Friday, January 22, 2010

No Retreat, Baby, No Surrender

"I can’t do it, Jon.” Bruce was clearly agitated as he burst into his manager’s office.

“Can’t do what Bruce?” Jon Landau raised his head from his cluttered desk. He had been looking at promotional material for the new album – ad copy, mockups of covers. He liked the look, the giant American flag as a backdrop. He just couldn’t decide whether he preferred Springsteen’s back to the audience or the action shot with Bruce’s right arm suspended in the air, about to drop a Pete Townshend-like windmill on his guitar.

Nervously, Bruce rubbed his hands on his faded black jeans. He would have used his sleeves, but management had liked him in sleeveless shirts. After they encouraged him to work out, they wanted him to show off his newly toned body.

“It’s not right to release the record.”

“Bruce, we talked about this. Putting these songs out with synthesizers in a modern setting will help to grow your audience and get the word out. You agreed to that.”

“I know I did, but I was talking to Bob Dylan and…“

"Oh shit. Why were you talking to Dylan?”

“Yeah, well, you know, Bob means a lot to me. I wanted his advice.”

"What the fuck? I mean, Dylan was great in his day, but what can he tell you now? I hate when you talk to him, you get like a little kid.” Landau took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes.

“He knows, man. He made me feel irresponsible if I let out an album I was unhappy about. He’s right you know.”

“Don’t you want better sales? Don’t you want to be huge?”

“I know this - I don’t want to sell myself short, that’s the worst thing I can do. This record’s not what I thought it would be. Bob said, "Jesus said ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven.’ He’s right.”

“Who, Bob or Jesus?” Landau said mockingly.

“Both actually. I don’t need bigger sales. Didn’t Nebraska sell well? Plus, it was the simple truth, tunes about real life, real people. I’m not Boy George, you know. I don’t need to be a hit factory.”

“Boy George? Who said you’re Boy George? I never said you were like Culture Club.”

Bruce laughed, remembering. “Bob said something about ‘Church of the Poisoned Mind.’ I didn’t even think he knew the new stuff, but he’s amazing, he knows everything. Bob said-"

“Bob said, Bob said. I don’t give a shit what Bob said. Listen to what I’m saying. Have I ever steered you wrong. Didn’t “Hungry Heart” go Top Ten after I sped up your vocals?”

“It did but I sounded like Mickey Mouse. I hate that record and the fact that people paid money for it made me feel worse.” Bruce scratched his head, pulling off his purplish bandanna. “And I hate wearing these fuckin’ headbands!”

“OK, what’s really the matter here?” Landau suspected there was more to it than just Bob fucking Dylan telling Bruce some born again crap to make him change his mind.

“I’ll tell you. I’m really worried that these songs will be misunderstood if the words are surrounded by pop music. At first I was on board, but now I’m not so sure. You think ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ is going to work? A song about this guy, fought in ‘Nam, his brother died, he has no hope, no more faith in the American Dream, nothing. With that chorus, man, you’re gonna get the kind of people who voted for those bastard Republicans and Ronald Reagan and they’re gonna make it some patriotic anthem. I don’t want that.”

Landau raked his hands over his balding head. What the fuck? It was all planned out, this record was going to explode, a balls out rock album after that Nebraska mess. Hell, that album made you want to kill yourself! It totally sucked the air out of the momentum that we got from The River. But it’s Bruce’s call, right, that’s how it’s always been. What can you do?

“Are you sure this is what you want to do Bruce?” Landau asked one last time, hopefully.

“Yeah, it’s got to be that way. Man, I’d go crazy if it came out as a rocker. It’s got to be simple, stripped down. That’s how I want it.”

“OK, OK. You’re the Boss, right?”

“Sure, Jon, I’m the Boss. You’ll take care of it?”

“I got it, I got it,” Jon answered with a wave.

Bruce left the office. Landau looked down at the covers. Oh well, I guess we’ll go back to depressing black and white.

Jon picked up the phone to call the record company. They weren’t going to like this one bit. With the dial tone in his air, Landau swept aside all the red, white and blue pictures and put his head down on his desk, waiting for the screaming to start.

Sprung from songs created during the 1982 recording of the spare Nebraska, Born in the U.S.A., was released on June 4, 1984. Though Springsteen and Landau agreed on a contemporary sound, Springsteen was concerned that the messages in the songs would be misunderstood in a modern musical setting. He was right. After attending a September 14 Springsteen show, conservative columnist George Will wrote a column citing Bruce’s “elemental American values.” Soon, Reagan himself was adhering to what he called, Springsteen’s “message of hope and making dreams come true.” Ten years earlier, with Blood on the Tracks on the verge of release, and original pressings already housed in their covers, Bob Dylan pulled the disc and re-recorded it to his satisfaction. Born in the U.S.A. sold over 20 million copies.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Hand of Fate

The phone rang at Bermondsey, The Rolling Stones’ rehearsal studio in South London. Ian Stewart of the Stones loved The Small Faces, couldn’t get enough of them really, and set them up here. Actually, they were the ex-Small Faces. After a number one album in the UK, lead singer Steve Marriott had bolted and the remaining members, Kenny Jones, Ronnie Lane, and Ian McLagan had reached out to their pal Ronnie Wood for help. Trying to find their way they’d made camp here, drinking the nights away while jamming with their new guitarist, who had just stepped out for a smoke. They sounded rough and wonderful, sort of a poor man’s Stones, if you will. They just needed a singer. Woody’s pal Rod Stewart was at Bermondsey as well, on the upper floor, lying on the floor in a listening room, refusing to come down. Strange bird that Rod.

