Because Bruce Springsteen

I’ve been listening almost exclusively to Bruce Springsteen since last Wednesday. Let me tell you about how this has come to pass.

So I was reading this thing over at Stereogum, “Edgy and Dull: 20 Covers of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘I’m On Fire,’ Rated.” I’m pretty sure I saw it promoted on Facebook. I clicked on it because I’m a person who keeps a list of my favorite Springsteen covers and I wanted to see if my picks for “I’m On Fire” were on the list. They were. I listened to the covers by Chromatics and Bat For Lashes a few times. I wished I could sing “I’m On Fire” at karaoke, which got me thinking about Springsteen songs that I could maybe sing at karaoke, which landed me at Patti Smith’s “Because the Night.”

 

 

Springsteen started writing “Because the Night” while recording his fourth album, Darkness On the Edge of Town. He gave the song to Smith, who reworked it for her album, Easter. I know this because I have watched the The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story, a documentary about the making of Darkness on the Edge of Town Story included in a box set reissue of the same name. One of my favorite scenes is Springsteen sitting at the piano, working on “Because the Night,” looking at a notebook with handwritten lyrics as he bangs on the keys. I watched this documentary with my dad in 2010, on Christmas morning, shortly after he’d unwrapped the box set.

I should mention at this point that my dad is a huge Bruce Springsteen fan. The memories I have of driving in any of the family cars we’ve had over the years, windows down, listening to The Boss are innumerable. Most of our Christmas celebrations include a loud singalong to Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band’s live recording of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” If it weren’t for his fandom, I very highly doubt that I could name the original lineup of the E Street Band, that the never-included-on-an-album “Thundercrack” would be my favorite Springsteen song, or that I would have seen Springsteen live more than any other artist.

Anyway, I was trying to find the clip of Springsteen playing “Because the Night” in this documentary, which got me to listening to Darkness on the Edge of Town, which I’ve probably listened to a million times because I think my dad has had it in his car’s CD changer for the past ten years. But I don’t think I ever really listened to it, because I never thought anything about it – like, as an album – until this past week. And what I think now is that I love it and it might be my favorite Springsteen album. It does include a lot of my favorite Springsteen songs.

Here is one:

 

 

And another:

 

 

And another:

 

 

One last one:

 

 

Once I realized that, I started making a Spotify playlist of all of my favorite Springsteen songs, which I’ve been adding to – and listening to – since Friday. I subjected my friends to this playlist on Saturday, while we were driving through Brooklyn on our way back from the beach. (Actually, I started playing it when I had run out of fun-timey playlists while we were sitting in traffic on one block in Bed-Stuy for about 30 minutes because of a street festival.) I’ve been listening to it on the subway. I’ve been listening to it at work. Basically, I’ve been listening to it…a lot.

So I guess hit me up if you want my playlist, which I will be guarding carefully until it’s totally finished. There’s no better music for the last few weeks of summer than Bruce Springsteen. If you don’t believe me, ask my dad.

I Guess It Doesn’t Really Matter

I was going to write about how I left my wallet in a local pizza shop this weekend and didn’t realize it until the next morning, but it’s actually kind of a boring story.I just went to the pizza shop and asked the owner – who my friends and I call “Old Man Pizza” since he is old and a skilled pizzaiolo – if he had my wallet and he said yes and got it for me from behind the counter. And that’s the end of the story.

In the meantime, while I work on my fan fiction about Old Man Pizza, here is a playlist I made for my roommate two weeks ago of some stuff I’ve been listening to lately/this year.

Another Music Monday: tUnE-yArDs, “Wait for a Minute”

 

I had ignored this song, a B-side from the upcoming tUnE-yArDs album, until today. (It was officially released a few weeks ago.) And then for no reason at all other than I remembered that there is a tUnE-yArDs album coming out, I played it and it felt like the exact right thing to keep on repeat for the rest of the day. That’s probably because the song is about worrying about what the future will bring and wasting time and being alone with one’s self. It’s not necessarily the best representation of a tUnE-yArDs song – see Nikki Nack’s proper single “Water Fountain” – but I don’t mind hearing something more subdued from Merrill Garbus when it resonates with me so immediately.

