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My deep-rooted belief in the American free enterprise system, also known as capitalism, has made it harder and harder to enjoy political statements thinly disguised as entertainment from Hollywood, TV, and the music industry because so many movies, songs, shows, and performers are insistent on bashing business and evil corporations as if they were piñatas filled only with ill-gotten profits.  Especially painful is having to balance my love of the music of Bruce Springsteen, a local hero from college days, whose politics seem to lean increasingly far left toward non-existent Utopias of fairness, equal outcomes, and overreaching government control known as socialism and communism.

Bruce Springsteen's "Wrecking Ball" Hits Hard About Lost Work

Bruce Springsteen's "Wrecking Ball" Hits Hard About Lost Work

With the release of Bruce’s ambitious new album  “Wrecking Ball”, I have had my usual concerns whether I could balance any one-sided sermonizing with music and musicianship that is always engaging and risk-taking. I wasn’t encouraged by this interview in Rolling Stone, in which the exceedingly well-compensated New Jersey sons, Jon Stewart and the Boss, spoke unironically  about income disparity in the USA.  Both guys are wonderful examples of the American Dream. They need to stop feeling guilty about their success. Each one is an industry unto himself, employing a long list of people wherever he goes. Bruce especially sells a lot of records, concert tickets, memorabilia, clothing, and concert concessions, all in the name of rock and roll art. On top of that, he is an extraordinarily charitable guy, always giving funds and support and time to national and local causes. He has nothing left to prove, yet he still seems to be bothered about now living in a “Mansion on the Hill”.

When I finally picked up a copy of “Wrecking Ball” at the ultimate evil retailer, Wal-Mart, I wasn’t surprised to hear songs of anger directed at greedy bankers and corporate fat cats. However, upon repeated listenings, I have found myself moved by  another recurring message from Bruce — that work is what gives each of us a purpose (as well as income) and it is an essential thread that holds our communities, states, and nation together.

I encourage you to listen to songs like “Jack of All Trades”, “Death To My Hometown”,  and “Rocky Ground”, in which Bruce eloquently speaks to a middle class devastated by job loss and by the sickening realization that prospects ahead look bleak and bleaker. It does not have to be this way, however. While it is troubling that too many still put their faith in politicians to create and manage commerce, and that others are looking for special favors for their companies or industries (crony capitalism, not to be confused with actual capitalism), the free enterprise system here is still alive and just needs to be left alone to work.  And so that a lot more Americans can get back to work.

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We’ve written before about the importance of jingles in broadcast for brand building. However, most tv and radio spots don’t use original music. They borrow the appeal of popular recordings. Some find hits played a billion times that have an obvious tie-in to the marketing message (back in the 80s, Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You” for AT&T; the Beatles’ “Help” currently pushing customer service for HH Gregg).  Others unearth really catchy gems, some from the archives and some current, not-yet-widely-known talent (Apple sold a lot of iPods and iTunes with great “Who did that song?” spots).


Currently, a new tv commercial from Talbots, the women’s clothing retailer, is effectively using music to stop everyone dead in their tracks and push “timeless” fashion and style. It is more than a catchy hook — it is propelled by a great vocal performance in sync with the visuals, spanning black and white to color of a confident Talbots customer parading down the street in her Talbots ensemble, with her Talbots bag, all in slo mo. If “History Repeating” by Shirley Bassey doesn’t help Talbots jumpstart sales, it will have at least succeeded in earning Talbots some serious brand awareness and recognition.

Ironically, Shirley Bassey came to fame in the 50s and is perhaps best known for her James Bond theme songs in the 60s and 70s, but “History Repeating” only recalls this period — it is actually a 1997 collaboration with British electronic music producers and ensemble, The Propellerheads. Here is the original video.

The music industry has long had a love-hate relationship with the advertising industry. Rock artists especially have had to weather taunts of sellout for taking fat royalty checks for licensing their music. Remember the outcry when the Beatles’ “Revolution” was used by Nike to sell sneakers?

So, it is only fitting to close out this week with a “live” opposing opinion on this subject from rock’s most notable, go-your-own-way guy, Neil Young.

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"Darkness on the Edge of Town" was Bruce Springsteen's Epic Follow-up to "Born To Run"

"Darkness on the Edge of Town" was Bruce Springsteen's Epic Follow-up to "Born To Run"

It isn’t often you find yourself transported to an earlier time in your life, but with the opportunity to view that period with the 20/20 hindsight of today. On Thursday night, I caught the HBO documentary, “The Promise,” about the making of Bruce Springsteen’s “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” It was a fascinating snapshot about the many challenges of being an artist after fame and success have happened, changing life forever.
I remember vividly waiting and waiting and waiting for this dynamic follow-up to Bruce’s breakthrough “Born to Run,” which catapulted him simultaneously onto the covers of Time and Newsweek. I had been lucky enough to catch one of his legendary live marathons in Bucknell’s tiny Davis Gym. The exhilaration of a three-hour-plus E-Street Band show was everything that reviewers raved it was.
In the mean time, I had graduated college, spent the summer in Houston, moved back to Philadelphia, found my first job in advertising, moved to my first apartment, all the while thinking something was missing from my life — it was any hint of any sign of a follow-up record from my favorite artist.
“The Promise” sheds a whole new light on that period. The two-to-three year delay was explained in dovetailed interviews with Bruce, band members, and his manager at the time, Mike Appel. The post “Born to Run” contract that was signed gave Appel extraordinary creative control over Bruce’s future recordings. It was like an alternate pilot episode to “Who’s The Boss.” When the dust settled, legal proceedings ensued, restrictions kept Bruce out of the studio, bills racked up, and pressure mounted. The fame of the moment turned into questions whether Springsteen was a one-hit wonder.
Ironically, the opposite was taking place. Bruce and the band holed up in a farmhouse in Holmdel, writing and playing songs for month after month. Meanwhile, the suit dragged on and sounded every bit as nasty as Beatles vs. Capital-EMI and John Fogerty vs. Saul Van Zaentz. Eventually, a settlement was reached and today, Bruce and Mike Appel appear to be friends again, with both reflecting openly and honestly in the documentary. It really came down to creative control and it only ever makes sense for that control to reside with the artist.
The rest of the documentary tracked the painstaking process of making the new record, finding the right sounds and tone, and not killing each other over the course of a very long time in the studio. Incredibly, Bruce wrote over 70 songs during this period and spent months figuring out which puzzle pieces fit the picture he was carefully creating.
There were clips of Bruce and Steve Van Zandt playing “Talk to Me,” which Bruce later gave to Southside Johnny, of Patty Smith’s gratitude for Bruce handing off “Because The Night” to her, and of John Landau discussing that track and “Fire,” which Bruce shared with the Pointer Sisters. “The Promise,” the title of the documentary is a gem that the band polished for three months, but still Bruce left it off the record. He hints at influences that shaped the album, from the emergence of punk to his first taste of country in Hank Williams.
“Darkness on the Edge of Town” is a terrific ode to the difficult transformation from youth to adulthood. The toll that blue collar work exacts. The respect for his father but the desire to never follow in his footsteps. The longing for a better life amidst the many forces that stand in your way. Bruce Springsteen won that fight when he held his ground back in 1978. Now, I find myself waiting again, but looking forward to hearing those 60-odd tracks that didn’t make the record, many of which will be released on a multi-disc set, including live tracks, the documentary, and related content on November 16.

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