A new song for post # 300...Yoohoo!

First of all, I'm proud to announce that this blog, with this entry, has reached a milestone of 300 Posts!!!
Proof positive that over the past few years I have had entirely too much time on my hands!

RED (center, w/Charlie at left and Watt on the right)

Anyhoo, I have a close friend named Red, whom I have blogged about in the past, quite some time ago. On his MySpace page, in his "Favorites" section, he lists me as his favorite songwriter. This is very flattering, and I'm sure he's sincere, but I'm afraid I haven't given him anything new in a long time to justify his high opinion. It's true that I haven't written nary a song in the last few years (if you're interested in some of the lyrics, they can be found, along with other poetry, at Bipolar Confessional).
So I've made a conscious decision, now that I have mucho time on my hands, to get back to the craft of songwriting, regardless of how primitive the results may turn out to be.
I've spared no time in executing this notion, and I would like to share this song, the first I've done in a long, long time, with my readers. It is currently untitled, but I think I'll eventually call it "Behind". I hope you like it.

I never hoped to be a sage or a seer
I'm just another singer reaching for a song
But I'm tired of asking the eternal questions
Not knowing if the answers that I think I've found are wrong

Been looking out for something to believe in
But faith is hard to come by in these times
And I can't help but judge myself severely
Who can take the punishment and fit it to the crime?

I think I'm walking backwards
I don't trust in my own mind
I keep hoping it's the right thing
To leave these things behind

I've tried so hard to understand the meaning
Of some things I was never meant to know
Standing on the inside looking outside
Knowing I should leave but never knowing where to go

And what I know could fit inside a thimble
A drop of wine at the bottom of a glass
Frightened of the last breath I'll be breathing
There is no comfort now in knowing all things, too, must pass

I think I'm walking backwards
I don't trust in my own mind
I keep hoping it's the right thing
To leave these things behind

So if I seem a prisoner of my own thoughts
If I sometimes mock reality
If my mind tends to slip into oblivion
Looking for the things I know are there but just can't see

I'll satisfy my mind with poet's nonsense
I'll be content with someone else's song
The melodies that keep me from believing
That all the things that I believed were vapors all along

And I don't want to walk away from you
You know I've lost my mind
I'm wondering if it's too late
Now that I've left it all behind

Now that I've left it all behind
Now that I've left it all behind
Now that I've left it all behind
Now that I've left it all behind


The correctness (and otherwise) of translations...etc..

The other day my son and I were at the Dollar Store and we passed by the section that had some Bibles. He looked at them and decided he wanted a large print edition. I didn't have the money at the time to buy him one, but I did have a large print NIV at home that I wasn't using. I had bought it several months ago when I was taking Zyrexa, which was causing my eyes to lose focus. I told him he could have it if he wanted it, since I had no trouble reading my regular print Bible now. He thought that was alright, so I gave it to him a couple of days later.
So he's been reading the gospel of Luke, and I think that's great. But just a few moments ago he said something that kinda made my heart sink.
He told me that the NIV version of the Bible had an incorrect translation of a few verses in one of the earlier chapters of Luke. I assume he's contrasting it with the King James (which is the gold standard at the church he and his mother attend) or the New King James Version (which he has read most of his life).
What made my heart sink, and really kind of made me mad, was that someone somewhere (I can only assume it was a Sunday school teacher or the like) has taken it upon themselves to teach kids who aren't even teenagers yet about the "differences" in translations, and likely (if I'm right about who is doing it and it does turn out to be someone from the church they go to) that one is better than the other, that one is "correct" while the other is "incorrect", and of course they are the ones to decide which is which.
It made my heart sink because a 12 year old who has taken the time to actually dig into the Bible needs to be concerned with the overall message, not quibbles concerning the right/wrong version. How can you explain to a youth how the NIV works with manuscripts that were discovered after the KJV translators did their job in the 17th century? Or that manuscript fragments were also used to keep things in check, while the KJV, I believe, was taken directly from the Latin Vulgate? Or that language is fluid, that it changes with time and that, frankly, the KJV is out-of-date where this is concerned (even the NKJV, in my opinion, doesn't clear this hurdle).
All I could say, as I only had a brief period of time before he and his mother left for Wednesday night services, was that each translation has it's strengths and weaknesses. This is something I very much believe. I'm certainly not knocking the KJV. It was good enough for my ancestors and it's good enough for me. It's language (though, as I said, outdated) is beautiful, a pleasure to read once one has an understanding of what's being said in this ornate idiom. But it's like the difference between Shakespeare and John Updike when it comes to the ability of the common individual to grasp and comprehend without much tedious study.
I have a friend who says he prefers the KJV over the NIV because it FORCES him to make sure he understands a verse, in and of itself throughly before preceeding. He, however, is not one of these "King James Only" types, and reads the NIV as well. I think this is an excellent way of reading it and I utilyze the method myself occasionally. But it must be said that such an approach tends to cause the reader to lose the flow of the narrative.
Yes, I see the strenghs and the weaknesse of all translations. Yes, it pisses me off that some people are so shallow as to think that some versions are inferior (speaking here only of the translations that have been sanctioned by the clergy, academia, Bible sholars, etc.), that there is a "right" and "wrong" angle to pursue.
What is the point of discussing all this with (or more likely teaching it to) a young person who hasn't even had the chance to read the Bivle completely in ANY translation?
I have a "hands-off" approach to the church that the wife and son attend. Suffice to say that I have serious issues with some of their doctrine. I have my reasons for this, but trust me, it is the only one that enables a peaceful household (in fact, I've learned to completely avoid discussion of religion, only answering direct questions my son might ask). So I'm not going to make an issue of this. Still, never let it be said that I ignored the situation, even if I didn't feel I could properly explain certain things, things that he's too young to fully understand.

As for my "spirituality"...I suppose I'm in the condition that the Baptist's call "Backslidden". I guess it's a good thing I haven't been attending the Baptist church in a long time, isn't it? :)
Then again, I haven't been attending ANY church. I feel that my faith is strong but I also have bipolar/schizoaffective disorder and I don't like to be among large groups of people (maybe that's a cop-out...we'll see). And I've become sick of the whole "Christian Subculture" thing, which needs no definition to anyone who has come out of it (and no description will be forthcoming on my part...sorry, I really don't have time now...just visit your nearest Mardel or Zondervan Family Bookstore and you should figure it out real quick).
The bottom line is that I believe. In my heart I know that Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega. As Peter the disciple figured out, there's really nowhere else to turn, because He has the words of eternal life.
One of the things that got me in trouble during the last 3 psychotic episodes I've had is an "obsession with religion". Being so deep in it had not done me good. So I hope that I have God's permission to back off a little bit. :) If that sounds facetious, I'm sorry. It's done me good to live my life without feeling as if I've failed just because I didn't read a certain amount of pages in my Bible, or didn't read through the whole thing in a year. I'm happy knowing that I can listen to whatever kind of music I want to, it doesn't have to be Christian music, because when it's all said and done, none of that matters. Not a few of my thoughts are prayers and most of them echo the cries found so often in the Psalms and throughout the Scriptures, "Lord have mercy". Without His mercy I will not stand on that day that is outside of time, the sunset that breaks upon the end of this life and the beginning of another. If there is no other, I'm fucked. But I believe that there IS another, and I believe that Jesus Christ is the Door, that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
If that's not enough, then it's not worth bothering with.


