Seeds

It occurs to me that in my post Reason to believe I demonstrably failed to deliver on my opening statement. Instead of explaining the why of my obsession with Springsteen, I really just told the how. I intimated that it was all jumbled up with my feelings about my girl and NJ, but that’s only part of the story.

What does Springsteen represent to me? On what level does his music inform me? How does his message impact me emotionally? These questions are at the core of my love for this prolific artist; this favourite son of New Jersey.

Now that I’ve reached my fifties, it would be fair to say that my tastes in music have undergone several evolutions over the years. My earliest memories are of my childhood in the sixties and those days were drenched in Sydney sunshine and the sounds of The Beatles. I had several teen aunts and uncles at the time and they were all huge Beatles fans. My very first trip to the cinema, at age five or six, was to see HELP with my teenage Aunty and my Saturday mornings were spent in front of the TV watching the Beatles cartoons. I guess they might qualify as my earliest musical obsession.

My transition into early adolescence was soundtracked by the likes of Kate Bush (definitely an obsession, musically and otherwise), Blondie and T-Rex. Later came a dalliance with pomp rockers Queen (I know, but hey, it was the times). My serious years were all about Bowie, Lou, Iggy and their illegitimate children New Order, The Smiths, The Cure, The Banshees. I even liked (and still like) the early U2 albums.

In my twenties, I formed a band of my own, but that really didn’t go very far (if I’d had the benefit of Springsteen’s influence then, maybe my songwriting would have been better).

I was aware of him in those days, but his entire output had been tainted for me by the stadium rocker Born in the USA and the sappy (or so I believed at the time) Dancing in the Dark.

I’d always loved I’m on fire and The River, but considered them nothing more than anomalies. I should have dug deeper, I’d never even heard Born to Run.

Over the years; the wage slaving, child rearing, house buying years, I kept astride of the music that was coming out. I loved Nirvana and Radiohead, Pulp, Blur and Massive attack.

I should point out there was a whole slew of Australian bands* I also got into; Nick Cave, The Saints, The (early) Models, The Go Betweens, The Triffids, Hunters and Collectors. And later Something for Kate (Paul Dempsey of SFK is the only Australian artist I would put on a par with Springsteen and Bowie).

So that’s my musical lineage. It will disgust some and delight others, but it’s mine and I’m ok with it. Where then does Springsteen fit in? What is the quality that has, over recent years, raised him up so high in my estimation?

It’s the passion; the unwavering passion. And it’s the way he conveys that passion through songs that can make a grown man weep. Strong songwriting has always been a lure for me, but with Springsteen, there is often so much in between the lines that it’s almost what he doesn’t write that is what grabs you by the throat.

It takes a consummate craftsman to say so much in the spaces. If you want examples of what I’m talking about, I suggest you listen to The Wall, You’re missing, Into the Fire or If I should fall behind. Each of these tracks have brought me to tears at one time or another. I don’t mean to imply that sadness is the emotion at the core of all these songs; sometimes he makes you weep with joy or sheer empathy for others.

And empathy seems to be an important word here. Springsteen’s music just resonates with it. Even in the times when his actual life seemed devoid of empathy for others, his music never did. That’s a rare gift.

And there you have it. Perhaps I have rectified the lapse in my previous post here; perhaps not. Maybe you’re none the wiser. It’s a tricky thing explaining how something as delicate as music touches an individual soul. Maybe it’s beyond my meager skills as a writer. I’ll leave it for whoever reads this to make that call.

 

*One of the things that really impressed me about Jersey Girl when we first began, was her familiarity with so many of my favourite Australian bands. She had followed nearly all of them in her college days.

©2015

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6. The Promise

 

Haven’t I told you, girl, how much I like you
I got a feeling that you like me too
well if you hold me tight
we’ll be riders, girl, on the night
Ooh, I want a rendezvous

~ Springsteen, Rendezvous.

 

As I walked towards her, all my rejection neuroses were in full play. After all, her first real sight of me was coming hard on the heels of a thirty-six hour flight from the other side of the planet. I was dehydrated, exhausted and, well, gross, just gross.

She on the other hand, despite her own sleepless night, was a vision. What’s that Springsteen song, Girls in their summer clothes? Not a favourite, but I know what he was getting at. She was wearing one of those summer frock numbers that leave little to the imagination, her hair a shock of very blond, blond. On some people that might conceivably make for a trashy combo; not on her, Jersey girl is class all the way.

