Road"'s instrumental coda), it went through some interim versions in its story of a heist:
Oh, baby, I can't lay the stars at your feet Oh, but I think we could take it all, just you and me Oh, c'mon and see, there's a lot of room for you, baby, in the back seat.
The Main Point version had some neat lines that were cut later:
Now the season's over, and I feel I getting cold I wish I could take to some sandy beach where we'd never grow old Oh, but baby, you know that's just jive The night's bustin' open and I'm alive Oh, baby, if you can make me feel like a man.
When he had the words down nearly to what was finally recorded, Springsteen cut a demo alone on acoustic guitar and let the band go through it. Born to Run's "Thunder Road" had the characteristically hard mix that dominated the disc. After all that time spent figuring out a full band arrangement, though, Springsteen toured with it as a solo piece, sometimes opening shows with just one piano, his harmonica and a heart-tugging reading of the romantic lyric. As he told Crawdaddy's Peter Knobler: "None of my songs ever end. I've been thinking about it, and all of them sort of just go on ... but I think I like it that way." Some understatement.
With great relief, Springsteen and band took to the highway to break out of the often confining "cult" straitjacket and support their make-or-break record. Old shore buddy Miami Steve joined up, taking over most guitar duties from Springsteen, who virtually turned his back on the instrument for a while. The instantly legendary Bottom Line stint showcased an almost brash Boss, firmly believing in the power and guts of the album and his own reputation. The resultant furor over "hype" and the media maelstrom that threatened to engulf everybody only helped establish his name; he acquitted himself admirably in the face of a "too much, too soon" celebrity that could have destroyed his careful balance.
The enormous response Born to Run received extended to packed clubs and halls (the tour, with small venues, was booked before the record's release). The show was the best yet. Rocking harder than ever, Springsteen ripped through remaining barriers between him and his audience. "Kitty's Back" was opened up to encompass all aspects of the band's abilities. It built through shifting solos from organ, piano and guitar, finally tearing halls asunder with the "ooh, all right" chorus and otherworldly blowing from Clemons, the Big Man. "Rosalita" finally matched its power on record, firmly taking position as pre-encore finale.
The Spector beat of "Then She Kissed Me" slid easily into the set; it was clearly a tribute to one of Springsteen's most deeplyfelt influences. Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels' white R&B antics were loosely grouped in the "Detroit Medley" of "Devil with a Blue Dress/Good Golly, Miss Molly/C.C. Rider/Jenny Take a Ride." Springsteen's non-originals were now mainly second-generation white rock'n' roll, embracing even the British Invasion. The Searchers' "When You Walk in the Room," with its folk-rock hints, and Manfred Mann,s "Pretty Flamingo" were handled gracefully.
English rock was to pervade Springsteen's writing through the next year, but for the rest of the tour he wrote nothing, nor did he introduce newly-penned numbers on stage. Although his work is most effective in the heat of performance, it is often constructed under conditions of solitude. Springsteen's ability to create quintessential rock while removed from its natural milieu is sometimes staggering, but it is always a time-consuming process. In late 1975 he simply did not have time to take the next step his musical progress demanded.
A British CBS ad at the time read, "1976 is the year of Bruce Springsteen - why wait?" Because of increasingly legal hassles with soon to be ex-manager Appel, Springsteen's follow-through on his new success would have to wait. He was shut out of the studio for next year and a half. In a way, though, this impossed legal limbo sparked a maturity that may not have developed under less pressure. He kept busy by touring the South for two months, showing off his latest piece, "Frankie. "Summer went by without any activity except a week of shows in Red Bank, New Jersey, in August, and the shaving of his beard. With fall came work on the road, including a first try at an arena. The drive of his music coincided with the necessary push towards playing bigger places; he simply thought bigger and played tougher and longer.
Springsteen intensified his vision by emphasizing the major Anglo musicians who had appealed to him as a youth: the Rollling Stones and the Animals. Like a lot of people, he learned about Buddy Holly, Bo Diddley and especially Chuck Berry from the Stones, and later went back to the original sources. Even more important were the Animals; "It's my Life" and "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" were precise indicators of the moral frontiers Springsteen was exploring. "It's My Life" 's father-and-son story is both frighteningly personal and universally recognizable. Springsteen made it such a depressingly accurate picture of a buried life that it exhausted his audience. Only "Tunder Road," his anthem to romantic salvation, could follow it. "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" chronicled perpectly the working-class idea, so crucial to his Darkness material, of escape from traps that had already claimed one's parents.
His own attempt at British Invasion-style writing was "Rendezvous," a mediumtempo pop- rocker later offered to the Knack and covered by Greg Kihn. Other tunes unveiled on the fall tour were the mournful "The Promise" and "Something in the Night." The Latter, with a melancholy trumpet (the Asbury Jukes' Miami Horns section sat in with the E Street Band on occasion), was a world-weary rendition. Its wordiness was indicative of original Springsteen ideas; it was cut down on Darkness, with transcendent moans replacing excessive phrases.
