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Vulture’s “All 314 Bruce Springsteen Songs, Ranked From Worst to Best”

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Late last year, an editor I was working with at Vulture asked me if I was interested in taking on the assignment of ranking and rating all of Bruce Springsteen’s songs, similar to other major ranking projects they have on their site. I immediately said “yes.” I like hard assignments that take me out of my comfort zone and give me a chance to go deep.

We deliberated a bit on what made the list — no covers, only officially released songs — and I went to work.

This isn’t a list of my favorite Bruce Springsteen songs. If you’ve read anything on this site you know that. Personal lists are also ever-changing, and that’s how it should be. I wanted to create a strong list based on objective criteria and then I had the job of backing that up in writing, on a song-by-song basis. You can’t just say “This song sucks.”

The criteria always has to be the lyrics and the music. It can’t be anything else for this kind of list. I allowed for the song’s live performance to provide a bump or a bonus when I wasn’t sure, but it couldn’t be the governing factor — but equally, it couldn’t be ignored, either.

Even with the parameters, I still went back and forth on ‘No covers.’ How can I write this list without “Trapped”? What about “Jersey Girl”? But it soon became clear that they didn’t fit the notion of the exercise, especially once I established criteria for ranking. He hasn’t written the lyrics for the cover, and not every cover has been rearranged, so then you’re ranking an opinion of an interpretation and that’s a different exercise. The covers were out. (This also eliminated Seeger Sessions, which could be its own project.)

There is no website that has all of the songs. I had to get this from a friend who keeps these kind of lists. (Thank you.) To formulate the initial ranking, I wrote every song on an index card, and then I went to a hotel for a long weekend so I could spread everything out. I took some initial photos of this process:

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This is because I am An Old, and I’m still tactile. I needed to see the songs in order to sort them.

Once I had an initial order I was happy with, I re-ordered the master Google sheet I had with all of the songs. The Google sheet would then let me sort by range, so I could sort each album within the ranking: “Is this really the best song on ‘Born To Run’?” The ranking had to make sense that way, for sure, and I definitely moved some things around based on the results of that exercise. That presented a challenge when it came to Tracks, as it’s not constructed as an album, but with Tracks, you have to remember that some songs didn’t make the records for very good reasons.

I had every song on a portable hard drive–I don’t have everything on my phone, I like too much other music–so there was obviously a lot of listening. Even when I was sure I knew what I was talking about, I went back and re-checked it. I listened with headphones, I listened with speakers. There were songs I remembered as better than they actually were. There were songs that had great personal meaning to me, but once I spent time with the lyrics and the music, realized they did not actually rank that highly as per the criteria.

The songs that were the hardest were the ones that ranked lower down. It took me almost an entire day to research “American Land” sufficiently in order to be able to adequately express why I do not believe this to be a good song.

I had a few trusted friends look at the list, sworn to secrecy. I picked people whose Springsteen opinions I respect, but that do not mirror mine exactly–I am interested in how they think about him but did not expect them to agree. I wanted to hear what they thought was missing, what they thought was wrong, what they didn’t agree with but thought “Bold choice, I could respect that there.” They did not read the descriptions, just looked at the raw list. They asked some good questions and basically confirmed that I was on the right track, and I did get some indirect encouragement to move some songs I had been uncertain about further up and down the list. (I’m being deliberately vague.)

The writing went on for some time. This is a piece that’s going to hang around for a while so I wanted to make sure it was tight. It was fact-checked by my own personal fact-checker, who also fact-checks Backstreets. (My favorite correction: “It was the Whole Foods in Middletown, not Red Bank” – this about “Queen of the Supermarket”.) I edited the heck out of this piece, writing and rewriting and checking and rechecking, before finally filing back in April (the original deadline, based on the fact that the tour was supposed to end in April back when I got the assignment).

I didn’t expect this to be 20,000 words but I write large easily–concision is what stymies me most. I love large projects that let me dig deep into history and allow me to do tons of research. I love large projects that are out of my comfort zone. I love the excuse to reflect and think and challenge my own preconceived thoughts and notions. This assignment did all of those things, and I’m thrilled to have my byline on it.

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How Not To Write About Female Music Fans

ברוכים באים לחברים הישראליים
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Michael Hann, in the Guardian, about Gaslight Anthem:

The girls in the front row at the Middle East in Cambridge, Massachusetts, are gazing up at Brian Fallon, singing every word back at him.

There were no men in the audience doing the same thing? Because at most Gaslight shows I go to, the entire audience is singing every single word back at the band. And what were the men in the audience looking at? Were they reading their email or something?

Finally, unless the females were under the age of 12, adult women should be referred to as such.

They were queueing outside in the heat by lunchtime to get these spots, and nothing will budge them.

You don’t say! Because I often invest hours of my time towards an effort only to abandon it because my lip gloss has smudged.

They look to be in their mid-teens – they have the wristbands to signify to the bar staff that they should not be sold alcohol – and they are truly, madly, deeply in love.

If you read the comments, it turned out that the women in question were not in their mid-teens, but were in fact well over 21. But I’m not sure how the depth of their love can be assessed except for the fact that there could be no other reason in the world for a women to like a band and want to put in the time to wait for them except for the fact that they are in L-U-V. Truly. Madly. Deeply.

The pretty girl with the red vest and the brunette bob in the very centre is acting out the lyrics, using only her facial muscles.

This is just bad writing, but thanks for giving us your approval of her physical appearance! I’m not sure why that piece of information is germane to the article, except to reinforce that the only true purpose a woman has is to be decorative.

You can all but hear her thoughts: Oh, Brian! If you were mine your heart would be made whole!

And wow, that’s not just a stretch, that’s a leap. Because, again, the only reason a woman would wait for hours to get a prime front row spot is because the lead singer is the object of her affections. And not just the object of her affections – she is a troubled sort with a difficult life and the love of her favorite musician is the only thing that could possibly rescue her!

The object of her affections stands and sweats, tattoos down his arms and up his neck. He is shortish and slightly stocky, a scrubby ginger beard covering his prominent chin. But the Gaslight Anthem’s looks are not what have attracted the front-row girls. They are here for the bruised romanticism of Fallon’s lyrics, for the wounded lover they imagine him to be.

Well, at least they’re not there for his looks.

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So we’ve trivialized the women, reduced them to their looks, marginalized them because of their supposed age, patronized them with supposition as to their motive for arriving early to get a good spot and for their reasons they like the band. If there was a Female Music Fan bingo card, I would have won.

The author of the piece has tried to apologize. He’s claimed that he, too, is a music fan! He’s sent links to articles written about his own obsessive fandom. He claimed that at most of the shows he goes to, the front row is always 100% male. He’s claimed that the staff at the Middle East told him that the wristbands were because the wearers were underage. He’s told me, via email, that he’s not sexist because he regularly assigns articles to female writers. If that’s true, then it’s just lazy writing — but it’s lazy writing at my expense, and the expense of every woman I know who is still fighting the stereotype of the only reason a woman would be at a rock show was because she was in love with the musicians.

And you know what? If a woman did want to spend all day waiting in line to get the front because she wanted to fuck Brian Fallon, she would absolutely be entitled to do so. But unless you asked her and she specifically told you that that was why she was there, you don’t get to automatically assume her intent, no matter how old she is or what she was wearing or how long she waited in line.

In 2012, this is insane.

[This is where I point out that I wrote a novel about what it’s like to be a female music fan.]

[h/t to Maura Johnston‘s “How Not To Write About Female Musicians“]

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Rock Scene

When I was a teenager, my father used to go into NYC for business on a fairly regular basis, and he would always be willing to stop into a record store or bring me a copy of the Village Voice, picked up at the newsstand at Grand Central. (This was before I could drive, and could go get my own copy at the newsstand at Bull’s Head in Stamford, the only place in town I knew of that carried the Voice).

One day he walked in the house and handed me a copy of this magazine.
“You like Bruce Springsteen, right?”
“Right, Dad.”
“They were out of the Village Voice but I saw that and thought you’d like it.”

It was like he had handed me the keys to the kingdom. I had heard about Rock Scene, somehow, but it wasn’t the kind of thing that made it to the suburbs and I’m pretty sure it never dawned on me to subscribe — subscriptions were for things like Rolling Stone, which I believe I got for my 15th or 16th birthday (before that, I had to go to the library to read it). But Rock Scene? I knew it was full of photographs of the Ramones and that Lisa Robinson ran it and that the New York Dolls were practically the house band.

A few months later, an otherwise very quiet and unassuming coworker at my after-school/summer job came in one day and when no one was around, handed me a large manila envelope. Inside was a stack of back issues, the good covers, the Mick and Iggy and Joey covers. I don’t know how she put two and two together. “Don’t show them to anyone here,” she said, whispering, “But I used to hang out at clubs in the city.”

