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Ed Smith's Observations

PostPosted: Thu Jan 21, 2016 2:03 pm
by Pete Fowler
The ex-cricketer Ed Smith, forced out of the game due to injury, writes one of the few weekly columns in The New Statesman that I never try to miss. He's an elegant writer and his writing on sport is exemplary.

Today, though, he's turned to Bowie. The quote below is the kind of statement that you can imagine being parked in front of arts students with the single imperative added:

This is only my view, but I think Bruce Springsteen has always had more to say about the human condition than Bowie. Yet Springsteen says it in such a disarmingly plain way that you can easily miss the depth. And his “influence” has been felt most at a private level, by listeners engaged with their own emotions. I can’t think of a higher compliment.
Springsteen writes about real people and personal situations – aspiration, shame and compromise. Beneath the superficial differences, Springsteen’s interpretation of bluecollar America has much in common with Betjeman’s take on Anglican England. Instead of continual reinvention, both of them found their voice early on and stuck with it.
Form, rather than becoming an end in itself, was made to serve meaning.

(Ed Smith, New Statesman, 22 January 2016)

Re: Ed Smith's Observations

PostPosted: Thu Jan 21, 2016 6:15 pm
by Adam Blake
Should we dignify this with a response? Perhaps......not.

Re: Ed Smith's Observations

PostPosted: Thu Jan 21, 2016 7:08 pm
by AndyM
I'd imagine Jon Savage and Charles Shaar Murray would be terrible at cricket.....

Re: Ed Smith's Observations

PostPosted: Fri Jan 22, 2016 12:28 am
by Rob Hall
I have friends on the other side of the pond who are massive Springsteen fans. One of the brighter spots in the past week and a bit was someone posting a clip of Bruce delivering a bracing cover of 'Rebel Rebel' on the opening night of his current tour, in tribute to David Bowie.


Speaking before they launch into the song, Bruce tells of how David Bowie had recorded some of his songs years previously, and how he had always been supportive when he (Bruce) was starting out. It seems they had a bit of a mutual admiration thing going.

It strikes me that, if there's any arena in which the two are at odds with each other, that arena is to be found in the head of Mr Smith and the heads of others who share his combination of intellectual elitism and lack of imagination.

Re: Ed Smith's Observations

PostPosted: Fri Jan 22, 2016 2:10 am
by Adam Blake
I like Springsteen as a person, or at least what I've seen of him in various bits of interview footage, but I cant get started with his music. It just doesn't touch me at all. Never has done.

Re: Ed Smith's Observations

PostPosted: Fri Jan 22, 2016 12:08 pm
by john poole
I watched "The River" documentary and concert film the other day before they fell off the end of the i-Player, only confirming my memory that the album was fairly dull stuff (apart from the title track and maybe 'Hungry Heart'). But I did like "Darkness at the Edge of Town", the marriage break-up album "Tunnel of Love", and a few other things.

Re: Ed Smith's Observations

PostPosted: Fri Jan 22, 2016 2:10 pm
by Adam Blake
If it's OK to like Springsteen, am I allowed to like Led Zeppelin? (Perhaps........not.)

Re: Ed Smith's Observations

PostPosted: Fri Jan 22, 2016 2:41 pm
by john poole
Adam Blake wrote:If it's OK to like Springsteen, am I allowed to like Led Zeppelin? (Perhaps........not.)
Of course yes, provided that I am allowed not to like them.

Re: Ed Smith's Observations

PostPosted: Fri Jan 22, 2016 3:04 pm
by Adam Blake

Ed Smith's Observations

PostPosted: Fri Jan 22, 2016 3:26 pm
by Philellinas
People "like" and say "like" far too much these days...

Re: Ed Smith's Observations

PostPosted: Sat Jan 23, 2016 10:55 pm
by Pete Fowler
I find these replies surprisingly ungenerous. The simple fact that Roy Orbison chose Springsteen for what proved to be his farewell concert, and that Springsteen added such enormous value, at that concert, to songs like Pretty Woman (the guy’s a good singer) – contributing far more at that concert, incidentally, than either Costello or Waits – results, in me anyway, in a real respect for the man. Added to that is the self-evident fact (Nebraska) that Springsteen spoke for a community under pressure. And spoke as eloquently for Omaha and Lincoln as Merle Haggard did for Oklahoma.