A taste for Dickens and a "Nicholas Nickleby" story

Just finished reading Charles Dickens' "Nicholas Nickleby" a few days ago. That was immediately after reading "Barnaby Rudge". Looks like I'm on a Dickens kick that may last for a long, long time. Oh, I'd read several of his books over the years, but these days my attention level and comprehension appears to be a lot better than it was back then...no doubt some of that comes with quitting marijuana, but some I'd just read so long ago that I'd forgotten most of the details. That's the way it was with "Nickleby", which I hadn't read in over 20 years and even then I was so doped up on psychotropic medication that it's a wonder I could even understand the book, let alone retain anything about it through the years.
That turned out to be the case, as I found that I remembered practically nothing about it. But I'm glad I want back to the book, because I enjoyed it tremendously. I'm currently reading a biography of Dickens which is proving to be interesting, and after that I plan on tackling "A Tale of Two Cities". From then I it will be a Dickens book about after every seventh book that I read. He is my favorite author.
There is a little story that goes with the purchase of my copy of "Nicholas Nickleby":

As I told you I had a copy of the book a little over 20 years. As was my habit back then, I wrote my name on the front page of every book I read as soon as I completed it. Then I'd either put it in my "library" or sell/trade it at a book store called "The Book Rack" in Shawnee. For whatever reason, my "Nickelby" wound up getting traded for credit at the store. It was a nice paperback edition from Penguin books that I thought was pretty cool.
So, anyway, after reading and enjoying "Barnaby Rudge" I thought about that time so long ago when I'd attempted to wade through "Nickleby" and about how I could recall none of it. I made it my goal to get a copy as soon as I could.
It wasn't too long till I'd scraped up a little money and decided to go to Shawnee and try and find it. I didn't have high hopes of obtaining a copy, because it's just not a title you find unless you go to one of the bigger bookstores and the closest one of those was 60 miles away in Oklahoma City (I'd planned to go to OKC if I couldn't find it in Shawnee, but it would have to be another day).
I went to the mall's Waldenbooks first. All they had was "Great Expectations" and "A Tale of Two Cities". I figured then and there that I probably would not find the one I was coming for, so I bought a copy of "A Tale of Two Cities" (since the only other Dickens' book they stocked was "Great Expectations", and I'd already read that). I would read "Tale" if my goal of tracking down a "Nickleby" was thwarted.
Then I decided I'd go to the used bookstores, but I didn't have high hopes of finding it.
The first was the Book Barn, which usually has a nice selection. They only had "Great Expectations", but they had at least EIGHT copies of it!!!! That struck me kinda funny.
Then I went to the good old Book Rack, as I remembered that they had a fairly deep selection of the classics. But, alas, they did not have "Nickleby". The proprietor didn't even have to look for it to know it wasn't on the shelves.
Those two stores were the only used book stores I remembered. The lady at the Book Rack offered to call another store to see if they had a copy. I thought she was calling one of their branches in OKC or Stillater, Tulsa maybe. When she put down the phone she said they had one a Bibliotheque. Wow! That was a store not too far down the road, one that I'd completely forgotten about! For some reason I just don't do a lot of business there. Don't know why, as they always have a good selection. Maybe it's because I'm never in that part of the city (the old downtown area).
My hopes were renewed and, brimming with more excitement than anyone should have about buying a copy of "Nicholas Nickleby", I set off for Bibliotheque. I got to thinking on the way there that it sure would be cool if they had the same Penguin paperback edition that I'd traded so long ago,
I got there and told the lady behind the counter that I was the one who'd called about "Nicholas Nickleby". She said, "Oh, yes" and walked over to the classics section while I waited at the desk. When she pulled it out of the shelf I saw that, indeed, it WAS the Penguin edition that I wanted (but thought I'd never find)! I was pretty happy about that.
She took it up to the counter as I told her it was just like the copy I'd traded about 21 years ago. She said she'd bought it at a book sale some time ago.
Then she opened the book to look for the price, which they write on the front page.
That was when I saw, right next to the $3.00 price tag MY OWN NAME!!!
It was the exact same copy that I'd gotten rid of in 1986!!!
Wow! That copy had floated around for all those years and somehow made it right back to me!
I thought that was incredible.


New look, same old crap + I abscond from the band.

Hope you like the new look of the blog. New look, new title, new enthuisiasm for contributing to it. Maybe even a new direction.
Allow me to explain.
Just as I've done several times in the past, I started a different blog that was meant to be an outlet for all the personal stuff I didn't really want to get into here...As usual I planned to write it anonymously (using a pseudonym), so that I would be free to let it all hang out. I felt that I couldn't do that here because I know that a few people read it (even if not too many) and this was stuff that I wanted to share but only on the condition that noone knew where it was coming from.
I promised myself I wouldn't delete it if things got to the point where I just couldn't stand the stuff I'd just as soon sweep under the rug.
But it got to that point, and rather quickly. I'll not go into detail as to what it eventually turned into, suffice to say that it was something I shouldn't have attempted and it brought to light aspects of my life and personality that I need to grow away from instead of drudging up to post on a blog, even if the intentions seemed honorable (and liberating) at the time.
So I broke my promise. I deleted it. I need to make a vow, as well, to not attempt such an endeavour again, as it turns out to be counterproductive to the goal I'd like to achieve with the thing.
The last 3 posts here were originally done for that blog. They were the only ones I felt I could transfer to this blog, which has always been my main blog since 2004. I like 'em pretty well and I think they hold their own with the other stuff I've done here (not that I think I'm really much of a writer, but I do like to go back and read the old stuff now and again).
I'm hoping that I can open up and free myself to be a little bit more personal here...I'm not going to wallow in the mire of certain vices I let get out of control under cover of anonymity...but I do think that I can let this thing be a little more "journalistic". When I initially started this thing I tried, for the most part, to veer away from that kind of stuff. But now I'm thinking, What the hell? Why not? If it gets me to posting more, gives me more pleasure in writing and helps me have a better time online then I probably need to start right now.
That's what I'm going to do. Along with it I've changed my template to something that's a little more streamlined, easier on the eyes (IMO), less cluttered...Taking advantage of Blogger's new template editing functions I have been able to accomplish in a short time what took me hours to set up on the old template. Not that there aren't some things from the old one that I wish I could have brought over here, but certain sacrifices must be made. It was a momentous occasion when I clicked on the "Change Template" button, because I really had invested hours upon hours upon hours in constructing what I considered a top notch blog page. All the band links are gone. The scrolling photos of the artists/bands is gone. The thing that broke my heart the most to lose was the "Albums I Like" slideshow. I tried to insert it into the current template, but I had no luck whatsoever. I still have the code, though, and if I can ever figure out where to put it (if it's even possible) I guarantee you I will. I miss it already. :(

