Tag Archives: music

A Springsteen soundtrack to the years

Two albums provided the soundtrack to my final years in secondary school. Prince’s Purple Rain was epic, eccentric ’80s pop. Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA was gritty rock’n’roll stories of blue collar struggles and broken dreams. Prince’s characters were all mascara, lavender and lace. Springsteen’s were denim and dust and could have stepped from a Steinbeck novel.

I played both albums so many times I knew every note. School finished. I became a labourer and university student. New friends and long car trips made for evolving musical tastes. Albums like The Triffid’s Born Sandy Devotional, Paul Kelly’s Gossip and U2’s Joshua Tree intersected with my life. Apart from a brief flirtation with Prince, when we partied like it was 1999, the Purple One rarely returned to my stereo.

Mr Springsteen released a handful of albums I didn’t connect with. Rather than waiting for new material I started delving backwards. Albums like Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town were brilliant. The triple-cassette/CD (and 5 LP) compilation Live 1975-85 was the first box set I ever bought and showed me the showman as well as the storyteller, not to mention a band flexing some serious rock’n’roll biceps. That live set has been a regular companion ever since, ensuring Mr Springsteen’s work has chimed through the decades. The first track even provides the name for this blog.

Last Saturday I was part of a crowd of 17,000 people watching Bruce Springsteen and his legendary E-Street Band. The venue was Hanging Rock, about the closest thing I’ll ever have to a sacred site from my adolescence. Old school friends were dotted through the throng, along with great mates from recent years.

Only one other thing could have guaranteed time travel. Sure enough, there she was, grooving like no one was watching. Sighting the unmatched, unforgettable and unrequited crush of my late teen years felt surreal and somehow perfect.

Mr Springsteen and his 15-member band arrived on stage before sunset and launched into three hours of sublime musicianship. There was barely a breath between songs; even the break before the encore was fleeting. The storytelling was left to the lyrics and performances.

Perceptibly, the band were having fun in front of their biggest audience of the Wrecking Ball tour. Their smiles dominoed through the crowd. I saw years and burdens lifted from mates’ shoulders. We’d all named tracks we hoped to hear live; none of us missed out.

Best of all, the highlights came in unexpected places. Pardon the pun but the brass section blew us away, particularly on Johnny 99 and Pay Me My Money Down. Mr Tom Morello was every bit as awesome on guitar as in the clip on my previous post, making The Ghost of Tom Joad soar.

We walked away abuzz. On Easter Sunday morning I told a friend it was the best concert I’d ever seen. He’d been there at the rock too so he understood. He corrected me, “It’s the best concert you will ever see.”

I’ve trawled YouTube looking for a memory to do justice to our experience. There are great clips but nothing that matches what’s in my head. Instead I’m leaping into the DeLorean and travelling back to the celebrated song about writers’ block, Dancing in the Dark. Why? On this post, it feels right.

For the serious Bruce buffs, here’s the setlist from Hanging Rock, 30 March 2013:
1. Badlands
2. Prove it all night
3. High hopes
4. We take care of our own
5. Wrecking ball
6. Death to my hometown
7. Hungry heart
8. Spirit in the night
9. The river
10. Tougher than the rest (duet with Jimmy Barnes)
11. Atlantic city
12. Johnny 99
13. Pay me my money down
14. Darlington County
15. Shackled & drawn
16. Waitin’ on a sunny day
17. The promised land
18. The rising
19. The ghost of Tom Joad
20. Thunder Road
21. If I should fall behind
22. Because the night
23. Born to run
24. Glory days
25. Dancing in the dark
26. Tenth Avenue freeze-out


A new calendar cometh (Part 2)

2011 has been a tough year but not without highlights. Some of these include:

– Dawn over the wetlands at Kakadu
– Visiting Pascoe Vale Girls’ College for the Premiers’ Reading Challenge. Best crowd ever and I can proudly say all the library copies of my books had been stolen.
– Building friendships with other authors; I’m blessed to get to hang out with some truly fantastic people with wonderful, magical minds.
– Getting a short story published in The New Paper Trails
– Cadel Evans winning the Tour de France
– Lunchtime in the library at MacKillop College in Werribee, hanging out with the Book Clubbers and signing copies of Five Parts Dead for many more students than the teachers expected.
– A new bike
– Good friends and family
– Doing a masterclass in writing graphic novels and comics. (How cool is it that classes like this exist?)
– Clare Bowditch’s Eva Cassidy tribute show (made me cry)

Next year I’ll strive to avoid fulltime work and submerge myself in writing again.

