“I don’t know where you got the Springsteen obsession from,” my dad said to me at a holiday party a couple of years ago. ”I’ve always liked Tom Petty better. Bruce Springsteen has great songs, but honestly, they’re supposed to be songs for the working man and I still never have any idea what that guy is talking about.”
He was kind of right about that; the Boss’s songs, particularly the early ones, are obtuse in a very non-obvious way. I figure that’s part of what drew me in from the start, though even I don’t remember when “the start” was. At some point, though, it settled in, and the music of Bruce Springsteen became a kind of cornerstone for a go-to Americana sound that I return to time and time again.
I have resisted that statement, and that sound, for years. I used to call it “bearded Park Slope 30-something male rock.” I think the resistance springs from a certain fear that what lies at the heart of the bands I love is…well, boring. There’s a definitive common thread that runs through so many of my favorite current artists: Lucero, The National, The Walkmen, Against Me!, The Gaslight Anthem, The Hold Steady. I spend a lot of time thinking about that commonality and why I find it slightly embarrassing.
I think it has a lot to do with context. Historically, I hang with the boys who can tell you obscure life facts about Southern soul producers, the boys who obsess over Avro Part and Charles Mingus alike, the girls who can tell you stories about going to temple with Robert Zimmerman’s mom and drinking their first beer with Paul Westerberg. I can appreciate all of those things, for certain, but what appears in my headphones most often is a very simple but very heartening sound that I can’t always explain the appeal of.
I think the fact that I can’t explain it is part of why it’s so damn tempting to try. And also why it really doesn’t bother me that I can listen to The National for days on end.
In honor of Marathon Sunday here in New York City, check out some photos of the 1979 Marathon from our collections. Oddly, the images seem to be stuck to something (which means that’s how they were when they were acquired) but they’re still neat. Check out more in our Digital Gallery. Enjoy.