The only big news around here is that I've left Jubal Modine & the Love Handles, the band I've played with for the last four months (you may remember the MySpace blog posts I copied to this one several entries ago).
As I told them when I broke the news, it wasn't something that I'd planned on or even wanted to do. There were several reasons that I quit, several of which I do not want to go into here. But the most relevant reasons were the following:

1. Sleep patterns disrupted. The hours we kept on weekends, not getting home until 2:30-3:30AM, were killing me. My biological clock is set to get me up at around 8:00 in the morning. I take Ambien every night to combat insomnia and usually I'm in bed by 10:00 or 11:00PM so that I can get more than 8 hours. Sometimes I'd get home at 3:30AM, take my Ambien, fall asleep close to 4:00 then get up at 8:00. 4 hours just doesn't cut it. I could stand no more of that.
2. My hearing. I've already got a pretty bad case of tinnitus and some of the small stages we had to play on just kicked it up a notch or three. Even wearing earplugs, as I did towards the end, didn't seem to help. I have just spent too much time over the years standing in front of drum sets with no hearing protection, basking in the glorious sound of live music with no thought of the damage it was causing. It's done now, so I'm moving on, hoping that the ringing will subside a little bit in time.
3. Travel. I realize that I didn't have to travel all that far or all that much to participate in this band. But it was on such a regular basis that I really got bored with it in no time. At present my car stereo is shut down...who knows but that some music would have made it more tolerable. Alas, it was "the sound of silence" every mile of the way. Before too long I was talking to myself to relieve the boredom. Crazy.

The wild thing about the whole broo-haha is that I quit on a Saturday night after a show, and the other guys were back playing another gig with a new bassist the following Saturday!
So it's not as if they actually needed me.
That makes me feel a little better about what I had to do.

VH1 Rock Honors: Gretchen Wilson steals the show.

A couple of days ago I taped the initial airing of "VH1 Rock Honors" and watched on the following day. Generally I detest VH1 because it, like MTV, has gravitated towards meaningless so-called "reality" shows and away from music. The "Rock Honors" joins a short list of programs the network offers that are music-oriented (not counting the music videos they play at a time when most people are sleeping, getting ready for work or watching the early morning news).
I initially tuned in because I wanted to see the Genesis reunion, which was only a reunion of the second-to-last incarnation, without Peter Gabriel or Steve Hackett on board (the latter of which, sadly, not even a single mention was made). That segment turned out to be pretty good, with the exception of British band, Keane, doing a weak version of "That's All" (my brother, for a while, quite wanted me to listen to Keane...if this performance was any indication of what they're all about, I'm glad I declined).
But Collins, Banks & Rutherford were in fine form, doing excellent renditions of "Turn It On Again" and "No Son of Mine", the latter of which was exceptionally stirring. Simply a great choice of songs that covered their earlier days as a 3 piece as well as a song representitive of their last album together.
As for the rest of the show...well, I'm not too keen on ZZ Top. Oh, they're okay and I don't hate their music. But you gotta admit they're some of the goofiest looking motherfuckers in all of rock and roll (with the exception of Beard, who loses points simply by gigging with these clowns).
And I've got nothing against Ozzy Osbourne. After all, he was the original voice of Black Sabbath, a band that I acknowledge as one of the genre's keystone acts. Much of his earlier solo work is pretty good as well. The whole thing began to nosedive when he put out that ballad with Lita Ford. I suppose a song like "Changes" (on Black Sabbath's "Volume 4" album) could be considered a sort of ballad. But it was nothing like the treacly collaboration w/Ford. Junk like "Mama I'm Coming Home" didn't help. To add insult to injury was the Osbourne family's reality show on MTV, which shows Ozzy to be a buffoon with a scant few brain cells surviving the drug/alcohol onslaught he perpetrated on himself during his heyday.
The long and short of it is that by this time my interest level in everything Ozzy (not including Black Sabbath) has waned to the point where I didn't even watch the portion of the show that featured him.
But the reason I'm writing all this is to chronicle one of the most incredible pairings of two disparate artists as I have ever seen, a bizarre teaming, but one in which the results turned out to be quite simply amazing.
It all happened during the portion of the program that "honored" Heart. I like Heart fairly well. But it's kinda like this: if Heart had been on the program but Genesis had not, I wouldn't have bothered to watch it. As it was, though, I was reminded of their early output, with some damn fine songs like "Crazy On You" and "Barracuda". So what if they, like Ozzy, disintegrated in their later years with pap like "What About Love?" and the only slightly less yawn-inducing "These Dreams"? So what if Ann Wilson eventually shared more with Carnie Wilson than just a last name? They had their day, and it was a fine one.
But I digress.
This whole diatribe is nothing more than an excuse to praise Nashville's current big shot female vocalist Gretchen Wilson and to hail some of Seattle's finest, the surviving members of Alice In Chains. Who in their right mind would have thought to have Wilson front AIC for a tribute to Heart? And who would have thought that Gretchen could belt out "Barracuda" with just as much passion and power as the original Wilson, the lovely BBW Ann?
Yet it happened! It was! She did! They rocked! She rocked right along with them! It was such a far cry from the kind of fare she's known for (with at least one song sounding just like Patsy Cline) that you can only stare in amazement at how she commands the stage and listen, surprised at how she effortlessly hits those high notes and basically sings the song almost note-for-note like the original. AIC, as well, played the music with the crunch of Led Zeppelin, whose "Immigrant Song" is fairly obviously the source for the riffage in "Barracuda". Nancy Wilson even came out to play with the crew, but as far as I'm concerned her presence was completely overshadowed by Gretchen Wilson's jaw-dropping performance. She did, however, blend seamlessly in with the more rough-edged Alice In Chains.
Hard to follow that up, and the two songs the original Wilson sisters played next were such that I can't even remember which ones they were.
So basically the whole "VH1 Rock Honors" came down to the stunning performance by Gretchen Wilson w/Alice In Chains and the Genesis reunion. All in all, even with the ZZ Top & Ozzy stuff, it was a decent two hours for the network. I'm sure they're glad that's out of the way so they can show more crap like "Flava of Love", "Charm School". "I Love New York" and "The Biggest Loser" (I didn't mention "Hogan Knows Best" cuz I like it, but it's got nothing to do with music, either).

In which 2 new beverages are tested.

