Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Springsteen and I

ok, forgiven. The fan-sourced movie project Springsteen and I had its one and... almost only showing this evening. Culled from several thousand fan submissions, the film intends to tell the story of what Bruce means to his fans, interspersed with rare concert footage that bring to the big screen the magic, mystery and ministry of his rock and roll.

Why "forgiven"? For mangling the grammar in the title? Nah, Bruce did the same thing in Streets Of Philadelphia, and if it was good enough for him then I'm ok with it.

Maybe for not using or even responding to my submission; which for at least 48 hours was the best video I'd ever done. The only emails I got from the Springsteen and I crew were instructions on how best to pay an inflated price -- $15 -- for a movie ticket. Sure, there were soundbytes, but I wasn't sure if a line like "I lost my virginity to Thunder Road" was worth a laugh or a groan... or both. As I sat through the first half hour of the film with its often cringe-inducing moments of deification from middle-age fans or slightly dysfunctional families, I even started to wonder, without the slightest hint of irony, "they chose this over my submission?"


Elianna with Bruce, at the 9 minute mark. Video by Jack Schwartz

This hat is making me happy! (photograph: Amber Sigman)
After all, I'd had a story to tell. At least, my daughter had a story to tell, and I let her tell it. In the space of several months last year, Elianna started as a Taylor Swift fan and was mocking Bruce; she accompanied us to the first show because her older brother wanted in. That night, Bruce saw her down front and tossed a guitar pick her way, but her dad dimly gave it away. She had an amazing time, and traded smiles with Cindy Mizelle and Michelle Moore during the show. The next afternoon -- my 50th birthday and 11 days short of her 11th, she made a last minute decision to accompany her parents to Buffalo; she made her way up front by herself, where another fan sheltered her. Bruce found her and locked in on her during the harmonica ending of The Promised Land. She had the bug. I had to get tickets to whatever shows we could get to. Toronto: General Admission tickets didn't open up until the day before the show; we had to go. She made it up front again to the same person who sheltered her in Buffalo, and this time Bruce found her for Thundercrack and again for Dancing in the Dark. In Hamilton, with the same friend yet again, Bruce found her and a sign she'd made, and when the show ended Little Steven raced over to hand her a guitar pick. Finally, in Louisville, she gave Bruce something: her hat. Bruce responded: "I feel good with this hat on! This hat is making me happy!" There was a story in there, and we tried to tell it, but those Ridley Scott people didn't take it and now I was stuck watching 3-word genuflecting, shaky recordings, and concert clips I'd already seen. Or so I was grumbling, as I set my expectations lower and lower.

Then there was the promise that this film was entirely fan-sourced, but the very first concert clip was a 1972 recording of Growin' Up that not only wasn't fan based, but that has been released officially before, on an obscure tribute to John Hammond.

As it turned out, they not only didn't use the clip I sent them, they didn't use clips from pretty much anyone else I knew, either. All of the participants, except one, were total strangers to me. Except, of course, that we form part of this larger community. And perhaps that is part of the point: With a few exceptions, exchange one set of clips for another, and you'd get more or less the same film.

And there were notable omissions. I never expected this film to be a career retrospective, and I did expect it to be heavily based on the most recent events and tour. Still, I was a bit surprised that Bruce's 1992-1993 band wasn't shown on the screen, and his Seeger Sessions project was never mentioned at all. Nor, for that matter, did any fan's story go beyond Bruce, musically, in any meaningful way. We sure got a significant dose of people who listen to Bruce 24/7, listen to him nonstop in the car or dance to him in the kitchen, but if these people listen to anything else, you won't find out who it is from Springsteen and I. Some of the more jaded hard core fans will take some comfort in noting that there are relatively few children in this film, and no renditions of the widely despised child part to Waitin' On a Sunny Day.


Bruce with a Copenhagen busker, 1988

The inclusions, however, improved as the film progressed. The 2nd concert video in the film was something I didn't recognize. As was the 3rd. And the 4th. And the 5th. The stories, at least some of them, started to entertain. Some, like the Copenhagen busker who played with Bruce in 1988, are well known to many long time fans, but here the busker himself presented it and made it fresh again. The Elvis impersonator Nick Ferraro, who got on stage with Bruce in Philadelphia in 2009 is probably less well known, but he and his wife were hilarious in their retelling of the event. And the poor soul who was dumped the evening before that aforementioned Hamilton show, was probably very obscure except to those of us who were there that evening. I wrote Notes From the Road for brucespringsteen.net for that show, and I tried to remember what I could of the exchange for the write-up. Now we have the official footage of it, and also homemade video of the fan's back story and of him making the sign. I even get to see some of the mistakes I made writing it up: Somehow I managed to downplay Bruce's taunts of the girls who'd dumped him! As Bruce might say, I'm regretting that now!

The film had a generous sense of humor, none more evident than in showing extensive pieces from a man who feigned curmudgeonly indifference or worse towards Bruce, but went along to various European cities to appease his hard core wife. At one point, he nearly turned in to the infamous character of the Emperor in Amadeus who complained to Mozart that there were "too many notes."


Too many notes.

The main body of the film ends with a near-obligatory round of "thank you Bruce" in various modes and languages, and had the film ended there it might have been more or less on par with offerings such as Wings for Wheels, the bonus DVD that was included in the Born To Run: 30th Anniversary package. Nice, maybe not quite worth a premium movie ticket price, but it had surpassed my expectations.

The add-ons changed that, for the better. Sure the 2012 Hyde Park performance has been easily available on the internet since it happened, but seeing 6 of its songs presented on the big screen was worth staying on. Highlights include Because the Night with a massive 10-twirl Nils solo, and two fully powered songs with Sir Paul McCartney.

There is also a bit of a surprise epilogue that ties together several of the stories. I think Bruce even made a fan of the curmudgeon.

This morning I sent Elianna off to summer camp. I needed to get her an mp3 player so she could study her bat mitzvah lessons, and before I left I added recordings of her new favorite band, Chameleon Circuit. They have created a canon of songs to themes from Dr. Who. But I added one track: A conversion I did of the Toronto performance of Thundercrack. Her and Bruce. Or, should I say, Springsteen and She.
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