The Friday Morning Listen: Bruce Springsteen – Growin Up; Joe Jackson – A Slow Song

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At the end of last weekend, I watched Fellini’s 8 1/2. Turns out that might not have been the best idea for a Sunday evening.

me: A weird thing happened to me this week.

Joe Jackson: What?

me: Well, you heard about what happened to Clarence Clemons?

Joe Jackson: Yes. Sad, really. I hope he can recover.

me: Me too. But here’s the weird thing. The next morning, I was feeling pretty sad about Clarence, so I pulled out some older live recordings to listen to on my drive to work. You ever heard Bruce’s “Goddamn Guitar” story?

jj: That doesn’t sound familiar.

me: Well, it’s this long thing he used to go into at shows in the middle of the the song “Growin’ Up.” He talks about the differences between what his parents wanted for him vs. his own ambitions.

jj: What’s the weird part?

me: I kept that CD with me the whole week. It was a two-disc rotation, the live Bruce and your latest.

jj: Thanks, but…

me: OK, so the story gets its name from Bruce’s description of the two things that weren’t popular in his house when he was growing up: him and his guitar, always referred to by his dad as, not a Gibson guitar or a Fender guitar but…the goddamn guitar — as in “Turn down the goddamn guitar!”

jj: And…

me: Well, that part of the song isn’t the weird part, although the post-story section is pretty moving because it pulls that move of slowing everything down before exploding.

jj: Yeah, it’s sort of a cheap trick but it always works.

me: But it’s the song’s introduction, which is full of this gently-rolling piano arpeggio, that really gets to me. Just four chords, over and over…and somehow, because of my misty state…

jj: You mean about Clarence?

me: Yeah, and other things. But yes, partly that. So when I got around to your live version of “A Slow Song,” the two songs kind of merged in my head. I love “A Slow Song” so much that the knowledge that it’s been with me for so long kind of hurts, you know?

jj: Can we go out for a smoke break?

me: Sure.

Joe and I step outside. Before lighting up his Davidoff he hands me a nice Montecristo. I don’t really smoke but refusing seems wrong. We go back inside with my head spinning.

jj: So what’s this all about? I don’t see the merging of two songs as being all that strange.

me: Both of the songs got me to thinking about the whole getting older thing. We know it’s inevitable…and we should probably try to not get swallowed up in nostalgia and pity.

jj: Good advice, that.

me: Sure, but…uhm…OK, Joe, don’t take this personally…

jj: Continue. (suspiciously)

me: I was talking to an old friend of mine about your new record. I really love it. He likes it too, but we both feel like we’ve heard this before.

jj: What the fuck are you talking about?

me: The trio. The small ensemble. I mean, sure, we both love Graham and Dave, who doesn’t?! But you’ve been doing the stripped-down group thing for a while now and it feels like you’re treading water. (This is where I should have woken up. Me telling Joe Jackson he’s treading water? Right. Like I’d tell Springsteen right to his face that I can’t stand Tunnel of Love)

jj: You’ve gone mad.

me: No, hear me out. One of things we most admired about you was your fearless branching out. The stereotype they tried to attach to you was of the skinny-tied, New Waver. But then you did things like Jumpin’ Jive and later on, Heaven and Hell. Our reaction was an awestruck, “What the hell is he doing?!” Will Power? Incredible. Mind-bending, even. So now, as much as we have fun with the trio, it feels a little like we’ve been there before.

Joe looks like he’s about to leave after telling me to fuck off but just then, Claudia Cardinale walks into the room with a couple of glasses of mineral water on a silver tray.

jj: I’ll admit that this material might not be as adventuresome as some of my older projects but…

me: Look, my buddy made a valid point. We’re both hitting the middle of our time on the marble, and we both feel like we’re in something of a rut. It’s annoying as hell to see somebody with your kind of talent not taking full advantage of it. We want to be awestruck again, to see that surprising change of direction. Of course, we’d like to make that leap in our own lives too but…

jj: It sounds like you want to live vicariously through me. Seems a bit lazy!

me: Guilty.

jj: OK, I’ll make you a deal.

me: And that is…?

And then, fully enveloped in dream logic, I’m flying through the air in a Jesus Christ pose…over Portsmouth’s Strawberry Banke and Prescott Park…down the east coast to Miami. I’m in Clarence’s hospital room…with my copy of the “Live at the Agora” bootleg…and my sharpie. There were machines and tubes and beeps and all of that. But then all of that is gone and Clarence is sitting up in bed. He still has that hospital-issue johnny gown on, but somehow, the fedora he’s wearing makes perfect sense.

He tells me that I need to stop with all the hand-wringing. To stop wasting time and get on with it.

He is so right.

Thanks guys.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to, and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at [email protected]
Mark Saleski
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