I listened to THE RIVER.
I had been feeling it for some time. The guitar sound on "The Ties That Bind" is
unique among Springsteen recordings, an announcement of the entire record’s statement of purpose. In 1979,
Bruce Springsteen decided that he would single-handedly keep Rock music alive and with the sound of his guitar on
"The Ties That Bind," he did just that. THE RIVER flows from
the past, informed by it, by The Byrds, The Beatles and Bob Dylan, by Stax/Volt, Motown, Mitch Ryder and
The Raspberries. The accomplishment of it is how completely Bruce and The
E Street Band assimilate these influences into a new and momentous occasion of both celebration and reflection. THE
RIVER is the record where Bruce Springsteen decided that, like John
Lennon, he would make Rock and Roll music say it all.
The honesty of feeling cuts deep. Whereas before he romanticized it for cinematic
effect, here it is heart-wrenchingly real. And it is the realness, the simplicity, the mundanity of these songs that
catapult them into our ears and our hearts with deep vitality. "I'll keep searchin' till I find my precious one..." "Ain't
nobody like to be alone..." "When I'm out in the street, I walk the way I wanna walk..." "They ain't gonna do to me what I
watched them do to you..." It’s as if only Rock and Roll, true Rock and Roll, as created by Buddy Holly, Elvis
Presley, Chuck Berry, and then developed by the greats of the 60’s, could fully convey the WEIGHT of the sentiments
and stories here. THE RIVER is the record where Bruce
Springsteen matures, the record where The Greatest Rocker Ever becomes a Real Man. As much if not more so than watching Bob
Dylan assume the mantle with BLONDE ON BLONDE, John Lennon wrestle it to his own devices with PLASTIC
ONO BAND, or Pete Townshend cut himself open with it on THE WHO BY NUMBERS, witnessing the coming of
age of Bruce Springsteen might be the most exciting experience in the annals of Rock history.
He had touched upon it with "Backstreets," and the amazing DARKNESS ON THE
EDGE OF TOWN, but with THE RIVER, Bruce let himself
drown in the naked intimacy of his own life and the lives of millions of others living in the United States, born and raised
in the ‘50’s, coming of age in the ‘70’s. With "Adam Raised A Cain," he plumbed the depths of the
painful relationship with his father, but the excavation was so intense it couldn’t help but be darkened by anger and
spite. The subsequent offering of "Independence Day" seems to dwarf its predecessor by conveying the same feeling, but this
time with more subtlety and an honest sense of heartache and resignation. There is hardly a more emotionally candid piece
of music than "Independence Day" by Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band.
And it winds on and on from there through three more sprawling sides. (Not to
mention the whole other album's worth of material he recorded during this time and shelved, so prolific he was - Check
out the TRACKS anthology from 1998, which contains no less than ten other quality
songs left off of THE RIVER, the most wonderful of which, "Take 'Em As They Come," "Loose Ends," and
"I Wanna Be With You," could easily have fit alongside "Two Hearts" and "Out In The Street.") But back to the issues
at hand: He can’t deal with the feelings of frustration and struggle within him, so he has to get out of the house
and strut ("Out In The Street") or drink some beers riding down the highway toward the beach ("Sherry Darling"), a regular
guy in the throes of the growing pains toward manhood. He knows the girl he loves has two kids and works a hard
job, seemingly without any real hope left in her heart, and yet he still wants to marry her. He knows he can’t
make all her dreams come true, but he wants to help them along. Again, the candid reality of "I Wanna Marry You" is so stirring,
you can barely move while hearing it. And framing this depiction of real life in the most audaciously sweet Phil Spector-esque
arrangement and production is an act of modern-day recording genius. It is with this incredible array of musical references
(along with those of Elvis Costello and The Attractions on Get Happy) that Bruce single-handedly kept Rock
alive in 1980. Never again was such pure Rock music conceived, recorded and released. Bruce himself never approached
the purity of these recordings again, and the work of acts like U2, Neil Young and Pearl Jam, while powerful in their
evocation of Rock, didn’t ever quite capture it the way THE RIVER did.
You can hear Dion, Dylan and Mcguinn, Otis Redding, Al Green, Del Shannon, Eric Carmen, ‘50’s
doo-wop, ‘60’s soul music and the hard rock of the ‘70’s all at the same time, all in the same
song. He would make it say it all. And he did. He made it SAY IT ALL.
THE RIVER is the
Last Rock and Roll record. And on those days when you especially need it, it may even be the Best.