Wednesday, April 27, 2016

They Say the Wind Made Them Crazy's "Far From the Silvery Light"

Photo by Ginger Berry
They Say the Wind Made Them Crazy is a collaboration between two of the most individuated artists to emerge from the small but hardy North Texas experimental music scene. (Denton's long been a hotbed, but currently, Dallas is supporting two regular performance series: Cody McPhail's monthly Dallas Ambient Music Nights, and Stefan Gonzalez's weekly Outward Bound Mixtape Sessions. And Fort Worth...lags behind.)

Vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Sarah Ruth Alexander has performed with a myriad of Denton-based improv and noise ensembles, as well as the progressive rock-influenced Cerulean Giallo. (I first encountered her singing backup with freak-folknik Warren Jackson Hearne and the Merrie Murdre of Gloomadeers.) Her solo work incorporates elements of "voice-as-instrument," storytelling, and performance art. Last year, she released Words On the Wind, a haunting and deeply personal meditation on a desolate place -- specifically, the West Texas farm where she grew up.

Guitarist Gregg Prickett is a member of the ritualistic jazz-rock trio Unconscious Collective. He was the last guitarist to work with titanic drummer-composer Ronald Shannon Jackson, who thought highly enough of Prickett's compositions to include two of them in the setlist for his last live performance. Prickett has played in numerous other groups, including black metal band Dead To A Dying World, Wanz Dover's garage rock outfit Black Dotz, and his own heavily Mingus-influenced Monks of Saturnalia.

The duo's inaugural release, Far From the Silvery Light, drops in June on Tofu Carnage, a label that understands The Romance of the Artifact, favoring heavy colored vinyl and deluxe packaging, with artwork by Ginger Berry that effectively conveys the label's aesthetic.

The music runs the gamut of human emotion, creating an atmosphere that's eerie, primal, and atavistic. While both musicians are classically trained, they're seasoned enough improvisers to use their technique to channel subconscious energies. It's thrilling to hear the sound of Alexander's voice so clearly -- both in its pristine state and with electronic embellishments -- outside the clamor of a large ensemble. Prickett matches her with shimmering arpeggios, bone-crushing distorted chords, and shuddering dissonances, the metallic clangor of his feedback and scraped strings matching her ululations and agonized shrieks.

The thematic content of this mostly wordless record relates to subjects the two artists have visited before in their separate endeavors: loneliness and isolation; mankind's loss of connection with the land and the human and animal spirits that inhabit it. The album's centerpiece is the sprawling, 16-minute "Comancheria," which can be viewed as a continuation of two Unconscious Collective songs named for different Comanche bands, and inspired by the different ways in which they responded to genocidal colonization by Europeans. When a narrative does intrude, it's in the form of two views of a confrontation between humans and animals, a text informed by the understanding that those who had a purer relationship to Nature often died by its violence.

Far From the Silvery Light is both a notable achievement for its creators and a compelling listening experience for those with adventurous ears.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Robert Bensick Band's "French Pictures in London"


Estimable indie Smog Veil continues their documentation of Cleveland's rock underground with this, the latest installment in their "Platters du Cuyahoga" series. As every Velvets to Voidoids reader knows, Robert Bensick was a principal in the early-'70s synth-based experimental outfit Hy Maya, and a catalyst in the budding Cleveland scene. French Pictures in London is the previously unreleased LP recorded under Bensick's leadership in 1975 by a unit that included future Pere Ubu members Scott Krauss and Tom Herman. (The formation of that band effectively scuttled Bensick's plans to tour the material.)

Bensick (b. Sandusky, 1950) was a Cleveland State University art student who'd drummed in Nuggets-era outfit The Munx before he developed an interest in electronic music, started circuit-bending analog stomboxes into primitive synths, and participated in eclectic jams that brought together advanced thinkers from Clevo's visual art and music communities. The songs on French Pictures in London describe various characters from that milieu. The album was recorded in a professional studio for A&M Records under a deal that subsequently fell through (perhaps because it lacked the commercial appeal of Bensick's friend and booster, ex-Raspberries frontman Eric Carmen). The circuitous path leading to its release, as well as the background and events that led to its creation, are detailed in Nick Blakey's meticulously researched liner notes -- some of the finest historical rockwrite to come down the pike in a few seasons.

