I BEGAN the endurance run of the Official Holiday Shopping Season (pause for laughter to die down) with what has become a Riley tradition: full-immersion Avoidance therapy by watching as much as I could stand of the Today Show "talent", aka NBC's Precision Shill Team, narrate the jaw-dropping spectacle that is the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Or up to five minutes, whichever comes first; it's always the former. I'm not sure when the Suits decided that the trio of Matt, Meridith, and That Weather Buffoon were actually embarrassing themselves more in ad-libbing parade coverage than they do on a daily basis at their regular gig--maybe somebody insulted a sponsor last year, which could only be accidental--but what I managed to sit through was a sort of three-part oratorio of teleprompter reading, except, of course, with lip-sync'd show tunes replacing the music. At one point--I wasn't watching straight through, but left it running in hopes I'd be subliminally hardened off--a giant motorized floral arrangement approximating a two-story guitar passed by, and the Meterological Clown read what gave every appearance of being Gibson's Mission Statement. That was it. John Pizzarelli was on the thing, and he might as well've been the Iowa State Fair Pork Queen. And the year's new Jumbo Helium Personalities and Impromptu Lamppost Relocation Program, introduced at the top with palpable artificial excitement, included beloved American Folklore figures Spiderman, Ronald McDonald, and The Pillsbury Doughboy. Your fellow citizens stand in line--I mean on line, sorry--in inclement weather, to have this shit hurled at them from all directions at once.
It didn't work. I don't really expect it to work. I have never felt indebted enough to my Creator to rush out and buy consumer junk. God knows Thursday didn't provide any football to be thankful for.
I skimmed headlines and read a few blogs and tried to avoid anything that would encourage me to write something. Which is how it is that I came to be reading that Brooks piece early Sunday morning, and only after Chris Vosburg tipped me to Roy's Voice piece. Just in case you think I should have been drawn there subconsciously, or by the aroma of white bread frying in oleo.
Now, however tardy, let's begin with what is usually the easiest thing to ignore about a Brooks column: his premise.
But on the night of Feb. 2, 1975, I turned on WMMR in Philadelphia and became mesmerized by a concert the radio station was broadcasting. The concert was by a group I’d never heard of — Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Thus began a part of my second education.
We don’t usually think of this second education. For reasons having to do with the peculiarities of our civilization, we pay a great deal of attention to our scholastic educations, which are formal and supervised, and we devote much less public thought to our emotional educations, which are unsupervised and haphazard. This is odd, since our emotional educations are much more important to our long-term happiness and the quality of our lives.
We'd give happy provisional assent to Emotional Education, provided you had written it when you were thirteen, not pushing fifty. This sort of thing is unseemly in middle age unless you make your living writing greeting cards.
Likewise, we'd have given you a pass provided your body of work included some hint that this tingly teenage epiphany meant something. Roy:
Brooks has no affinity with Springsteen's old-fashioned Democratic pro-union politics, and where the bard of Jersey shows affection for and identification with the mooks and mookettes in his songs, Brooks' view of people even a few small steps below him on the economic latter is almost zoological in its detachment.
This--unfortunate in a season of bounty and bonhomie--pokes our natural suspiciousness awake just as it had burrowed in for the season. I'm not sure which is the greater challenge: entering the mind of the 13-year-old who will remember the specific date of his first encounter with the E Streeters, or trying to figure what possible attraction The Boss could have for a nebbishy Chamber of Commerce apologist, apart from that moniker.
That date thing bothers me like a milk tooth on its last two threads. I guarantee you that pop music meant more to me as an early adolescent than it ever did to Brooks, and I was astonished to learn, with the publication of The Beatles Anthology, that their show at the State Fairgrounds was in September, not the August of my thirty-year-old memory. So, sorry, I'm not buying it as the short-pants, Frequency-Modulated version of his Road to Damascus encounter with Milton "Big Daddy" Friedman. Not without explanation. I kept a diary! I looked it up on springsteenobsessives.com! I'm actually an idiot savant! Something. The idea that the date has stuck in your head all these years because it was central to that Emotional Education you've shown no evidence of in your work just pushes you one rung up the creepy ladder, Dave.
I was in college that fateful night, and my closest circle of friends included several other music obsessives, so someone at this point had played Bruce's first two albums for me, and I was vaguely aware of the New Dylan buzz, or bullshit (it swirled around several Sensitive Singer Songwriters, including the unjustly ignored Elliott Murphy, before Time settled the issue). What was interesting about Springsteen at the time--and this is far from a thirteen-year-old's perspective, granted--is that he revived the Spector/Lieber & Stoller/Brill Building sound, which was being buried by the likes of Linda Ronstadt and the Doobie Brothers, and his lyrics were Smart Enough (If I wanted smart in them days, Dave, I read Pynchon or Eliot or Borges or Keats, and I got at least as much emotional education from them as I did from three-chord rock). The blue-collar ethos of his lyrics was the same, after all, as "Spanish Harlem" or "Under the Boardwalk".
Of course the dark tinge of the Drifters or the Ronettes probably failed to speak to Brooks' personal experience on a different level than how Springsteen's music doesn't. And young Dave was chasing emotional uplift, which probably put "He's a Rebel" and "Charlie Brown" off-limits. Okay, so maybe by '75 the hip radio stations (joke) Brooks favored ('nother joke) as a young liberal (you're probably sensing a pattern) didn't promise Oldies on the Hour!, but, what? he didn't hear the real Dylan? Why Bruce, at thirteen, when you could have waited a couple years and misinterpreted Elvis Costello or David Byrne?
Which brings us to the other side of the suburb: Brooks was a fully-fledged Reaganaut by the time the Gipper's people illegally appropriated, and totally misread, "Born in the U.S.A." You'd think that would engender a little sheepishness, wouldn't you? This apparently glosses over Bruce's power to evoke worlds Brooks knows nothing about, and portray them as filled to brimming with people who inhabit them while maintaining what Brooks has no reason not to imagine as a positive attitude. Provided, of course, that you maintain the tradition of not really listening, and you ignore whose boot is on whose neck.
What's the deal with Springsteen, anyway? Can't you find somebody who isn't so publicly on the other side? Elvis loved his mother. Sinatra became a Republican. Go pester Sammy Cahn for a while, huh?
By the way, $100 says Brooks can't name one Southside Johnny album without looking. On the internets, I mean; he's free to use his record collection or that diary.