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October 25, 2012

Book Notes - Caryn Rose "Raise Your Hand: Adventures of an American Springsteen Fan in Europe"

Raise Your Hand: Adventures of an American Springsteen Fan in Europe

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Caryn Rose paints a definitive portrait of Bruce Springsteen's current relationship with his European fans (and the fans with him) in Raise Your Hand: Adventures of an American Springsteen Fan in Europe. Rose's encyclopedic knowledge of Springsteen's music and mythology combined with her keen critical eye and estimable storytelling skill make this a must-read for any music fan.

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In her own words, here is Caryn Rose's Book Notes music playlist for her book, Raise Your Hand: Adventures of an American Springsteen Fan in Europe:

In July, I traveled to Europe -- three weeks and five countries -- to see Bruce Springsteen play seven concerts abroad. It's not like I hadn't seen him on this tour already, or wouldn't have the chance to catch other shows in the U.S. later in the tour, or hadn't already seen him perform live a ridiculous amount of times since my first concert in 1978. I went because there was this prevailing legend about Springsteen and his relationship with his European audience that started back in the '80s. European shows and crowds had built their own kind of legendary reputation, and I wanted to see it for myself. I knew what I had seen on video, but I didn't know what it was going to feel like to stand in the middle of the crowd and be one of them. At some point during all of this, I decided it would be a good idea to write a book about my experiences, and Raise Your Hand: Adventures of an American Springsteen Fan in Europe is a chronicle of my trip and what I discovered on the other side of the pond. Here is my Largehearted Boy Book Notes of the songs that resonated strongest or were clear favorites from the trip.

1. "Born In The USA": This is a song I would never sing along to in the States because I don't want to be seen as one of those people jumping up and down with an American flag bandanna wrapped around my forehead, clearly missing the point. In Europe, despite what David Brooks (who also went to see Springsteen in Europe earlier this year) thinks, people know perfectly well they weren't born in the USA; they're singing along because it's a classic song with a catchy, memorable chorus designed to get an audience singing along. This was the number guaranteed to get the people in the top row of the stadium or way in the back out of their seats every time, without fail. But the meaning of the song was never lost on anyone. By the time I got to Dublin on the end of my section of the tour, I realized that it wasn't about affinity for the States or some kind of respect for Springsteen being American, but rather about pride in where you come from, no matter what shortcomings your country might have. That's something everyone can get behind.

2. "The River": The crowds practically howled every time this song was played, and given that a healthy portion of the European Springsteen audience is 20 to 30 years younger than your average U.S. audience, it isn't because they have fond teenaged memories of when this album first came out. The sing-a-longs to the first verse were so loud that Bruce would always hold the mic out and let the crowd finish. This isn't unique to this song or to Europe but the vehemence of the crowd's reaction was. I had a wonderful conversation with a 60-something fan from Cork while in the queue for Dublin about this song particularly; it resonates so hard because "boy gets girl pregnant and boy and girl get married" is a story that's as old as dirt no matter where in the world you live or what year you were born in. It was this enormous moment of cosmic universality for me every single night.

3. "My Love Will Not Let You Down": This is the unofficial anthem of E Street Nation -- whatever the song was originally about, it's become the story of the relationship between Bruce and his audience. If he plays it, it's because a show has been great or it's great and about to turn monumental. People take this song seriously, and you haven't really seen Springsteen until you're in the middle of a crowd of Europeans jumping up and down en masse with one fist in the air in salute on the chorus.

4. "Spirit In The Night": This used to be a golden oldie, the New Jersey fairy tale of Crazy Janey and Wild Billy and a cast of characters, the kind of song Bruce would always play in a place like Philadelphia or Boston, where there were guaranteed to be people who had been following his career since the very beginning. This tour, "Spirit" became a setlist stalwart and by the time it got to Europe, started to transition into another tribute to the late Clarence Clemons. "Spirit" has always had Bruce going into the audience, or at least lying down at the front of the stage (it's a very popular number with the ladies) and in Paris, he was traversing the entire stage, around the back, down the three runways, when he grabbed Jake Clemons, Clarence's nephew who had been understudying his uncle for the past few tours in event of illness. They traveled to the front of the runway and turned the last verse of the song into this free jazz moment, something brand new - which continued to morph and evolve as the tour continued. "You know, this happened before you were born," Bruce said to Jake one night. "Me and your uncle--" and he stopped right there, letting the rest be unspoken. This might have been an aside, or otherwise unremarkable, except that this happened in Hyde Park in London, in front of 60,000 people.

5. "Land of Hope and Dreams": Despite ruining the beauty of this composition by letting Major League Baseball butcher it to pieces for a post-season commercial spot, this is another beautiful quasi-anthem that started as a tribute to then-downtrodden Asbury Park. It was a fairly straight-ahead rock song (albeit with powerful lyrics), but in recording it for Wrecking Ball, and then adapting it to 17-piece 2012 E Street Band, with horns and backup singers, it became majestic and transformative (and it was already a fairly moving composition lyrically). There are drum fills and mandolins and horn crescendos and your heart grows a size or two bigger just standing there and listening to it, guaranteed.