By the time these recordings were made, Bensick had reinvented himself as a quirky pop singer-songwriter-guitarist who also played flute and ARP and EML synths. Absent fellow Buckeyes Devo's high concept, Ubu's dark undercurrent, or Tin Huey's zaniness, the Bensick Band's closest auditory analogs are the Canterbury bands, with whom they share both early (pre-fusion) jazz-rock proclivities and a penchant for lyrical obscurity. Bensick's not a strong singer, so he compensates with an arch and artful delivery worthy of Bryan Ferry or Russell Mael. Keyboardist Michael Hronek, who helped Bensick shape the arrangements, and future Ubu guitarist Tom Herman, whose wah-drenched leads predict Funkadelic's Mike Hampton, provide instrumental spice.

The songs flow together to form a seamless suite. Standouts include "Lilly White," with its brisk forward motion and tasty flute solos; "Night Life," in which an ominous fuzz bass ostinato gives way to instrumental explorations; "Muse," on which Bensick declaims over moody atmospherics; "Sweet Pricilla," with its haunting Mellotron backing; and "Doll," an orgy of synth racket and mock dementia. French Pictures in London is an intriguing introduction to a unique musical voice and proof positive (as if any more were needed) that '70s underground rock still hasn't yielded all its treasures.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Dennis Gonzalez at the Grackle Gallery, 5.14.2016

Since retiring from teaching a couple of years ago, Oak Cliff Renaissance man Dennis Gonzalez has had more time to devote to his visual art, which -- like his music and poetry -- finds beauty in realms of spirituality and the subconscious. His new musical project, Ataraxia, teams him with bassist Drew Phelps and tablaist Jagath Lakpriya, and they'll be performing at Grackle Art Gallery at 4621 El Campo in Fort Worth on Saturday, May 14, in conjunction with the opening of a show of his works on paper. Ataraxia's not a firestorm like Gonzalez's trio with his sons, Yells At Eels. Instead, it's a quiet, spacious sound that will lend itself well to the intimate setting of the Grackle, where Linda Little and Matt Sacks are making good things happen. Here's some audio from Ataraxia's debut performance at the Benbrook Public Library a few weeks ago:

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Ten things about Prince

1) When I was stationed in Korea, '82-'83, 1999 was just a notch below "The Message" and "Atomic Dog" among my anthems. When I got off the plane at Lambert Airport coming "back to the world," I kissed the tires of a red Corvette because of him.

2) Miles Davis had him pegged. Prince synthesized all the black music of his lifetime -- not just Jimi, Sly, and JB, but Little Richard, Marvin Gaye, and Smokey Robinson, too -- into an amalgam that was always distinctly his own.

3) He was also a better male Joni Mitchell impersonator than either Townshend or Rundgren.

4) No one else so defined the sound of the '80s. Those drum and synth sounds were ubiquitous. And he wrote, played, and produced everything on his records. No Quincy Jones and battalion of songwriters and studio cats needed.

5) Unlike Michael, who styled himself as a child, or Bruce, who was about as sexy as the Brawny paper towel guy, Prince exuded a polymorphous sexual vibe that scared the bejeezus out of people like Tipper Gore (which is part of the reason why I voted for Nader in Y2K, FWIW).

6) "Purple Rain" is the anthem of the '80s, hands down. It works as a gospel song, a rock song, or a country song. I used to think the strings at the end lasted too long. Now they seem just right.

7) The 12" mix of "Kiss" is the greatest funk jam the JBs never played.

8) He was the ultimate crossover artist. And in that sense, a creator of an inclusive community. We need more things to all agree on.

9) His concert on MTV was like Sly at Woodstock meets JB at Boston Garden -- some kind of ultimate R&B throwdown.

10) He was a Jehovah's Witness who gave back, quietly. More successful folks should follow his example.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Things we like: Don Pullen, Yves Theiler Trio, Tahiti with Doc Strange

1) Spurred on by my buddy Phil Overeem, I've gone on a dive back into the catalog of Don Pullen, a favorite ivory-tickler and, like my other fave, Jaki Byard, a Mingus alumnus.

Pullen first came to light in the mid-'60s with Giuseppe Logan, playing knuckle-busting clusters and glisses that elicited Cecil Taylor comparisons which Pullen claimed were unwarranted. After years in eclipse backing singers and playing in organ trios, Pullen re-emerged with Mingus in the early '70s and was part of the quintet with tenorist George Adams that recorded the two Changes LPs -- arguably the titanic bassist-composer's last great work. After breaking the seal on his solo career with the sterling Solo Piano Album on tiny Canadian indie Sackville, Pullen alternated challenging albums for Italian labels Horo and Black Saint (my favorite being the explosive Capricorn Rising quartet date with Sam Rivers and the ruminative solo Healing Force) with more commercial efforts for Atlantic (adding session guys on electric instruments and percussion, as was their wont with artists like Pullen, Don Cherry, and even Mingus during the fusion decade).

