Video of the day: Springsteen’s live, acoustic “Your Own Worst Enemy”

bruce lod

One of my favorites among Bruce’s last few albums, “My Own Worst Enemy” works both as a romantic love-gone-wrong tale and a very non-romantic president-gone-wrong analysis. Released near the end of George W Bush’s eight years in the White House, the lyrics describe a character so deep into his/her fantasy world that all traces of reality have been banished, no matter how overwhelming they became.

The times they got too clear/So you removed all the mirrors/You closed your eyes and saw her/You knew who you were…

Stack it up any way you want. This solo version of the song, which opened Bruce’s set at the 2011 Light of Day festival at the Paramount Theater in Asbury Park, emphasizes its intimacy, along with the richness in the singer’s voice. I was lucky enough to be there that night and when his voice sailed higher — your flag it flew so high it drifted into the sky… — my spirit went along for the ride.

Just around the corner from the Light of Day 2011

Off in Asbury Park, NJ again, just in time for the 11th Light of Day fundraiser, which climaxed at the Paramount theater Saturday night with a with a two-hour set by local musician Bruce Springsteen plus Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers.

A wonderful surprise, that 16-song set from Bruce. But the whole evening had been pretty spectacular (two words: Alejandro Escovedo. Plus also Jesse Malin, Willie Nile, Garland Jeffreys, more and more). And we’re not even getting into Sonny Kenn.

Asbury Park’s original rock star. The musician every other Asbury Park musician wished they could be. Inarguably the best guitar player in New Jersey. And stylish beyond the bounds of what should be true. May I draw your attention to his pompadour? A vision in tonsorial perfection. So perfectly cut, combed and finessed that it belongs (really) in the Museum of Modern Art.

But what you really want to do is hear the guy play guitar. Because he’s fast as hell — a kind of metallic blur, when he wants to be — but not in the technique-over-guts way. Sonny can play the blues with real gutbucket feeling, slink and stomp through a rockabilly tune and surf through Dick Dale’s terrain with a speed and finesse that goes in so many directions at once it feels, somehow, psychedelic. You didn’t think it was possible, but think again: next time you walk through the doors of perception could be a guy with a shiny robin’s-egg-and-chrome guitar standing there.

And what if Sonny were sharing the stage with four of Asbury Park’s other crowning guitarists? With Vini Lopez on drums? Then you’d have the Asbury All Stars, a pick-up conglomeration (virtually all of them veterans of the Upstage Club from the late ’60s/early ’70s) that somehow also included the six-string majestics of Ricky DeSarno (amazing speed and wildly articulate phrasing). The guys get together to jam on the standards once in a blue moon, and play without any rehearsal. But at the Wonder Bar on Saturday afternoon you’d never have known. They’ve been doing this with and/or around each other for more than four decades. Nothing left to talk about, I guess.

Lots of great bands playing around the boardwalk this weekend — including a great Sonny Kenn set at the Stone Pony on Friday night, among many others — lots of surprises, revelations, great times.

But Bruce. I’d heard he was a big if, up until yesterday morning, but maybe my source was misinformed. Or misinform-ING. No worries, I was eager to hear everyone else. But then the great night…including the expected Bruce duets with Malin, Nile and Ecovedo. And tht en the announced Grushecky set began, somehow, with Bruce alone with his acoustic guitar, leaning into the rarely played “Your Own Worst Enemy,” from ’08’s “Magic” lp. Then a lightly re-worked “This Hard Land.” Then came Grushecky and the Houserockers and the fireworks got going.

hit Read More to rock on…

Go to ‘Backstreets’ for the setlist and the song-by-song descriptions. Watching from  the side of the stage I was tracking Bruce’s bandleader moves. Particularly interesting w/ a band he doesn’t play with all the time…they obviously know the tunes, but it ain’t the whirring machine the E Streeters have been for so long. So fascinating to see that when the drummer missed a called-for  rimshot during “Pink Cadillac,”  Bruce simply turned the blown cue into a whole setpiece of its own. “That’s okay…if you miss it the first time, the second one is even better.” So he calls and BAM! Then again. And again. And again. And again. Counting it out aloud each time (three, four – BAM!) (I think this is during ‘pink cadillac.’) He’s not shaming the drummer…he’s just working with it, turning a mistake into another way to build the tension higher, and higher, until cracking it wide open when they all pivot into the next verse.