6. "This Hard Land": This song is an odd duck, in that it appeared for the first time on the 1995 Greatest Hits album -- if you didn't buy that because you already owned everything, it might have slipped your attention. It's another song that has a particularly beloved place among the diehards, and not because of its rarity, but because it's a beautiful song. It would have fit nicely on Nebraska or Tom Joad, a story of family and brotherhood in the old west, highlighted by the definitive line in the last verse: "Stay hard! Stay hungry! Stay alive!" which the audience shouts back in tribute, every time.

7. "Rocky Ground": The Wrecking Ball album was originally slated to be called Rocky Ground, and was changed at the last minute.This is probably because "Rocky Ground" is a six-minute track with tape loops, Biblical imagery, gospel choir and a rap outro. (There was a rumor going around during the album's recording that Bruce had invited Nas into the studio, which I'd dearly love to confirm some day.) You might think all of those elements are about as far away from Bruce Springsteen as you can get, but in my opinion, it actually represents the first outright recorded declaration of music and influences he's been talking about and referencing for decades now. It was (and is) a tough sell on most audiences and definitely a tough sell in a stadium crowd. My last night of the tour, in Dublin, after a fantastic, uplifting evening where the crowd was absolutely at its best, Springsteen surprised us all by ending the main set with this track. Instead of disaster, the audience followed every note with respect and rapt attention. It remains my favorite performance of the song thus far.

8. "Johnny 99": I confess that I sometimes fervently wish Bruce would go back to performing this Nebraska number with just him and an acoustic guitar, and maybe Nils Lofgren along for backup. The song has made several twists and turns in recent years, zig zagging through hootenanny and almost zydeco, to the version brought out on this tour, which mashes all of that together and adds a big band element with the new horn section. It would be incredibly difficult to hate the song because the horns just elevate the arrangement to another level altogether, reminiscent of a New Orleans second line -- and which is, of course, utterly appropriate to a song about a convicted murderer being sentenced to life in prison.

9. "Thunder Road": There is always one song every few years that gets me choked up, still, even after all this time. For a while it was "Born To Run," finding that one or two people in the audience who are clearly hearing it live for the first time, and watching their reaction. This tour was "Thunder Road," the song I ended up missing Clarence Clemons' presence the most. Bruce chose to handle the dilemma of how to approach that trademark sax solo by letting Jake Clemons take the first line of the solo, and then having the entire horn section play the rest of the melody all together. (Those are big, big shoes to fill.) But this also became the song where you understood, almost more than any other song in the catalog, why it resonated so strongly: when you are standing next to someone from Finland or Poland or South Africa raising their fist in the air when Springsteen sings, "It's a town full of losers/and I'm pulling out of here to win," the world seems that much smaller. Springsteen opened the show in Hyde Park, standing in a muddy field in front of 60,000 people, with just a harmonica and Roy Bittan on piano, singing an almost a cappella rendition of the song, dedicated with the statement, "This was the first thing we played after our feet touched English soil." Hyde Park may have been the show where Paul McCartney walked out onstage, and where the City of London literally pulled the plug, but a lot of amazing music happened before we even got to that moment.

10. "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out": "I want to tell you a story about the band," was how Bruce introduced this number at the Super Bowl, and on this tour, it's not just the legend of the band and a marvelous showcase for the new E Street Horns, it's the definitive tribute to Clarence Clemons. The tour started with Bruce just pausing on the "The change was made uptown/and the Big Man joined the band" line, letting the crowd go completely and totally nuts, and by the time the tour had reached New Jersey, the band would pause while Bruce went out onto a platform halfway back on the floor in the middle of the crowd and stood there while a 90-second tribute video was shown on the big screens. The video is a minute and a half of the entire history of the friendship between Bruce and Clarence, aka Scooter and the Big Man. "Losing Clarence was like losing the rain," he said in a pre-tour interview earlier this year, and you could see that in his face during "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," every single night.


11. "Atlantic City": Always a crowd favorite, I wanted to try to figure out why. It's a great story and a beautiful melody and the current live arrangement is outstanding. The story is almost cinematic, and the lyrics bring the listener into the story immediately: 'Well, they blew up the Chicken Man in Philly last night." People like it just because it's a good story, told well.

12. "Darlington County": "Darlington County" is the song I think Bruce should play every night as the 9/11 moment, instead of "The Rising," which has worn a groove so deep that it needs a little bit of a rest. "Darlington" and its callouts of the World Trade Center and New York City felt more patriotic and more American than almost any other song in the setlist overseas.

Caryn Rose and Raise Your Hand: Adventures of an American Springsteen Fan in Europe links:

the author's website
the author's music blog
the author's baseball blog

The Bergen Record profile of the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for B-sides and Broken Hearts
The Ledge interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists