By Brian Wise. ‘If you are not a Bruce Springsteen fan then it is probably because you have not seen him in concert.’
SPRINGSTEEN & I
EAGLE ROCK ENTERTAINMENT
If you are not a Bruce Springsteen fan then it is probably because you have not seen him in concert. Such is the power of his performances that he leaves few people untouched. Part preacher, part rock ‘n’ roller, he manages to communicate with his fans in a way that few other contemporary entertainers are able to do. More than once in recent years I have said that seeing Springsteen was the closest I have come to seeing Elvis Presley – they certainly share a charisma that transcends the entertainment ‘industry.’
While I was unable to understand the huge appeal of the Grateful Dead in America until I kept meeting fans who tried to explain their fanaticism, it was much easier to understand Springsteen’s aura. In 2006, with the Seeger Sessions Band, he gave what was one of the greatest performances I have ever seen at New Orleans’ first post-Katrina Jazz Fest. It was not only musically superb but was an emotional experience for everyone there.
But the greatest thing about it was that earlier in the morning before the show Springsteen went out to the Fairgrounds Racetrack where the festival is held and put on a show for all the workers! Last year when I saw him there again I met some fans who told me that their friends had bumped into him in New Jersey and he spent an hour in a café having a chat to them. It seemed to me that this is someone you can believe in.
I am starting to sound like I could be in this documentary because the film is mainly comprised of testimonials from ‘fans’ who have had similar sorts of experiences that have turned them into ‘fanatics.’
In a year of excellent music documentaries – 20 Feet From Stardom, Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, Mistaken For Strangers (about The National) and Muscle Shoals, to name a few – Springsteen & I is a worthy addition to a bumper crop.
Color Me Obsessed, Gorman Bechard’s great documentary about The Replacements, provided a fascinating look at a band’s legend through the eyes of fans and critics (without any of the band’s music at all). Springsteen & I extends that idea and at least includes some musical reference points.
Directed by Baillie Walsh and produced by Ridley Scott, the film is made up of homemade videos of fans from all over the world (apart from Australia) talking about what Bruce means to them.
Of course, this can be quite scary when you consider just how obsessive some of the fans are in their reverence. At times it reaches an almost religious fervor and you begin to wonder how any musician could stand such adoration. It says something about society (and probably our politicians) that Springsteen can engender such belief and trust. Over the years, his behaviour has done nothing to betray this trust – unlike most of our politicians and religious leaders. One Polish fan talks about how ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ conjured up visions of freedom in his country prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
However, it is really the relationship between Springsteen and his audience that is the key to this film. At one show in Philadelphia Bruce calls up a fan dressed as Elvis to sing ‘All Shook Up’ and ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ (the fan then had the remarkable good sense to know exactly when to get off the stage). Elsewhere, an English fan tells how he traveled to New York to see Bruce at Madison Square Garden and found his back row seat was upgraded to the front row. Bruce hugs a young man who holds up a sign saying that he had been dumped by his girlfriend. Walking along a city street he encounters a busker singing his songs and spends 15 minutes performing with him (which reminds me that legend has it that Bruce once finished third in a Springsteen lookalike competition!).
Australian audiences earlier this year would not doubt also have stories to tell about Springsteen’s communion with them at his shows.
In between the interviews are archival performance clips that date back to the ‘70s and show Springsteen and the E Street Band across most of their eras right up to the present. I would imagine that only die-hard fans would have seen some of this material previously.
The movie concludes with 35 minutes of Springsteen’s 2012 concert at Hyde Park concert and the sound is absolutely amazing. (It is hard to believe that it was not overdubbed). The epilogue follows five contributors to the documentary are invited to meet the singer-songwriter.
The one thing lacking in the film, amidst all the adoration, is some sense of where Springsteen fits into the rock ‘n’ roll tapestry. The appearance of the Elvis impersonator allows us to draw out own conclusions but it would have been nice to have some interviews that could have elucidated on this. Similarly, while fans gush over the effect of Springsteen’s songs there might have been some analysis of why these appealed so much to what appears to be a predominantly white working or middle class audience. (As someone pointed out to me, Springsteen’s band is multiracial but his audience is not!)
Springsteen & I is available via Shock on DVD and Blu Ray on November 1.