Columbia Records, 1986
REVIEW BY: JB
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/19/2005
So what happened to America? It's actually doing nothing new; I am from and live in a country that has been violently, tragically divided by a historically consistent American-politician arrogance that had refused to concede a five thousand year-old nation could possibly govern itself. Because you know, we Koreans (and Chileans and Nicaraguans and so on) are simply too uneducated and barbaric to possibly comprehend, let alone execute, a functional modern democracy. (Bush is actually shaping up to prove to be the exception, but will he come through? This time, America, the world is watching.)
Anti-American sentiment around the world is very, very real, especially if you're living outside of the U.S. A lot of it has to do with envy and misunderstanding, but a lot of it also has to do with what even the most stereotypical redneck right-winger must concede to be legitimate grievances. Having actually lived in America at one point, though, I know it's a country that's much more complicated than simply Red States vs. Blue States.
Part of what complicates my picture of America is Bruce Springsteen.
Springsteen is a different kind of American hero than, say, Martin Luther King Jr. or Margaret Sanger. To many he's significant not for what he's done but for what he represents. He's so embedded into American iconography that I find it hard to imagine him being successful had he been born anywhere else (picture a Japanese grassroots rock-and-roller if you will, or the Boss as a violinist; he would've improvised cadenzas to jazz chords and spray painted the back of his Stradivarius). His moral values and emotions are as instrumental to his music as any Telecaster, and there is no art more American to me than how he incorporates these values and emotions into the songwriting imagery; he is the Toni Morrison of music. And his concerts are essentially town meetings that celebrate everything that is universally agreed to be good and true about America.
Originally a five-record set (virtually unheard of at a time of double or triple live albums), Live 1975-85 was put together in an attempt to assuage the masses of fans clamoring for a live album from the Boss. But does it recapture the live experience? The consensus among fans turns out to be an emphatic no, but it comes close.
The album is not from one concert but from a range of concerts, from the more intimate club dates (if you can call hanging from the chandeliers at the Roxy "intimate") to the huge Born In The U.S.A. arena dates. I don't envy the guy who had to wade through all those miles of soundboard tape to select these (actually, I do) because it's difficult enough trying to pick out songs from the collection to review. (Reviews for this album are noticeably short, largely composed by Boss-heads frothing at the mouth in front of their hi-fi speakers and barely getting their fingers to a typewriter keyboard.)
My favorite tracks are the "audience participation" tracks, where the audience acts like one huge delighted organism at Springsteen's every cue. Their reactions to Springsteen's beginning monologue to "The River" are as terrific to hear as the story itself, and the arena-filling unison as thousands sing the first verse and chorus to "Hungry Heart" is something akin to a collective religious experience. Springsteen works the crowd into a pious frenzy in every song, even in the supposedly impersonal big venues; the keyboard chords for "Born In The U.S.A." were meant to ring out to a huge arena, its bitter message being literally driven into the masses.
Fans will also find unreleased tracks like "Raise Your Hand" and "Fire" (Now why wasn't "Fire" officially released? Seems like everyone else has recorded it in a studio...) along with his much-loved greatest hits, and as an added bonus due to the powers of change, we get to see Springsteen in the touring-with-with-E-Street heyday, something I believe we're going to see less of as time goes on (he embarks on a solo tour of the US and Europe later this month, lasting until June).
You can basically see how the point of this album was not to recapture the live experience per se, but to create an archive for fans to have in their homes. Sure, you can download a bootleg nowadays, but it's still worth it to get this album in a great sounding studio-mastered edition, to froth over and worship in hi-fi at home. And here I sign off, hoping that the Boss will continue to complicate America for years and years to come.