Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Ten That Made Springsteen, A Career in 45s.

This will be an article in progress with additions coming in the following weeks. Bruce Springsteen has always struck me as the ultimate synthesis of American music. As the Magic tour rolls on I want to try and trace the roots of Springsteen's career by telling his story through a series of key 45s and songs. What you find here is the first entry.

1. Follow That Dream – Elvis Presley.

“Elvis is my religion. But for him I’d be selling encyclopedias right now”.

It is hard to determine when Bruce first saw Elvis. Bruce recalls it was a Ed Sullivan show but over the years it has become misty which show exactly. Most critics pin point it at the January 6th 1957 show. Al though this may very well be true, it was also one of Elvis’ least inspired shot from the hips up shows. If the Springsteens were regular watchers of the Ed Sullivan show it could very well have been the electrifying first show when Elvis came out with his full sexual powers. With his slicked back hair, his eye shadow and propulsive pelvis, Elvis was the right man at the right time. Popular consent pin points the birth of R&R at the rise of Elvis. The King was the one who’d bust it wide open. Critics may feel there was R&R before him, but nobody had the cultural impact Elvis had. The young Springsteen was awestruck at nine years old. He later recalled “When I was nine, I couldn’t imagine not wanting to be Elvis”. Bruce also made a vow for himself “When I first heard Elvis, I knew that I wasn’t going to work for anybody” he said later, “I was going to be my own boss”. Prophetic words indeed.

Elvis would bust it all wide open for Bruce. The King was his means for escape from the mundane lives his parents had created for themselves. Seeing his enthusiasm Adele bought the nine year old his first guitar. All though at the time that guitar was too big for his hands Springsteen would never let go again. Over his career Springsteen covered Elvis on more than one occasion. “I Can’t Help Falling In Love” was one of the staples during the Tunnel of Love Express tour in ’88 but one off Elvis covers are to be found through out his career, dating back to the earlier days of the E-Street Band and preceding. Although Springsteen would ultimately become more enamored with Phil Spector’s productions or operatic Rock & Roller Roy Orbison, without the King there would be no Boss. Many of Springsteen’s early stage theatrics and body movements were directly derived from Elvis, from the boyish tweaking eyebrows to his quivering lips and his uncontrollable body movement, Elvis was the spirit that possessed the Boss. Some may even feel that Bruce Springsteen became the one and only rightful heir to the throne, one of the few performers who made true on the promise of R&R.

How much the image of Elvis overlapped with his own would become apparent when Springsteen reworked Elvis’ “Follow That Dream” in the early eighties. With that song Springsteen suddenly makes it apparent how much of his own values are inspired by Elvis’ promise. “Follow That Dream” by Elvis is a 1 minute 39 “Promised Land” prototype. A vow that somehow seemed more solemn to Bruce, reflected in the slowed pace and preaching deliverance of Springsteen’s version. On the ’81 live version Bruce performs that song to sparse accompaniment, his voice starts out with a whisper but slowly climaxes before it climbs back to muted prayer. Springsteen first performed his version of Chuck Berry's “Johnny Bye Bye” in 1981, re-designed as a tribute to Elvis. One of the most gripping performances was delivered at a tribute concert for Vietnam veterans that year (download here). It was in that show that Springsteen slowly started to show his political and social commitment. Elvis stands as a reminder of the Big Bang of R&R in this show, a voice that gave generations a means of protest against the establishment. Maybe that's why Springsteen felt the urge to include the song in a show where he started to reveal his own political and social affiliations more outspokenly than he had done before. In the introduction to "Johnny Bye Bye" Bruce called the King "the biggest dreamer". The somewhat sombre lyrics Springsteen added to the original, especially, " Well bye-bye Johnny, Johnny bye-bye, You didn't have to die, you didn't have to die", might betray that Springsteen felt that Elvis ultimately didn't live up to his dream.

"Follow That Dream" - Elvis Presley
"Follow That Dream" - Bruce Springsteen
"Johnny Bye Bye" - Chuck Berry
"Johnny Bye Bye" - Bruce Springsteen

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