Boss Songs Part II – Springsteen Vignettes

Image Credit: Art Maillett
Image Credit: Art Maillett

Song – “Backstreets”
Album – Born to Run

This is perhaps my favorite Boss song of all time, although it is admittedly difficult and probably unfair to have to choose only one. The piano intro being played by Roy Bittan at the beginning of “Backstreets” feels like home and heartbreak all at the same. In his Rolling Stone review of the album Greil Marcus said it should be a “prelude to a rock and roll version of The Iliad.” The lyrics are also a perfect mixture of nostalgia and desolation. I love the first and last verses especially, which demonstrate Springsteen’s poetry of the lost. He uses the poetic sound devices such as the alliteration in “soft infested summer” and the internal, imperfect rhyme and assonance of “tying faith between our teeth”—all of which balances nicely against the grammatically incorrect yet fitting sound of the phrase “we was born in.” In the final verse he sings, “Remember all the movies, Terry, we’d go see / Trying to learn how to walk like heroes we thought we had to be / And after all this time to find we’re just like all the rest.” At some point in our youth, we dream we’re rising, trying to live up to some unattainable ideal. Then one day we discover that glory passes most of us over, our youth is gone, and all that’s left is life on the backstreets.

Song – “Born in the U.S.A.”
Album – Born in the U.S.A.

When I was eight years old I owned two very distinct cassette tapes: Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A What a combination! I listened to both albums every weekend for something like a year. Just like nearly everyone else in the eighties I misinterpreted “Born in the U.S.A.” as a patriotic theme. With the “I was born in U.S.A.” lyric, you can’t  help being jingoistic and dismissively arrogant about being an American. The phrase had to be a boast, but of course, that is all part of the irony of the song about a soldier pushed aside by the economic circumstances of the very nation he defended. Once you really listen to the lyrics you realize this song is anything but patriotic. It’s about a man run afoul of the law who can’t catch a break. He’s sent to Vietnam, does his duty, but returns home brotherless, jobless, and hopeless. He’s wasted from waiting, a “long gone daddy in the U.S.A.” The song is saturated in irony, but most people just don’t get it. Musically, I love the snare drum that opens the song, Mighty Max Weinberg’s concluding drum solo, and in the live version, the wailing guitar at the end. Also, check out Springsteen’s solo version on the slide guitar—it’s intense and much less likely to leave you in a misguided nationalistic stupor.

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Litany: Rules for Users of the Lone Star Card at Grocery Stores

Image Credit: decodistrict.org
Image Credit: decodistrict.org

My local grocery store is known as the Deco District H-E-B. Sounds glamorous, I know, but don’t let the moniker hoodwink you. The Deco District is a small area in Central San Antonio that feels incomplete, like an experiment in haphazard gentrification. The store itself is a mishmash of repulsive humanity, not unlike what you might see on a Saturday night at 2 A.M. in the emergency room. In fact, an ambulance has graced the premises numerous times…at a grocery store.

To endure shopping in a store like this, you have to be one of two types of people. You must be either utterly oblivious to your surroundings or have a really good therapist to work out your anger subsequent to shopping.

Since I’m neither oblivious nor able to afford a consumer therapist, I now shop at the next closest H-E-B, a much more pleasant and civil grocery store.

Perhaps one of the things that frustrated me the most about this store before I made the switch was customers using their Lone Star Card (LSC), which offers “access to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) food benefits and TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) cash benefits”. While I believe in helping those who truly need it, the LSC was obviously one malfunctioning part of an overextended welfare system degraded by the lazy and corrupt. Its misuse became increasingly exasperating.

Therefore, following rule list is composed of somewhat facetious rules I’d like to see implemented by the Texas government. It details my frustrations with LSC users who abuse the system and is entirely based on my real-life experiences. It is not directed at those truly in need of government assistance.