We picked up something at Wal-Mart that we'd never tried before. It was a 9-pack of Jones Pure Cane Sugar Green Apple soda. I drank one this morning and, boy oh boy was it GOOD! Tasted exactly like a green apple (which, I guess, is what it's supposed to do, but sometimes that's not the case, for instance, grapefruit soda tastes nothing like grapefruit). I reccomend it very highly and look forward to trying thei other pure cane sugar flavours.
Last time we were at Wally-World we bought something else we hadn't tried (actually it was just me who wanted it...my wife insisted it wasn't worth the money and that I wouldn't like it). It was a Mexican chocolate drink called Abuelita. When I got it opened up I was appalled by the nasty smell of the stuff. I tried to make up a batch, but dumb me, I didn't have the part of the blender that screws on (with the blades on one side) affixed properly and when I turned it on the whole thing sprayed Abuelita all over the place. It REEKED. I never tried to fix another batch, repelled by the stench, and threw away the rest of the package (proving, once again, that my wife knows best. I DIDN'T like it and it WAS a waste of money).

TV Judges RULE!

There's really not a lot you can do during the weekdays when you're waiting for a Social Security Disability appeal hearing (as I've been doing for the past year now). I listen to quite a bit of music, read a lot, waste time on the Internet and do my fair share of TV channel-surfing. Much more surfing than actually watching. Maybe I'm not easily entertained, but more likely television programs these days are a vast wasteland of mediocrity, surpassed only by the even more dismal, intellegence-insulting commercials.
But there is a channel that I often gravitate towards. It's not the Court TV network, though it might as well be. Every Monday through Friday morning and afternoon the program line-up consists of nothing but "People's Court" type shows (including, of course, "The People's Court").
Here's the schedule:

9:30-10:00AM-Judge Maria Lopez...I can't say I've ever watched her show. I'm guessing she represents the Latino judging circuit (based on her last name, but I could be very wrong about that). It's like most races and both genders are represented throughout the course of the televised small claims courts.
10:00-11:00AM-Judge Joe Brown...Judge Joe Brown (photo at bottom) has long been one of my favorites. Representing the African-American male community, he is a strict, hard-nosed mutha who often delights in moralizing. Notwithstanding, he is an affable, immensely entertaining gentleman. He is second only to...
11:00AM-12:00PM-Judge Mathis...Now, Judge Greg Mathis (pictured above) is my favorite of the lot. Also representing the male African-Americans, he's the one whose adolescent years were spent as a thug, who wound up in the pokey and then rebounded into the life of a trial lawyer. Ya gotta hand it to him, he's a bright and shining example of redemption and self-improvement. Judge Mathis is stern, yet laid-back and can crack a joke with the best of 'em. His litigants are always entertaining as well (often they are quite strange individuals).
12:00-1:00PM-The People's Court...The original small claims television show, originally presided over by the legendary Judge Wahpner. He's been gone a long time now, preceded by a few other judges, not the least of which was ex-New York mayor, Ed Koch. The current judge is Marilyn Milian, who aptly represents the caucasion female. I've sat through a couple of installments and it's not bad (would be better if Wahpner was still on board, but I guess he's gettin' up there in years). Milian is one tough cookie, but she's not as bitchy as Judge Judy.
1:00-2:00PM-Christina's Court...I confess I have never watched this show. I couldn't even tell you what Christina looks like. I can only imagine that she joins Ms. Milian in representing the caucasion female contingency.
2:00-3:00PM-Judge Alex...From what little I've seen, Judge Alex seems to represent the anal retentive portion of the white male community. He seems like a nice enough guy, though incredibly stern, yet not, like Judge Mathis, very laid back. In fact, he sits straight up in his chair behind the judge's desk like his back is being supported with a 2 by 4. Maybe he's just concerned about having proper posture and good alignment.
3:00-4:00pm-Judge Hatchett...Representing the black females of the world, I can't say I've seen enough of "The Hatchett" to have an opinion. She seems like a decent enough judge, but what do I know?
4:00-5:00PM-Judge Judy...Bitch. Always and forever. (representin' white, post-menopausal female bitchs all around the world)
5:00-6:00PM-Divorce Court...I have no idea of even what the judge's name is on this one. All I know is that she, like Hatchett, takes it to the African-American female demographic. I've been through a divorce myself...very likely that contributes to my almost zilch enjoyment of the show. Never watch it, never will.

And so end the compaints of the plaintiffs and the reasons and excuses offered by the defendants. Folks just can't get enough of it, apparently. I'll say this...it's a hell of a lot better than watching soap operas and game shows. Even though, in their own unique way, these are little more than game shows themselves, seeing as how all the money won is drawn from a fund provided by the sponsers. If you win your case, the money you get comes from that fund (which is a positive for the defendant, since he/she won't be out of any cash from their pocket). If you lose your case, everyone walks away with nothing (though I suppose the people on the show get paid a fee for appearing).
Big fun, watching the minor squabbles of average people exposed on national television. So richly satisfying to form an opinion of the individual cases and have them validated by the judges. Then again, if I'm wrong and the judge's decision is contrary to what I thought it should have been...well, that's when I feel like a jerk.


Springsteen Revisited: Born In The USA

The following is part of an ongoing series in which I re-evaluate Bruce Springsteen's records, in chronological order (reverse chronological in this blog), and their impact on my life and musical tastes. Some are more well written than others and the same holds true for grammatical errors. They were originally written for an online community that I participate in, but I thought I'd post them here for the sake of posterity.

