Thursday, September 06, 2007

Bruce Springsteen and a little Magic

I’m sitting here, trying to come to terms. So far as grieving goes, I’m somewhere between denial, anger and acceptance right now. Part of me wants to yell at my dad, “how could you have done this?” but then I remind myself that he’s the one who’s gone. People coming and going from the same house where I grew up. So many of the appliances and furnishings and even wall hangings have remained unchanged from the 1960’s. Everything’s the same. Some of the kids I went to elementary school with, I’ve seen their parents these last 3 days. Or the kids, some of them still live in town, some of them came back. There are too many desserts. Way too many. More keep coming in, and we can’t keep up, and there’s one less person eating them, anyway. Cousins I haven’t seen in 20 years, super 8 movies to thread for the first time ever (dad always did that), we can all see ourselves from happier times in 1968.

As I write, washing over me are the sounds of “Long Walk Home,” a track from the soon-to-be-released album Magic, by Bruce Springsteen. Hey pretty darling, don’t wait for me, it’s gonna be a long walk home. It’s a throwback album, something like what he might have made after the Gary US Bonds albums of the early ‘80’s, almost. The album isn’t due out until October, but it leaked this afternoon, and it’s been some time since I’ve needed a tonic quite like this. When they built you brother, they broke the mold.

Love is a power greater than death. Well, not quite.

My father was a great fan of swing music in general, and of Benny Goodman in particular. That was his music. He didn’t show off his knowledge very often, but if you put on any old jazz record for him, within a couple bars he’d tell you the song, the band, the players, and if it was a song with multiple versions, he’d tell you which one. In 1986, my sister graduated from college in California, and the family all came out for it. Benny Goodman died that weekend. My dad was 65, and for the first time I saw him look like an old man, as if his youth had just been robbed.

“Magic” isn’t an unqualified success for me yet, though I like it enough. “Radio Nowhere,” with its strident beat and a tune vaguely reminiscent of the Tommy Tutone hit “8675309,” gets the album off to a good start, but “You’ll Be Comin’ Down” just never seems to get off the ground, with riffs that seemed pulled from the back catalogue and a sax part that I can only describe as perfunctory. “Livin’ in the Future” is maybe my favorite track so far: Livin’ in the future and none of this has happened yet. But of course it has, the nightmare is here. But we can still dance and groove. The song is light, almost a cross between old J. Geils and Bruce’s own composition “Out of Work.”

Unfortunately, too many of the tracks that follow seem to drag. This is particularly true of “Your Own Worst Enemy,” and the Beach Boys style song “Girls in Their Summer Clothes,” which had my brother commenting that “for this song half the crowd will be snoring and the other half will be sending their husbands out for beer,” and while that may add up to one half too many, it’s not yet easy for me to envision that one working live. The low point for me so far is “I’ll Work for Your Love,” in which the Catholic imagery is overdone to cringe point.

A few years ago, my dad told a story of traveling from his Army post at Fort Ord down to Los Angeles to see Benny Goodman play. He’d never told me he’d traveled for his favorite artist, but now I started to understand a kinship. I asked him, about how many times did he see Benny Goodman. “About 19.” Not 18 or 20? “Nineteen.” There was nothing more to say. I just smiled.

“Gypsy Biker” starts off with a harmonica wail that sounds like the studio version of “Empty Sky,” always a highlight. “Magic” is one of the few tracks that depart from the classic E Street sound, and it’s among those that work best: Leave everything you know and carry only what you fear. It reminded me a bit of “Nothing Man” and “Further On (Up the Road).” The other more topical songs – “Last to Die” and “Devil’s Arcade,” also worked well for me.

I don’t know that I’m ready to see this tour. I won’t try for tickets when they go on sale this weekend. Maybe later, maybe when I’m more ready.

I watched a video today, my own wedding. At the end of the chair dance, when we put him down, the video shows him coming over to me and hugging me. Maybe the only time, ever, at least like that. I had forgotten that little detail. And part of me wants to yell at him again, but I can’t, not quite. So I’ll sit here a little more, listen again, and try to come to terms.

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