Article 1978-05-23 Buffalo, NY

The Pop Life

BUFFALO BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN'S triumphant return to live performing Tuesday night at Shea's Buffalo Theater broke a long silence. Unless one had followed the rock press closely, one might well have had no idea what had happened to him, so little was he in the news.

Mr. Springsteen's withdrawal from the public eye came after a period, three years ago, when he seemed hard to avoid. After years on the New Jersey bar‐band circuit he began building a national rock audience with constant tours and records starting in 1973.

In 1975, when he was 26 years old, his fame erupted with his best album to date, “Born to Run.” There was the typical publicity campaign of the sort that accompanies any artist in whom a record company believes strongly. That campaign combined with the fervent enthusiasm of Mr. Springsteen's fans and a good many rock writers to produce a huge amount of press coverage. It seemed all the more huge to those who had not before heard of him, and it culminated when he appeared on the covers of both Time and Newsweek the week.

Since then there's been precious little. Mr. Spingsteen toured some, but his appearances were erratic and stopped more than a year ago. He's held himself aloof from the press for the last two years. And his new album, due next week and entitled “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” will be his first in nearly three years.

Those cynics who decried the “hype” surrounding Mr. Springsteen have suggested that his disappearance simply constituted a sudden return to deserved obscurity. In fact, Mr. Springsteen was embroiled in lawsuits that sought to clarify who his manager would be, who would produce his records and who would own his publishing rights. He didn't talk to the press partly because his lawyers advised him not to and partly because he felt the need to withdraw after his sudden and extreme involvement with the whole, hyperactive world of rockmusic superstardom in 1975.

That reclusiveness came to an end at Mr. Springsteen's show Tuesday night in Buffalo—the first night of four‐month tour (he'll be at the Nassau Coliseum June 3—sold out—and in Manhattan later in the summer). Not only did he rouse the audience to a fervor not often encountered at concerts, but he even agreed to answer a few questions backstage.

As far as his involuntary “retirement” is concerned, Mr. Springsteen suggested that he might well have pulled back a bit even if he hadn't been forced to by his legal troubles.

“After ‘Born to Run’ I didn't want to do another album right away,” he said. “If you start worrying about putting out a follow‐up album, you get caught up in the machine of the industry. I had a blast of that, and I learned something. I learned what I wonted to do with myself and what I didn't want to do with myself.”

One thing he did was go back home to New Jersey and spend time with the friends and the Asbury Park scenes of his youth. The imagery of lowermiddle‐class New Jersey has always been crucial to Mr. Springsteen's songs, and being home clearly served as a cooling‐out period. “For me, that's where the reality is,” he said “I've always tried to keep a line on that.”

To judge from Tuesday's concert, Mr. Springsteen's new songs, nearly all which he's offering in concert, deal with the same basic themes and use the same musical signatures of his past work—songs of suburban loners, cars and young love, clothed in ornately rhetorical yet passionate rock‐and‐roll. Mr. Springsteen realizes that he may be accused of replowing the same ground, but he argues that his work constitutes a particular genre, and that novelty can be discerned by studying the variations on the recurrent themes.

“Most of the new songs were written while we were recording the album,” he said. “I was formulating a concept in the studio. There's a slightly different outlook in these songs, which I pick up on a lot. It's like those Italian westerns, or detective movies or John Ford westerns. With all those movies, you have to dig all the subtle differences to understand what's going on. They have the same scenes, or they appear to have the same scenes, but actually the characters have a whole different look. With this record, I started with basically the same imagery as before. the same frames of reference, but what's happened to the characters is little different.”

Aside from questions of artistic growth, Mr. Springsteen wonders whether his heartfelt affirmations of emotion are quite in tune with the spirit of the day. “Times are generally cynical right now,” he says. “I'm not that particular kind of person. So in that way, at least. my stuff seems to go against the grain.”

Looking back on 1975 and his subsequent period of inactivity, Mr. Springsteen still has mixed feelings.

“To this day, I still regard all that attention as both a good thing and a bad thing,” he said. “the initial reason to play is to avoid work and because it's fun and for girls and all the rest. There are a certain number of things you have to hold on to. I can tell when I'm playing and I'm not having fun, I'm doing it wrong. There was a period of time, right after ‘Born to Run,’ when it wasn't fun, I'm real strong; I don't get bothered. But a few nights, especially the first time we were in England, I was shaky. Finally, whether things were good or bad, I felt bad. Now, as bad as it is, it will never be as bad as it was.”

As he talked, Mr. Springsteen's bitterness about the music business came out as did a more general disaffection for the society in which that business flourishes.

“The whole system is based on the corruption of your ideals, on the watering down of things that are real. By the time a guy gets to be President, he's full of so much bull.

“At a certain point I realized I wanted to be true to myself, and I had to be tougher than I had been. They always know how to get you—they get you while you're dancing. It's like Bonk! And then you're out in the alley.”

By John Rockwell via The New York Times.
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