The culmination of the Bruce Springsteen legend | Culture


How to put your fingers in a socket and feel the great electric shock of the rock and roll. This is how one feels when listening to the No Nukes concerts by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, held in 1979 and which have now been released in disc and film format, after decades locked away, even though they ran with low quality as pirated tapes between the active community springsgteeniana. A unique and extraordinary scourge that recovers a Springsteen in his most sublime version, the one in which his fans and some music critics forged his legend of being the most powerful musician on stage.

More than ever, hyperbole adjusts to reality: Springsteen and his gang of street comrades demonstrate such a sweeping waste of power on the nights of September 22 and 23, 1979 at Madison Square Garden that they dwarfed giants of the stature. by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Carly Simon, Bonnie Raitt, Doobie Brothers and Jackson Browne, who, through the Musicians United for Safe Energy (MUSE) association, had promoted the initiative of these actions that sought to raise awareness of the good of anti-nuclear campaigns.

If there was a detonation that nobody could stop in those concerts, it was that of Bruce and the E Street Band. They blew up the Madison Square Garden crowd. The film shows an electrifying and exorbitant musician, running like a maniac, jumping like a rocket, with unpredictable movements everywhere, forcing the sound technicians to chase him to plug in the guitar, getting on the piano at the festival Rosalita or playing dead; an exhausted and happy being on the ground with all the theatricality that he copied from James Brown. He is the godfather of funk, a wild animal on stage, a good example to compare these powerful performances in which the E Street Band is in a state of grace, a sonorous roller at the service of a lunatic of the rock and roll, with a full Clarence Clemons on saxophone. There is no document that better demonstrates the unique alliance that Springsteen and Clemons had, all that circus of colleague that they built to turn this sonic crusade into something personal and non-transferable.

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Clarence Clemons and Bruce Springsteen at one of the 1979 No Nukes concerts in New York.
Clarence Clemons and Bruce Springsteen at one of the 1979 No Nukes concerts in New York.

Springsteen’s crusade and the E Street Band had been brewing since 1975, when the first signs began that the New Jersey gang was aiming for the highest in history after the album’s release. Born to Run. In fact, the best official sound document to date was the London Hammersmith Odeon concert in 1975. On the unofficial channels there are the 1978 tours, just after the release of Darkness of the Edge of Town, with already legendary performances such as the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, the Palladium in New York or the Capitol Theater in Passaic. On that tour, with a Springsteen unable to play for three years due to the trials with his manager Mike Appel, exploded everything with rabid vitality.

It was the moment of the culmination of the legend, that in the No Nukes concerts, in the middle of a break in the recording sessions of The River, reached another dimension. As you can see from the first song, Prove It All Night, losing its long, abrasive six-minute introduction of the tour From ’78, this Springsteen is perhaps more direct and raw, less in need of mystical redemption, attacking his prey with more draw and celebration. But it is like trying to distinguish the force of two stars in violent collision. What matters is that the galaxy is wonderfully liberated.

In these live shows, Springsteen and his boys regained faith in the galaxy of the rock and roll. Elvis Presley had died, The Beatles were already history, The Rolling Stones had become entrepreneurs of their brand, Bob Dylan had taken refuge in Christianity to – paradoxically – renounce once more any saving power, Lou Reed was too cynical … Only David Bowie and Neil Young offered similar paths to glory, but neither of them seemed to have the infectious innocence with which to reinvent the great enterprise of humanity. His poignant and inspiring rock, miraculously linked with the damaged psychology of post-Vietnam American society, was a whirlwind of vitality. Not even the disenchantment of punk, with the unbeatable banner of The Clash, could deny in 1979 that Springsteen was like them: someone who wanted to fight the law. Except that Bruce, about to turn 30, had a penetrating and fascinating romantic vision of defeat.

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Bruce Springsteen and Jackson Browne at a No Nukes concert in 1979.
Bruce Springsteen and Jackson Browne at a No Nukes concert in 1979.

Those were days when Springsteen, in his own words in his memoirs, embraced a “great nothing.” That is, he understood that needing someone, especially a sentimental partner, was not going to bring him “anything good.” He was only interested in music: his songs and everything that revolved around them. He was fleeing from his own life, from a past marked by the stormy relationship with his father, a gray environment and a lack of conformity. He only felt like a person in the studio and, even more so, on stage, where time dominated. “Lengthening and shortening it, moving forward, backing it up, speeding it up, slowing it down, all with a shake of the shoulder and a beat of the drum,” he wrote in his autobiography.

At No Nukes concerts, that drumbeat reverberates loudly across the Madison Square Garden stage, reaching astonishing delirium in the performance of Born to Run. The same happens in the versions of Quarter to Tree, de Gary US Bonds; Rave On, from Buddy Holly, or, in a very sweet way, Stay, the Maurice Williams composition popularized by Jackson Browne, and which Bruce sings alongside Browne himself, Rosemary Butler and Tom Petty. The tremendous shock also comes when he advances two songs from his next album: The River and Sherry Darling. Time stops there, on stage. Yet Springsteen, the supersonic kid, was really stuck in the time of his song characters – lonely, cracked, depressed guys, driving at night, longing for a piece of something to believe in.

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As we would learn a long time later, through his memoirs, that musician, erected as the great hope of the rock and roll, he was on the verge of collapsing into his permanent existential crisis, when, as he himself put it, “life beat art.” At least, the No Nukes concerts are one of the strongest reasons to affirm that Springsteen and his, as the best, manage to make us believe the opposite: that art can defeat life.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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