Thursday, May 14, 2009

Life in Music- Bruce Writes the Songs

"Mary Lou she found out how to cope, she rides to heaven on a gyroscope. The Daily News asks her for the dope. She says, 'Man, the dope's that there's still hope'."- Bruce Springsteen, Does the Bus Stop at 82nd Street.

The Boss was here in Chicago a few days ago, and, sadly, yours truly was not in the audience. It's the first time in a while that Bruce came to town and I didn't show up.

Tickets are pricey, you know, but that's not the point.

Or is it?

Anyways, I had written previously about songs. More specifically, the fact that so many cats on the scene don't learn songs.

That fact still annoys me, by the way.

That's not the point either.

No, the point for today is that Bruce Springsteen knows songs. He writes songs. His band learns his songs as well as other people's songs (they did the Who's My Generation just a couple of days ago- man I would have loved to have seen that.) The catalog of the E Street Band is in the hundreds.

Hundreds of songs. Just 1 guy (and his guys.)

Springsteen is one of those aging rock gods that people love or hate. Surprisingly, there are a lot of musicians who are in the latter category. I've always wondered why that is. Here's a guy who started his career nearly 40 years ago playing crappy dive bars in sleepy Asbury Park, N.J.

Not exactly a tourist destination (native New Yorkers notwithstanding.)

Bruce can play. Well. Same with his group. It would be a challenge to find a tighter unit. So why are cats against him?

Maybe his looks.

He's not the most attractive guy (ok, ladies, lemme have it.) He's short, like me, and has a hideous under bite, not like me. You can see the wear and tear in the lines on his face from years and years on the road, and he travels well (when's the last time THAT band got in the van?)

Must be jealousy of his success.

Yet, he's still as relevant as ever. Why?

Songs, songs, songs.

Unlike the Rolling Stones (and they ARE the world's greatest rock and roll band) who haven't put out a meaningful album since Tattoo You (1981- it was a "comeback" record,) Springsteen is still writing new material. Most of it is even quality material. Sure, none of it is as impressive as his very early stuff (most songwriters write their best tunes early on, when they're young and hungry,) but he has refined and polished and had the E Street style well defined. He is also, from what I understand, relentless in his rehearsing of the band, and by the time they go out on the road to start a tour, they're more than ready.

They're even ready for tunes they may have not rehearsed. After all, when your catalog is that large, how can you really prepare?

The answer is that they have been preparing their entire careers. They (the band) have been learning material for decades. Not sort of learning it. Really learning it.

You stay ready to keep from getting ready.

Like I said before, they also do other artists' tunes. They do some Motown stuff (you should hear the Detroit Medley- fantastic.) They play folk music (get the Seeger Sessions.) They do blues.

Bruce is successful because of songs, and we as musicians need to understand that without knowing songs, the chops you have (or think you have) become meaningless. Your guitar shredding becomes noise. Your thumb popping on the bass is a bottom end rumble mumble jumble. The crazy drum fills are just, well, crazy.

And then people don't want to hear you, and you're stuck wondering why there aren't any gigs out there better than bar gigs that are worth fifty bucks and a chicken sandwich.

You gotta learn the songs of your genre. I do, and you can too.

Max still hasn't called me to sub, though. He thinks his kid is better than me.

So it goes...

Learn the tunes

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