I used to be a full-on Bruce Springsteen hater, lumping him in with the rest of the ineluctable Classic Rock FM that haunted the car radios, elevators, and supermarkets of my adolescence.
Flash forward to 2008 and this is me:
What happened? Nebraska.
In 1982, Springsteen recorded a four-track solo demo of a series of songs that meandered from the killing spree of Charles Starkweather to an Atlantic City where “everything dies, baby, that’s a fact” to a highway patrolman who lets his brother get away with murder. Later that year, Bruce and the E Street Band recorded a full band version. I can only assume that it was full of peppy Clarence Clemons tenor sax since the full band version was never released. And thank God: the stripped down demo is, in my mind, Springsteen’s best album by a mile and one the very best albums of the 80s. It’s a bracing dose of acoustic guitar, slingshot mumbling, and Springsteen’s story-craft. No other albums makes me feel so good about feeling so bad. It is, in short, the perfect antidote to Springsteen’s schlocky “Born to Run” and its ilk.
A few years after re-discovering Springsteen through Nebraska, I heard Suicide‘s 1977 self-titled debut. Through the industrial punk sound, one thing was clear: this album was a massive influence on Nebraska. The desolation. The pain seething into anger. But most of all those piercing yelps. Unfortunately, my fantasies of an unearthed discovery were dashed with one glance at Wikipedia: every fan knew that Bruce’s “State Trooper” was directly influenced by Suicide’s “Frankie Teardrop.” Regardless, Bruce’s borrowing, from such a seemingly unlikely source, is startling. And what’s even more startling is what an apt and transformative mimic he is. Alchemist, that Bruce.
14-year old Mike Altman wrote the theme song to his father’s M.A.S.H., with its refrain of “Suicide is painless, / It brings on many changes, / And I can take or leave it if I please.” He made millions off the song. Robert Altman received $70,000 for directing the film.