Tag Archives: Bruce Springsteen

So Long to the King of the Universe

The past few days have been strange, beautiful, sad, and full of joy. I flew to my home state this weekend for a family reunion and I caught up with relatives I had not seen in 10, 20 and even 30 years. We had a wonderful time, and as I drove back to the charming little antebellum Bed and Breakfast where we stayed, I listened to Born to Run on CD in the car so that I could relive the full flavor of my youth. I once drove those same tired old streets, listening to the same Springsteen songs and hoping that one day I would go somewhere big and wonderful, somewhere that matched the life imagined in the vibrancy of the music that mattered to me most.

On Saturday night, after a wonderful evening with my family, a friend from LA called and asked if I’d heard the news. I had not. Clarence “Big Man” Clemons, The King of the Universe, the Big Kahuna, the Prince of the City, the Duke of Paducah, and the biggest f’ing man you’ll ever see, had died.

He didn’t write the words to Springsteen’s songs, but as one journalist, of the many who have written about Clarence’s death, said, he understood how to play the lyrics. It’s a careful choice of words. He gave the lyrics soul, and his notes blew right through the core of mine.

I know a lot of people who love music, but I know few people who have been truly touched by music the way Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band have touched their hard core fans—the E Street Nation—of which I am a proud member. It may be the music that matters most to me, but the soul driver of that music has left this world.

There is a brief moment at all Springsteen shows, just before the stage lights go up, where the excitement of what is to come over the next two to three hours builds to a mountain so high, you need the help of a big man to pull you to the top. In fact, you need the Big Man. The band will go on, and Clarence will be remembered as a vital part of their history and legend. The E Street Band will remain the same earth-quaking, booty shaking, love-making, Viagra-taking, best little garage band you ever saw, but it will not quite be the same.

I think of future “Jungleland” performances. Clarence, with his sax, built the song to an operatic pitch; his music didn’t just punctuate the lyrics or the mood of the song. They embodied the emotion of the damaged world Springsteen had created, where wounded poets “just stand back and let it all be.” 

It’s hard for me to write about Clarence without making this about me. I’ve said many times that Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band were my first Life mentors. Their music reached through the airwaves of the 70s and grabbed this small-town Mississippi girl by the center of her soul and yanked her into a vibrant world of discontented characters with large hopes and a penchant for redemption. It was fitting, on a personal level, that Clemons passed away when I was in the land of my roots, the place where I became a faithful and loyal member of E Street Nation. I’m back in LA, but in my heart, I’m still in my hometown, driving through the streets at night, 17 again, with Jungleland playing, and I hear that mournful blue sax solo. Everything else fades away, except for the unforgettable sound of his notes.

The Future of Rock and Roll Turns Sixty

293.Springsteen.Bruce.020109In 1975, I saw the future of rock and roll and its name was Bruce Springsteen. Darn. I wish I had come up with that line originally, but Jon Landau did. I did see the future in 1975, though: my own, if I didn’t start making plans. I loved Springsteen’s music, but didn’t want to end up like a character from “Meeting Across the River,” or “Jungleland.”

I heard Born To Run and my imagination went wild. Here was this artist painting a New Jersey landscape so vivid and real that a small town girl in Mississippi who had never been to the East Coast could appreciate it. When Bruce wrote, “It’s a town full of losers, and I’m pulling out of here to win,” I revved up my car and drove across the state line. I had to come back though. I was only sixteen. I was just warming up for when I was all grown. After college, I revved up the car again, and left for real, listening to “Thunder Road” as I pulled out of town.

Through the years, he has written songs that have been food for my soul and fuel for my imagination. He has also provided many hours of pure joy, as that is what seeing his concerts provides: pure joy. No wine is needed, certainly nothing stronger. I literally feel euphoric after a Springsteen show—for days.

A lot of people have bashed Bruce the last few years, saying he is old and should just retire. I wish those people would retire their mouths. Seriously. I would feel sorry for them if they just didn’t make me so darn angry. Not liking Springsteen is the same as rooting against your hometown team, or hoping your puppy gets fleas. To all his naysayers, I just have one question: when you turn sixty, will you be creating anything new, or still exciting people when you perform your job? Though we don’t see eye-to-eye, I do hope you will find yourself at sixty full of creativity and energy, and performing your own work better than ever, which is what he is guilty of: getting even better, and beating his own benchmark.

Bruce Springsteen’s music has always been the story of a journey, but now that the man is turning sixty, I think what’s noteworthy is not just the music, but that he still does what he does with such enthusiasm and passion, and he’s still looking, as Wallace Stevens would say “for that act that will suffice.” We all grow old: some of us just do it better, with more vigor—and with a good song.