Other favourites experienced during 2011:

TV: Deadwood; Friday Night Lights; season 5 of Skins; Bored to Death; 30 Rock reruns
Movies: Murundak: Songs of Freedom; Red Dog; Harry Potter finale; The Ides of March
Reading: Jeph Loeb’s Batman: Hush series; Glenda Millard’s beautiful The Naming of Tishkin Silk; Craig Thompson’s Habibi (Wow!); Derek Landy’s The Death Bringer; Scot Gardner’s The Dead I Know
Music: Wilco’s The Whole Love; Bon Iver’s trippy self titled album; vintage Springsteen; the Jezabels generally.

To everyone who has visited and engaged with this irregular blog, read my books, followed me on Twitter or supported me in other ways, you have my profuse thanks. May the new year bring you adventure, love and laughter.

Racing in the street

The title of this blog is taken from a Bruce Springsteen song which is, I believe, based on a film of the same name starring Robert Mitchum. It’s probably glaringly obvious that I’m a bit of a Springsteen fan.

Lately I’ve been listening to Darkness on the Edge of Town a lot, along with the outtakes from this album, which now feature on a double album, The Promise. One of the best known songs from Darkness is Racing in the Street.

Sometimes you can listen to a song hundreds of times and still not hear what others do.

One of my mates recently spoke to me about Darkness, and his awe that a young, 20-something Springsteen understood middle age so well when writing the songs. That’s very true. For a young writer to create such believable characters requires a lot of empathy and wisdom.

My mate also suggested we need to have some of the lyrics from Racing in the Street printed on our after-dark cycling jerseys, namely:

“Some guys they just give up living, start dying little by little, piece by piece,
“Some guys come from work and wash up and go racing on the street…”

Spot on.

There’s a powerful, sad story in Racing. Mr Springsteen and the E-Street Band do a particularly evocative version of it in the clip below. Respect.

Keyboard soundtracks

When I started in journalism smoking was still permitted in the newsroom. I shared a desk with a gnarled newshound who seemingly did his best work with a cigarette clenched between his lips.

There were no ‘mobile’ phones to speak of. The portable phones had battery packs the size of two house bricks. Laptop computers were basically a keyboard with a 30 x 4 cm screen that displayed about two sentences (two Tweets) worth of text. Wiring a story through one of these machines back to the office invariably failed and I’d end up dictating to a ‘copytaker’ instead, usually with my deadline looming.

Desktop computers were clunky, slow machines with dim green screens. We could write and edit copy and then make it available to subeditors. That was it.

No email. No Internet. Hear that, kids?

There were no CD-drives or MP3 players either. Filing copy took determination – consciously shutting out the cacophany of the newsroom (phones jangling, telex machines zipping, chief of staff calling for volunteers, bored copytakers, loud ‘phoner’ interviews and combative conversations) to focus on writing.

After newsroom smoking was banned I can still recall one old hack heading to the toilets to bash out his yarns. The smell of smoke and clatter of a keyboard would waft over the cubicle door. Underneath, a stubby would be visible between his boots.

By the time I switched to web journalism, the digital age had dawned. The dress code and deadlines weren’t the only thing to change. Now we could don headphones and use music to inspire us – or to block out the world. An iPod and sound-dampening headphones are now vital for closing down office chatter.

That’s why this Jonathan Crossfield post about listening to music at work struck a chord.

I listen to a vast range of music in the office, depending on the task at hand. If I’m writing, as distinct to doing repetitive web chores, I need to quarantine myself from others’ words. That means instrumental music is required. As Jonathan says, classical tends to be unpredictable – you’re chilling out and then BLAMMO, a wake-up call from the entire orchestra. (One exception is Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which are said to have been written for a wealthy patron who was an insomniac in need of calming music.)

Lately I’ve been using jazz (Coltrane and Davis) or ambient music that doesn’t intrude into my thoughts as much. I’ve even been known to listen to ocean waves or a two-hour track of rain falling. No whalesong, please.

If I’m not writing or editing, anything goes. At the back end of a website is a lot of boring and repetitive work (categorising recipe ingredients, anyone?) so the livelier the music the better.

But what is the best soundtrack to write by? I’d say silence, spiced with wind in the trees and distant surf. I better start saving for that coastal hideaway. In the meantime, I’ll keep the iPod handy.