Don’t let the gossipy format fool you; they had the best writers and the best photographers (Bob Gruen!), and for all of its “The Ramones Help Danny Fields Move!” (I walk by that building on 4th Avenue, the one just south of what’s now the Walgreens, and think of that photo essay EVERY TIME) – it was a glimpse into a world I was never going to be part of by virtue of my parents not having met each other early enough to have had me in enough time to make it there. But it was mindblowing and aspirational in the best way, you read it and you wanted to be there, you felt like you were there, you felt like you could be part of it. It was the very definition of “I’m gonna get on that train and go to New York City and I will never return! Oh, watch me now.”

So this collector has digitized the entire run of Rock Scene and instead of coming to my apartment and paging through the issues in the archive boxes in the closet, you can read them in the comfort of your own home. And I hope you do.

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my novel, B-Sides and Broken Hearts: out now

It is OFFICIAL LAUNCH DAY for B-sides and Broken Hearts. Formerly known as Joey Ramone Is Dead, this is my rock and roll novel, the book I always wanted to read. It is available in both paperback and ebook format.

I hope you will check it out on Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, and Smashwords (for Kobo and Sony ereader). It is also available from the respective Amazon sites in the UK, Canada, and Germany! You can also walk into your local bookstore and order a copy.

This is a DIY enterprise – after trying the big publishing route for several years, and hearing “We love it, but aren’t sure how we’d sell it,” I decided to go it alone. It made sense to the fanzine creator in me. There are samples available on Amazon and Smashwords – please check it out, and spread the word if you dig it.

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this is what a feminist music writer looks like.

I attended the Ellen Willis symposium this weekend, organized at NYU by friends and colleagues of mine, and in honor of the amazing anthology just released. Speaking as someone who hung on every word in the previous Willis anthology, Beginning To See The Light, it was a delight to sit in that room with people who felt and thought like me, to be one in a sea of nodding heads when most of the time, that head is nodding solo and alone, or at least it feels that way.

My two big AH HA moments were when I said, “I waste so much time either apologizing for being too feminist, or not enough.” Funnily enough, my baseball blog, which a large portion of the world views as a dominion of bra burning ball busting man hating supremacy, was judged as not feminist at all by a so-called leading feminist web site a few years back, who refused to list my site in a list of feminist sports blogs. The other was when Irin Carmon pointed out how she had to keep checking the dates in the book when she’d read a story about Willis relating something that happened to her, because in so many ways, things have not changed.

But mostly, the biggest moment was just about doing the work, and owning the work. Everyone around me – male and female – felt like they needed to immediately GO HOME AND WRITE, but of course, no one wanted to leave.

I mentioned to someone else that I hoped that something I had done, by sitting and typing words, had made things better for the 20 something colleagues who were at the conference, or changed things. And he said that while things may not have changed, they are probably better. And I got asked for advice, and gave advice, and the advice that I gave – stop bemoaning what you haven’t seen or read or heard or written, just start looking and reading and writing, you don’t have time for anything else – could also be very well taken by myself.

I am linking to Ann Powers’ NPR Music Blog story about the weekend because there is a great photograph of many of us on the steps of the Judson Memorial Church, I know that when I was 15, or 20, or 30, and wanted to know that there were other feminist music writers out there, I would have liked actual, physical proof. (I was pleased that during the taking of the photograph we had many “Just Kids” moments as tourists stops and snapped pictures just in case we were famous. But we are, I wanted to tell them.)

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which side are you on?

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I have a blog, and every day I’ve been writing up what happens on the picket lines. One of the things I never anticipated is how many non-WGA writers would be joining us. I like when they sign-in as “Future WGA.” Because they’re recognizing that what gets decided through this strike will be the contract they’re working under for the next 20 years. –John August

Solidarity Forever,
Future WGA

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opening day 2007

…and I have a short story in Hobart’s April web issue, which is their annual baseball issue. (Serendipitously, and completely without plan, I am joined in this issue by my dear friend, the fabulous Litsa Dremousis.)

Play ball!

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ain’t it strange: patti smith on the hall of fame

‘Rock ’n’ roll drew me from my mother’s hand and led me to experience. In the end it was my neighbors who put everything in perspective. An approving nod from the old Italian woman who sells me pasta. A high five from the postman. An embrace from the notary and his wife. And a shout from the sanitation man driving down my street: “Hey, Patti, Hall of Fame. One for us.”’

One for us, indeed.

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33 1/3 madness

WOWEE.
It’s kind of amusing how many people want to write about, say, Cheap Trick At Budokan. And kind of cliched that, out of all the albums in the Lou Reed canon, there are three proposals for Metal Machine Music and NOTHING ELSE.

That’s my proposal for Black Love on there. Dammit.

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like punk never happened

My debut entry over at This Ain’t The Summer Of LoveLike Punk Never Happened: Patti Smith and the Hall Of Fame.

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