Darkness at the Edge of Rock
Bruce Springsteen continues to surprise us, with his music and his honesty about battling depression.
Bruce Ward, Ottawa Citizen
When & where: Scotiabank Place, Oct. 19
Hard to believe, but Bruce Springsteen has more in common with anxiety-ridden Woody Allen than he does with Dust Bowl folksinger Woody Guthrie.
Springsteen, who brings the E Street Band and his Wrecking Ball tour to Ottawa on Oct. 19, has been dogged by bouts of depression since 1982, when he was finishing the landmark acoustic album Nebraska.
“I’m 30 years in analysis,” Springsteen said in a profile that ran in the New Yorker a few months back.
Allen, the writer and film director, was famously in thrall to his Manhattan therapist for decades.
“Look, you cannot underestimate the fine power of self-loathing in all of this,” Springsteen told David Remnick, who wrote the New Yorker piece. “You think, I don’t like anything I’m seeing, I don’t like anything I’m doing, but I need to change myself, I need to transform myself. I do not know a single artist who does not run on that fuel … That’s a motivation, that element of ‘I need to remake myself, my town, my audience’ — the desire for renewal.”
Over the years, Springsteen has spoken out and written songs about his rocky relationship with his father. But the insecurities he describes to Remnick were a revelation to many fans.
Guthrie, known for songs that champion social change, is a dark presence on Springsteen’s latest album, Wrecking Ball. The album is a hard-eyed look at the recession and corporate America’s betrayal of the middle class.
Springsteen has said that Wrecking Ball covers “the distance between the American reality and the American dream.” That bleak landscape is vastly different from Born To Run, with its themes of escape and liberation.
That’s the thing about Springsteen — he never loses the capacity to surprise you.
Should Springsteen hit the stage with a bad case of the glums, it’s unlikely fans crammed into Scotiabank Place will detect the slightest sign of crankiness.
When you buy a ticket to his show, “that ticket is my handshake,” he told Remnick.
“That ticket is me promising you that it’s gonna be all the way every chance I get. That’s my contract. And ever since I was a young guy I took that seriously.”
Even on nights when he’s out of gas, his spirits lower than a snake’s belly, the stage enlivens him.
“Suddenly the fatigue disappears. A transformation takes place. That’s what we’re selling. We’re selling that possibility. It’s half a joke: I go out onstage and — snap —‘Are you ready to be transformed?’ What? At a rock show? By a guy with a guitar? Part of it is a goof, and part of it is, Let’s do it, let’s see if we can.”
No telling what goes on in the recesses of Springsteen’s mind, but there are outward signs that his head’s in a good place these days.
He recently bought a prize horse for his 20-year-old daughter Jessica, a notable equestrian who has been riding since the age of five. Jessica is the new owner of “Vinny” — formally known as Murka’s Vindicat W. The 10-year-old gelding was ridden by Peter Charles during the London Olympics. Charles was part of the team that gave England its first Olympic team showjumping medal since 1952.
Nothing makes Springsteen happier than doing something special for his daughter, who narrowly missed making the cut for the U.S. Olympic equestrian team this summer.
Lately, Springsteen appears to be in a playful mood wherever he takes the stage on this world tour.
When Springsteen turned 63 last month, he celebrated his birthday at a concert in East Rutherford, N.J.
The show was delayed by rain for three hours. Springsteen did not let the downpour dampen his mood. Thanking the crowd for their patience, Springsteen and the E Street Band pumped out a rousing version of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Who’ll Stop The Rain. When the clock struck midnight, they performed Wilson Pickett’s In The Midnight Hour.
It was nearly 2 a.m. when he was joined onstage by his bubbly mother Adele, who danced and sang backup vocals to Twist And Shout.
She beamed as son cut a cake in the shape of a guitar, and passed out slices to some in the audience. Her one concession to age: a pair of earplugs.
For many fans, attending a Springsteen concert is akin to a religious experience. In that sense, Springsteen’s first album, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., can be seen as The Boss’s Beatitudes.
Funnily enough, Columbia Records legendary boss Clive Davis wasn’t bowled when he first heard Asbury Park. In a forthcoming memoir, Davis says he told Springsteen that he didn’t hear any hits on the tapes, and asked him to come up with additional material.
“I went to the beach and wrote Blinded by the Light and Spirit in the Night,” Springsteen said later. “That was a good call. They ended up being two of my favourite songs on the record.”
Springsteen’s messianic appeal was caught by critic Jon Landau, whose review of a Springsteen show in Boston on May 9, 1974 has the ring of prophecy:
“Last Thursday, at the Harvard Square Theatre, I saw my rock ’n’ roll past flash before my eyes. And I saw something else: I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen. And on a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was hearing music for the very first time … He is a rock ’n’ roll punk, a Latin street poet, a ballet dancer, an actor, a joker, bar band leader, hot-shit rhythm guitar player, extraordinary singer, and a truly great rock ’n’ roll composer.”
Landau became Springsteen’s manager shortly after the review appeared. Some 38 years later, it truly feels like Springsteen has been leading a band forever.
The latest E Street incarnation includes a new five-man horn unit recruited as a replacement for Clarence Clemons, Springsteen’s beloved saxophone player who died last year of a stroke.
The brass section features Jake Clemons, Clarence’s 32-year-old nephew, on tenor. As his confidence grows, Jake has been stepping into the spotlight more often at recent shows. Hardcore Springsteen fans in Ottawa are eager to see for themselves if Jake can fill his famous uncle’s size-16 lizard boots.
One thing is certain. Springsteen will work hard at Scotiabank Place to achieve one specific goal, as he does at every show.
He wants fans to leave the building feeling a little pain mixed with a pleasant tingle.
“With your back hurting, your voice sore, and your sexual organs stimulated” is how Springsteen puts it.
Springsteen Fall Tour 2012 Book Sale!
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