Saturday, August 17, 2013

Born To Run: Springsteen on a boat

The south-west Surrey music scene of the mid to late 1970s reflected a cultural mix of the council estate, the leafiness of suburbia and the background presence of the British Army plus white-boy soul tinged later by the mohair and pins of punk and the walking bass and chunking guitar of ska and reggae. If Paul Weller was the Woking working-class hero, JC, the member of The Members (the line-up once they acquired some fame) who I knew best, was a middle-class magpie of influences, taking from here, taking from there. The Members' "Sound of the Suburbs", replete with the Staines railway station announcement, was a brilliantly anthemic punk to post-punk dissection of the monotony and mundaneness of suburban life. Its reference points were ones with which we were all too familiar.

JC, so the story goes, met Graham Parker in the Three Mariners pub in Bagshot. It's a believable story, as I can believe that I might have been there. Graham was older than everyone else, and his influences reflected a greater worldliness than most of us could boast. It might not have been at the Mariners that he told me who these influences were, but it could well have been. And one of them stood out. An artist who was still relatively unknown but who would soon not be. Bruce Springsteen.

From the distance of years, it can be hard to appreciate how certain artists and bands took popular music by the throat and shook it with ever-increasing rattle and roll intensity. Springsteen was one such artist. Now and then, Messianic performers emerged with barely any warning. Springsteen smashed down walls plastered with posters of pomp and teenybop, but this assault was soon forgotten and the destroyers of the old guard were instead hailed from among the spitters, the rippers, the bin-liners of punk. 

Springsteen shone brightly but ultimately, though he had once blinded us all by the light, the light dimmed. Springsteen, forever "Born To Run", was long ago reduced to a middle-aged jog. Like predecessors (and successors) who appeared on tops of mountains and dispensed shibboleths of godlike truths to a music world wallowing in the shallows of irrelevance and self-regard, he became mortal, and mortality, where popular music is concerned, means being consumed by the irrelevance that had once been shattered.

I don't want old rock stars. I want the old rock stars to still be young rock stars. They mean nothing now that they are old. They assume parodical status and appearance. Paul McCartney, dyed hair and lined face with more than a hint of a lift, looking like the queens who would once flounce along Saint Martin's Lane and eye up boys for potential rent. Mick Jagger, his mouth having assumed such a gargantuan size that it has cracked his face into many parts. Keith Richards, plugged into the mains each morning, and volts into the lobe to activate the vocal chords.

Springsteen has been in Mallorca. Sort of. He has been on a yacht, a super yacht. David Geffen's "Rising Sun". It has been cruising around the island, Springsteen materialising from time to time, looking, through the long lens of the paps, as if he could be anyone trying his hand at paddle surf. Geffen has his own place in music history, one alongside Crosby, Stills and Nash and Joni Mitchell, a group and a singer who were once there on the summits calling from the gods with Springsteen and others who are now relics; those who have survived, at any rate.

We hold on to this past, this old celebrity. Or at least, when this past and old celebrity drifts across the Mediterranean into the view of a Mallorcan lens, we recapture it. Well, some may do. Bruce, I hope you have been having a nice time, but I'm really not interested.

And as the "Rising Sun" heads away from Mallorca, the sight of the island fading in the distance in the eyes of a faded rock star, we wonder - I wonder - if this was always as it was going to be. There are few larger motor yachts in the world. Few, therefore, that can be more expensive. "Born To Run" or born to float in luxury.

There are those, if they were perfectly honest, who would do the same. Not all perhaps. Weller has retained a modicum of the real world; more than a modicum  probably. But what of others? JC reformed The Members a while back. He has done film music, but the heady days of the Chelsea Nightclub are a dim memory. Graham? He's still playing in the US, having remained true to his musical roots. Still singing along to an acoustic guitar, just as he used to when we were all stoned at some so-called party. I don't know, though. I bet he wishes he had been Springsteen. 

Any comments to please.

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