I wasn’t thinking, when I posted this, of a simple slating of Springsteen. It was the far more interesting observation, at the end of the Ed Smith piece, that ‘form was meant to serve meaning’.

Over the years, I’ve personally found this more and more disconcerting. It was precisely the glimmer of this coming into my consciousness that made me realise - so late in the day - the value of Philip Larkin, or Betjeman, or Woody Guthrie and The Everly Brothers. Watch The Everlys sing Kentucky in Alan Yentob’s 1984 programme on them, and see the obvious synergy between the brothers and their community, its history, its families, its traditions; think of Guthrie writing his songs in response to the fucking nighmare landlordism of a man who happened to be, as we now know, Donald Trump’s father.

I don’t dismiss Springsteen any more than I dismiss Johnny Cash. He’ s understood a tradition, added to it, and carried it on. He’s sung his songs for the folk on the New Jersey Turnpike and they sure as hell understand where he’s coming from.

The fact that I personally relate to Bowie more easily, and find his material so much more stimulating, simply results in the question, ‘why’? One of my answers is obvious – I’m English and listened to the pop music of 1963/75 – and I have a curiosity about how the music can be taken forward, how it can evolve, how it can progress, even from Pepper and Let it Bleed.

But a part of me thinks such developments can so easily lose their roots and come adrift. Lose contact with their communities. They play beautifully - but in the thinnest of air. They operate in a vacuum that went nowhere at all.

Springsteen and Bowie are not polar opposites: they represent a continuum. At one end, the local singer, the guy in the bar who hands the songs down for generations. At the other, the kid in the sixth form who sneaks off a class to piss around with the synthesiser, he’s had an idea or two.

There are times when the traditions coalesce. I can see it, actually, with Bowie and Mick Ronson. Ronson’s conservatism eventually drove Bowie to drive him out; but Ronson was a perfect interpreter of a community mood, he was the one who could link David to the Status Quo lads who bought Starman. In the end, for Bowie, he was boring. As he said, Mick would listen to nothing new.

In the end, I can like both. I can relish Bowie, and some of his stuff hits me harder than I care to imagine; but I can treasure Springsteen, if only because he keeps old hearts beating. And because he remembers, as he did when he played with Orbison – watch his adulation of James Burton! - that there is now a rock’n’roll tradition. Which we need to respect; and realise that it represents as much a history to folk like me, reared in a particular age, as does the train ride that Larkin so beautifully describes in The Whitsun Weddings.

Re: Ed Smith's Observations

PostPosted: Sat Jan 23, 2016 11:38 pm
by Nigel w
Great post, Pete. I can't match the erudition of your comments, but I do know Ed Smith, both as a lifelong supporter/member of Kent CCC, for whom Ed played, and then when he became a collague on The Times.

His Bowie v Springsteen comparision is simply an excuse for him to write about his all-time favourite artist. Before he went in to bat for Kent he always used to psyche himself by listening to Springsteen on his i-Pod. Personally I prefered the tastes of Chris Cowdrey, who played an endless diet of Van Morrison.

Ed is a magnificent writer and I agree that the remark about form serving meaning merits discussion. But I think Ed's piece is actually a bit shoddy. It would be like me using Bowie's death to say, 'yeah, but he wasn't as good as Dylan'. I happen to believe that; but what would be the point?

Bruce and Bob will get their own effusive obits when the time comes. This was the moment to remember Bowie's achievement, not to make dumb comparisons with others whose music we might personally prefer, even when dressed up with clever remarks abou form, content and meaning.

Re: Ed Smith's Observations

PostPosted: Sun Jan 24, 2016 12:21 pm
by AndyM
Pete, I'm very open to music rooted in traditions (I wouldn't be so fond of English folk music otherwise), and you make a good case for that as the best context in which to view Springsteen. But, like Adam, I have just never been touched or moved by the music B.S. makes. I hear bluster and hollowness, and additionally a very conventional performance of mainstream masculinity, which couldn't be further from Bowie's radical gender-play.

