Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Boss? Again?

Yes, Bruce Springsteen has found his way into consecutive blog posts. Coincidentally this is another "Johnny come lately" tale from my life as a middling music fan. I say "Johnny come lately" because the fan culture I grew up in (New Wave -> Punk -> College -> Alternative -> Indie -> Whatevs) placed an extremely high value on discovery; on being the first to discover a band, on knowing about a band before your friends and peers did, on seeing a band before "they got big". This "will to discovery" is summed up perfectly in the (usually) condescending and (always) pedantic observation that "Their early stuff was better" (See Also, "They were better with the original line-up", "They were better before they signed to a major" "They were better two years ago at [insert name of small venue here]).

None of this should be too surprising. Information is power after all, and people will wield it accordingly; even when talking about something as presumably benign as popular music. (To be fair, it's not all snobbery. There are often qualitative differences that occur over the arc of any given band's career. One could make a a pretty compelling case that the Bob Stinson era Replacements were in fact better than the post-Bob Stinson Replacements).

Point being, if you want to like a band, you're welcome to, but really the gold standard is to have liked them before anyone else did. And in those unfortunate cases when you didn't have the intellect or foresight to like them before anyone else did, at least have the good sense to like their older stuff.

Which brings us to Australian punk pioneers The Saints, and (in a manner) to Bruce Springsteen. The Saints (along with a handful of other acts) sit squarely at Punk Rock Ground Zero. Seminal, overused as it is, remains exactly the right word. Their 1977 debut "I'm Stranded" stands as one of punk's founding documents; the playbook, gospel, and constitution all rolled up in one roaring 35 minute package. Its buzz-saw guitars and blatant disregard for commercial viability helped define music for a generation.

Also, I've never heard it. Seriously. Never owned it. Never heard it.

Oh sure, I've heard the single "I'm Stranded" (It was impossible not to in the circles I ran in), but beyond that the album never graced my ears.

What I have heard, owned, and loved was The Saints seventh album (yes, seventh), "All Fool's Day". Released in 1985, "All Fool's Day" presents well-crafted songs, lush arrangements, and a commercial sensibility that hides every trace of the band's raucous beginnings. It represents, in many respects, what would later come to be known as "selling out". The album's sensibility is captured perfectly in first track "Just Like Fire Would", a jangly, mid-tempo number that sounds custom-made for MTV. Honestly though, I'm not sure if anyone ever cries "sell out" or not. That's because no one ever really brings up "All Fool's Day" (It's just that kind of record). For that matter, and from what I can tell, no one in the United States talks about The Saints much at all beyond "I'm Stranded" (and occasionally "Eternally Yours").

All that might change now. In a move that's as perfect as it is perverse, Bruce Springsteen has chosen "Just Like Fire Would" as the single for his latest release "High Hopes". I'm not sure what connection The Boss had with The Saints, but good on him for plucking this little gem from the Outback and bringing it to a wider American audience. And good on Chris Bailey who will presumably see a little cash and a little recognition beyond "I'm Stranded".