The rest of the songs were cranked up to seam-busting power. Springsteen had reached the pinnacle of his narrative abilities; "It's My Life" and "Growin' Up" featured his best stories (faithfully recounted by the Boss' Boswell, Dave Marsh, in his excellent bio). "Backstreets," victim of a claustrophobic mix on Born to Run, was now powerful in its spaciousness. Roy Bittan contributed a delicate piano opening, and the middle was enlarged to focus on the story of a lie - a breaking of a promise so deep its pain was built into a majestic howl alongside "the bells that ring in the deep part of the night." The Preoccupation with faith and the difficulties of sustaining it combined with a capacious structure to anticipate the rock blues form that became Darkness.
With a spring trip through the Norteast and Midwest under his belt, and the lawsuit settled in May, 1976, it was time to make a new record. At first it seemed as if things would go quickly, but Springsteen's writing technique had changed from continual expansion to gradual reduction. This editing did not come easy, for to retain everything in his music and employ a more direct style was nearly impossible. Not that it would have been easier for anyone else; after all, it took Pete Townshend all of Quadrophenia to sum up what "My Generation" said in three minutes. Springsteen's songs were now shorter, slower and better structured. He continually reworked them, remodeling until only the spirit remained, framed by a deceptively simple construction. This sound was to be the culmination of all his efforts.
Being out of the studio for two years didn't handicap Springsteen's songwriting abilities. The problem was quite the opposite: choosing which of many songs should be included. His push towards the sound he needed eliminated many fine numbers. Some came out elsewhere. Southside Johnny and the Jukes received "Hearts of Stone" and "Talk to Me" for their third album, which came out after Darkness; Robert Gordon recorded "Fire" in early '78. More important was the collaboration with Patti Smith, "Because the Night." Since Springsteen engineer Jimmy Iovine produced the Smith record, it is no coincidence that its sound was a good indication of what Springsteen had been looking for. His words differed from hers a bit, though, concentrating more on the struggle than the escape: "What I've got I have earned/ What I'm not, baby, I have learned."
Springsteen's reach back into his past established a clear definition of himself. Alienation from work, from others, from darkness, from something pervades all great rock; this theme cropped up throughout all the songs. "Outside Looking In" was recorded early on, a tune yelled out over Buddy Hollyish rolling drums; "Something in the Night" and "Don't Look Back" (knocked off the record so late it showed up in Phonolog listings) also shared this attitude. The enormous roar was often reduced to just a beat and a moan, but it was more than enough for the battles that Darkness depicted. Springsteen created a dramatic rock blues form, conveying hurt and, by sharing its burden, diffusing it and giving hope. Obsessions with the night, cars and the price one pays worked to his advantage. Just like blues, repetition widened its scope.
When it came out in June, 1978, Darkness on the Edge of Town received a mixed reaction. Critics slammed it for the force of its integration of themes. Typical of the negative attitude towards the album were Mike Appel's comments in Melody Maker. He felt "personally insulted by it... it's as if he pandered to what he thought would be the audience's level of anticipation.... He hasn't gone any further than Born to Run, has he?"
Though the critics' words stung a little, ultimately Darkness was mildly disappointing to Springsteen because it never communicated to its natural audience as deeply as it intended. A subsequent summer tour put the point across conclusively and totally vindicated all his musical ideas.
The tour was monumental. Dates were constantly added, shows became longer and the pace got hotter. Rolling across the heartland, Springsteen and the E Street Band averaged three- hour shows five nights a week for over four months. His obligation to his audience extended to the famous four-hour soundcheck, in which he worked out the precise sound he wanted them to hear. Conceding to reality, Springsteen played many big halls and arenas, and his perfectionism insisted on the highest sound quality possible. The sound was indeed marvelous; the new, deliberate style stretched out perfectly onstage.
Springsteen's belief in the Darkness material erased any doubts about playing in arenas. After some early rustiness and changes the show took on a basic shape: The Darkness songs appeared in the middle of the first set, finishing with "Racing in the Streets" which gained a more upbeat interpretation when it escalated into "Thunder Road." (The reason for this, Bruce told Philly DJ friend Ed Sciaky, was that "it's fulfilling. There's a stretch of songs that we do basically in the same order every night because... it makes connections and gives the rest of the show resonance.") The second set was always looser; it was if Springsteen said what he had to while the audience was still patient enough to listen.
His choice of covers now hearked back to rock's earliest days, Jerry Lee Lewis, Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly, even King Elvis were brought back to life with "Good Rockin' Tonight," "Heartbreak Hotel," "High School Confidential" and "Rave On," which was played full-tilt in L.A., a town notorious for faking Buddy Holly songs. Springsteen sometimes opened with "Summertime Blues" spilling into "Badlands"; by doing so, he embodied rock's past and present.