Through the '80s, Pullen co-led a quartet with Adams that also included Mingus' long-serving drummer Dannie Richmond until his death in 1988. In the late '80s, the group signed with the revived Blue Note label, and it was for them that Pullen recorded his last series of albums, at the helm of a trio and his African Brazilian Connection. Pullen's "late period" was characterized by elegiac lyricism, as heard in his compositions "Ah George We Hardly Knew Ya" and "Ode to Life," that could have been inspired by Adams' death in 1992 and his own 1994 diagnosis with lymphoma, which took his life the following year. Less astonishing than Taylor, as versatile as Byard (but less humorous), Pullen might just be the most consistently moving of the three.

2) The saxophonist Dave Liebman is reputed to have told Miles Davis, when Miles chided him for leaving the trailblazing early '70s Davis band to play styles that Miles had abandoned in the previous decade, "You might have played that music already, but I haven't." Or words to that effect. It's as good of a response as any to the periodic jeremiads one reads (particularly online, where complaint is the lingua franca) regarding the dearth of innovation in jazz since the aforementioned decade (which I find as odious as the periodic ancestor-bashing one also reads -- usually by jealous people with an axe to grind). But it needn't be so.

It's always a thrill to stumble upon a young musician, influenced by but not in thrall to tradition, who's managed to forge an original expression out of the old idioms. One such is pianist-composer Yves Theiler, born  Zurich, 1987, who leads a trio with bassist Luca Sisera and drummer Lukas Mantel on Dance in a Triangle, their second outing as a unit. As a leader, Theiler is confident enough to feature his men prominently on the lead-off track, "For Bass." Drummer Mantel is definitely a player to watch -- as likely to borrow ideas from his previous career as a hip hop DJ as he is to careen off into orbit like Tony Williams circa Filles de Kilimanjaro.

Theiler's compositions have the formal elegance of Herbie Hancock's, as well as more funk and grit than European jazzers often possess. For proof of the former, dip a toe in the title track, where Theiler plays electric piano; for the latter, dive into the mutant fatback R&B groove "Book of Peace." Theiler's technique is impeccable, but never flashy or showy, always serving the demands of the piece first. Every note he and his well-balanced group play demonstrates a rigorous musical intelligence.

3) Back when he was still with the group PPT, rapper-producer Tahiti was always threatening some big conceptual stroke. Their album Denglish, f'rinstance, was sort of a Daisy Age take on Swinging London, although its best moment was a song dedicated to Tahiti's mother. The group fragmented, with Tahiti and Pikahsso reforming under the moniker Awkquarius and becoming part of the creative team for the Trap House Youtube TV show.

Now Tahiti and another Trap House collaborator, rapper Doc Strange, have an EP, Sindrome, that's due for digital release May 31 on Sanction Records, the imprint of producer-engineer Ty Macklin's Alpha Omega Recording Studios. (Macklin also performs under the moniker XL7; Tahiti and Doc Strange both appeared on his 2015 single, "Don't Get It Twisted.")

Sindrome is nothing less than a 27-minute hip hop opera about alien abduction, replete with a no-fooling narrative arc, allusion-rich wordplay, an anti-hero protagonist ("Villan"), Dark Side of the Moon sonic signifiers ("Astounding"), outer space sex ("Making Love"), hubris ("So Special") followed by tragic denouement, with the hero in the hands of a government that seems more malevolent than the aliens ("Syndrome").

Most valuable players include guitarist-keyboardist Taylor Pace, bassist John Cannon (who died of cancer in 2015), and vocalist Shaniqua Williams. Standout track "What Is You?" dissects hip hop's (and America's) obsession with identity and ethnicity, with an insidious hook line: "Where I'm from, boy, I'll tell you / They'll walk up and straight ask you...'What is you mixed with?'" You might well arsk. (I'll post a download link when one is available, so watch this space.)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Roy Nathanson's "Nearness and You"

Roy Nathanson's a New York-based saxophonist who's co-led the Jazz Passengers -- whose music juxtaposes lounge jazz and freeblow -- with trombonist Curtis Fowlkes since 1987, after the two men played together in John Lurie's Lounge Lizards. The Passengers' work includes collaborations with Elvis Costello, Deborah Harry, and Little Jimmy Scott. Nathanson's also toured and recorded in a duo with pianist Anthony Coleman, and released Fire at Keaton's Bar and Grill, a concept album about a fire in a fictive nightclub.

