Saturday, 14 July 2012

Springsteen, Sunderland, SXSW


Back in May I drew your attention to musicians' reactions to Sunderland City Council (allegedly) portraying gigs at the Stadium of Light as the logical culmination of their Music City policy. Whilst this might be so for the city's hotels and restaurants, it's obviously not for the musicians of Sunderland. Well, a couple of weeks ago, I went to one of the summer gigs there - well, I say, summer, there was fog rolling off the Wear! - to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.


I have long had a self-denying ordinance not to go to gigs in stadiums, which has stopped me seeing Springsteen, despite my love for his music. This is, of course, a love that has, at times, been a bit embarrassing to admit, but I know I'm amongst friends who see beyond any surface bluster or cheese. Trust me, this is seriously critically engaged work. I did have tickets in 1981 for a proper music venue, but the dates got rearranged and I had an O Level exam so had to miss it. (Today, I think I could survive with one O level fewer, but never mind.) Suffice to say, I still don't think football stadiums are meant for music, or music for football stadiums, but Springsteen can get away with it, as he was brilliant.


You can see check this for yourself by searching You Tube for Springsteen Sunderland Stadium of Light, where fans have, without any grant assistance whatsoever, created a weird kind of archive of the gig - as obviously happens at many other events. Admittedly that means a lot of shaky cameras, and some where the singing in the crowd is louder than The Boss, but this kind of folk-archive has its charms, although it's nothing to the being there in the moment. Many of the songs had a particular resonance sung in Sunderland - I can't help but hear 'Wrecking Ball' as a song that responds to the Tory coalition demolition, for instance - but 'The River', above, felt special in that place. Others, like the finale of 10th Avenue Freeze Out with a montage of Clarence Clemons on the screens, were just special period. 


I was reminded of Springsteen's keynote address to SXSW for NPR earlier this year, which I highly recommend you read and listen to here. It's at once a music education primer, illustrating the breadth of his influences - had I but time and world enough I'd make you a Spotify list of the people mentioned, from Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams to Curtis Mayfield and Public Enemy - a testimony to the power of music, and a set of recommendations to young musicians that are also useful for any artist, leader or indeed anyone: 


'Don't take yourself too seriously, and take yourself as seriously as death itself. Don't worry. Worry your ass off. Have ironclad confidence, but doubt - it keeps you awake and alert. Believe you are the baddest ass in town, and, you suck! It keeps you honest. It keeps you honest. Be able to keep two completely contradictory ideas alive and well inside your heart and head at all times. If it doesn't drive you crazy, it will make you strong.'

If you have time do listen to the talk as well as scan the transcript - the humour and passion come across better in the recording, as well as the romanticism.  Seeing the lyrics to We gotta get out of this place laid out like that reminds me they were operating just as Tom Pickard was getting going and made me wonder if they ever went to Morden Tower. It also makes me nostalgic for the days young people left the North of England because of the nature of the work their parents did, rather than the lack of work. That tension between escape and the nourishing confinement of roots is classic Springsteen of course.

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