musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Posts tagged ‘Bruce Springsteen’

Music for the Road

About two years I succumbed to the lure of taking along a portable music player in the form of an MP3 device when I went on trips outside the country. No, not an iPod, or any other sort of multi-tasking iThing, but simply a small device that played only music. Seeing as how I’m constantly listening to music when I’m at home or at work, I felt like I needed some tunes with me when I was on the road too.


I still bring paperback books along to read (no tablets or other “handy” reading devices, just real paper products, thank you) when I travel, but the music makes for a pleasing accompaniment, particularly when waiting around in airports, taking long walks or bike rides, or just relaxing in my hotel room (I can only stomach so much cable TV news, and have zero interest in watching vapid movies).


Music has become an inspirational soundtrack to my trips. When I think about cycling down a lonely dirt road in Shan State, hoping that I wouldn’t round a bend and run into a herd of cattle, I recall that I was listening to some vintage Springsteen tunes. When I was navigating the chaotic streets of Mandalay, Steely Dan kept a smile on my face. For my latest trip to Myanmar I stuck with some travel-tested favorites rather than put anything brand new on my MP3 player. I’ve found that trips aren’t a good time for “test driving” new music, but for enjoying the old familiar. I also included some music from Myanmar favorites such as Lay Phyu, Linn Linn, and Iron Cross, local tunes to make the atmosphere all the more authentic. Here are some of the albums that kept me moving and grooving on the road.


Rosanne Cash – Rules of Travel

Steely Dan – Countdown to Ecstasy

Bruce Springsteen – Tracks (4 CD set)

Nada Surf – If I Had a Hi-Fi

Gil Scott-Heron – Evolution (and Flashback): The Very Best of


Curtis Mayfield – There’s No Place Like America Today

Joan Armatrading – This Charming Life

Gordon Lightfoot – Gord’s Gold

Lynyrd Skynyrd – Second Helping

Patti Griffin – Flaming Red


James Taylor – Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon

Al Green – Deep Shade of Green (3 CD set)

Atlanta Rhythm Section – Dog Days/Red Tape

Glen Campbell – Meet Glen Campbell

Love Tractor – Sky at Night


Poco – Head Over Heels

Carole King – Her Greatest Hits

Grant Green – Live at the Lighthouse

Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti

Bruce Hornsby – Greatest Radio Hits


Marvin Gaye – Trouble Man

Gabor Szabo – The Sorcerer

Doobie Brothers – What Were Once Vices are Now Habits

Stevie Wonder – Hotter Than July

Tabu Ley Rochereau – African Classics


Drive-By Truckers – The Fine Print

Betty Wright & The Roots – Betty Wright: The Movie

UB 40 – Signing Off

Booker T. Jones – The Road from Memphis

Neil Young – Rust Never Sleeps


Clarence Clemons

One of many — too many — great musicians who passed away this year was Clarence Clemons, the saxophone playing dynamo from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. Clarence wasn’t just another musician in the band, he was a vital cog in the wheel; perhaps the most indispensible single member. Physically, he was a huge man, capable of  commanding your attention at any time, but when he was onstage and playing his sax he become an even more imposing force of nature.


On songs like “Jungleland,” Clarence’s sax playing was as crucial — or more so — to the composition as Springsteen’s lyrics or guitar playing. Clarence’s sax added extra layers of atmosphere to each song; depending on the mood of the song, it could sound mournful, soulful, funky, or raucous. And when Clarence got hold of a song like “Kitty’s Back,” he would blow the roof off the tune, creating a joyous feeling of wild abandon. The man is irreplaceable.


Shortly after Clemons passed away in June, Springsteen issued this eloquent statement about his friend and bandmate:

“Clarence lived a wonderful life. He carried within him a love of people that made them love him. He created a wondrous and extended family. He loved the saxophone, loved our fans and gave everything he had every night he stepped on stage. His loss is immeasurable and we are honored and thankful to have known him and had the opportunity to stand beside him for nearly forty years. He was my great friend, my partner and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band.”

I saw Springsteen and the E Street Band six times in concert during their “glory years” from the mid-70s through the mid-80s. Those shows were, without a doubt, the best concerts I saw during that period. The energy that Springsteen, Clemons, and the other members of the band exuded each night was breathtaking, and sometimes exhausting. Shows that lasted three hours or longer. They gave all they had, and it showed. Clearly, this was a band having fun onstage, and their enthusiasm inevitably infected the audience.


During one the band’s early 80s tours, the night before a show in Lakeland, Florida, some friends and I went to the hotel where the band was staying and managed to find out which floor they were on. This was in the days of little to no security, so we had no problems roaming the corridors of the hotel. At one point during the night, “the Big Man,” as Clemons was fondly called, came wandering out into the hallway wearing only his underwear. He smiled and nodded at us — I think he might have even murmured “Howya doin’” or something like that — and then shuffled off in search of more ice. Ah, those brushes with greatness!


I was thinking about Clarence again this week as I listened to Springsteen’s amazing Hammersmith Odeon London ’75 live album. That double CD has some great early-period Springsteen songs, all of them punctuated by Clarence’s vibrant sax playing. These live recordings really embody what was so wonderful, and vital, about Springsteen’s music. But listening to this album also shows that it wasn’t just Bruce’s songs and charisma that thrilled audiences; it was a band effort. Listen to these songs, smile and remember the greatness of Bruce, Clarence, and the band. I’ve decided that their version of “Quarter to Three,” the old Gary U.S. Bonds hit that’s one of the encores on Hammersmith Odeon, will be a great way to ring in the New Year this weekend. Play it loud!

Patti Scialfa

Digging into my musical vault of CDs at home earlier this week I unearthed a real gem of an album that I hadn’t listened to in a few years; 23rd Street Lullaby by Patti Scialfa. I have two other albums by Scialfa, Rumble Doll and Play It As It Lays, but 23rd Street Lullaby remains my favorite of the bunch.

23rd Street Lullaby is full of great songs, ranging from gorgeous, wistful ballads to more uptempo tunes. Although Scialfa is married to Bruce Springsteen, their songs don’t really sound that much like one another. But then again, there is a certain thread that connects their music, at least conceptually. They both have a certain integrity, sincerity, and lyrical depth to their songs that set them apart from the rest of the rock and roll crowd. This is not pop music for simpletons, but multi-layered songs that reveal new secrets with each listening. You could call this music for grown-ups, or for those of a certain age, but Scialfa’s songs are not so buried in the past or riddled with clichés that younger listeners will be turned off. Her music does not sound dated by any means. This is music that shimmers and invigorates the listener.

Scialfa is an excellent singer and songwriter who can more than hold her own, but it doesn’t hurt that she is joined by a stellar cast of musicians on 23rd Street Lullaby. In addition to Mr. Springsteen, Nils Lofgren, Marc Ribot, and Will Lee join the party. This is one lullaby that you’ll be humming for days. Scialfa takes her time between albums (she’s only released the three albums, Rumble Doll being her debut in 1993), but it’s always worth the wait to hear her rich compositions and sumptuous vocals.

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