I dropped my bags and we embraced. I couldn’t believe I was holding her after so many months. We were saying things to one another which neither of us were really aware of. It was a beautiful confusion. So I just kissed her.

I’d like to tell you she kissed me back, but she was almost paralysed with fear. To be honest, in those first moments I thought all my worst terrors were coming true. Holy shit, she thinks I’m hideous. Oh my god, I’m here for three weeks and she hates me… You know the kind of thing.

We still had the room until ten am and I was in desperate need of a shower and a bed for an hour or two before the drive to Jersey. We walked arm in arm to the hotel and, if anything, she seemed even more withdrawn than before. I was almost convinced now that she hated everything about my physical self.

*                                           *                                           *

Three hours later the world looked very different (in every way in my case).  I had shed the grime of travel and caught a little shut-eye. Now we were driving through Jersey on a beautiful summer’s day and I was seeing sights my eyes had never before beheld. I always love that feeling of everything being brand new. I was sitting beside my true love and all that tension and fear was gone; just blown away.  There was only the knowledge that I would be spending the next three weeks* with this amazing woman.

We chatted and laughed all the way back to her place. Now that the initial terror had faded, it all felt as easy and natural as it always had in our hours long conversations on Skype. Can you imagine what it’s like to be with your love for the very first time and yet know them so fully? I was sitting beside my best friend in the world; the only person who has ever truly known the real me, and yet, I was still exploring the planes of her face as we drove, still discovering the way her body moved as she talked.

My smile was a mile wide.

 

 

*Due to a plane crash at San Fran Airport on the day I was scheduled to depart, it ended up being closer to four weeks.

 

©2015

I Will Possess Your Heart

 

So why the Springsteen obsession? Well, that’s a somewhat convoluted story. It probably began with my first visit to NJ. It’s hard to spend any time in the Garden State and not have that name constantly invoked wherever you go. Springsteen, in Jersey, is ubiquitous.

Don’t get me wrong, I already quite liked his less overtly bombastic stuff – by bombastic I’m talking more Born in the USA than say Born to Run – and I remember being pretty impressed by the maturity of his solo work in the nineties. However, it was spending time on his actual home turf that began to awaken something deep down inside me.

Then, along came something really unexpected.

Melbourne band Pony Face had been hanging around the periphery of my musical awareness for years. In 2008 (or thereabouts) I’d heard their single Warning bell and had found it genuinely intriguing. However, I didn’t really hear too much from them again after that and then – after my personal life took a few dramatic twists and turns – I just sort of forgot about them for a bit.

Had I bothered to go out and buy their album  Bearded little girls back then I would have discovered two tracks in particular that were later to become very important to me. The first was the gorgeous original, Sea and the dunes and the other was an extremely atmospheric cover of Springsteen’s  Nebraska (a song I was completely unaware of at the time).

Fast forward to 2014. I’m back in Melbourne after my third trip to Jersey and missing the hell out of my girl. I just want to be where she is, I just want to be home. On a whim, I decide to see if I can find out whatever became of that band with the longing in their music so in tune with what I’m experiencing in that moment.

I go online and quickly find a video on YouTube for their track Open all night. I have not the slightest clue that this is a Springsteen song, but it mentions New Jersey and my ears prick up. A Melbourne band singing about Jersey, what are the odds?

Pretty good as it turns out because unbeknownst to me, Pony Face – that intriguing band from years gone by – have recently released their own reinterpretation of the Nebraska album…the entire thing.

Of course, I have to go back online and find out what the Nebraska album actually is (I know, I hate me too), but once I ken the Springsteen connection, I get pretty interested.

I listened to that album pretty much nonstop for a month and then downloaded Springsteen’s original… then all his other albums. And, well, that was it really; obsession.

I knew I was never going to turn back again after that.

Once you’ve heard The Wild and the Innocent from start to finish, you’re not walking away.

Then, on my fourth trip back, Jersey girl and I spent a long summer’s afternoon in Asbury Park and that was really all she wrote Bob. It didn’t help that just four nights before; the man himself had played an impromptu two-hour set with his old pal Joe Grushecky at the tiny Wonder Bar.

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There was something about knowing that it’s possible to go out for a drink in Asbury and end up within sweat-spray distance of Springsteen in full bar mode that kinda put the seal on it for me. In that moment’s realisation, Springsteen, Jersey, my girl and my future all got rolled up into one big ball of possibilities. The spell was cast. The music was here to stay.