Joe and Bruce are great friends. but at times I wondered if it might frost Joe a bit to find himself subsumed by his New Jersey pal. Who, make no mistake, was completely in control of the band – calling the tunes, counting them down (even Grushecky’s!) and playing to the crowd with obvious delight. Bruce has this nickname some people use to assert his authority over rock ‘n’ roll. I can’t remember what it is, off-hand (sub-commandante? chief administrator? something like that), but then, Joe doesn’t seem like a beta-guy either. He’s tall and commanding — earlier swept through the lobby with a kind of kingly presence, though that may have been his coat talking — and is nothing to sneeze at in the songwriting and guitar-playing departments. A guy like him could maybe feel ticklish about surrendering his band, and himself, to another guy’s ministrations.

Or maybe not. Because it certainly didn’t feel that way. Because the generosity the Asbury All-Stars had for one another — a snapshot of the generosity all these volunteer musicians were displaying at the charity festival — was just as evident during the Bruce/Joe show, too. Particularly when it came to the young guy (Joe’s son, possibly? I don’t know) playing acoustic guitar near the rear of the stage. It was clear that he was serving some kind of support role back there, not a front-line member of Joe’s band. But when the guitar players upfront stepped up in unison to play to the crowd Bruce purposfully looked back and gestured the guy forward. The kid did what he was told, stopping about five feet short of the lip of the stage…until Bruce reached back, grabbed a handful of shirt, and yanked the guy up next to him. Stopped playing, too. Put his arm around the kid’s shoulder, paused for a moment then ripped away at his own strings.

This isn’t a music review. What it all sounded like kind of doesn’t matter. What stuck with me was how happy everyone was to be there in that moment. To be playing music, for one thing. To be playing it together, for another. And it’s not just a Bruce thing, either. It’s a Ricky DeSarno thing. It’s a Joe Pettilo thing. It’s a Sonny Kenn thing. It’s been the terms of engagement here throghout the rock era.

What it isn’t, though, is a Sonny Kenn’s hair thing. Because Sonny’s hair is really the boss.


Greetings from Asbury Park, and other journeys

Okay, so it’s been a while. But what fun we’ve been having! And tomorrow’s Halloween, which means the usual neighborhood walk becomes a profit-making excursion. Is it wrong for a father to order the kids to trick-or-treat another block, or possibly three, and both sides of the street, goddammit, until they’re actually weeping and begging to go home? Probably, so I stop just short of that. But what part of free candy doesn’t this generation understand?

I’ve been in New York an New Jersey this past week, working on the new Springsteen bio, and it’s been a lot of fun. All the meetings and interviews you can imagine, plus also a cool few hours in the Monmouth County Historical Association library, a few beers at the VFW in Highlands, NJ and a long, fun evening in a basement in Long Branch, playing music (badly, on my part) with Vini Lopez, Tinker West and a few of their very, very patient, and far more musically accomplished than I friends.

Steel Mill fans will remember the Middletown police scrape in the summer of 1970. . . seems that Tinker ran into the retired chief of police at some social gathering a while back and went up for a cheerful hello. Greeted him by name, in fact, which took the ex-cop’s friends by surprise. “Do you know the chief?” they asked. “Of course I know him!” Tinker brayed. “He’s the fuckin’ asshole who started a police riot at my concert!” Chief McCarthy (am I remembering that correctly just now?) is in a wheelchair now, seemingly infirm in a variety of age-related ways. “But of course he got all fuckin’ riled up,” Tinker says, laughing. Nothing ever really ends, now, does it?

