Bruce Springsteen, “The River”

My dad said: “Where you been?”
I said: “I went to take my physical.”
He says: “What happened?”
I said: “They didn’t take me.”
And he said: “That’s good.”

Now, before I even start to talk to you about this song, you need to hear a specific intro. I’ll wait. Ok? Good. Now, for years I’ve had to defend the notion that you can enjoy being sad. Long before my father passed away, I used to try and explain to people that there was a beauty in sadness, and that it was worth considering. “Happiness cannot be happiness without contrast,” I would explain. Part of this logic is evident to most people who’ve ever met Irish people who like music. The rest should be evident to anyone who has ever seen “Romeo and Juliet,” or something similar. I suppose I’ve been challenged a bit on this point since that fateful November afternoon, but, ultimately, I stand by it. The most profound sadness can show you things of beauty if you know how to look. And there’s no question that this is an ability that my father gave me.

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Tom Waits / Bruce Springsteen, “Jersey Girl”

In an earlier conversation about the Counting Crows cover of The Psychedelic Furs’ “The Ghost in You,” I said that a cover version should do these things: “…present an alternative viewpoint, invoke the sensibility of the original, and leave you with a newfound appreciation for the genius of song.” And, I suppose, that’s pretty much how I feel about it. Cover songs are remarkably tricky animals, as the best you can hope for is to distinguish yourself from the original artist in a way that is both interesting and insightful, and, yet, avoids being truly ignoble. Which is to say that there’s a fairly long distance on the continuum between Flying Lizard’s cover of “Money (That’s What I Want)” and Nirvana’s version of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” Occasionally, if a band is quite lucky, they find a way to truly make another artist’s art their own. In this category, you might place Pearl Jam’s rendition of “Rockin’ in the Free World,” or “Winterlong” by the Pixies. (Seems Neil Young gets all the love, tonight.) Continue reading