Life was never really going to be quite the same again.

 

 

Words and image in this post are my own.

©2015

5. Come tomorrow

Arrivals and departures
Yeah, we know them so well
Oh, from sleeping and dreaming
On the baggage carousel

We know every step and every crack
Every scene leading to the final act
Every comic trick

 Circling back, back, back….

~ Something for Kate, Washed Out to Sea

The course of true love never runs smooth. This came home to me upon my arrival at San Francisco International Airport. I had not been in the US more than ninety minutes and already my trip was to be delayed by ten interminably long hours.

From the moment my journey had begun, I was beset by delays. The late arrival of my flight from Melbourne in to Sydney had delayed the departure of the international leg by just long enough that, by the time I’d passed through the excruciating immigration checks at San Fran, I had missed my connection to Philly. The earliest replacement flight the airline could get me on was not until late evening and it was currently ten in the morning; groan.

My planned arrival at Philadelphia Airport, where Jersey girl was waiting for me, had been around ten pm on Friday night. Now I was going to be touching down around five am on Saturday.

Fortunately, we’d booked a hotel room at the airport as we’d suspected neither of us would probably sleep a wink before our big moment – true in both our cases as it transpired – so at least she had somewhere comfortable to wait (or restlessly pace).

I, on the other, hand spent those lost hours wandering aimlessly around the alien environment of San Fran Airport (I’m exhausted just thinking about it now). I should probably mention I don’t sleep on planes…at all. By the time I shuffled down the concourse at Philly towards those doors of no return, I’d been awake for over thirty-six hours (longer if you count the near sleepless night I’d had before setting off).

Anyway, in due course, I did indeed step through those doors (the ones with the sign that literally reads “you cannot return through these doors”) and there she was …n’t?

I found myself in another corridor – devoid of life – and no Jersey girl. Hmm. Nonplussed, I decided to track down the baggage carousel. Perhaps she was waiting for me there?

No, as it turned out, but my bag popped up on cue and so, feeling lost, but frankly too exhausted to get a real panic going, I schlepped, zombie-like, back to the corridor I’d originally expected to find her in.

And there she was.

There.

She.

Was.

©2015

Because we can…

 

I guess there are probably still a few people out there who are unaware that Because the Night was originally a Springsteen composition. Written during the Darkness on the Edge of Town sessions, he considered it outside the purview of the album and gave it away, half complete, to Patti Smith. She immediately saw its potential, reworked it, and  it became her only major chart success.

In later years, Springsteen reclaimed the song somewhat. Here is a fairly spirited rendition featuring guest vocals from REM’s Michael Stipe.

 

4. Meeting across the river

Now some may wanna die young man
young and gloriously
Get it straight now mister
hey buddy that ain’t me
‘Cause I got something on my mind
that sets me straight and walkin’ proud
And I want all the time
all that heaven will allow

~ Springsteen, All that Heaven Will Allow

I’d thought my days of globe-trotting were behind me. I travelled quite a lot in my youth (even did the Australia to England trip by ocean liner when I was a child), but it had been years since I’d left Australian shores. Then she came along.

If you can judge how much you love someone by how far you’ll go just to touch their skin, then I think it’s fair to say I was deep in it. We began to speak of meeting almost from the very start. It was going to have to be me who made the trip, she had three kids still in school while my son was nearly an adult and pretty self-reliant with it.

And so that first grand odyssey (very Homeric it felt to me) was willed into being. I lined up three weeks of my vacation time and booked the tickets. It was going to happen. That’s when the real fear kicked in for both of us. It was actually and undeniably going to happen.

You have to understand, we’d had over a year of intense communication, every single day. We felt like we knew everything there was to know about each other, but there was still a huge elephant in the room. Would the physical chemistry be there? It wasn’t so much about sex, it was more basic than that.

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Human attraction has very little to do with what we say or how we look. Sure, looks play their part, and personalities need to gel, but when two people are in each other’s proximity there are a million other forms of seduction going on. A smile, a blush, a dilation of the pupils, even the way a person stands whilst talking; all are signals to be received and processed.

Then there are the scents and pheromones that weave and entwine in the air between two bodies. And somehow, in all that amorphous mess of nonverbal contact, declarations are made, agreements are reached and relationships are born.

We’d skipped that part entirely. Now we were going to have to do the make-up test.

 

Words and image are my own.

©2015