Saturday, January 5, 2019

Springsteen On Broadway On Netflix | Lefsetz Letter

This is an endurance test. If you can make it through, you’re probably a superfan, but many superfans won’t. Netflix won’t be promoting how many people made it to the end of this show. Because it’s theatre, it’s music, and neither has ever translated to the flat screen.

But you should watch it. It embodies the soul of rock and roll.

It doesn’t know what it wants to be, a narrative or a concert. When Bruce says he’s gonna read from his book…that’s when you know he’s doing this for fans, whereas most plays assume the audience comes in fresh, you have to set it up, say you’ve written a book, but not Bruce. And then Patti Scialfa comes out and from there on it’s a concert when we want more narrative, more story, so the show ends up being neither fish nor fowl. For fans mostly. And as I’ve told you before, it’s not Bruce I hate, but his fans. Who keep telling us how superlative he is, how great this show was, but if you weren’t of their belief…you would have been bored by the songs and wished he’d finished the story arc of making it.

And now I’m experiencing the same conundrum Bruce did. Do you play to the audience or yourself? What Bruce’s fans, what the industry wants me to do, is rant and rave and say this is the best thing ever. And it’s pretty good, but it’s not that. To be honest, Don Henley did a better job at Glenn Frey’s memorial, he eclipsed all the musical performances, which included notables from Stevie Wonder to Bob Seger to everybody who ever wrote a song for the Eagles, never mind the Eagles themselves. You see Henley told the story of how he got here, the twists and turns, and he didn’t always look good, and it was clear Frey was frequently leading him, but you went along on the ride and were wowed.

We get some of that here, but we want more.

And we want more shows like this by superstars, with possibly less music and more story. How did this all happen, how did the star get here?

That’s the most riveting part of this performance, and most of it comes early, so tune in and watch for at least half an hour.

You see it started with Elvis Presley. Bruce does a better job of describing the impact of Elvis’s performance on television than heretofore done by anyone else. How it changed the world, even though the media didn’t know it, how it inspired Bruce to play the guitar, how it ignited our genitalia and our hearts. And then…

Bruce hated school. He says you can’t make it unless you have hatred.

Whew, the honesty!

Bruce is laying it all out, without holding back, without being modest. This is not how the aw shucks stars do it, praising God and saying they’re only a vessel, that you can make it too, they’re nobody special. Rather, Bruce played anywhere and everywhere, he had a burning desire to make it. That’s what it takes, and he tells you to go straight if you ain’t got the hatred and desire. Your eyes will bug out at the truth laid down. The alchemy and power of a band.

Then there’s the story of those lost to the war, Vietnam. This might be where youngsters tune out, all the reference points have changed, but if you lived through it, through the Beatles, when music drove the culture and everybody wanted to be in a band, it will resonate. And you know the musicians are gonna die. You can feel it. But Bruce makes it about the frontman’s power, the inability of the drummer to play “Wipe Out”…and then they’re gone.

And the curious thing is Bruce has no charisma, zero. You don’t want to jump up and hug him, have sex with him, when it’s all over you respect him, but realize he’s different. He went on a magic carpet ride of his own devise, he earned it. He’s both damaged and privileged.

You realize the man you’ve gotten on stage all these years is just that guy. Although a bit more introspective, a lot less happy and…

Yup, one of the highlights of Bruce’s shows is the stories. And that’s what this ends up like, it’s a concert, rarely a play. And Bruce acknowledges that. But my point is if you like Bruce’s raps…you’ll like this.

Now if Bruce could have left money on the table, and seemingly no one can these days, he never should have let Netflix film and distribute this. It actually works against him. For example, if Aretha’s gospel movie had been released when it had been recorded, it would have been no big deal. But decades later, after she died? If this was released ten or twenty years from now, it would be a bigger deal, insight into the man.

And I’d say that Bruce should take this on the road, but if you’re big enough, the audience comes to you.

But how many other stars could garner this audience, could sustain a show for this long?

Probably few. It’s about the rabid fan base more than the quality of the performer and the show.

And, I know this is heresy, when Bruce sings these songs, slowly, acoustically, they don’t hold up that well. “My Hometown” is brilliant, “Growin’ Up” is great, but you’ve got to forgive the endless gibberish of ongoing words, they’re’ evidence of a man hungry to make it, but is it memorable art?

But “Growin’ Up” was early.

But most rockers run out of steam. At this point, the stars of yore don’t even bother to put out new material, knowing no one will stream it and their live audiences don’t want to hear it. But Bruce still soldiers on, he’s on a quest.

And he delineates that extremely well…

But in a theatre you can’t pause the action, you cannot check your phone, you’re locked in, which is probably what made this show so memorable. But on Netflix… It’s just another entertainment option, part of the great wash of choices.

But I’ll remember a lot of this show, having slogged through it. What’s most amazing is Bruce’s sense of self, he knows who he is, that he’s a superstar, and he worked hard to become one and those overpaying to see him are ardent fans. So the wisdom resonates.

But not often enough as you hear him sing songs that were not hits as you hear the iMessage sound and wonder what’s happening in your own little world.

That’s the difference, there used to be a clear line between stars and the rest of us.

Now everybody can be a star.

But back when it was hard to make it, Bruce did.

This show is testimony to that.


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