For nearly thirty-five years, I’ve been a fan of Bruce Springsteen’s music and performances. So much so that when I wrote a novel a few moons back, I managed to squeeze a nod to Bruce into the book. The protagonist is a big Bruce fan, and this is how his music affected her:

“I would lie on my bed with my headphones strapped around my head and listen to Born To run or Darkness on the Edge of Town. I’d think about how the whole world existed in motion around the earth, and so on. And out on a lonely highway, just like in Bruce’s song “The Promised Land,” some guy in a car was driving that “dusty road from Monroe to Angeline” and points beyond. It didn’t matter the destination; it was the getting away, the getting on, the going that counted.”

All these decades after Bruce released “The Promised Land” he’s still driving down that road, at least metaphorically. It’s not so dusty anymore. In fact, at age sixty, it’s looking pretty darn new.

Thanks for the ride, Boss. Let’s keep going.

Finding the Muse on a Partly-Cloudy Sunday

(www.roibal.net)

(www.roibal.net)

It’s Sunday. Are you sitting on the couch ruminating on how best to spend the day? Are you pondering a new ad campaign or a publicity event? Or, like me, are you working on a creative passion outside your job? I write fiction, which is no surprise, as a lot of marketing writers are closeted (or not so closeted) fiction writers. Come the weekend, I often find it hard to turn off work and decompress from the weekly routines by stepping into a new world where I play God, creating people and landscapes.

Whether you are contemplating a novel or trying to figure out a catchy slogan, we all get blocked creatively. If we didn’t, there wouldn’t be a multi-million dollar market for the hundreds of books on writers block.

I had an advertising professor at UC Berkeley who once gave us some often-repeated advice on what to do if we were creatively blocked. Take a shower. Not that the act of cleaning necessarily stimulates the creative neurons, it’s just that changing your situation, doing another activity, frees your mind and by freeing the mind, you give yourself some distance from whatever is blocking you.

I have plans to write today, but I have a sore tooth from a temporary crown that popped off, and my trigger thumb is not yet healed from a steroid shot the doctor gave me this week (who says that writers and athletes have nothing in common. We both have injuries from our careers that require steroids.) To say that I’m not inspired to write is an understatement. Give me a few more shots of coffee and that may change, in the meantime, here are some things I’m going to consider doing in order to stimulate my creativity on this partly-cloud day:

1) Read a short story by Flannery O’Conner or Eudora Welty.

Eudora Welty (www.Columbia.edu)

Eudora Welty (www.Columbia.edu)

We all have our muses, and I have several; these two great writers are among them. All I have to do to get inspired to write is read “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” or “Why I live at the P.O.” Jesus, sometimes when I’m reading these writers, I think, “Why bother, who can do it as well as they did?” Imagine if they had applied that wonderful creativity and skill at nailing the truth in the marketing world. It would be a different field.

2) Take some photos.

DSC_0034

Many artists have more than one talent. Look at all the musicians who are also painters or photographers. I find that when I want to write, I sometimes need to articulate what I’m feeling through a visual means. A shot of a tree’s shadow may express a sense of alienation, or a red flower caught in the sunlight might mirror an unnamed joy bubbling beneath my skin. After an hour of shooting, I can put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and the words start to flow.

3) Do what Natalie would do. Natalie Goldberg, that is. “Writing Down the Bones” is one of my bibles. I reread it at least once a year. Here’s a great writer and teacher who has made a career out of overcoming creative blocks. By the way, everything I just suggested above is something she has suggested, so big surprise, I have not written anything original, other than to put it in my own words, which I think will therefore enable her to forgive me. Natalie is a proponent of writing exercises. One of my favorites is writing about a “first.” The first time you saw a car wreck, or snow, or got kissed. Any first. The idea is that it gets you focused on a topic, and from there, see where you mind leads you.

4) Listen to Bruce Springsteen.

Bruce Springsteen (www.theocarsite.com)

Bruce Springsteen (www.theocarsite.com)

No, do not listen to REM, or U2, or anyone else. Listen to Bruce. If you are a not a fan, well, I just don’t understand that, but what I’m getting at is this artist is a storyteller and he puts it to music more affectively than anyone I have ever heard. He does it with heart and soul and chords and beats. Listen to the words from any song on “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” and try to imagine the characters, what they look like, how they feel, their daily lives. Chances are their lives are vastly different from yours, but yet, the hopes and fears may be familiar. Think about the story you want to tell, then turn down the stereo and go write.