Meanwhile, in “Paul McCartney: A Life” news. I’m doing a variety of radio interviews to herald the paperback publication. And the Wall Street Journal takes a look right here, tossing in a bunch of observations, my favorite being: “…a riveting re-creation of a pivotal time in rock-music history.” That’s nice, isn’t it?

More soonish. For even more, even sooner, do check out my Oregonian blog:

Back Home, No Thanks to GPS Lady

An amazing week in NYC and Asbury Park came to a terrific end over the weekend with an afternoon chatting with guitar hero Sonny Kenn at his studio;  night seeing John Eddie at the Stone Pony (turned into a late, beery, hoarse-voice-in-the-morning kind of night) and then a wonderful morning touring Freehold with town historian/writer/walking civic resource, Kevin Coyne.

follow the jump for a real screed about my break-up with the GPS lady….

Then my drive up the parkway to NYC and JFK got a bit hairy when GPS lady opted against the sensible route past the city (e.g,, through Staten Island and over the Verrazzano) and I was too cowed to just make the turn myself and let her grumble about recalculating, etc. etc. So she was directing me toward the GW Bridge, then freaked when the traffic got bad and pointed me through the Holland Tunnel and then across 42nd street…..oh yes, no traffic in MIDTOWN MANHATTAN, is there????….then everything got even MORE screwy the closer we got to the airport. Don’t ask, but by the end we were like husband wife, talking past each other, screaming at each other….or at least me screaming at her while she just repeated, maddeningly, that she was recalculating, recalculating, recalculating. Her whole life, apparently, and the decisions that led her into the car with me. I don’t like to sound all misogynistic, particularly when it comes to machinery. But GPS lady struck me, ultimately, like the icy kind of chick I’ve spent my life trying to avoid. And not just b/c she obviously thinks I’m a dimwit loser.

Tired now. Time to sack out and try to get back in the time zone. More “Lost” bloggage tomorrow, hip-hip-hooray.

Road Report – Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ

 I’ve got a bottle of Rose – Let’s try it.

In Asbury Park the line between reality and myth is hazy. Just ask Hazy Davey, or the guy who might be Hazy Davey, except for that was never his nickname, and the guy who actually is Hazy Davey is actually in Virginia, and doesn’t seem to have been present at the moment the song in question was actually being inspired. Unless he was, but who knows? There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of people here who were definitely part of moments that loom large-ish in the Springsteen corner of the American story/mythology. A lot of warm hearts and really cool, fun people. I’m happy to meet and hang with them all. There’s a long road ahead (and a thin white line, I think you heard that before) and lots to learn and disabuse and so on, but I’m in for the long haul and happy to be here, and can only thank the long suffering family (and publishers) for letting me take the ride.

What else is going on? I don’t even know anymore, and at this point I’m happy not to know. Checking the headlines this am it was all breathless and bad and full of scandal and ill-intentions. D. Patterson, the Republican memo, the spinning of Patterson and the Republican memo. The important thing to remember is that everyone’s evil and has wicked intent, and Christ, how has it all come to this?

I prefer to turn my mind to Hazy Davey and co, and to that mythical night out at Greasy Lake. Which also has a literal address and description, it turns out, along with a very distinct incident. Word is it was a long night, and dark, and someone threw some mud and Davey got hit in the head with a rock, and was pissed, but the Mission Man and Janey were long gone, in the pines, possibly making love in the dirt. I dunno, it could all be nonsense. But it’s so much more interesting to contemplate. And right or wrong, myth or reality, you’ve got this great ass-kicking tune that tells a story everyone’s experienced for real in some way, shape of fashion. I’ve known a Hazy Davey or two. I’ve been Hazy Davey once of twice. Not recently, but I still like to think of those times. And it’s those feelings that matter to me, more than anything. The rhythm and the groove and the feeling of release. It felt just right. Together we moved like spirits in the night.