Documentary shows Bruce was boss

The Plain Dealer, 2005-12-02, by: Michael Heaton
"Why do we suffer? Because we must."

This is not a quote from Nietzsche, Freud or Kierkegaard. It's from Bruce Springsteen in his 90-minute documentary "Wings for Wheels: The Making of Born to Run."

It comes with the 30th anniversary package of "Born to Run." BTR was Springsteen's third album and the one that made Bruce Springsteen an icon of American music and culture. It also put him on the cover of Time and Newsweek, in the same week.

Those words on the subject of "suffering," real suffering, dark night of the soul stuff, come from Springsteen's present-day lips as he describes the longing and ambition that drove him to record his watershed album.

Unlike the exhausting 225-minute Bob Dylan special "No Direction Home" that just aired on PBS over two nights, "Wings for Wheels" is a riveting look at the artist as a young man behind the 8-ball.

It has the tension of a fictional drama. Springsteen had two cult hit albums under his belt. This third one would determine his fate with the record company and with the world as well. He talks about how determined he was to create an album that would land on the charts and put him on the rock 'n' roll map.

What makes the docu-story compelling is that Springsteen knew this was a career-defining moment. At 24, Springsteen had world domination on his "to do" list. And he bore down to create a record that changed his life. There was no one more ready.

The film is a portrait of the artist as an emerging superstar. It's a cool glimpse of Bruce looking back on himself during that trying time. But he was more trying on the band and others in the studio. They played songs over and over, adding and subtracting instruments, including a glockenspiel and a whole string section. Band members David Sancious and Boom Carter quit when it took six grueling months to record the title track, "Born to Run."

Producer Jimmy Iovine recalls The Boss plugging guitars into an entire wall of different amps looking for just the right sound, saying "Can we do it again? Can we do it again? Again? Again?" For six months. And that nickname, The Boss? That was no idle moniker. You get the distinct impression this guy was like Capt. Bly when it came to working the band. Springsteen is fairly honest about himself. When "Little" Steven Van Zandt brought in the famous copies of Time and Newsweek, Springsteen says he was awed and embarrassed and retreated to his room. Then he adds, "But I wouldn't have had it any other way."

There's a bit of disingenuousness when Springsteen and his manager Jon Landau go out of their way to explain that the album is about friendship, and that's why Bruce is on the "cover" with saxophonist Clarence Clemons.

The fact of the matter is that when the vinyl album came out, Bruce was on the cover alone and Clemons was on the back of the album. And when you hear that The Boss dictated every note of the sax solo on "Jungleland" and that it took 16 hours to complete, you wonder if the "Big", Man Clemons was wishing Springsteen wouldn't be such a good friend to him.

Toward the end of the documentary, Springsteen is asked if the band had any fun during the death marchlike recording sessions that became "Born To Run."

He laughs at the suggestion and says, "Yeah, we had some fun . . . when we weren't suffering."