Nikki Nack will be out on 5/8 on 4AD, but you can listen to it right now over on NPR.

Another Green World

On Friday, I posted five things I liked from last week. One of those things, a FACT mix from British shoegaze band Slowdive, was published a month ago and included mostly decades-old songs that have inspired them. One of my favorite tracks on the mix was their former collaborator Brian Eno’s “The Big Ship” from his 1975 album Another Green World.

 

 

I should have listened to Another Green World a long time ago. I think, perhaps, I did listen to it once or twice, when I was methodically listening to “great” albums from the 1970s a while back. But that was an overwhelming process that left me with little appreciation for more than a few albums. I instead collected the tracks I liked and created a giant 1970s playlist that I listened to for the better part of a year. A few Eno albums were represented on that playlist – tracks from Here Come the Warm Jets and Before and After Science stick out in my mind – but not Another Green World.

I decided to give Another Green World another shot last week. I don’t know if “giving it another shot” is really the proper phrasing to use, because it’s not like I was dreading listening to it or anything. It’s more that I feel sometimes that it’s “too late” for me to get into certain music. I’m glad I didn’t let that hold me back, though, because I’ve listened to this album over and over again for days.

 

 

Another Green World is Eno’s first big foray into ambient electronic music, but there are still a few great pop songs on here. My favorites – for now, at least – would be “St. Elmo’s Fire” and “Golden Hours.” But I don’t find that I’m playing the pop songs or the few songs that have lyrics on repeat, as I’d probably tend to do with other mostly instrumental albums. I’m enjoying the experience of listening to the album as a whole. It feels like the perfect soundtrack not only for this transitional season, but also for this period in my life, which I believe I’ve described as “transitional” more than once during the past few weeks. So it seems that it wasn’t too late for me to get into Another Green World. It’s exactly the right time.

Old Folks: Katie Cruel

The first time I heard “Katie Cruel” was about two years ago, when I bought 1966, a release of a found tape that Karen Dalton recorded in a Colorado cabin forty-plus years ago. The song haunted me for weeks. I remember listening to it in my bedroom, on the subway, in my parents’ empty house where I found myself alone one weekend and therefore able sing it over and over again at full volume with only our family dog to hear me.

“Katie Cruel” is the lament of a woman who was once desired and has discovered that that is no longer true. (The first verse: “When I first came to town, they called me the roving jewel / Now they’ve changed their tune, call me Katie Cruel”). I, like many others who have been captured by Karen Dalton’s music, was taken by how much the song mirrored Dalton’s life. A fixture on the 1960s Greenwich Village folk circuit, she recorded two albums, released in 1969 and 1971. (“Katie Cruel” was released on her first album, In My Own Time.) Battling addiction issues for much of her life, she disappeared from the scene and died in 1993 under still murky circumstances.

 

 

Though I’ll always think of “Katie Cruel” as Karen Dalton’s song, it’s much older, possibly dating back to the time of the American Revolution. I’ve read a lot of conflicting accounts of the source material, but it seems to have been developed from a Scottish song called “The Lichtbob’s Lassie,” about a camp follower. (The best roundup I’ve found of recordings and sources is here.) Unlike many of the American folk songs we still remember, “Katie Cruel” never really became a standard. But it has been recorded widely, especially as more people have become acquainted with Dalton’s version more recently.

I’ve searched for recordings of the song and other versions pretty extensively and I always end up liking the ones influenced by Dalton the most.

Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes has covered the song quite a bit. I like this live version in particular.

 

 

I also like this cover by Danish singer-songwriter Agnes Obel.

 

 

Further reading:

Laura Barton, “The Best Singer You’ve Never Heard Of” (The Guardian)
Mairead Case, “Karen Dalton, Roving Jewel” (Bookslut)
Joel Rose, “Karen Dalton: A Reluctant Voice, A Voice Rediscovered” (NPR)