For whatever reasons, Born In The USA seems to be one of Springsteen's most maligned albums (just behind Human Touch and Lucky Town). I never quite understood why, as there are some damn fine songs here. Maybe not at the same level of excellence as most of his previous efforts (and especially coming on the heels of the brilliant Nebraska), but a very good collection of songs, nevertheless. There are a couple of clunkers here, to be sure, but as I listened to the album today I found that I quite liked even those. So maybe this album just needs time to age like fine wine.
I've always liked the title track, though it suffers from two serious drawbacks. First is the grating repetition of the 6 note motif that makes up the entire song. Max Weinberg is to be commended for keeping the thing fairly interesting musically, with his drum fills that sometimes remind me of Keith Moon's sloppy style. Second is the high range that Springsteen strains to reach on each line, but most notable on the "Born in the USA" choruses (if you can call them that, as there are no verses to speak of and certainly no bridge). His voice seems to get a little ragged towards the end, but what do you expect? It really is a high note he's shooting for (try to sing it yourself...if you can, I've got a job for you as a vocalist in a classic rock band).
Otherwise it's a great track with poignant lyrics and, despite it's maddening repetition, a killer hook. The Reagan administration, obviously not paying attention to the downbeat lyrics, asked the Boss if they could use the song as their slogan/theme song. Springsteen declined, and I'm tempted to think that it wasn't so much that he didn't care for Reagan's politics (which he didn't, I'm sure) but because he wanted to spare the President the sure embarrassment that would arise when he and his constituency realized just what the song was about. Old Ronnie must not have been one to appreciate irony.
"Cover Me" was played quite a bit on FM radio (I think it might have even been released as a single), and it sounds a lot like a concession to the pop music scene that threatened to leave Springsteen in it's wake. Of course "Dancing in the Dark" was the most obvious concession, but this one definitely smacks of "sell out", even if just a tad. Even so, "Dancing in the Dark", IMO, has the better lyrics.
I'm thinking that one reason why "Dancing in the Dark" was thoroughly derided by Springsteen's fans at the time was not so much the synth-heavy dance-beat style of the song, but the video that was put out to promote it, in which the Boss looks almost emasculated gyrating on a stage in front of a bunch of screaming girls. One of the greatest singer/songwriters of all time, but noone ever said he could dance. And that's just what he's trying to do throughout this video, even pulling a young Courtney Cox from the throng of Bruce-maniacs so he'll have a partner.
Okay, maybe I'm being a little hard on the guy. I can't dance, either. Neither can Phil Collins. At least Bruce gave it his best shot.
The first side is rounded out by 4 excellent songs (I know, "Dancing in the Dark" is on side two...I just got ahead of myself with all the "concession" stuff). "Darlington County" is a fun little romp that tells a genuinely funny story. Why I like this song and not "Glory Days" is something I can't understand myself (and the same is true of "I'm Goin' Down"). The sad tale of Bruce and Wayne is what makes the song enjoyable, certainly not the sing-song music and chorus.
More musically competent, IMO, is "Workin' on the Highway", where once again Springsteen weaves another humorous tale (almost as an aside) into a number accentuated by a simple, but effective, guitar lick.
"Downbound Train" takes a completely different approach, with some of the most heartbreaking sad lyrics the man has ever written. The dream he describes at the end is absolutely despondent. Plus, Danny Federicci does some of his best playing on this song. Almost as awesome as Roy Bittan's piano work in "Racing in the Streets". Federicci is all over this album and is consistently good throughout.
And finally to round out the side, another hit for Springsteen, "I'm On Fire". I don't see this one as a "concession" at all, but some may disagree. All I know is that it gets a lot done in a short period of time. Very nice arpeggiated guitar line with yet another nice Federicci organ part. And Bruce's voice is at his expressive best (having given it a long while to recover after singing "Born in the USA", no doubt).
Side two kicks off majestically with the anthemic "No Surrender". You'd think, with a chorus line that repeats "No retreat, baby, no surrender", that the song might just be about soldiers in a war. But you'd be mistaken. It's about conquering the world with a rock and roll band, then eventually realizing that it's not for you to do and retiring to let someone else pick up the mantle. I'm sure it's "about" some other things as well, but that's mainly what I get from it.
Another really good song that I've always enjoyed from this album is "Bobby Jean". It's a "Too Late Farewell" number that is ostensibly sung to and about a girl. Yet in 85, when this album came out, the buzz was all over the place that Miami Steve VanZandt was leaving the E Street Band and there was no way you could listen to the lyrics to "Bobby Jean" without suspecting that, even though they're addressed to a woman, they're actually directed to Steve. If this is news to you, just listen again and you'll see what I'm talking about. Plus, lest I forget to mention, there is a fantastic sax solo at the end of the song. When CC hits that high note during the fade-out I'm counting the goosebumps.
As I said earlier, I don't know why I like a song like "I'm Goin' Down" but can't stand "Glory Days". Maybe it's because I find the chorus to the former to be much better than the latter. I can almost see Springsteen doing an Elvis Presley imitation doing this song, and that tickles my funny bone. Hardy har har!
Then, to follow that song, he throws out another one with a similar musical type, "Glory Days". Don't ask me why I can't stand this song. The lyrics are okay. Not crazy about the chorus at all, and that's only compounded by the instrumental end section that just goes on and on and on, as if he thought he'd found the perfect chorus, then even he gets tired of it, saying "bring it home, boys" and even then they keep right on-a going. Didn't like the video, either.
I've already talked about "Dancing in the Dark", so that leaves me with just one song left, and a good one it is, too. "My Hometown" finds Springsteen further exploring the father-son relationship, this time within the context of a lament for an economically declining community. It's touching much in the same way as "Independence Day" and "Walk Like a Man", two other songs in which he explores a similar dynamic in fairly different ways. Yet another hit from this album (I think there were five), it's very likely the most "Springsteen-esque" of the lot. No wonder it is also my favorite of all those that got a fair share of radio airplay (well, besides "I'm on Fire").
Like The River, Born In The USA is a slightly uneven affair. It's not quite as noticeable, to me at least, because it's only one disc as opposed to two. It also shares this in common with The River: some of the songs are in dire need of remastering. The title track is almost as shrill as "The Ties That Bind" which opened The River.
Back in 85-86 I made a cassette compilation for a friend who was not a Springsteen fan. I think he'd only heard the hits from this album and decided it was not for him, as he generally liked "darker" music (he must not have been listening to the lyrics very closely). Anyway, I made him this tape called "Bruce Springsteen's American Dream", sort of playing off of the "Born in the USA" thing. Through the course of the 90 minute tape I included every song of Springsteens that I thought was "dark", maybe even a little depressing (and there are very many to choose from). Before too long this friend of mine was sold. To this day he is a diehard fan of Bruce Springsteen.
I don't know exactly what that has to do with Born In The USA, but I do remember that a couple of tracks on that tape were from that album.

3 1/2 Stars
Favorite Tracks: "No Surrender", "Bobby Jean", "Downbound Train", "I'm on Fire"
Least Favorite Tracks: "Glory Days", "Cover Me"


Springsteen Revisited: Nebraska

The following is part of an ongoing series in which I re-evaluate Bruce Springsteen's records, in chronological order (reverse chronological in this blog), and their impact on my life and musical tastes. Some are more well written than others and the same holds true for grammatical errors. They were originally written for an online community that I participate in, but I thought I'd post them here for the sake of posterity.