Springsteen increasingly dedicated more of his own contributions to the spirit of that tradition. He performed "Fire," revived "The Fever" with a more muscular arrangement than the soulful studio rendering from 1973, and introduced two new summer tunes in old-fashioned styles. "Paradise by the Sea" was a fluid little instrumental with roller rink organ like so much early- '60s junk; "Cherie Darling" was his tribute to the records of the frat rockers, those great and silly discs were party noise ruled. The latter was based on a tempestuous relationship with an old girlfriend's mother:
Your momma's gabbin' in the back seat Tell her to push over and move them big feet It's the last time that [spoken] gee, I gotta drag her over to the unemployment agency every Monday morning
It was proof of a unique ability to write a roots song and still be true to his own vision. Only the Beatles could achieve the same, but their retrospective rockers would never have fit so easily into the era they emulated.
While the additions to his live shows were simple and direct, some of the older numbers were broadened, reaching epic stature. "She's the One" started with either "Mona" or "Not Fade Away" hammering home the song's Bo Diddley beat and sometimes included a bit more - anything from "Gloria" to "Mickey's Monkey" to "Train Kept A'Rollin'." "Growin' Up" featured the elongated "direct to God" rap that ends Dave Marsh's book.
"Backstreets" was the most deeply felt song, Springsteen's tormented vocal hitting an untoppable peak. Its middle section was part of the unreleased "Drive All Night," piano roaming along with the singer in his wandering thoughts about his girl. This trip ended like others, though: with a lie. As rumbling drums mirrored the rising anger of the betrayed lover, his repeated plea for an end to "those pretty lies" abruptly halted, and once more they went "hidin' on them backstreets tonight."
After that painful journey, "Rosalita" burst forth, shattering in its power. Halfway through the tour a bass upswing plucked from Otis Redding's "I Can't Turn You Loose" became the foundation for an even greater extension of the crowd favorite. It set standards for balcony- shaking and roof-raising that may never be surpassed.
The real suprise of the show, though, was "Prove It All Night." On record the song was simple and a little flat, but expanded in performance it became pure triumph. A rolling, squeaking guitar reminiscent of Neil Young's Zuma-era playing joined a lilting bass/drums/piano beat. The instruments rose up to reach the body of the song, made more dramatic by the guitar's expansiveness. As final shouts of "prove it all night" rebounded between Springsteen and his band, Danny Federici increased the tension with a stirring solo. Finally the guitar returned, dripping power chords as it reached apocalyptic fervor. Pete Townshend once described "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" as the sounds of war, chaos and frustration expressed musically; Springsteen's battle for inner space was fought out on the same turf. Morse-code piano tapping at the break relayed the message that Bruce Springsteen had broken through, that he could prove it all night. If the audience ascended with him, one helping the other in the liberating tradition of rock'n' roll, the night would end with "Twist and Shout," the first song Springsteen ever learned to play on the guitar. The circle was complete.
Springsteen has maintained a low profile since then. Nineteen-seventy-eight ended with slightly anticlimactic tour of colleges and secondary markets. Only one new song worked its way in: "The Ties That Bind," a heavy favorite at one time to be the title for the upcoming album. Tapes to a red hot August show in Cleveland's Agora were mixed in the studio for possible use as a live record, an idea later scrapped. So Springsteen headed into New York's Power Station for his spring and summer vacations.
As plans for a summertime release of "Cherie Darling"/Paradise by the Sea" fell by boards, Springsteen's only public work was at the MUSE shows in September at Madison Square Garden. He introduced "The River" there; along with "Thunder Road" and perennial encore "Quater to Three," it can be seen in the recent No Nukes film. A tour pending completion of the LP was booked solid for late fall and early winter, but had to be canceled as his indecision grew. In mid-April he took off to LA to mix the record; at press time he was still plugging away at it.
Bruce Springsteen's history has shown that his greatest talent, a rock intuition second to none, is often at odds with a relentless sense of perfection. After Darkness he told a Boston newspaper that he was past the obsessively self-critical stage: "No more, hey, is this perfect? Just let me do it." Yet the time spent making his fifth record proves that idea wrong.
All of rock's greats reach a point where they spend more time off the road than on, entrenched in the recording studio. Self-indulgent staleness sets in when live work is not interspersed meaningfully, enabling the artist to test out material live. Creating rock and then palying it to an audience has proven to be dangerous to creativity and communication.
If anyone can beat this seemingly inevitable flatness and loss of energy, it is Springsteen. His vision and continuing feel for his past have kept him one step ahead of fans, many of whom would want to make him an Elvis for the '80s, and critics, who cannot keep pace with his ability to change. A return to alternating studio and stage chores would definitely eliminate any chance that his art might decline; as it stands, his past seems a good guarantee that he'll play a continuing role in any "rock and roll future."