Rule 1 – You must memorize which foods are eligible to purchase using a LSC. If you make a mistake in this regard your card will be confiscated. You will no longer delay other customers in line behind you. Instead, you have to use all the cash that is clearly visible in your wallet.

Rule 2 – You are not allowed to use a LSC to purchase items in order to sell them to the ice cream truck driver in my neighborhood, only so he can resell them at higher prices for a profit. This is especially true if the ice cream truck is already embellished with a fanciful paint job, an aftermarket stereo system, or custom rims.

Rule 3 – You cannot carry your card in an actual Burberry handbag or a faux Burberry handbag. If you are even aware of Burberry, you are in no position to qualify for LSC benefits.

Rule 4 – You cannot use your card if your nails (finger and/or toe) are immaculately trimmed, manicured, and painted, obviously the work of a nail salon. Additionally, if your nails (finger and/or toe) are painted a color offensive to others’ aesthetic sensibilities, such as a neon lime color, any remaining benefits will be deducted.

Rule 5 – You cannot use a LSC and then unload your groceries into a $30,000 vehicle, such as a Chevrolet Suburban with twenty-two inch chrome spinner rims, heavily tinted windows, dual exhaust, and aftermarket grill guard. Because the LSC views nutrition as more important than transportation, your “vehicle” must be a large rectangular one with the word “Via” painted on the side of it, a bicycle, or you must use your own two feet to carry you and your groceries home.

Rule 6 – You cannot use a LSC while wearing more than a single piece of gaudy jewelry, otherwise known as bling. Any more than that is just poor taste, but probably also an indicator of mishandling money.

Rule 7 – Your children, of which there are undoubtedly too many, may not touch any of the other customers’ items, step on their feet, scream uncontrollably, or throw the impulse items across store floor. There must discipline, or there will be disavowal.

Rule 8 – You cannot use a LSC if your body is painted with a dizzying and inky array of colors and designs depicting the guard tower or spider web, which indicate pride in the fact that you’ve been previously incarcerated for illegal activities.

Rule 9 – You cannot use an iPhone or Android mobile phone while checking out. Actually, you cannot even own a smart phone. While enjoying LSC benefits, you are only allowed to use a colossal “Saved by the Bell Zach Morris” style phone, if you happen to find one available.

Rule 10 – You cannot use the LSC if you verbally abuse or contest the actions of the cashier, who on a daily basis exhibits work ethic, self-reliance, and patience, the very qualities with which you are completely unfamiliar.

Rule 11 – You cannot use your LSC if you cannot determine that you have more than ten items in the “ten items or fewer” line. There’s a reason this is rule eleven.

Boss Songs Part I: Springsteen Vignettes

Image Credit: Frank Stefanko
Image Credit: Frank Stefanko

Song – “Cover Me”
Album – Born in the U.S.A.

There’s nothing amazing about this song; it’s just a simple and somewhat cheesy 80s-style rock song with a good guitar solo that gets me every time. When I was eight years old I used to listen to this song in the back den of my house while playing pool. When Bruce sings “This whole world is out there just trying to score / I’ve seen enough I don’t want to see any more,” you understand we all need some kind of savior, and many people are finding it in the false things of this world. Despite my age and innocence, this song made me feel down and out, just an eight-year-old kid hard pressed for a break in this insane world. Check out Juliana Hatfield’s acoustic cover of this here.

Song – “I’m On Fire”
Album – Born in the U.S.A.

“I’m On Fire” is a song of brevity and desire. If it were any longer it would be ruined. As it is you have to replay it several times to get your fill. To me it’s about those certain moments when your passion takes over and nothing else concerns you. It’s a passion that makes it worth living, but also soul-destroying if you can’t act on it. If you’ve ever lusted after someone, you’ll know Bruce got this song just right. Emily Dickinson claimed she knew when she read poetry because it felt like the top of her head was taken off. That’s what this song is like—it just hits you heavy like a shot to the gut.

Song – “I’m Going Down”
Album – Born in the U.S.A.