Nebraska is a stark, spare meditation on hope, despair, corruption, poverty, faithfulness, infidelity, dreams gone bad and dreams still alive...The intimacy that is a hallmark of this album is achieved by the use of a Tascam 4-Track cassette tape recorder that was a gift from the record company (these days 4-Track analog cassette decks are a dime a dozen, what with the advent of the superior digital portastudios, but back in '82 they were quite the coveted centerpiece of home studios). Springsteen set it up in his living room and recorded songs and ideas for songs as they came to him, overdubbing when appropriate.
When he was finished with a set of demos he presented them to the record company executives with the tacit understanding that these were only demos, that band arrangements were soon to follow. But the execs were taken aback by the immediacy and honesty of these tracks and before too long the decision was made to simply master the original cassette recordings to a professional analog board and release them in their primitive state.
The result was a record unlike anything Springsteen had done in a short career that saw him changing and progressing over the course of 4 excellent albums. Miles away from the city landscapes that permeated Born to Run and The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle, the album continues in a vein that was hinted at on Darkness On The Edge Of Town, a more mid-western, southern Gothic setting, where State Troopers allow their "no good" brothers to cross the state line and mass murderers go on a killing spree from Lincoln, Nebraska to "the badlands of Wyoming" with a baton-twirling adolescent in the passenger seat.
The former, "Highway Patrolman" is a story of a lawman, Joe Roberts and his trouble making brother, Frankie. Two sides of the same familial coin, Joe has devoted his post to an "honest job", but he turns his head when Frankie gets in trouble. Frankie on the other hand, returns from Vietnam with a chip on his shoulder, and in one way or another he finds himself at odds with the law. Eventually Frankie goes overboard and winds up seriously injuring, perhaps even killing a man in a bar. This is probably the worst trouble Frankie has ever gotten himself into, and Joe, as he chases him down, is forced to contemplate his actions, his honesty and his dedication to his job as a lawman. The overriding thought that impresses him the most: Man turns his back on his family, he ain't no friend of mine....
And yet when Frankie gets to the Michigan county line all the way to the Canadian border Joe once again "turns the other way". And in doing so he proves the truth of those haunting thoughts, Man turns his back on his family he just ain't no good.
"Highway Patrolman" is the centerpiece of side one on the record. It's followed by a track called "State Trooper" which could very well be Frankie Roberts response to his brother Joe's life decisions. It's punctuated with a couple of unnerving shrieks that sound very much like Alan Vega's trademark "whoops" in the early '80's duo Suicide. Springsteen, when interviewed during press junkets for Nebraska briefly mentioned a taste for Suicide's confrontational brand of electro-shock. Nothing else here invokes that seminal New York band's sound, but the yelps in "State Trooper" are enough to conjure their spirit, especially the lyrics and theme of "Frankie Teardrop" (perhaps a clue, in dropping the name, that it is indeed Frankie Roberts narrating).
"Used Cars" is a sweet rumination of childhood, poverty and the dream of escaping into a better life than the one you grew up in. Used cars are a metaphor for all the things in our youth that we are ashamed of, even though they may be necessities. But, as in "Thunder Road", there is a long highway that takes you far away from all that, hopefully into a place where you won't ever have to ride in no used car again. There are details in this song that are bittersweet (Well, my mama fingers her wedding band and watches the salesman stare at my old man's hands)...and these details are woven through the set of songs that make up Nebraska.
If I remember correctly, the pre-release record company constructed buzz was that this album was going to be like a musical tribute to Bob Dylan. Once again they invoked Zimmy's name in hopes that it might sell a few records. There is very little here that's obviously Dylan inspired (though Woody Guthrie's ghost hovers over some of the proceedings), but it does have in common the same devotion to the songwriting craft and lyrical symbolism that reveals itself over the course of time.
With the success of Born To Run and the even more financially successful The River, Columbia records was willing to pretty much give Springsteen carte blanche for his next record. Say what you will about the negative aspects of record companies (and there are many) but it is a testament to Columbia's integrity and devotion to their artists that they would be willing to release this rough collection of demos. And in so doing they put out a true masterpiece that has inspired legions of singer/songwriters (there's even a full CD available of other artists covering the songs from Nebraska. Entitled Badlands: A Tribute To Bruce Springsteen's 'Nebraska', it's no "second tier performer"'s fare, as it features big names like Johnny Cash, Ani DiFranco, Ben Harper, Chrissie Hynde, Hank Williams III, Son Volt, Los Lobos and more).
I've only touched a few bases in this humble review of Nebraska, but it must be said that this is, in Springsteen's canon, an almost flawless album. It gets you further into his mind than just about anything he'd done before and really, just about everything that followed.
I would feel remiss, however, if I didn't say something about the concluding number. "Reason to Believe" is about how life deals some harsh blows, and it may strike you funny, but at the end of every hard earned day people need some reason to believe. And during that day the cycle of life goes on, as a baby is taken to the river to be baptized while, in an old shack on the other side of town, an old man passes away. All you can do is sit and watch "the river" roll on, and unlike man with his trials and tribulations that wound and scar for life, the river makes it's way "so effortlessly". Who knows but that contemplating that river may be enough to give someone "reason to believe".
"Reason to Believe" is the only logical choice with which to close Nebraska, as we've come to know so many different people and so many different stories throughout the course of the record, all of whom are searching for that same reason, none of whom will find an adequate reason, but the lucky ones will believe anyway.

5 Stars
Favorite Tracks: "Reason to Believe", "Used Cars", "Atlantic City", "Highway Patrolman"
Least Favorite Track: "Open All Night"

Springsteen Revisited: The River

The following is part of an ongoing series in which I re-evaluate Bruce Springsteen's records, in chronological order (reverse chronological in this blog), and their impact on my life and musical tastes. Some are more well written than others and the same holds true for grammatical errors. They were originally written for an online community that I participate in, but I thought I'd post them here for the sake of posterity.

I've said it before so many times I'm sure everyone is sick of hearing it, but if any album deserves a re-mastering, it's this one. Not all of the songs are as badly mixed as others, but the whole could stand it. From the git-go it's noticeable, with "The Ties That Bind" blaring so much trebley high end that it hurts the ears when played at a loud volume.
But anyway, enough complaining about that.
I think my problem with The River is this: After three albums from Springsteen that didn't have a single bad song in the lot, I found that I didn't like not only a couple but a few songs on this double album. How many double albums have you heard folks say about them, "It's okay, but there's really a great single album in the whole thing". That's exactly the case with The River. I could compile a list of ten songs from it and I guarantee it would be every bit as strong, maybe even stronger than one or two of the last 3 albums he'd put out.
I had a real hard time choosing Favorite Tracks (as opposed to "nearly impossible" on the last 3)...I thought I knew exactly which ones were going to make the cut, then found myself re-arranging the list...it was not quite so hard this time to make a Least Favorite Track list.
So yeah, to my mind The River is a very uneven affair that suffers from a bit of filler (not to say some of that filler is bad, it just doesn't live up to the truly great songs that it's mixed in with).
If The River had been my first exposure to Springsteen instead of Darkness On The Edge Of Town, it would have been "Drive All Night" that would have made me a hardcore Bruce fan. This is Springsteen at his pinnacle. Just breathtaking.
I caught something today that sort of slipped by in all these years of loving that song. I always thought it was your typical love song, albeit more powerful and soulful than most. But the first line came on and he sings "When I lost you honey, sometimes I swear I lost my guts too"...so he's singing all this to a girl he's somehow or other "lost". Did he lose her to another man? Did he lose her to death? No matter how he lost her, he's caught up in an intense fever dream where she's right there with him. He reminisces on the past, singing "I would drive all night AGAIN, just to buy you some shoes and to taste your tender charms" as if this is something he did once, on a whim, and now recalls with affection. He sings about how she's got his love, his heart & his soul, as if they are things she took with her when she left. The depth of his love is displayed in his promise not only to drive all night, but through the wind, through the rain, through the snow. This song and it's lyrics are, IMO, too powerful to be about a girl who ran away. I get more out of it in thinking that it's about a man whose wife has passed away sometime in the past.
But that may all be a load of bollocks. You decide.
The songs that didn't make the Favorite Tracks, just barely, are, in no particular order, "The Ties That Bind", "Independence Day", "I Wanna Marry You", "Fade Away", "The River" and "Wreck on the Highway".