Nearness and You, recorded during a June 2015 residency at avant-gardist John Zorn's Lower Manhattan club, The Stone, finds Nathanson performing in duos with various regular collaborators, alternating versions of the Hoagy Carmichael chestut "The Nearness of You" with spontaneous improvisations. Besides Fowlkes and Coleman, Nathanson's duet partners include Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra leader-pianist Arturo O'Farrill, guitarist Marc Ribot, and pianist Myra Melford (whose mentors include Jaki Byard, Don Pullen, and Henry Threadgill, and it shows). Trombonist Lucy Hollier, a student of Fowlkes', joins in on her composition "Ludmilla's Lament."

The tracks flow together like a seamless suite, or perhaps more accurately, like an ongoing conversation where different speakers interject at different times. Of the pianists, O'Farrill's the most rhapsodic (particularly on Carla Bley's "Ida Lupino," which makes me want to re-hear her '70s albums like Dinner Music and European Tour 1977), Coleman the most volcanic, Melford the most elegant. Ribot's pointillistic approach to the acoustic instrument on this date reminds me of the time I saw him cover Albert Ayler on solo acoustic. As a saxophonist, Nathanson's capable of lyricism, virtuosity, and rigor. He and Fowlkes complement and mirror each other the way Ornette and Cherry did. The expressive range of his playing on this set makes me want to hear more of his work.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Bruce Springsteen's "The River"

About ten years ago, my mother went missing for 23 hours at Christmastime. She was at the bank and called my sister to tell her she was coming right over. My sister lived about ten minutes away from the bank. Mom wound up traversing the state of New Jersey several times, turning around each time she encountered evidence that she was going the wrong way: New York City, the ocean, Philadelphia, the Delaware Water Gap. She turned up at a mall 60 miles from home, where she parked her car and walked around until she saw a guy using a cellphone and asked if she could borrow it to call her daughter. My sister wound up having to call the local police to arrest Mom, since mall security couldn't hold her. When she and her future ex-husband went to pick up Mom, they had to drive around the parking lot for hours because she couldn't remember where she'd left the car. I asked Mom later how she'd felt while she was driving around lost for hours. "It was fun," she said. My sister and I tried to make Thelma and Louise jokes, but only later did I realize the truth: Mom was Bruce Springsteen.

I was never what you'd call a Springsteen fan.

When his first couple of records came out, he seemed to me like a particularly loghorrheic Van Morrison imitator. Indeed, on songs like "Blinded by the Light" and "For You," the boy sounded like he was trying to recite the entire Manhattan phone directory. It didn't help that "Blinded" had been covered by Manfred Mann's Earth Band, who got the lyrics wrong and gave us the immortal "Wrapped up like a douche" to make fun of. And my freshman year of college, it seemed that every freshman girl owned the same two LPs: Greetings from Asbury Park and Piano Man. (I grew up on Long Island, so I'm entitled to hate Billy Joel.)

When Born To Run arrived, replete with "rock 'n' roll future" hype from Rolling Stone scribe Jon Landau (the man who eviscerated the MC5 in the studio when he produced their sophomore album), its Spectorsound-aping production reminded me of Christmas music. When I went back to visit my bad-acting college chums after I'd dropped out, I walked into my old drummer's room (the man who later talked me into moving to Texas, although he claims not to remember doing so) and found a copy of the album on his turntable. I immediately ripped it off and smashed it to smithereens as he looked on in horror. (Looking back, it's a wonder he didn't kill me.) Later, on the way to Texas, I pitched a traveling companion's Springsteen mixtape out the window somewhere in Mississippi (for which I have since apologized numerous times). Curiously, when the Clash hit the U.S. with similar hype from the same label a few years later, I accepted it without thinking. Perhaps by then I wanted to believe more.

