— John Jeremiah Sullivan, with the best summary of the new Coen Brothers movie yet. Sullivan’s short, promotional essay about Inside Llewyn Davis is well worth reading. Bonus: its called “Daft Folk.”
Here’s a find. Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires singing “Mutineer” by Warren Zevon.
I interviewed Mike Cooley about the new Drive By Truckers record for Rolling Stone. My favorite part of the interview got cut, so I wanted to share it here. Cooley compares one of his new songs on the record (you can hear a live solo take above) to Springsteen’s “Glory Days.”
Cooley, on “First Air of Autumn”:
It’s kind of along the same lines as “Glory Days” and all those songs, and I’m not going to make as much money on this as the Boss did on “Glory Days,” I’ll tell you that right now. I always hated that song, I hated that song. But the experience I had made me realize how real it was. Bruce has that ability to take something real sad and make it sound like a party song, and that takes a lot more talent than actually making the song sound sad like I did.
It’s about people who peak too early, and who leave that time of their lives when everything makes perfect sense and everything else is a bitter disappointment. And a little bit about the best looking guy and the best looking girl getting married, and when nobody gives a damn anymore, they realize they can’t stand each other, and it’s no longer…it’s no longer special when they’re not the king and queen.
If you’re feeling stressed today, play this as many as times as you need to learn all or most of the lyrics. Then walk around some busy city streets, slowly, singing this to yourself, and to everyone else.
Hey everyone, I went long on one of my favorite obscure little Bruce tracks for my second, and final, contribution to the two week Springsteen One Week One Band Marathon.
"County Fair" (recorded March 24, 1983 at "Thrill Hill West" [Springsteen’s home studio], Los Angeles, CA; available on The Essential Bruce Springsteen)
Come on, mister, tell me what’s waiting out there
In 1983, Bruce Springsteen was recording rampantly, amassing a lifetime’s worth of material as he continued to write songs for the record that would soon become, after its many early iterations, Born In The U.S.A. “County Fair” sounds and feels unlike anything else recorded during that prolific, career-defining year of song.
“County Fair” may be the most straightforward song Springsteen’s ever recorded, the simplest story he’s told. In some ways, the song is a throwback to the types of stories Bruce was telling a decade earlier, when his songs took place in the hazy, hot nights of Springsteen’s adolescence, when juvenile men and women trampled around Jersey boardwalks and Manhattan streets looking for trouble and thrills, too drunk on youth and music to be worrying yet about finding a way out of their own towns full of losers. Like so much of his earliest work, Springsteen sets “County Fair” in that mythical summer past, only this time, we’re in Small Town U.S.A., at a local carnival so commonplace, so specific in its uniformity, that you can feel the cotton candy sticking to your hands as Springsteen takes through a night at the county fair.
His narrator here is young and hungry, a teenager innocent enough to still take deep comfort in his small, safe surroundings, but old enough to know those very surroundings just might be transitory. His local county fair is a yearly tradition, and so it is also a marker of time and age, a way to realize, as you ride the Ferris Wheel year after year after endless year, both how little and how much you’ve changed.
The first half of the song focuses on the former, on the annual childlike joy our hero takes in a county fair he’s perhaps outgrown. “Every year when summer comes around/ they stretch a banner ‘cross the main street in town/ you can feel something happening in the air” he sings like a kid on Christmas Eve, waiting with open eyes for the annual reminder of his own youth. In the second verse, he’s on the roller coaster with his 9th grade sweetheart. The night’s full of sex and promise, and yet he can’t stop thinking about the fair itself, about its lights and smells, its yearly gift of eternal childhood. “Well baby you know I just love the sound,” he sings at the top of Ferris wheel, in a line that’s sure to un-impress his date for the night “Of that pipe organ at the merry go round.” He’s infantilizing the moment, encouraging his girl to “win your daddy one of them stuffed bears.”
