Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Ten That Made Springsteen: 3. "Highway 61 Revisited" - Bob Dylan

"The first time I heard Bob Dylan, I was in the car with my mother listening to WMCA, and on came that snare shot that sounded like somebody'd kicked open the door to your mind" Bruce Springsteen 1988

The first Bob Dylan single Bruce heard was "Like a Rolling Stone", allegedly over the car stereo while riding with his mother. Springsteen was blown away by this voice from a man that according to his mother couldn't sing. Bruce knew different and ran out to buy the "Highway 61" album. It might be the tittle track to this album that arguably got to be more important over the years than the "Like a Rolling Stone" single release. "Like a Rolling Stone" was released in 1965, a little over a year after Springsteen's interest in R&R was rekindled by the Beatles. Bob's song gave him a totally new perspective on what R&R could be. Like so many other artists Springsteen suddenly realized that R&R could be an intelligent yet young and rebellious art form. The former folkie Dylan took R&R to a next level by plugging in, much to the dismay of his early fans. "Like a Rolling Stone" shot up in the charts to #2, stopped only by the Beatles "Help". Those two songs played back to back seem light years apart. Though it was little over a year since the British invasion had started the early singles of the Beatles suddenly seemed like relics from a long ago past.

Dylan would become an integral part of Springsteen's career for better and for worse Seven years after Dylan released "Highway 61" Bruce found himself auditioning for John Hammond. His bold and abrasive, some might even say offensive, manager Mike Appel had arranged the audition by a fair amount of hyping. It was in Appel's hype that Bruce's moniker as the next Dylan was born. A label that would hunt him for much of his early career. That label got enforced by John Hammond's history with Dylan, being the man who discovered the elusive word smith. Springsteen's own Dylanesque dense song writing didn't help either. Despite Appel's off putting ranting and raving Hammond saw a much better rounded artist in Springsteen than he had seen in Dylan when he auditioned the latter. Appel had challenged Hammond by snapping "So you're the guy who discovered Bob Dylan huh, well we want to find out if that was luck or if you really got ears". Springsteen played him "It's Hard To Be a Saint (in the city)" and "Growing Up". Hammond was impressed by what he heard and Bruce got signed as a folk artist even though he had been playing in R&R bands all this time. Years later Bruce admitted in Mojo magazine interview "it was a big, big day for me. I was 22 and come up on the bus with an acoustic guitar with no case which I'd borrowed from the drummer of the Castilles. I felt I'd written some good songs and this was my shot. I had nothing to lose and this was like the beginning of something".

Because of Bruce being signed as a folkie and him not yet knowing how to handle himself his quickly recorded debut "Greetings From Asbury Park" (sessions for the album only took two weeks) came out a little uneven. Even though critics raved, quick to slap the Dylan stamp on him, it was apparent from the get go that Bruce was something else, an artist in his own right. His wordy rants were much more cohesive and direct than Dylan's misty word play. Where Dylan would remain elusive, a trickster, through out his career, Springsteen immediately gave you a sense of himself. The song writing on Bruce's debut was much more autobiographical than Dylan's work would ever be, infused with the ballsy attitude that marked R&R. Springsteen's music was more akin to the artists who had traveled the Highway 61 than the album Bob Dylan created. Highway 61 was were Ike Turner wrote his first R&R song about an Oldsmobile "Rocket 88". Highway 61 was the route that future R&R stars such as Chuck Berry would take up North from Louisiana. Highway 61 was an integral part of R&R history long before Dylan put it into song. As such "Greetings" came out more as an album where Dylan and Berry collided. Bruce was cocky when he belted out lines as "I had skin like leather and the diamond-hard look of a cobra", but never as arrogant like Dylan could be. Springsteen's debut dealt with growing up, R&R being his weapon to battle the growing pains.

The music on "Greetings" and his much more matured follow up "The Wild, The Innocent & The E-Street Shuffle", bore a much stronger resemblance to Van Morrisons early solo records. Van's music was much more steeped in the same R&B Springsteen would tap in to than Dylan ever was. Though Dylan's "High Way 61" may have been the reason why Van left his R&B group Them to pursue a solo career and record the mystic "Astral Weeks". We know for certain that Bruce was a big fan of Them's "Gloria", which he often used in the seventies as an intro to "She's The One". Them was closer to home for Springsteen than Dylan. Them was a classic R&R band, much easier to identify to than the mysterious Dylan. Early in '74 Bruce even tried to distance himself from Dylan by claiming in an interview with Crawdaddy, "There was only a short period of time when I related, there was only that period where he was important to me, you know, when he was giving me what I needed. That's it". Listen to either "Greetings" or "The Wild" now and Van Morrison's "His Band and the Street Choir" seems a much more apt comparison than "Highway 61". I find it telling that Springsteen chose to cover a more Pop oriented song from Dylan in his set around that time. When Bruce was to play a radio broad casted show on February 5th 1975 (download the show here)he didn't pick "Highway '61" but stuck with Dylan's Pop gem "I Want You".

It wasn't until Springsteen managed to shake his next Dylan moniker by releasing his Roy Orbison and Phil Spector inspired masterpiece "Born to Run" he revisited "Highway 61" on his next album "Darkness On The Edge Of Town". The biblical imagery in "Adam Raised a Cain" and "promised Land" couldn't have come from anywhere else than the title song of Dylan's ground breaking album. Bruce was blazing down Thunderroad into that promised land, escaping his small town roots. His escape needed the bigger imagery of Dylan. By this point in his career Bruce could confidently tap into Dylan's type of imagery, yet give it his own distinctive stamp. The Dylan connection would only become more pronounced as his career advanced. Bob Dylan would be the doorway to introduce him to folk artists such as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. When Bruce joined the Amnesty International Human Rights Now! Tour Bob's "Chimes of Freedom" featured on the set in a trimmed down version and ultimately got released on the live charity EP by the same name. Bruce had started to tap into the bigger ideologies Dylan represented, much against the latter's own liking. Dylan had become, in his career, as much of a symbol of the rebellious sixties against his will as Springsteen got labeled the next Dylan when he started his. When Springsteen performed at a benefit for the Christic Institute (download the show here) , Bruce pulled out "Highway 61", performing it together with Jackson Brown and Bonnie Rait. Springsteen would perform "Forever Young" with Dylan in 1995, during a concert for the R&R Hall of Fame. Maybe the one song that captures the spirit of both artists and the essence of R&R.

They would again share the stage in 2003 during the closing night of the Rising tour at the Shae Stadium (download the show here: part 1 and part 2). Seeing how that tour rolled down the tracks while the invasion in Iraq started to unravel their performance, of two children from the Vietnam generation, got an extra dimension. History was threatening to repeat itself, with Bruce ultimately trying to assume the role that had been ascribed to Dylan in the sixties with the Vote For Change initiative. During this series of concerts Bruce would regularly share the stage with another big sixties influence and hero, John Fogerty (download a show here). Dylan would be present once more when Bruce hit the road with the Seeger Sessions tour, a series of shows heavily instilled with the rebellious nature Dylan represented.

"Highway 61" - Bob Dylan
"Highway 61" - Bruce Springsteen feat Jackson Brown and Bonnie Rait
"Jackie Wilson Said (I'm In Heaven When You Smile)" - Van Morrison
"I Want You" - Bruce Springsteen

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