Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Radio Everywhere...

Stewart Francke writes:

I wanted to share this with y'all because Bruce's new single has just floored me...inspired and rejuvenated me. This all initially came up in a multi-conversational exchange on the Strat email list, Holler's starting place for many things eventually blogged here.

A couple things after several more listens to "Radio Nowhere."

1. Most encouraging is that my daughter and her five 13 year old friends that just listened to it with me loved it and downloaded it. Reminds them of Fall Out Boy. OK, I'll live. Fall Out Boy ain't as jive as a lot of the other younger rock bands by any means.

2. Centerpiece solo "bridge" is both sax & lead guitar, in unison. So in the Brian Wilson/Phil Spector way of hearing things, it's a whole new instrument (combining two or more playing the same part, like a bass harmonica and a banjo in Brian's case). So forget my previous talk of CC's sax tone. It's a hip sound and one of the great lost arts--the instrumental bridge.

3. Nobody's really discussed the vocal performance--one of Bruce's finest. Why? Well, restraint for one, exemplified by the natural confluence of the Tom-Joad-cowboy-campfire-Woody-
Seeger-Sessions-roof-of-the-mouth-voice-cracking with the full throated Roy Orbison-Dion somber clarity found in his earlier Born To Run/Darkness On The Edge Of Town singing.

4. But the biggest reason for my excitement? He must've recently listened to a ton of Sinatra, Billy Eckstine, Nina Simone, Al Hibbing, Nat Cole, Willie Nelson--singers who break the melody apart with natural syllabic finesse. But it's quite another thing to also write your own songs, and THEN break them down with that same finesse--that's bad. Superbad...and that means good. He shows great skill in not marginalizing meaning for singability (what his detractors, particularly in the don't-like-Joad-crowd, refer to as "mumbling.")

It's a technical issue, not one of lyrical meaning--When he sings "But all I hear-a-waaha-za drone," he lays back in the pocket, behind the beat and the result GRABS your head.

Same with "I just wha-haana hear some rhythm" If he'd hurried the "wanna" and stressed the "hear" he woulda been singing out of the pocket about wanting to live in the pocket and "hear some rhythm."

And he didn't write too many words! The only bit that's even close to forced is "drivin through the MISTY rain"...he coulda said "drivin through the night rain" or any other single syllable adjective...it wouldn't have worked as well, poetically ("misty rain" becoming as it does, beautifully, "mystery train") or rhythmically.

Although "Radio Nowhere" might seem like minor Springsteen to his detractors, along the lines of "Murder Inc." or "Jackson Cage" or "Cross My Heart," it's major Springsteen... and will endure as such. IMHO.

The vocal is the work of a master:
1. Less is more.
2. Content dictates form.
3. God is in the details.
4. Lyrics are clear, singable and impeccably rhythmic...there's such a natural pocket to his singing and Max's joyous drumming.
5. The modal changes appear to be major thirds or fifths--a pop thing, really, and not a true key change modulation a la Hungry Heart. The vivid dream of the song is never jarred out of its running time.
6. He sings the notes straight, without melisma or fucking around with pitch, in tune, with the emotion of a real man, not a star.

Another, more empirical effect of the song: There's a guy on my block who is a Brucephile and an old friend--an uberfan, a dedicated cat that has structured worldwide trips around tours and owns damn near all the important bootlegs, belongs to Bruce boards and just loves loves loves Bruce and his music. In any format. Beautiful guy--keeps me informed.

So tonight I walked down and asked him if he'd heard "Radio Nowhere." He says, "I never want to listen to any new stuff until I hear it live first." Interesting, I think. Warms to the studio records only AFTER first hearing it all live. Pretty cool...and something I could never do. But then again he sees a ton of shows each tour. Usually makes the trek to the first couple tour nights etc. Went with his wife to Dublin for the taping of that Seeger Sessions Live in Dublin DVD. And I still see it the other way around--the live versions change and grow and become something else, but they're essentially representations of the studio recordings.

So I go,"aw c'mon man it's just me...I wouldn't steer you wrong--this is some of the best shit he's ever done in my mind." I finally talk him into hoppin' in the car and we go out on to Woodward and around the neighborhood with the windows down, iPod cranked, beautiful night, full moon, song jammed up beyond any normal aural values. Volume is giving us dirty looks from old men in wifebeaters drinking beer on their stoops.

He says, "I've read that people are sayin' it sounds like 867-5309."

I say, "That's way too fuckin easy and they're just bitter it ain't 'Backstreets' again and again--just listen. Suspend judgment for a minute and listen."

So we cruise and listen and he's obviously very moved.

"He sounds fuckin' desperate--that's when he's at his best," my friend says. "I can see his veins on his neck stickin out lookin' like a fuckin' rope when he sings this live."

Me too, now that he mentions it, but that anatomical anomaly is not what I was really thinking about...I was thinking that I was fucking happy! I was experiencing what Bruce desperately wants in the song--friendship, connection, hearing some loud guitars and some fuckin' rhythm. Feeling vital. And I was thinking, conversely, that I've felt awfully isolated, scared and lonely lately, unable to finish what I've begun, like the cat in the song (Bruce's construct--a character, or actually him? Does it matter?). As Warren Z sang, "My shit's fucked up."

"This has GOTTA be the first song live, right?" I say, happily bowing to his expertise. "Oh yea man...unless there's better shit," he says, "and that would be beyond words, right?"

By now, in the middle of a second listen, he can't really speak. He's bangin' the outside of my car door through the open window with his hand--hard.

"Play it again," he yells.

We play it a third, fourth and fifth time. We're up & down Woodward twice.

I say "You're gonna think I'm fuckin nuts, but this is in the thematic and sonic continuum of 'Born To Run.' It's as good, in its own way, as 'Born To Run'."

It's HIM, not a character, and he wants to--needs to--connect. Socially. Intellectually. Musically. Maybe he wants to redefine what it means to connect. With these drums and these guitars and faith in the magic of the night. OK so I'm now I'm getting carried away...but it was all TRUE right there, and then...gone. Magic? Who cares?

Now I'm yellin over the song.

"I think I get it," I yell.

"He/we needs to know if love is not only real, but if it lasts...can rock & roll & love still deliver him/us from nowhere? As we get older but still try to stay alive & vital? His theme is consistent, but the sound and his delivery are new, very relevant...I really do think it's among the best 15 things he's ever done."

I expect a harsh look from him for saying that. But as I look over at him, a now white haired middle aged guy...I see he's smiling and cryin'. It's all there, and it's all tumblin' out.

"God I'm so fuckin' excited," he says as he gets outta the car. He's not workin' right now--Michigan is fucked up, and has been hard for a couple years now.

Anyway, that's my story. That's what a new Bruce single can do, as far as my life goes anyway....and I'm no superfan or Bruce bulletin board guy. I'm just a fan and fellow artist who admires his work and his integrity.

This does not happen all that much in any other area of life for me. Maybe watching/helping people recover from the treachery of cancer, surely my kids being born or my wife & I getting married, probably playing my own shows and writing and recording my own stuff...maybe the occasional brilliant summer night with friends & family & music.

I certainly didn't expect a new song from Bruce and the E Street Band to make me feel like there is still a lot on the line--like maintaining guts & grace still really matters, for a ton of reasons. But that's what happened, exactly as it happened. Radio Nowhere, the existential reminder.

stewart francke, August 28, 2007