Brrrinnnggg! Brrrinnnggg! Brrrinnnggg!

“Anyone going to get that?” Jones wondered aloud.

“Alright, I will,” huffed Lane. He laid down his bass, almost toppling the half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels by his chair. He bent over and steadied the wavering bottle, wobbling as much as Lane himself. Neither fell down. That settled, Ronnie went to pick up the receiver.

“‘Ello, who is it?”

“Is Ronnie there?”

“This is Ronnie, who’s this?” he answered, slightly slurring.

“Ronnie, it’s Mick. Listen, we were just thinking whether you would you want to join our happy family?”

“Mick, who?” thinking it was Jagger, but willing to take the piss out of that nonce.

“Jagger, Mick Jagger.” A bit miffed now, not used to be addressed with such obvious derision. Maybe Keith was wrong about this bloke.

“Hmm, tempting mate, tempting. Well we are working here, trying our hand at a few numbers, but, the Stones, well, there’s nothin’ bigger than that, is there?

Jagger laughed. “I suppose not, I suppose not. So, you’ll mull it over?”

“I think I would fancy that, sure. Better birds, better drugs, right?”

“True for sure. Well, let’s get together with Keith and discuss this further.”

"Fine, fine. So, tell me then, why is Bill leaving the band?”

“Bill?” Jagger asked, now confused. “Bill Wyman?”

“Of course Bill Wyman, you prat. If I’m coming on as the new bass player it’s obvious that the old bass player would be gone, am I right?”

A long silence. “Is this Ronnie Wood?”

“Nah, you twit, it’s Ronnie Lane. You want Woody?”

“Umm yes, actually, I was wondering if Woody would want to join the Stones to replace Brian. We’re going to give him the sack. Is Woody there?”

“No, no, Ronnie is not here. Ronnie would not like to join The Rolling Stones. He is quite happy where he is, thank you very much.”

"Can you tell him I called?” asked Mick, suddenly quite unsure of himself.

“Oh, of course darling, of course. I’d be happy to mention that you rang.”

“Thanks Ronnie Lane. Frightfully sorry about the misunderstanding.”

Lane put down the receiver and rejoined his mates, still playing around with Dylan’s “The Wicked Messenger.”

“Who was it?” wondered McLagan.

“Nobody, wrong number I think,” answered Lane.

Just then, Wood walked back in. “How’s everyone doing? Did I miss anything interesting?”

“Not really, Woody, not really,” said Lane. “Ready to play with us a bit more?”

Wood turned to the drums. “Hey Jonesy, why don’t you go upstairs and get Rod to come down and have a go at singing with us?”

Kenney headed up to retrieve Rod and when they returned, the band kicked into gear. They hacked away at old chestnuts, mostly, “Memphis,” “Twistin’ the Night Away,” that sort. Around 4 AM, Ian Stewart burst in.

“Ronnie, Ronnie Lane. What did you say to Mick?”

Lane gave Stu a “Who me?” look, utterly unfazed.

Woody, confused, looked towards Lane. “Can I ask Mick who?’

"You’re a right bastard, you are, Lainie. You didn’t tell him, heh?” Stu said disgustedly.

Turning to Wood, Ian told him straight out that the Stones were looking for a new guitar player, that Brian Jones was not much longer in the group and that Mick had called tonight to ask if Woody would be interested. “And that cunt,” he pointed at Lane, plucking his bass, grinning widely, “took the call, tonight, and said he would tell you.”

“Fuuuccck!” Wood unstrapped his guitar as quickly as he could and got up to leave. He laid down his axe, careful not to upend the half-empty bottle of Mateus wine by his chair.

“You better hurry mate. Mick’s pretty sore,” Stu warned.

Woody started to walk just a bit faster. Turning back to Lane he had one last thing to say.

"Hey Lainie, sod off you little shit. I quit.”

Brian Jones was fired by The Rolling Stones in June ’69. Looking for a replacement on guitar, Mick Jagger called Ronnie Wood, ex-Jeff Beck Group bassist, presently working as lead guitarist with the former Small Faces. Instead, Ronnie Lane, bassist for the group, picked up. Mick asked if Woody would consider joining The Stones. Lane told Jagger that Wood was “quite happy” where he was, at the beginning of what would become The Faces. Lane never did give Wood the message that Jagger called. Instead, The Stones hired Mick Taylor of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Five years later, Taylor left and Ronnie Wood began touring with The Rolling Stones, officially joining them in February ’76.