4 Stars
Favorite Tracks: "Drive All Night", "Stolen Car", "The Price You Pay", "Point Blank"
Least Favorite Tracks: "Ramrod", "Cadillac Ranch", "I'm a Rocker", "Hungry Heart"

Springsteen Revisited: Darkness On The Edge Of Town

The following is part of an ongoing series in which I re-evaluate Bruce Springsteen's records, in chronological order (reverse chronological in this blog), and their impact on my life and musical tastes. Some are more well written than others and the same holds true for grammatical errors. They were originally written for an online community that I participate in, but I thought I'd post them here for the sake of posterity.

Very sentimental for me, indeed. This is the album that turned me into a fan. It's the first I'd ever heard from him (not counting hearing "Born to Run" a few times previously on the radio). I got it from the Columbia House record club and I had not ordered it. It was just one of those Selections of the Month that you'd get if you didn't return the card within a certain amount of time. I missed the deadline and Bruce found his way to my mailbox. I didn't even think I'd like it...I thought Bruce was one of those middle-of-the-road crooners (although looking back I don't know how I could have got that impression, having heard and liked the song "Born to Run"). As was the case with so many of these unsolicited Selection of the Month albums, my curiosity got the best of me and next thing you know I'm reading the lyrics on the inner sleeve, no way to send it back for credit now, with the shrink wrap gone.
I don't remember much about that first time I put the needle into the groove. I heard "Badlands" and thought, hey this isn't bad. Kinda dispelled any thoughts I had that Springsteen's style might be akin to Billy Joel's. "Adam Raised a Cain" was quite a bit different than the opening cut, and to be honest, I haven't really liked that song until fairly recently (nowadays I REALLY like it, especially Bruce's searing guitar solos). So at this point I had not quite been converted.
Then...then...4 words..."Something in the Night". That rumbling build up, like a storm on the horizon, heading toward you. Then Bruce begins wailing, "Oh, Alright...Whoa, Alright" with more soul and passion than I think I'd ever heard before. The storm crashes as he lets out one more yelp and the lyrics begin to paint a grim picture...You're born with nothing and better off that way...soon as you've got something they send someone to try and take it away...Nothing is forgotten or forgiven...and finally the last verse where the rebel's dream comes crashing down around them. And then, with even more intensity, Bruce tears into another series of howls, like a grieving mourner at a funeral.
The deal is sealed at that point. I was a certified fan, anxiously anticipating the songs that came after that one.
"Candy's Room" was a bit of a letdown. It's another one that has taken me a long time to appreciate. I assure you that I have developed that appreciation at this point. I think it was because it was such a radical change from the more subdued "something in the Night", the uptempo speed of the thing, the shift from anticipation and failure to a song quite vividly depicting sexual lust.
One thing I've noticed about Darkness On The Edge Of Town is that it is much less character-driven" than the previous albums. Most (if not all) of the songs here are sung in the first person. This change has served Springsteen well, IMO. To be sure, he still does his share of character songs, but I think the majority of his post-Darkness output has seen him singing, maybe AS a character, but in the first.
All I really want to say about "Racing in the Streets", besides the fact that it's another heartbreaker like "Something in the Night", is that Roy Bittan plays some of the finest piano lines in his career. This is a quite a commendation, seeing as how he is a very talented man and has played many a perfect piano line throughout Bruce's career. But the stuff he's doing in the last minute and a half of "Racing in the Streets" is so tasteful, so perfect I can't really praise it enough. It definitely makes you want to turn the album over and hear what else is in store.
Clarence gets a chance to shine for the first time here on "The Promised Land". His solo is short and sweet, nothing like the sprawling take in "Jungleland", but every bit as powerful. There aren't too many bands out there with sax players, but Clarence is integral to the E Street sound.
Always like the line The dogs on main street howl cause they understand that I could take this moment into my hand...great song.
Another really great song that most folks don't seem to talk about much, "Factory" effortlessly conjures the dreariness, the resignation, the necessity of "the working life". He goes through the working day, between the horns of the factory whistle. And for all that, when the day is done, Somebody's gonna get hurt tonight. It's a sad song, made even sadder by the knowing that it's the true life story of thousands of men and women who toil in places they'd just as soon rather not be because they have to make ends meet.
"Streets of Fire", for some reason, doesn't connect with me most of the rest of the album. It's a really good song, and Springsteen delivers a very good vocal performance, especially towards the end (beginning with the line Don't look in my face...I can't even understand what he's saying directly after that, but it almost raises the level of the song to no small degree. Still...
I'm sorry but "Prove It All Night" has never been one of favorite Springsteen songs. However I do give it more credit these days after hearing the version on the Live In New York City version, where Miami Steve helps elevates it to a new level. Another nice solo from the Big Man and an excellent guitar solo from the Boss, one of the most under-rated lead guitarists in the world.
Another thing...the production on Darkness is much more spare and spacious than it was on Born To Run. I suspect that's what the material demanded, as this is a bit more stark than that one was (not that it wasn't stark, just not quite so much as this one).
The final cut, "Darkness on the Edge of Town" kind of sums up the whole thing. Lives on the line where dreams are found and lost. They all wind up here, on that hill, paying the cost for wanting things that can only be found in the darkness on the edge of town. No use looking for them anywhere else. That's where you eventually wind up, for better or worse.

5 Stars
Favorite Tracks: "Something in the Night", "Racing in the Streets", "Factory", "Darkness on the Edge of Town"
Least Favorite Track: "Streets of Fire"

Springsteen Revisited: Born To Run

The following is part of an ongoing series in which I re-evaluate Bruce Springsteen's records, in chronological order (reverse chronological in this blog), and their impact on my life and musical tastes. Some are more well written than others and the same holds true for grammatical errors. They were originally written for an online community that I participate in, but I thought I'd post them here for the sake of posterity.

