' ' Cinema Romantico: My Current Favorite Bruce Springsteen Song 'Ever'

Friday, September 07, 2012

My Current Favorite Bruce Springsteen Song 'Ever'

--We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming because I am seeing Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band tonight at Wrigley Field and, thus, to celebrate typed up a big bunch of words I've been meaning/needing to type up for some time now. As always, my advance apologies.

In the last 7 years or so there is one particular Bruce Springsteen song that has essentially morphed into my "favorite". No, it's nothing he's recorded in the 00's, but neither is it anything from what one might term Springsteen's "classic period". The song I'm referring to was recorded in September of 1992 and wasn't even officially released on an album in the United States until five years later. The reason for that stunningly massive delay, I think, is because the song to which I'm referring was one recorded with what Springsteen fanatics have derisively termed "The Other Band" - which is to say, the band that replaced The E Street Band after Bruce disbanded them.

The Other Band
"Living Proof" was a song about the birth of Bruce's first son. "In his mother's (i.e. Patti's) arms / Was all the beauty I could take." And when you consider the period into which this song would have been released, five and six months, respectively, after Nirvana's "Nevermind" and Pearl Jam's "Ten" broke, is it any freaking wonder why Bruce's popularity fizzled out in the 90's? In the era of grunge (sorry - just using it as shorthand) here came The Boss, five years removed from his last album, singing what amounted to a gospel song with electric guitars about his newborn child.

Bruce really never plays "Living Proof" with The E Street Band, as evidence by this Milwaukee show from the last tour during the portion of each show where he took requests from the audience for older tunes. "Oh man, they don't know it," he actually says. And I think this is because something raw, spiritual and unrepeatable was captured that night in September 1992, no matter how much anyone wants to knock the "Plugged" album and/or The Other Band.

On the actual "Lucky Town" album, the song is noticeably timid and threadbare. Bruce cut it quickly, playing all the parts himself aside from drums and, damn, does it show. For this reason, and others, it has always been my least favorite Springsteen album. On record, the drums are like flat pop. The bass is barely there. The guitar sounds like some bored session player.

The Other Band was comprised of Shane Fontayne on rhythm guitar, Tommy Sims on bass, Zachary Alford on drums, and the lone E Street holdover, Roy Bittan, on piano and synth. Fewer people in the Springsteen Fanatic Universe have taken more shit than Alford. Some will tell you Bruce didn't even like the guy, though there is absolutely not one shred of even remotely credible evidence that suggests this, but the majority of Alford-bashers will tell you their primary problem with him is that he played off the beat. Did he? I honestly have no idea whatsoever. I'm not musically savvy enough to know. I know that Dave Marsh, who has written more about Springsteen than any 500 people combined, has said Alford played "behind the beat" and Max plays "on the beat" and that this difference is what people hear and what they don't like. I know that Springsteen's original E Street drummer Vini Lopez also supposedly played off the beat, though Springsteen fanatics prefer to call that "eccentric" whereas they prefer to just say Alford "sucked."

All I can tell you, dear readers, is that I love Alford's drumming on this particular version of the song more than metaphors, even if it is "off the beat." It sounds to me a like a relaxed but steady pace that makes the centerpiece of its whole riff the insistent snare drum - the snare drum sounding off again and again as if it were the congregation shouting "Amen!" to everything the preacher (Bruce) says. And because his fills are few and far between that means when they do come in they are like ecstatic exclamation points. Sims' bass, meanwhile, forming the groove with Alford is also different from E Street bassist Garry Tallent. Tallent never much likes to stand out, founding the song and then staying out of the way, like the framework for an ultra-sturdy, non-showy split level home that will stand forever. Sims' bass, however, is quite clearly there, like the framework of a Frank Lloyd Wright house, finely built but reveling in wild and lovely flourishes. Some of his notes on this version are so wonderful they'll make you "Woo!" out loud. Fontayne's guitar works in perfect rustic harmony with Bruce's (even if there is one horribly awkward moment in the video below during Bruce's solo where you can practically see him trying to will Fontayne into being Little Stevie and then realizes it's just not gonna happen) and Roy's synth that arrives at the tail-end sounds like the rain Bruce references in the final verse.

As you can likely tell, I have listened to this song a fair (insane) number of times and in many locales and in many situations. I have discovered and poured over pretty much every nook and cranny of it and yet, improbably, I'm still not tired of it. After 7 years I still can't get enough of it. The Other Band isn't The E Street Band. And I'm glad they're not The E Street Band. They shouldn't have needed or wanted to be The E Street Band. They made this. It won't be duplicated. It can't be improved. It's perfect. As such a stout believer in serendipity I'm almost inclined to say Bruce had to break up The E Street Band solely so it could be created.



Unknown said...

I dig "Lucky Town" with that band. Fantastic song from Bruce... one of his very Best !

Nick Prigge said...

Very true. They knocked "Lucky Town" outta the park too. Thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

Great live performance. Bruce Springsteen also did this song on SNL in 92. Arguably the best live performance on that show ever imo.

Annie said...

Love the plugged album made in 92
....would love to hear more of this "other band"

Annie said...

I could not play this song