This week on The Avid Listener: Joanna Smolko, “Hard Times Come Again No More”: Springsteen’s Vision of Community

music_girl  This week at The Avid Listener, for our final feature essay of 2016, we bring you the 4th installment of Joanna Smolko’s series about Bruce Springsteen. For this essay, Joanna explores Springsteen’s performance history of the Stephen Foster song “Hard Times Come Again No More” and what the song has symbolized in Springsteen’s career. Here’s a teaser:

“As Bruce Springsteen’s career unfolded, he became increasingly overt about his political framework and his belief that music can be a powerful means both for illuminating issues of social injustice and for bringing people together in community.  Springsteen mined the rich lodes of traditional American music in his 2006 album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (2006). Here, he found a treasure trove: traditional songs that glimmered and shone as he gave them roots—rock inspired settings and elements that could also be forged and shaped into new works. Following this album, he continued to explore the ways that traditional songs could be melded together with rock and roll. Springsteen’s performance of Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More” was part of his 2009 Working on a Dream tour, and his subsequent reworking of the lyrics in new songs shows his process of adaptation. In particular, “Hard Times” can be read as a song of mourning in the aftermath of the “Great Recession” of 2007-2009 and a call to respond with community-based activism and cooperation.”

Read the entire essay here. If you are a Springsteen fan, you won’t want to miss the fabulous videos embedded in this essay, as well as in in Joanna’s three previous essays. (If you missed them, here are links to essay 1, essay 2, and essay 3.)

We’ll be back in the New Year with more feature essay. If you enjoy The Avid Listener, consider submitting an essay for publication consideration. We don’t exist without our authors, and we have lots of open slots on our spring calendar.

 

The Avid Listener: Listen. Write. Discuss. Repeat.

 

This week at The Avid Listener: Joanna Smolko, “Springsteen and Human Rights: ‘Chimes of Freedom’”

Last week, on the night before the national election, Bruce Springsteen performed at a final Hillary Clinton rally. During the performance, he said “The choice tomorrow couldn’t be any clearer. Hillary’s candidacy is based on intelligence, experience, preparation, and an actual vision of America where everyone counts.”

This week’s essay by Joanna Smolko is about Springsteen’s struggle with Bob Dylan’s legacy, how Springsteen builds on that legacy to support progressive agendas, and how his commitment to progressive movements hasn’t wavered. Posting this now is certainly bittersweet. But we at TAL are committed to social justice, broadly defined, and we continue to hope. So this week’s essay reminds us that progression is a long game, dependent on stamina, not sprinting. And we can count on at least some musicians to give voice to the cause.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Since the beginning of his career, Springsteen has been haunted by his label as “the next Dylan.” Though promoted by John Hammond at Columbia Records (as Dylan had been), and admiring Dylan greatly (as he recently articulated while reflecting on Dylan’s 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature), Springsteen consciously chose to distance himself from Dylan’s musical style and forge his own path as a songwriter, embracing instead a carefully orchestrated, hard-rocking sound. In a 1999 interview withMark Hagen, Springsteen recounted that in his early twenties he began to avoid writing lyrics that relied on loosely strung-together images, a stylistic feature that was emblematic of Dylan’s music. However, from the late 1970s on, Springsteen covered songs written by Dylan, perpetuating—purposefully or not—the link between his work and that of Dylan.”

You can read the entire essay here. There’s more to come.

The Avid Listener: Listen, Write. Discuss. Repeat.

This week at The Avid Listener: Joanna Smolko, “Politics and Protest in Springsteen’s ‘Born in the U.S.A.'”

This week we bring you part 2 of Joanna Smolko’s series about Bruce Springsteen. (If you missed the first essay, you can find it here.) In this essay, Joanna takes on Springsteen’s hit song “Born in the U.S.A.,” a song that has been appropriated for many different expressions of patriotism. What did Springsteen originally have in mind for this song?

Here’s a teaser:

“I liked Springsteen before he became political,” a friend of mine commented on Springsteen’s performance at the 2009 Super Bowl. But in actuality, Springsteen has always been political. From the outset, he infused his music with elements of working class identity: unions and families, steel and rust, coal and dust, machines that bind you to a community and way of life, and machines that allow you to ride away in a cloud of exhaust and defiance. But there was a specific moment that galvanized Springsteen’s self-identification as a political spokesperson. As Marc Dolan narrates, “Born in the U.S.A.” was used as an anthem in Ronald Reagan’s 1985 campaign without Springsteen’s permission, and in a speech, Reagan cited Springsteen as a beacon of the “American dream.”

Read the entire essay here. Stay tuned for our next essay, “The Accidental (Musical) Tourist” by Virginia Anderson!

The Avid Listener: Listen. Write. Discuss. Repeat.

The Avid Listener Launches year 3!

Celebrate with us! Today we launch The Avid Listener‘s third year! We invite you to celebrate / contemplate Labor Day and our third year with a new essay by Joanna Smolko, the first of a four-part series about Bruce Springsteen. This essay, called “Bruce Springsteen, Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger: ‘This Land Is Your Land’,” examines a chain of music and social justice work that runs from Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger to Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen has long been a champion of workers’ rights; longtime Springsteen fans are no doubt familiar with his political songs. In this essay, Joanna traces the lineage of Springsteen’s performances of “This Land is Your Land.”

this_land_feature

Here’s a teaser: “On January 18, 2009, Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen sang together at We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial, accompanied by Seeger’s grandson Tao Rodríquez-Seeger and a choir. Seeger invited the crowd to sing along, reflecting his lifelong commitment to group singing; even in staid places like Carnegie Hall, his concerts were less about performing than about community music making. The song they chose was Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” a song much-beloved by both musicians. As they prepared for the event, Springsteen asked Seeger on how he wanted to perform the song. Seeger replied, “Well, I know I want to sing all the verses, I want to sing all the ones that Woody wrote. Especially the two that get left out: about private property and the relief office.”

Joanna has found amazing videos to accompany this essay, including a very charming video of President Obama singing “This Land” to his daughters during his 2008 presidential campaign. Read the whole essay here, and don’t forget to share. We’ll be back in 2 weeks with the next essay in the series.

The Avid Listener: Listen. Write. Discuss. Repeat.