Saturday, May 9, 2009

Quote of the Day (Jon Landau, on Bruce Springsteen)

“I have seen rock and roll future, and its name is Bruce Springsteen.”—Rock critic Jon Landau, writing in Real Paper after seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band in concert at the Harvard Square Theater in Cambridge, Mass. on this day in 1974

Before we get any further, the above quote is not a misprint—not mine, anyway. How did such a grammatical construction get into print—where was the copy editor?

Never mind. If you want to create a short list of the crucial venues in The Boss’s career, the Harvard Square Theater would have to make this roster, along with the Stone Pony, the Bottom Line, and the Roxy in L.A.

At the Cambridge showplace, Jon Landau, a rock ‘n’ roll critic for Rolling Stone and Real Paper, caught Springsteen’s live act—actually, the second of two that night, opening for Bonnie Raitt—and, like so many of us since, became a believer for life.

From what I’ve heard, Springsteen, knowing the critic was in the audience, trundled out some of his best stuff for the occasion, including one he was breaking his back in the studio to get just right, “Born to Run.”

(This night also provided the first known instance of a taping in which the backup musicians were introduced as “The E Street Band.”)

Landau’s notice became something of a blessing and a curse for Springsteen, who was trying desperately to justify the $150,000 that Columbia Records had poured into promoting his prior two albums after he was signed to the label by the legendary John Hammond. The record company printed up everything they could with that quotation—with its inevitable association with Lincoln Steffens’ one about the Soviet Union, “I have seen the future, and it works.”

Thank God that Landau proved a much better soothsayer than the muckraking radical journalist. At the time, though, it created the question of whether it was all hype—questions that were big in those days, as young songwriters were extolled as “the new Beatles” (the Bay City Rollers), “the new Dylan” (Springsteen and countless others), or, simply, the next big thing (Peter Frampton). It wasn’t only in the academy that “the anxiety of influence” ruled the day.

Later in the year, Landau finally got a chance to sit down for a heart-to-heart talk with the scruffy, inarticulate 24-year-old from New Jersey who became a force of nature when he strapped on a guitar and stepped in front of a microphone. Shortly thereafter, the extremely well-connected critic-wannabe producer was brought in to help out with the marathon Born to Run recording sessions.

Thirty-five years later, you know the rest of the story.

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