But as “County Fair” progresses into the eternal carnival night, time slowly starts to evaporate. The pivotal moment comes in the third verse, when the teenage couple goes to the edge of the fair to catch some local music. “It’s James Young and the Immortal Ones,”two guitars baby bass and drums,” Springsteen sings, in a moment that blurs the distance between narrator and author. It’s hard not to hear Springsteen in that line, pining for the burning, basic rock and roll that got him to where he was in 1983: feverishly writing, trying desperately to find the precise sound to re-introduce him to the masses after four years out of the spotlight. In ‘83, Bruce, staring ahead at equal parts uncertainty and stardom, is, like his narrator, scared of what the future holds, and he relishes that fleeting moment in that third verse, “just rockin’ down at the County Fair.”
“County Fair”, which opens and closes with the sounds of crickets, feels like a demo, its sound muted and murky. As one Springsteen fan once remarked on Backstreets, the definitive Springsteen fan forum, the record sounds like Bruce is singing underwater. There’s a precise monotony to “County Fair,” with Springsteen mumbling and stumbling through the verses, and as a result, the song feels much longer than its five minute length, as endless as the youthful summer it first promises. The crickets chirp on as the teenagers glide through the fair in an indefinite fog of adolescent restless bliss, realizing, or just remembering, at some point that the local fair is like everything else at age sixteen: a bit boring.
Suddenly, though, the song gets quiet. The drums all but drop out in the fourth verse, and suddenly, the night’s over. Our singer has come a long way, growing up, gradually, with every verse, and by the end of the song he’s now painfully aware of what’s at stake. “I pull Carol close to my heart/ And I lean back and stare up at the stars/ Oh I wish I’d never have to let this moment go.” The music then dissolves into a mix of murky synths and crickets, with Springsteen robbing his listener of one more chorus, a final go on the Ferris wheel. The song that once preached an endless innocence is now abruptly sinister. There’s no more time to be young and eager, spending your summers on rusty roller coasters and creaky tilt-a-whirls. Instead, the singer only has time to realize he’s been taking his night, his town fair, his precious youth, for granted, but by the time he realizes that it’s all gone.
It has hardly been a year since the band’s most recent record, The Carpenter, was released, but the Avett Brothers are already thinking ahead, eager and excited to talk about their newest collection of songs. Seth and Scott Avett, alongside bassist Bob Crawford, spoke with us about the group’s new record, their home state of North Carolina and the sudden popularity of banjos.
Hey, this was me! I have a feeling that any and all fans of these guys (even the “I liked the Avett Bros’ until they went all major label Rick Rubin piano pop on us” type of Avett Bro fan, especially that type of fan) are going to really enjoy their new record.
Here’s one of my favorite new tunes of theirs:
Here’s my take on “Thundercrack”
Nowadays, Bruce Springsteen fondly regards “Thundercrack” as his band’s “first show stopper,” the song that briefly brought the house down before “Rosalita” would quickly take its place. “Thundercrack,” an eight and a half minute, two-verse song about a girl who is good at dancing, is loose, goofy, and aimless, a “Rosalita” without any of the vindication, without the moving payoff: “someday we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny.”
On “Thundercrack,” there’s no reflection of the sort. The recorded version found in Tracks is the sound of a bar band trying to find its feet in the recording studio. “Thundercrack” sounds like seashore jamband music, an r&b/soul take on the type of indulgent, showboating rock of the early 70’s that Springsteen and his cohorts were typically specifically rallying against. At a time when Springsteen was using rhyming dictionaries and cramming his songs with Dylan-inspired street poetry, “Thundercrack”champions style over substance. In fact, the songwriting here is endearingly clunky (“my heart’s wood, she’s a carpenter”).
"Thundercrack" (live, May 1, 1973, Ahmanson Theater, Los Angeles, CA; available as a bonus video on the Born to Run: 30th Anniversary Edition)
The song’s energy, rather, lies in its surfaces, in the “sha-la, la-la, la-la, ooh’s” and the “whoa-oa-oa-oa-oa-oa-oa-oa’s” and “all night’s,” the sing-alongs that form the song’s backbone. “Thundercrack” works as a “showstopper” because it implicates the listener, making the audience singing along with the band the song’s lead instrument. That might be the song’s most lasting legacy, the first moment when Springsteen realized the E Street Band’s music would often times need the audience much as they needed them.