Not only one of the best albums in Bruce's very high quality repertoire, but one of the greatest albums in the history of rock music. That's no lie. From start to finish it never ceases to amaze and to stir the soul with visceral power.
Yeah, I confess it's been a long, long time since I last played Born to Run. It was one of those albums that was etched in my memory to the point where I didn't think I needed to hear it again to appreciate it (I'm the same way with the Beatles...I just know everything they did back and forth). And indeed I found myself singing along to the majority of it, remembering lyrics that most people would have forgotten had they waited so long to listen again. But I've got to say that with the passage of time and advancing of years, I came away from today's listening with a new-found respect for it.
It is as close to a flawless record as you can get and still be considered a rock album. And it is a rock record, there is no doubt about it. From the obsession with cars to the burning desire to run away from a stagnant existence, from the Bo Diddley drum pounding in "She's the One" to the wall-of-sound in "Night" and the title track, from the bonding and then betrayal in "Backstreets" to the Stax/Volt horn section in "10th Avenue Freeze-Out"...and let's not forget that reference to Roy Orbison that kicks off "Thunder Road".
Speaking of which, have you ever heard an end-piece section of a song that conjures the road and freedom like the one here? Clarence Clemons finally shows his stuff and it's only a foretaste of the grand, majestic solo he lays down in "Jungleland".
Bruce lets out his now famous wordless moan, towards the end of "Backstreets", and it brings out the goosebumps, like he's already said all that needs be said, that the repetition of "Hiding in the backstreets" has reached a saturation point and all he can do is howl at the moon, devastated by the anguish of losing a very close friend. It was at that point that I turned my stereo up to wall-shaking levels, which turned out to be quite appropriate as the beginning strains of "Born To Run" rattled my speakers.
I have to confess that initially I was going to choose "Night" as one of my four favorite tracks on the album. I think "Night" is one of the overlooked gems here. Definitely as worthy of being a single as "Born To Run" was. But when I heard that glockenspiel and that Telecaster guitar and the driving rhythm section, then Bruce's voice (of which I cannot find a proper accolade), I knew I had to include this masterpiece.
But seriously, "Night" is a helluva song, musically and lyrically (it's also another one on which the Big Man really shines).
I liked "Meeting Across the River" a lot more than I used to. When I was young I had no idea that this was about the anticipation of a major drug deal and how the narrator is deluded into thinking that what comes of it will change his life and the lives of those in his close circle of friends. Call me naive, I was just never into that scene in those days. Now that I'm a bit more aware I can hear the subtle nuances of the lyrics and the vocal performance. Nice arrangement, too, quite unlike anything else on the album.
Anyhoo, I could go on jabbering about this album all day. I'm gonna let someone else sing it's praises now.

5 Stars
Favorite Tracks: "Thunder Road", "Backstreets", "Born To Run", "Jungleland"
Least Favorite Track: "She's The One"

Springsteen Revisited: The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle

The following is part of an ongoing series in which I re-evaluate Bruce Springsteens records, in chronological order (reverse chronological in this blog), and their impact on my life and musical tastes. Some are more well written than others and the same holds true for grammatical errors. They were originally written for an online community that I participate in, but I thought I'd post them here for the sake of posterity.

The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle is a rarity amongst rock albums. It's a sophomore release that not only completely outshines it's debut predecessor but also still stands as one of the artist's finest works over 30 years after it's release. And furthermore with all that passage of time this record still sounds as fresh as if it had come out just last Tuesday.
Heavy duty praise, no doubt, but surely not hollow.
The opening "horn tuning" on "The E Street Shuffle" and the quick, congo-laden follow-up lets you know that this ain't going to be like Greetings From Asbury Park NJ which, admit it, suffered from some pretty lousy arrangements. This song is sort of a precursor to most of the others insomuch as Springsteen uses his lyrical prowess to create characters and whole worlds for them to interact within (sort of like he did with "Spirit In The Night").
This is followed by one of his absolutely most beautiful love songs, "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)", another character driven song, only most of the people described are caricatures ("boys from the boardwalk", "boys in their high heels", "actors", etc.)...it's all revolving around this scene in Asbury Park, carnival and all. I love the line where he says "You know that Tilt-a-Whirl down on the south beach track? I got on it last night and my shirt got caught...and they just kept me spinning, they didn't think I'd ever get off..." Funny, to be sure, but I can't help but to think that it's also an analogy of this guy who wants to take his girlfriend and run off with the carnival, not even sure if he'll love her forever.
After this sweet song comes the first of two serious rockers on the album. "Kitty's Back" is simply unrelentless in it's performance and the way it utilizes tension-release, climaxing in a wondrous "Kitty's back in town!" sung like a true celebration of a long-awaited homecoming. This material is so far removed from what you heard on Greetings that you'd be excused for looking at the album covers to see if it's the same guy responsible.
Following such exuberance is no easy task. Springsteen is smart enough not to try and top "Kitty's Back" with another blistering rocker. Instead he gives us another caricature (as well as character) driven carnival ballad "Wild Billy's Circus Story". What a great way to end side one than with this one-of-a-kind track. At one point he sings of the Ringmaster leaving the circus and this sets up one of the best lines Springsteen has ever written: "A ragged suitcase in his hand he steals silently away from the circus town...and the highway's haunted by the carnival sounds, they dance like a great grease-paint ghost on the wind". Awesome.
"Incident on 52nd Street" is another one that makes Greetings pale in comparison (but then again, they all do that). A somewhat lengthy story of Spanish Johnny and his exploits after returning from "the Underworld". The pimps all call him a cheat and a liar, but he seems to have found love in a girl he calls Puero Rican Jane (not her real name, as he asks "Oh won't you tell me what's your name?"). It's a very believable saga, even to the point where the cops find "the vein" and Johnny is driven to murder. Great story song that opens side 2 admirably.
"Rosalita" is the second rocker, perched between two other long-ish songs that form a loose trilogy. Every Springsteen fan in the world has surely heard "Rosalita". The first "video" his record company ever released was a rousing live version of this song, complete with young girls jumping out of the audience to grab a hug from him. Suffice to say it is one of his chestnuts. It's a crying shame that it wasn't included of the Greatest Hits package.
And finally we go out with yet another hauntingly beautiful song, "New York City Serenade". Opening with the sound of piano strings being strummed and then a flourish of piano, it then settles into a nice, down-tempo ballad. Basically a song about sex couched in the music of a love song...not that it stays on the subject throughout it's entirety, but all that comes after the initial erotic lyrics has to do with that. It's a very gentle way to end the album, something so different than "Rosalita", which would have made a fine end-piece, but could not ease the listener into wanting to hear the whole album again then and there. "New York City Serenade" does just that.

5 Stars (easy!)
Favorite Tracks- "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)", "New York City Serenade", "Kitty's Back". "Wild Billy's Circus Story"
Least Favorite Tracks: "The E Street Shuffle" (Not that it's a bad song, I just had to pick one, which is very hard to do when there's really not a bad song on the album)