The worm began to turn when I moved to Texas in June '78, the month when Darkness on the Edge of Town was released. Darkness got to me in a way none of Springsteen's earlier stuff had -- possibly because there was more loud electric lead guitar on it. And more yelling. The rush of "Candy's House," with its arcing "Heart Full of Soul" guitar break, was genuinely exciting. (A few years later, when Uncle Lou wanted to achieve a similar effect on a song called "Finish Line," he borrowed E Street Band pianist Roy Bittan for the session.) Some of the less verbose lyrics ("Factory" in particular) reminded me of people and situations I was familiar with. (Somewhere there's a tape I made with a guy I used to play in a band with, the first time I went back to Long Island to visit, where I'm attempting to play bass a la Entwistle on "Promised Land," and some song my friend wrote.)

In the fall of '79, I moved to Austin, and thence to Aspen, Colorado (the misadventure recounted in the London Calling post I wrote a few years ago). When I got back to Fort Worth in the spring of '80, my "music collection" consisted of two cassettes: the debut albums by the Pretenders and the Specials. I could have done worse. I lived in a duplex on Winthrop, off North University, next door to a couple of truckdrivers who were always offering me stuff they'd stolen out of their loads. The windows were all nailed and painted shut, and the only heat source was gas space heaters, which I believed would tip over and set the place on fire if I went to sleep with them on. So every night when it was cold, I'd put on every stitch of clothing I owned and shiver under the covers. When it got warm, I would have perished if Dan Lightner (bless him) hadn't brought me a rotating fan, which I'd sit in front of until I'd sweated out every molecule of moisture from my body, then get up and walk to 7 Eleven for more Gatorade, beer, and cigarettes.

For awhile I shared the place with a coworker whose wife would come to stay with him in the living room (their arrangement was complicated and I never did get -- or want -- the full particulars) and I'd have to tiptoe over them when I got home late. One weekend I went to Austin with a couple of buds and got stopped for a taillight in Waxahachie. Because our car was full of empty beer cans, I got arrested and my friends drove my car to Dallas. When I got sprung (by either Lightner or Charles Buxton; my memory is unreliable on this), I had to walk downtown from my apartment to the Greyhound station to catch a bus to Dallas to reclaim my car. I got home, went to the can, flushed the toilet, and immediately a geyser of water started shooting out of the toilet tank: life as a Jerry Lewis movie. Because I was too clueless to turn the water off, I managed to point the stream toward the bathtub, then walked to the pay phone around the corner to report my problem to my landlady, who said she'd send her son the next day (!) to take care of it.

I threw all of my belongings (it was still possible to do so then) in the trunk of my car and went to check into the Rio Motel on Camp Bowie, just down the street from the record store where I worked. When I got off work the next day, I went back to the duplex, which by that time was like a swamp. Water was still shooting out of the toilet tank and had overflowed the bathtub to the point where it was lapping at the living room carpet. At that point, I decided to kiss my security deposit goodbye and went and found an apartment at the Warren House on Las Vegas Trail near I-30. When my driver's license was belatedly suspended for a year-old drunk driving charge, my future ex-wife, who worked with me, would pick me up and take me to work (which necessitated extremely considerate scheduling on the part of our boss).

This lengthy story is relevant because when The River came out in September, it took up residence atop the stack of records I'd play on the turntable I'd bought for five dollars from Mike Woodhull when I moved into the apartment. You had to put a nickel on the tone arm to make it track, and I'd run it through my tweed Fender Deluxe -- probably how I screwed up the best sounding amp I'd ever have (my future ex-brother-in-law -- RIP -- would destroy it completely a couple of years later, when I left it with him "to repair" while I was stationed in Korea). I listened to The River as incessantly as I'd been listening to Arthur Blythe's Illusions, Captain Beefheart's Doc at the Radar Station, Gang of Four's Entertainment!, and Otis Rush's Original Cobra Recordings (and as much as I'd listen to the Clash's Sandinista! a couple of months later). And when Springsteen's tour in support of the album came through Texas, we caught him both in Dallas on November 8 (she drove) and in Austin the following night (I took her...on the bus).

Live, Springsteen really did "prove it all night," for three and a half hours on two consecutive nights. His exuberant presence radiated positive energy and drove his band and audience to peak after peak of excitement. Then he'd downshift and talk to the shed crowd as though they were in a much more intimate space, telling stories during the slow numbers like "Point Blank" and "Independence Day" -- the ones I loved best. When I'd seen the Clash, they played fewer slow songs than Springsteen, but also looked haggard by the end of their show. Springsteen looked like he could have done another couple of hours. Years of four-hour gigs in Jersey bars had taught him how to pace himself for the long haul. For that reason, I'd have to put Springsteen ahead of the Clash on my list of greatest-concerts-I-ever-saw. And that makes him Number One.