5) Talk it out. Sit down with a friend and say, “I have an idea,” then springboard your thoughts off this person. Listen to them. Their advice might be horrible, but is there any glint of brilliance or originality that you might want to consider. Think of this as creative therapy.

If none of these work for you, go to Amazon and search on Writers Block. As I said earlier, the topic has given many writers an added element to their career as counselor for those of us who get blocked. Even in the best of time, it’s easy to get distracted and find your muse or inspiration. Fortunately, there are tried and true remedies to the chronically blocked. Write on.

The “I’m Rich, Tax Me,” Campaign

Last night, I was talking to a friend, who, while not a marketer by trade, has a great marketing mind. We were driving in the car and listening to CNN on the radio. They were covering what Rush Limbaugh had to say about President Obama’s planned tax hike on the wealthiest Americans.

My pal and I decided that President Obama, if he really is going to raise taxes on wealthy Americans, needs to build a PR campaign, as the wealthy obviously don’t want to be taxed. Obviously, many of the wealthy are not on board with having their taxes raised (just ask them). So what do you do when you have to sell folks on something they really don’t want? Start an ad campaign. Obama had a ton of star power endorsing him during the presidential campaign. Maybe he should call on those celebs one more time for an ad to put the tax hike front burner. Here’s how that TV ad might look.

Cue music. “America the Beautiful,” Ray Charles version.

A white backdrop, with a star filmed in black and white smack in the center. A close-up. Show some wrinkles. Bruce Sprinsteen is the first one (because he promoted Obama so much, silly, not because I am always writing about his marketing prowess. Okay, that, too). Bruce says, “I’m rich. Tax me.” Then Beyonce. “I’m rich, tax me.” Then you get another star, maybe a big time producer. Steven Spielberg, “I’m rich. Tax me.” Throw in a couple more stars saying, “I’m rich. Tax me.”

Then, put a regular guy up there, who just happens to be, well, you know . . . rich. “I’m rich. Go ahead. Raise my taxes. I can afford it.”

I admit that it probably won’t sway rich people that are against a tax hike. I can’t imagine them saying, “Oh, okay, Beyonce wants her taxes raised, it’s okay then for my taxes to shoot up.” If done right, and I’m not referring specifically to the campaign described here, but any campaign, it would further enrich the dialogue that is already going on in the masses. For the most part, many already are good with the idea of taxing the rich more (better the rich than them), but something like this gives them water cooler talk—if they still have a job, or if they company hasn’t downsized the water cooler. It takes a potentially (to some) ugly subject out of the shadows and right into the spotlight. Instant buzz.

My point extends beyond politics. Imagine a campaign in your own business that brings out and lays bare in a raw display some hot button or controversy that people may not necessarily want to think about, like the fact that companies are cutting back in more ways than just people. It doesn’t have to be serious. Take Bud Light’s Super Bowl commercial.

Hopefully, your company never needs such a campaign, but with the economic blues going around, if you find yourself in a thorny situation that you know is going to be made public, turn it around, show it in a different light, use the opportunity for some strong creative thinking. And heck, if you can get Steven Spielberg to star in your commercial, you are probably in better shape than the rest of us.

Super Bowl Round Up

Well, obviously, judging by my past two posts, I liked Bruce Springsteen’s performance. I only got one song out of the three I predicted he’d play correct. In fact, he played four. But that is what is so great about Bruce, and again, it’s what makes him a great marketeer. All along we’ve heard he’d play 3 songs. He under-promised and over-delivered. He gave the old-time fans something they would love (“Tenth Avenue Freeze-out”), he promoted the new album (“Working on a Dream,” and he hauled out a gospel choir so he put a new twist on it—and it is still a new song), then he gave us what we expect from him (“Born to Run”) and finally, he took an old classic and updated it. “Glory Days” is a baseball song, but it’s his only sports song. He updated it by changing the lyrics to football references.

What can we learn from all this? We already know. Under-promise and over-deliver. Keep your classics fresh. Give them what they want, but don’t forget to promote the new stuff.

It’s simple. It’s marketing 101, but it is done on a grand, rock-n-roll scale.

Oh, and the ads have been fun to watch, too, but seriously, just watching a Bruce show, it is hard for this fan to get excited about the ads at this point, or even the game.

However, when the excitement wears off, I do want to comment on the 3D ads that showed right before Bruce. Odd, gutsy move . . .

