Little Steven and Bruce Springsteen: “It’s Been a Long Time”

When Little Steven kicked off his tour in New Jersey to promote his new album Soulfire, it may not have been a big surprise that Bruce Springsteen joined him on stage.  But it was still pretty awesome for the two to perform “It’s Been a Long Time” together.  They look like they’re having a lot of fun with Steve as the front man too.

The song originally appeared on the 1991 album by Southside Johnny & the Ashbury Jukes, Better Days.  The wonderful album is worth tracking down. The album includes songs by Steven Van Zandt, a.k.a. Little Steven (and Miami Steve), as well as vocal contributions by both him and Springsteen.

The original “It’s Been a Long Time” recording featured Springsteen, Van Zandt, and Southside Johnny. It was the perfect song for the three, reflecting on their youth at the Jersey shore: “We lived in a time and a world of our own,/ Making up the rules as we went along.”  Van Zandt, who wrote the song, features it on his new album Soulfire.

Some of the lines in the chorus about lost comrades seem even more poignant now that Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici of the E Street Band have passed away. But the song remains a celebration of both the past and the future.

It’s been a long time since we laughed together;
It’s been a long time since we cried;
Raise your glass for the comrades we’ve lost;
My friend it’s been a long, long time.

The performance of Springsteen and Little Steven with the Disciples of Soul is from May 27, 2017 at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, New Jersey.

Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    The Springsteen Song Rejected By the Harry Potter Films

    The Harry Potter films had almost everything.  They had magic and adventure.  They had a story beloved by children and adults.  But they did not have a Bruce Springsteen song, although they could have.

    Bruce Springsteen offered his song “I’ll Stand By You Always” to the franchise, but filmmakers turned him down.  Reportedly, Springsteen wrote the song between 1998 and 2000 after reading the first Harry Potter book to his eldest son, Sam.  He then made the song available to director Christopher Columbus for either Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) or Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002).

    Springsteen explained to BBC Radio 2 that “I’ll Stand By You Always” “was a big ballad that was very uncharacteristic of something I’d sing myself.”  He added, though, that “it was something that I thought would have fit lovely.”

    The song’s rejection had nothing to do with the quality of the song.  Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling’s contract stipulated that no commercial songs could be used in the movies.

    “I’ll Stand By You Always” almost had a second life when Marc Anthony planned to include it on his album Mended (2002).  But ultimately Anthony left the song off the album.

    In Springsteen’s demo version, “I’ll Stand By You Always” is a quiet ballad.  The lyrics contain no overt references to Harry Potter, but they do sound like they were written from a parent to a child.

    I know here in the dark tomorrow can seem so very far away;
    Here the ghosts and the goblins can rise from your dreams to steal your
    heart away;

    Together we’ll chase those thieves that won’t leave you alone out from
    under the bed, out from over our home;

    And when the light comes we’ll laugh my love about the things that the
    night had us so frightened of;

    And until then,

    I’ll stand by you always, always, always.

    Around the time that Springsteen was shopping the song to the Harry Potter folks, a CD-R with the song was given to some executives at Columbia Records.  But the song is not generally available.  Springsteen’s demo of “I’ll Stand By You Always” hit the Internet for a brief period recently, but for now it is gone.

    Springsteen does tend to release old songs eventually, so we may still see an official release of “I’ll Stand By You Always.”  But until we do, you may imagine how the song might sound along with Conan O’Brien (“Let’s raise our wands to all the wizards and steel workers. . . “).

    Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Springsteen’s “Long Walk Home” and the Alienating Feeling of Election Results

    Bruce Springsteen released “Long Walk Home” in 2007 on his Magic album.  He wrote the song to reflect how he felt during the years of the George W. Bush presidency.

    Last night I stood at your doorstep,
    Trying to figure out what went wrong.

    “Long Walk Home” is about a guy coming back to his hometown and not recognizing anything.  As Springsteen explained about the singer’s character in The New York Times,  “The things that he thought he knew, the people who he thought he knew, whose ideals he had something in common with, are like strangers.”

    In town I pass Sal’s grocery,
    Barber shop on South Street;
    I looked in their faces,
    They’re all rank strangers to me.

    The reference to “rank strangers” in Springsteen’s “A Long Walk Home” was inspired by the song “Rank Strangers to Me,” sometimes called “The Rank Stranger” or just “Rank Stranger.” Albert E. Brumley wrote “Rank Strangers to Me,” which was made famous by The Stanley Brothers.

    “Rank Strangers to Me” is also about a man returning to the town of his youth.  As in Springsteen’s song, the singer discovers he does not recognize anything.

    The meaning of “Rank Stranger” is open to interpretation. There is no resolution or explanation about why the singer does not recognize the people in his town. Has he died? Has everyone else died? It is a mystery that makes the song haunt you long after you have heard it.