And now for something a bit special:
Starting tomorrow, we’ll have two entire weeks devoted to Bruce Springsteen! And a very distinct aspect of the Bruce discography at that…
You’ll have to hold out until tomorrow morning for the specific details of this endeavor —…
Hey- I’m a day or so late to this, but I’m real excited to be a small part of One Week One Band’s two full weeks on Bruce Springsteen. I’ll repost my couple of contributions here when they go up. Thanks to Dave Bloom for putting this mammoth bunch of postings together.
"I don’t think that you know that I think you don’t know. That old barometer goes crazy baby every time it starts to snow."
Caitlin Rose covering “Pink Rabbits” by The National sums up my first half of 2013 in music pretty well.
I’m sitting on a bus listening to Skynyrd and connecting some dots. When I first heard Jason Isbell say (on this tremendous interview) the first song he ever learned to play on guitar was “Simple Man” I didn’t think much of it other than “damn, cool, I’d sure love to hear him sing that song.”
Sure enough, Isbell sat in with Deer Tick last weekend at a Newport Folk Festival after-party show, and he sang “Simple Man,” and the crowd screamed back the chorus as if it were a given that Ronnie Van Zandt would be a Guthrie-like common hero to this folk festival crowd. The performance is fun and pretty and fairly moving.
Then I started listening a bit more to “Simple Man,” a song I’ve vaguely loved for a while but hadn’t thought about in many years until Isbell mentioned it. Then I realized (duh) that the entire premise of “Simple Man” is a mother giving advice to her son, and that the advice really isn’t all that different from the advice of the singer’s father in “Outfit,” Isbell’s Drive By Trucker breakthrough that established him as one of the finest songwriters around.
Be a simple kind of man, don’t call what you’re wearing an outfit. Forget your lust for the rich man’s gold, don’t ever let me catch you in Kendale with a bucket of wealthy man’s paint. TomAto, tomahto.
When I graduated a semester early from college, I spent my first five months of post-grad life bumming around St. Paul, Minnesota, pretending to still be a student while I waited for friends to graduate in May. I held on to my college radio show, and early on in that five month period I discovered two ancient, bulky tape decks that resembled 8-tracks lying around the station. For a couple of outdated 8 tracks found in a Minnesota college radio station, the tape decks were about as intriguing as you could hope for. They were labeled, simply: “Replacements Station ID” and “Husker Du Station ID.”
It turned out the format of the decks that resembled 8-tracks was far more obscure than I could have imagined, and having recently acquired far too much spare time, I went to various audio conversion stores in the Twin Cities, all of which had never seen or heard of the format before. Eventually, I found a man in Texas who specialized in this type of audio conversion, and three months later, I had in my possession a 15 second MP3 of a 16 year old Tommy Stinson blabbing something about college radio with the instrumental break of “I WIll Dare” playing in the background. It was worth the trouble.
One of the many things I’m taking away from last night, after watching The National play their first ever arena headlining show last night at Barclays Center, is that the most heartbreaking line in their entire catalogue might be their simplest: “Can I ask you, about today?” Matt Berninger sang last night, during one of the many surreal moments of the night, when I realized that a song like “About Today” was being played to 15,000 people. I talked about some other takeaway moments from the show in my review for Rolling Stone.
It’s an old love story, and I swear to god it’s true.
"April 5th"-Rosanne Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and Elvis Costello
Props to youtube commenter “bruisedorange57,” who writes this:
"I was wearing a John Prine t-shirt to a Springsteen concert in about 1985, and a kid asked me, ‘Who the hell is John Prine?’ I said, ‘If Springsteen could be anybody he wanted to be, he’d be John Prine. But he can’t write songs like John, so he settled for being The Boss.’"
It just so happens that this song, “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness,” and its line “you’re out there running just to be on the run” sums up somewhere between 30-50% of all Springsteen songs/albums.