Tag Archives: springsteen

Because The Night by Patti Smith

This is a wild, ragged love song by two of New Jersey’s finest. Co-written by Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen, and released by Smith in 1978, the song casts the bond between the two protagonists as both life-sustaining and all-consuming, both elixer and narcotic. The song captures the exhileration you experience tying your fate to another, and the conflicting sense of safetly and powerlessness this creates. It’s powerful, it’s bold, and it has one of the all-time greatest sing-along choruses.
I’m reading Just Kids by Patti Smith right now, which is just great. The stark images and inspired word choice that are hallmarks of her lyrics and poetry also show up in the book – so far it’s an amazing account of living in New York in the late 60s. The book is mostly about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, the controversial artist and photographer who was briefly Smith’s partner before he came out. Their friendship remained strong, she describes in the book, each providing support for the other during trying times. Their relationship maintained a sense of romance despite their attachment to others – it was much more than a conventional friendship.
I’m probably reading too much into this, but I think that this relationship with Mapplethorpe informs the verses to “Because the Night”. It makes for interesting suppositions, anyway. Here’s a couple versions of the song, by Smith and others.

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Jackson By Craig Finn

I’m just ten posts in, and I’ve already evoked Bruce Springsteen in about a third of them. While this may seem excessive (or just lazy) I would say that I’m refering to him because he is the most easily identifiable in a slew of artistists that attempt to capture an American heartland sensibility that, while I’m certain doesn’t really exist anymore, may never have existed at all. I say Springsteen, and you think immediately of character-driven narrative songs about small towns, the allure of the city, and the period in your life where youth slips into adulthood, sometimes without notice, sometimes painfully. He’s a storyteller trying to encapsulate some of the angst and uncertainty of his own generation and of young adulthood generally. His goal is narrative with an emotional connection – and this sets him apart from the crowd. His goal is not rock for the sake of it, or introspection-as-art, or experimental noodling. He lacks the self-conscious irony that so often just marrs my enjoyment of what might otherwise be a good rock n’ roll song.

He’s got contemporaries – Tom Petty, The Band, Steve Earle. And boy, does he have followers. Social Distortion, The Gaslight Anthem, The Constantines, and (now I’m getting to it) The Hold Steady.

The Hold Steady rose to prominance a few years after The Strokes “saved” guitar rock back in 2001. This is just speculation, but I think indie rock listeners had gotten tired of the wave of bands that followed in the footsteps of The Strokes – bands like Franz Ferdinand, Ima Robot, Interpol, etc, who were all haircuts and outfits and New York cool. The Hold Steady come from the midwest, and proudly. They mine the narrative song, but they do it a little differently. “There are nights when I think that Sal Paradise was right,” Craig Finn laments at the beginning of Stuck Between Stations from their record Boys and Girls in America, “Boys and Girls in America are so sad together.” besides beat literature, their songs are full of references to New American Cinema, national landmarks, and legendary musicians. They stitch these images into worlds that appeal to the consciously cultured youth, the sideways references making listeners feel as if they belong in the America that The Hold Steady sings about, and not the more depressing real one. However, other than being a little self-conscious, these songs brim with an honesty and optimism that was totally lacking in the New York rock revivial of the early oughts.

Later this month, Craig Finn is releasing his first solo record. In interviews, he’s commented that the songs are overall more personal, which is certainly a change for the songwriter who is renowned for telling complex character stories. Contrary to this claim though, Jackson off of Clear Heart Full Eyes (a reference to the show Friday Night Lights) tells the story of Jackson, Stephanie, and the narrator getting into hot water while staying in a hotel from August to November. This version is stripped down and acoustic, recorded in Craig Finn’s own house by The A.V. Club. The ominous repetative chords and the drone strings echo the foreboding in the lyrics. The song is both a confession and a denial of involvement, which is sort of evocative of the way people deal with “incidents” in a small town. In between verses that paint stark and vivid pictures( i.e., “Jackson was an actor, ‘least he was when he was well, Stephanie was good to me, not so much to herself”), Craig questions the listener in the chorus, “So why’re you asking ’bout Jackson? It was a long time ago, nothing really happened.” Without the full rock band of the hold steady behind him, it’s just Finn’s lyrics that get to shine, and they more than stand on their own.

There. I wrote the whole thing without mentioning Nebraska.

Craig Finn discusses and performs “Jackson”

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Asa by Bry Webb

Asa is a song for at Bry’s son. Carry on and play, he says, Let the day be long. Let the shadows grow to the end of the road. I will carry you home. He gets across the joy and beauty of new fatherhood so simply. On Asa, Webb shows us that even punks can be proud fathers. The emotion is raw, the writing direct. This is a simply a beautiful tune.

This blog was almost named after a Constantines song. When I was in high school, with no cable and dial-up internet in small-town Ontario, there wasn’t much by way of culture. Hungry for anything current, I used to get nearly all my cultural cues from Ben Raynor, who wrote about youth culture in the Entertainment section of the Toronto Star. On his recommendation alone, when my family made it into Guelph every couple weeks (there was no place to buy music in my town), I would buy CDs that I had never heard before. Some of my all-time favourite records come from this era of my life: Who will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? by the Unicorns, S/T by Cuff the Duke, You Forgot It In People by Broken Social Scene, and Shine a Light by the Constantines. There was excitement in hearing sounds and ideas that I had never heard before. This music was loud, experimental, and more than anything (to me) urban. This stuff was my escape.

In comparison, the suburban punk and nu-metal that was played ad infinitum in basements and at absent-parent house parties sounded so pale and rote. Distortion and shouting were par for the course, but seemed so paradoxically devoid of emotion. The Constantines were different. They used distortion to channel rage, anxiety, and pain. They wrote of modern masculinity, vacant posturing, and the death of rock and roll. Bry Webb shouted and meant it. Theirs was a mature, poetic anger that was triumphant and defiant, not self-centred and vapid like so many others.

Ten years later, the Constantines are gone. Bry Webb has moved (ironically for me) to Guelph, and has started a family. His new solo record, Provider (out on Idee Fixe) is all about fatherhood, marriage, and the next chapter in his life. This record retains the stark, vivid lyrics that defined his Constantines writing, but he places these songs on a sparse, atmospheric backdrop of pedal steels, acoustic guitars, and little else.

Critics often compared the Constantines to Springsteen, for their open-hearted lyrics and incendiary live shows. If that was the case, then this record is Webb’s Nebraska. Understated and haunting, this record finds the troubadour at full lyrical maturity, and he lets his voice stand open and naked, unencumbered by the Cons’ distortion and drums. As he opined on a recent Q interview – any wrong notes are right out in the open. This gives the record a very intimate and personal feel. However, Webb is cautious to abandon the punk spirit, which he says is more about economy and immediacy than about fuzz pedals and loud drumming. These unadorned arrangements, by that logic, are punk rock distillate.

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