Audacious Ink’s Prediction for the Bruce Springsteen Super Bowl Set List

Yesterday I posted on why I thought Bruce Springsteen was not only a great rock star, but a great marketeer. I left a number of things out, like the fact that he is on Facebook and Myspace, and that inside the LP of “Working on a Dream,” you get a free MP3 download, and seriously, I can’t keep up with his press. Britney Spears would love this press. I would love this press.

I also forgot to mention that the fans do a lot of the work for him. There are numerous Springsteen sites. He doesn’t have just brand advocates, he has brand disciples, the best kind of brand fan. They are constantly blogging about him, posting comments on forums, keeping this aging rock star relevant—not that he doesn’t do that himself with his songs.

Those brand fans are all over the Internet tonight buzzing about their predictions for his much talked-about set tomorrow. What will the set list be? The NY Times is predicting Glory Days, Born in the USA and Born to Run.

I disagree, slightly. Bruce is a marketeer, don’t forget, and a damn good one, so he will promote the new CD. Therefore, here is the Audacious Ink prediction for the 43rd Super Bowl Set List featuring Bruce Springsteen:

1. “My LUcky Day”
2. “Born in the USA”
3 “Born to Run”

Why? “My Lucky Day ” is the strongest, catchiest song on the new CD. “Born in the USA” is his huge hit that everyone knows (alternative prediction to this song is “Dancing in the Dark”) and if he does not play “Born to Run” die-hard fans will riot.

That said, “Bruuuuuuuce!”

Bruce Springsteen: Genius Rock Star and Genius Marketeer

I love Bruce Springsteen. Seriously. I love him. You could almost put me in a jail cell with a bunch of other celeb stalkers, that how I feel about him. My insanity aside, something happened early on his “Magic” tour: I realized that my rock star hero was much more. He was the ultimate marketeer. And with the release of “Working on a Dream,” his latest album, he’s proving it all night again. Okay, that’s totally a Springsteen reference, but you get what I mean.

This is not an CD review—the CD is great. I blow brain cells every time I listen to it—this is a testimony to his marketing genius. Unfortunately, for old time rockers, marketing and rock-n-roll don’t mix. But they are having to get used to it as so many rockers are entering that 5th circle of hell the rest of us call “our careers.”

Springsteen just came off an 18-month tour with his “Magic” album. He ended this monster tour by going on the road endorsing Obama. Sunday he is doing the Superbowl, this past Tuesday he released “Working on a Dream,” and a few weeks ago he did a deal with Walmart to release his latest “Greatest Hits.” By the way, today he admitted that he regretted doing the Walmart deal because his fans called him out on it. Springsteen, in case you live under a rock, is branded as a working man’s hero, and Walmart, of course, has had too much bad press about workers’ rights. Springsteen came clean, though and said, “I screwed up.” Hello Wall Street, take a cue from an old rocker, will you?

Why is it so easy for a rocker to admit a mistake, yet it seems so hard for CEO’s to admit they have screwed up. With the hefty bad press about the hefty Wall Street bonuses, you’d think they could figure out a way to dig themselves out of this black publicity hell-hole. Springsteen, in the midst of all his good press, and good lord does he have press, decides to admit that he made a mistake. What does that get him? More good press. Wall Street, listen up: you need a good marketeer? Bruce is not available, however, call me! I have some suggestions, and a role model for us to follow.

My stalking tendencies toward Bruce aside, he does everything right as a business and as a marketeer. First off, he puts out a quality product that changes with the times. His songs are relevant and fresh. “Magic” was an indictment on the Bush administration, while “Working on a Dream,” reflects the hope going around these days. Then, he surrounds himself with a quality team. The E Street Band are a bunch of veteran musicians that play the three hour shows nearly flawlessly. Finally, Springsteen knows how to package and promote himself. “Dream’s” packaging is a beautiful lush design, and the promotion going on around it is massive. Borders is selling a lithograph if you buy the CD (same deal as with “Magic”). NPR played the album in full at midnight the day of the release, VHI is playing the bonus feature DVD this weekend, for God’s sakes, he is doing the Super Bowl on Sunday and you know he’ll play at least one song from the CD, and you cannot open up the Internet without seeing a story on him or from one of his band members.

Then to back it all up, he’s taking his show on the road for another massive American and European tour.

How much money does this guy wanna make? Oh, who cares, I’m just glad he’s doing it, and I’d like to see him get some credit for not only being a great artist, but a great marketeer. He’s living proof (also the name of a Springsteen song) that art and marketing can work, and more so, that as we age, we can get more creative.

Thanks, Boss.