Re: Ed Smith's Observations

PostPosted: Fri Apr 01, 2016 9:58 pm
by Pete Fowler
Broken Rhythms

Only just seen that this forum is back in play; and, as we all do, I look at the main thread, read the new posts and then dip into where we were when the lights went out.

And I fall, predictably, on the last thread on which I posted. Ed Smith’s column in the New Statesman. And thought two things: first, this is why this forum ain’t Facebook – it allows discourse, it does not over-focus on clever one-liners. Its threads, moreover, remain there for, hopefully, an eternity, which is why, I suspect, none of us has ever added to the single thread somewhere here that still has, to this day, Charlie’s name written in the red of the administrator. A strange but definite and yet unacknowledged Internet tribute.

And, second, how the reply I wanted to give to Andy was blocked out by the suddenness of the forum black-out. This, Andy, is mainly addressed to you.

You said you’d never been moved by Springsteen; his excessive blundering masculinity, you thought, was so at odds with the ‘gender play’ of Bowie. Which represents one of the key differences between you and me. The second key difference almost certainly stems from our different ages: what am I, Andy, twenty years older than you? (I’m 71). If not, there is still a very real generational difference.

I often think here of my brother, who’s 78 now and still working as a Physics Professor at the University of Virginia (they don’t seem to acknowledge the concept of ‘retirement’ over there). I was 15 in 1960; he was 15 in 1953. He completely missed the rock’n’roll revolution: his music, before he switched to classical when he was at Cambridge, was Theresa Brewer, Doris Day and Kay Starr. Mine, in 1960, was Elvis, Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent.

That was the strongest generational divide, and the clearest, that I have ever witnessed. But, nevertheless, each wave of the subsequent generations has witnessed real changes, even though not as traumatic as those divides in the middle 1950s.

You and I, therefore, are different sides of a generational divide. Which explains a lot. It’s why I, as an ex rock-writer of sorts, bemoan the subsequent generations of rock writers – because they’re always in their thirties or early forties, and always take what they loved in their teens – when the music hits the hardest – as their benchmarks. I did this myself, of course, there is no sense of inner superiority in this criticism. Pop and Rock is always seen at its best when you, or anyone, was between 15 and 25.

And as to your other major point: ‘Gender playing’. If Springsteen is excessive in his masculinity, where in the world does that leave Presley, Cochran and Jerry Lee Lewis? Or any of the great country singers? Is ‘gender playing’ that important? And if so, why?

I’m over-writing and should shut up, but I’ll finish on this. When I read your pieces, and those of Adam and Howard on Facebook after Bowie’s death, I thought, ‘what did he do that reduced me to tears?’ And all I could think of, really, was his performances of America and Heroes at the 9/11 event in New York. In which he brilliantly related to the context, and the audience, of the event.

Wreck on the Highway, though, as simple as a song could be, does it for me. As does In My Life. As does Bob Dylan’s Dream. And Hattie Carroll, too. And a pile of Aretha’s stuff. As does In Dreams. As does Fairy Tale of New York. As does All I Have To Do Is Dream. As does most everything Gram Parsons sings.

I could well understand Ed Smith’s piece, even with the caveats that Nigel introduced. But I think, I really do, that the criticisms I received are a result of the obvious fact that we were reared in different generational contexts and had, inevitably, different points of view.

Re: Ed Smith's Observations

PostPosted: Fri Apr 01, 2016 11:33 pm
by Adam Blake
Pete Fowler wrote:It’s why I, as an ex rock-writer of sorts, bemoan the subsequent generations of rock writers – because they’re always in their thirties or early forties, and always take what they loved in their teens – when the music hits the hardest – as their benchmarks.

I'm an ex-rock writer of sorts too, in that I "did it for money" for about four years at the end of my twenties and I feel I ought to make some sort of rebuttal to this. (Andy, I know, will make his own if he feels like it.) The music that hit me the hardest - and still does, in many ways - was all made before I was ten years old or, in some cases, before I was born. Although I was very grateful for punk when it came along (it allowed me to participate in a way that would have been impossible in, say, 1973), my heart was always in the 60s. As for rock writers, pretty much all my favourites wrote for the NME in the 70s. The only exceptions being Nik Cohn and Jon Savage.

Anyway, it's good to be back on the forum.