If you’ve ever been in love with someone who fell out of love with you, this is your song. There are two lyrics I especially like: “We get dressed up and we go out, baby, for the night / We come home early burning, burning in some fire fight.” Sometimes you naively think one wonderful evening on the town will solve all your problems, but somewhere in the night it all goes wrong and ends in a drunken argument. Then, like the character in the song, you realize she now gets just as much joy from hating you as she used to in loving you. That’s what the Boss is getting at when he sings the last lines of the final verse: “You used to love to drive me wild / But lately girl you get your kicks from just driving me down.” It’s something you never want to experience in a relationship, but it’s happening all the time.

Song – “Lost in the Flood”
Album – Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. & Live From New York

This is the first Springsteen song to drive me into a conscious attempt to learn its lyrics. To this day I’ll recite it in my head if I find myself stuck in a waiting room with nothing to read. Even though the song consists of three stories in three verses with no unifying chorus, Springsteen still brings it together like it’s an anthem of lost causes. On the album version David Sancious ensures the organ wails like an omen of death, but even so, I suggest the live version with its blistering guitar solo and soft concluding piano play. Danny Federici’s work on the keys is tremendous and you can tell the Boss is trying to channel a younger version of himself, the self he was when he wrote the song years before. I’ve never owned a muscle car, but this song makes me wish I did, even though I’d probably kill myself driving it. The demise of Jimmy The Saint is perfect: “Well the blaze and noise boy, he’s gunnin’ that bitch, loaded to blastin’ point / He rides head first into a hurricane and disappears into a point / And there’s nothin’ left but some blood where the body fell / That is, nothin’ left that you could sell / just junk all across the horizon, a real highwayman’s farewell.” It reminds me of the final race scene in the film American Graffiti, but far more tragic. Many of Bruce’s characters go out in a final blaze of glory that seems simultaneously beautiful and desperate. It’s a thought that gets captured perfectly when the “somebody” sings, “Hey man, did you see that? / His body hit the street with such a beautiful thud.” It’s a verse loaded with a motley coterie of misfits who marvel at the spectacle of death, tragically unaware that their own demise, “the beautiful thud,” is lurking right around the corner. Undoubtedly, one of Springsteen’s darkest songs, it’s utterly absent of the sliver of hope that survives many of his other songs.

The Sham – Mock News for the Cultured: Ken Burns on Ken Burns

By Brad Wise (Flickr: keystone 8mm model B8) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Image Credit: Brad Wise (Flickr)
NEW YORK, NY—Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns recently announced plans to make yet another epic documentary. The topic? Himself.

Ken Burns by Ken Burns is reportedly over 20 hours in length, due to the fact that it documents the making of all of his previous documentaries.

Critics await the documentary with anticipation after sources indicate that the new film also includes many of Burns’s own highly-prized personal documents, such as lists entitled “Favorite Civil War Nicknames”, “Documentaries I’d Like to Make”, and “101 Ways to Celebrate Independence Day Like an American Filmmaker.”

These rarely seen documents are reportedly scrutinized via the Burns effect, a dramatic yet agonizingly slow maneuver that begins with an extreme close-up of the featured artifact and then slowly zooms out to reveal a complete perspective. The maneuver can take several minutes per artifact, another reason for the length of the upcoming production.

To narrate his meta-documentary Burns originally sought American actor Robert Mitchum, who is well-known for his prominent roles in western films and his rugged narration in the “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner” advertising campaign of the early 1990s.

Yet Burns was surprised to discover that Mitchum has been deceased for some time. “I guess when you constantly look at life through a camera lens, even a super expensive one, you miss some of the grander details like the demise of an iconic American voice like Mr. Mitchum’s,” Burns said.

In Mitchum’s place will be the soothing David McCullough, best known for his narration of the film Seabiscuit, an adaptation of his book by the same name.

Ken Burns by Ken Burns is tentatively scheduled for release next summer.