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The thing about Bruce Springsteen that makes it tough for fans — and I’m a hard-core member of the club — to talk about his music or what he means to them as an artist is this:
At some point you’re going to sound like a big dork.
The adjectives get over-heated, inevitably there’s too much sharing about how deeply personal the relationship is to his songs and your life, and you end up saying something like “We’ve been friends since 1985 and he doesn’t even know me.”
The recently released on DVD Ridley Scott-produced, fan-based documentary Springsteen and I captures this dynamic perfectly over the course of its economical 75 minutes. Basically it serves as a big Boss Man Hug to his legions of fans even though Springsteen wasn’t directly involved in the production. (However, he endorsed it, his people helped provide great concert footage, and there is a bonus 15-minute snippet of him meeting some of the fans featured in the film.)
And a woman from Denmark really does say that she’s been “friends” with the New Jersey artist, even though they’ve never met. Even better, she means it.
Springsteen and I is filled with similar platitudes, but eventually they become charming and, much like the artist himself, sincerely heartfelt in their unvarnished hokiness.
The film’s gimmick is that the dozens of fans featured in Springsteen and I provided the footage themselves. Many of them were asked to use three words to describe the New Jersey rock icon, which is corny but heartfelt.
It’s impossible as a longtime fan — I first saw Springsteen in concert in 1978 and have seen him roughly a dozen times — not to think, “What would I say?” which is a bit cheesy. The reality is that I consider my emotional relationship with art a largely personal thing and am far more comfortable intellectualizing it than I am discussing how it makes me feel.
I’d also have to confess to a certain disappointment with Springsteen’s work over the past decade. While he remains a phenomenal live artist, his studio output for about 10 years has largely been dull. So my three words would probably be: “More guitar, please” or "More Nils Lofgren."
The highlights of Springsteen and I though help it become a genuinely warm film that captures the unique personal relationship he has with his fans. At the end of the day, his plain-spoken songs and longevity combine to create a body of work that seeps into the souls of millions of people.
One of the best scenes features a couple from Philadelphia sitting on a park bench eating cheese steaks. The guy is an Elvis Presley impersonator who Springsteen spontaneously called up on stage during a concert. The ensuing story — complete with several minutes of footage from the show — is hilarious and touching and involves a pulled hamstring, a crying wife, and the surreal experience of spending a few minutes fronting the mighty E Street Band dressed as fat, Vegas Elvis. The guy’s good, too.
A lovely vignette is provided by a middle-aged couple who are featured throughout the movie talking about their lives, and they really are like happier versions of characters from one of his songs. Near the end, they dance uninhibitedly to “Radio Nowhere” in their kitchen with big smiles plastered on their faces, which is touching.
This is Springsteen and I at its best. Sometimes it feels like the film goes to extremes to show that Springsteen’s music is still relevant, that young people really like him, and that he’s not a nostalgia act, none of which is necessary. The film also proves that there is some incredible concert footage in his archives that begs to be released as a music DVD. Included is Springsteen and the E Street Band plowing through garage rock versions of "When I Saw Her Standing There" and "Twist And Shout" during a London concert with Paul McCartney.
Peter Gabriel in his prime
Along with David Bowie, Peter Gabriel was undoubtedly one of the most visually important artists of his era — the entire '70s and '80s — and his concerts were legendary as theatrical exercises in intelligent excess.
A new DVD release from Eagle Rock Entertainment Live in Athens 1987 captures Gabriel at the height of his power in a beautiful show filmed in Greece. The set list is tremendous and includes brilliant versions of "Games Without Frontiers," "Shock The Monkey," "Don't Give Up," "Mercy Street," and "Solsbury Hill."
The showpiece song is "In Your Eyes," which features his opening act Youssou N'Dour and other African musicians sharing the stage with Gabriel and his powerhouse band in a performance that is a joyous release of rhythm and soul that will make your heart flutter with happiness. Gabriel is the master of making music that you want to watch.
As a bonus, this two-disc set includes 23 seminal videos, including "Red Rain," "Shaking The Tree," "Sledgehammer," among many others. Gabriel used the video era better than any other artist as a way to marry the worlds of high art and popular culture.
Contact Rod Lockwood at email@example.com or 419-724-6159.