Ed Driscoll

Baby We Were Born To Run — From The Wall

We opted not to go out for New Year’s Eve; “that’s when all the amateur drinkers are on the road”, as an old friend of mine used to say. So we stayed in and had caviar, foie gras, champagne and Martinis. And no risk of being pulled over by MADD, PETA, or the San Jose PD.

At about 11:55, we turned on Dick Clark, but he sounded absolutely awful — I’m very glad to see him making great strides recovering from his stroke, but his speech was astonishingly slow, slurred, and and painful: Dick Clark’s Sclerotic New Year’s Eve is not my idea of fun TV. So we watched Regis watching the ball drop in Time Square, instead.

Afterwards, when I lived in the South Jersey, I remember WHYY, the Philadelphia PBS affiliate would always run old black and white 1950s Dragnet episodes and Nixon’s Checker’s Speech to ring in the new year. The San Jose PBS affiliate ran something from the other side of the political spectrum, but it was equally as arch in its own way: Roger Waters performs Pink Floyd’s The Wall live from the Berlin Wall, from back in 1990. The Berlin Wall, of course, fell no thanks to him — and thanks to The Wall, (especially the movie version), Waters is one of the few people of any political persuasion to go on record opposing Britain’s entering World War II, making him the English left’s answer to Pat Buchanan’s own brand of isolationism and Nazi appeasement.

It’s not that there isn’t good music here: my old college rock band used to do killer versions (if I do say so myself) of “Run Like Hell” and “In The Flesh”, and “Comfortably Numb” is also a great song. But there’s a reason why Time magazine dubbed The Wall “The Libretto for the ‘Me Decade'”.

I lasted through about 15 minutes of The Wall until its own pretentiousness and sense of narcissistic doom finally reminded me of one of my Christmas gifts, still sitting as yet unplayed: the box set edition of Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run, which packages a remastered version of the knockout 1975 album, which landed Springsteen simultaneously on the cover of Time and Newsweek, along with a making of DVD, and a DVD of a 1975 Springsteen concert from the Hammersmith Odeon on the E Street Band’s first trip across the Big Pond.

It was that last disc I decided to pop into the DVD player, and it was well worth it: seeing Springsteen at his peak so quickly after the craptacular excesses of The Wall was an illustration of everything that was wrong and right with rock and roll in the 1970s.

As for the former, there was the inevitable orchestra, conducted by Michael Kamen, who seemed ubiquitous before his death in 2003. Seriously: if you needed a movie soundtrack, or an orchestral score for a rock group, or an MTV gig where, say, Aerosmith was backed by an 80-piece orchestra, Kamen was your man. Plus, there were scads of session musicians, and an enormous set. Comfortably Numb? No, it was all employed to produce absolutely soul-crushing music to remind us that we should all be as miserable as Roger Waters, zillionare rock superstar.

In stark contrast, the E Street Band that took the stage in 1975 were six everyday guys who looked like they were wearing low rent clothes borrowed from Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets: all enormous lapels and manmade pastel fabrics, except for Springsteen himself, who looked like Skeeter the mechanic, topped with Michael Nesmith’s ski cap. In place of a set the size of, well, the Berlin Wall, they pounded a tiny stage playing their hearts out, with a palpable joy and electricity. Springsteen’s Glory Days (to coin a song title) wouldn’t last of course — by the end of the 1980s, he had temporarily broken up the E Street Band, and his work slowly became almost as politicized as Waters’. Even before all that, to be honest, I liked Springsteen in small doses; I’m much more of a Who, Zeppelin, Beatles, and Stones kind of guy when it comes to my rock, but by God, he was on during this concert and you could feel it. I guarantee you, the audience walked out of the Hammersmith Odeon after Springsteen’s show feeling much more alive than those who saw The Wall.

Not a bad way to start the New Year’s, all things considered. And thank you for sticking with us for another year of pixelated action, as we enter our fourth year in our little corner of the Blogosphere.