That said, I still don't listen to his records.

Even at the height of my Springsteen appreciation, I could see how, viewed from a certain perspective, he still sounded like a Van Morrison simulacrum, albeit one who was obsessed with driving his car at night. And on record, his singing -- a two-fisted, testosterone-infused roar that made the likes of Bob Seger and Mitch Ryder sound like sissies -- used to wear on me after a few songs. Plus, canned, you couldn't enjoy the camaraderie between Bruce and his band boys the way that you could onstage (although Clarence Clemons' Junior-Walker-on-steroids tenor sax and Steve Van Zandt's equally manly backing voice served to signify same on record).

I think the difference between Springsteen's mega-success under Landau's tutelage and the MC5's failure comes down to the fact that from the beginning, Bruce had a better idea of where he wanted to go than the Five did. Once he'd traded slumming fusion guy David Sancious for the aforementioned Roy Bittan, and original E Street Band drummer Vini "Mad Dog" Lopez (the name kind of says it all) for the crisp, professional Max M. Weinberg (who comported himself behind the traps as though Baker-Bonham-Mitchell-Moon had never existed, hewing to the rules as laid down by Earl Palmer and Hal Blaine), he had a band equal to his intentions.

His Big Idea was to use the structures of embryonic rockaroll and Brill Building pop as a medium to tell stories that addressed his great overarching subject: the struggle to maintain hope in the face of failure. Is there a more American concern than that? I think not, which is why I'd rank him as the greatest Meercun rocker of the '70s, in the same way Dylan was for the '60s and Elvis was for the '50s. ("Greatest" doesn't necessarily mean "my favorite." Pre-rockaroll, I'd rate Hank Williams, Robert Johnson, and Louis Armstrong as equivalent figures for their respective decades.)

I've been thinking about Bruce because he's in the news this week for canceling a show in North Carolina after they passed a law there making it legal to discriminate against transgender folks under the guise of "religious freedom." Springsteen -- who decades ago (after I'd stopped following his music) took John Steinbeck and Woody Guthrie as his models in standing up for the oppressed -- called bullshit and gave them a little taste of what his right-hand man Van Zandt once gave apartheid-era South Africa with "Sun City," because economic impact is something rat bastards understand. Plus, I still have the copies of Darkness, The River, and Nebraska that Mike Woodhull let me borrow before he passed last year (which I still need to return to his wife). So the time seemed right to listen, too.

Through more experienced ears than I possessed with the album was new, it's the melancholy songs on The River that ring the truest, as if Springsteen -- who was 31 when the album was released -- had started to figure out that the romance of "getting out of here" wears off when you realize that you take "here" with you wherever you go. The fun of the upbeat songs seems forced by comparison, which is almost the point. Still, you can't deny the pleasures of "The Ties That Bind," which roars out of the gate with a ringing 12-string that carries the song until Weinberg's "Ticket To Ride" fill on the bridge, neatly encapsulating 1965 in the same way as "Hungry Heart," "You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)," and "Fade Away" distill the respective essences of the Ronettes, Chuck Berry, and the Drifters.

The dark heart of the matter lies in one song on each of the first three sides, and 75% of the fourth side (which would be perfect -- if unremittingly bleak -- if you could substitute "Stolen Car" for "Ramrod" at the top of the side). "Independence Day" resonated the most for me when it was new, because it mirrored my own difficult relationship with my father. "Point Blank," a tale of desperation and despair, was the most arresting moment in both of the live shows I saw. The title track shattered every dream of the protagonists on Springsteen's first three albums, while "Stolen Car" depicted a man reduced to trying to get arrested to prove he was alive. Even with "Ramrod," the last three songs on the fourth side have the somnolent rhythm of a late night drive to nowhere. "Drive All Night" is the climactic tour de force, but then it's followed by "Wreck On the Highway," with its false ending and intimation of mortality. The vibe and subject matter of these songs would inform Springsteen's follow-up, the solo acoustic Nebraska, which he cut on a cassette recorder, giving it an even starker sound.

When I was young and still thought I had the world by the balls, I used to look at old burnt-out motherfuckers and wonder how they got that way. Now that I'm one of those motherfuckers, I know. It's called life.