    Similarly, in Springsteen’s song, the unrecognizable world feels alien to the singer. The meaning would be mysterious too, except that Springsteen has provided context for “The Long Walk Home.” He explained about the alienation during the Bush administration, “I think that’s what’s happened in this country.”

    It’s gonna be a long walk home;
    Hey pretty darling, don’t wait up for me;
    Gonna be a long walk home,
    A long walk home.

    While some celebrated the election results this week, many felt they were seeing their country in a way they could not recognize. Maybe Springsteen had a feeling about what was going to happen when he chose to play “Long Walk Home” outside Philadelphia’s Independence Hall during a rally for Hillary Clinton the night before the election.

    Either way, the song captures the disappointment that one side often feels after an election. But that is the nature of democracy. At one time or another, we all have to take a long walk to get back home.

    Leave your two cents in the comments. Photo by Chimesfreedom.

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    Fathers, Birth, and Rebirth In Springsteen Songs

    For Father’s Day weekend, we discuss two of Bruce Springsteen’s songs about adult life, fatherhood, rebirth, and birth: “Long Time Comin'” and “Living Proof.” Early in his career in songs like “Independence Day,” Springsteen explored the relationship between sons and fathers with a focus on his experience as a son. But later in his life, some of his songs, like the two discussed below, focused on the joys and fears of being a father.

    “Long Time Comin'” and “Living Proof” explore some similar themes connecting the singer’s rebirth to the birth of a child. But although they were written less than five years apart, the singer’s perspective changes significantly between the two songs.

    “Living Proof,” which appeared on Springsteen’s 1992 Lucky Town album, is about the joy and the celebration of starting a family. The singer tells us about his own struggles in life and about “crawling deep into some kind of darkness.” Through that, he sought some type of rebirth: “I went down into the desert city / Just tryin’ so hard to shed my skin.” Ultimately, he found faith and hope in his lover and the child she gave him.

    Well now on a summer night in a dusky room,
    Come a little piece of the Lord’s undying light,
    Crying like he swallowed the fiery moon;
    In his mother’s arms it was all the beauty I could take,
    Like the missing words to some prayer that I could never make;
    In a world so hard and dirty so fouled and confused,
    Searching for a little bit of God’s mercy;
    I found living proof.

    “Living Proof” was written after Springsteen’s future wife Patti Scialfa gave birth to the couple’s first child, a son, on July 25, 1990. As such, it reflects the happiness Springsteen was feeling at finding a happy family life following a period that included a divorce in 1988.

    “Long Time Comin'” officially first appeared on Springsteen’s 2005 solo album Devils & Dust. But Springsteen wrote the song much earlier around the time of his 1995 album, The Ghost of Tom Joad. Thus, he wrote “Long Time Comin'” within five years of the birth of his first son and around the time of the birth of his third child. Springsteen and Scialfa had a daughter born in December 1991 and a second son born in January 1994.

    “Long Time Comin'” is set somewhere in the Western United States (“The wind in the mesquite comes rushin’ over the hilltops”) out under the open sky. The singer in “Long Time Comin’,” like the singer in “Living Proof” is seeking rebirth: “Tonight I’m gonna get birth naked and bury my old soul / And dance on its grave.”

    Unlike “Living Proof,” the father in “Long Time Comin'” focuses more on the future of his children, and he fears what his children may face. The singer is happy, but he worries that he will transfer his own failings to his children.

    Thus, with a few more years with experience being a father, the songwriter of “Long Time Comin'” creates a character who wonders about his own abilities as a father. It is a weariness earned by experience.

    Well now down below and pullin’ on my shirt,
    Yeah I got some kids of my own;
    Well if I had one wish for you in this God forsaken world, kid,
    It’d be that your mistakes will be your own,
    That your sins will be your own.

    The lyrics written by Springsteen-the-father contrast with the lyrics written by Springsteen-the-son in his earlier song “Adam Raised a Cain,” which appeared on Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978). In the song from Springsteen’s early years, the singer concluded, “You’re born into this life paying,/ For the sins of somebody else’s past.” Additionally, recalling his father’s pain, the singer warned, “You inherit the sins, you inherit the flames.” That son’s understanding of his own father’s burdens resulted in the son’s hope not to pass on those sins and flames.

    In the end, the father of “Long Time Comin'” looks at his two kids in sleeping bags, and then he looks at his pregnant wife, promising that he will do better this time around (even using the f-word for the first time on a Springsteen record). It’s one of the most touching and honest moments in the singer-songwriter’s expansive catalog of songs full of honesty and faith.

    Image of rebirth of Phoenix via public domain. What are your favorite songs of birth and rebirth? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Where Are You Now My Handsome Billy?

    The shooting early this morning in an Orlando nightclub became the deadliest single-day mass shooting in the history of the United States. There are no words for the tragedy, even while the media tries to sort through the gunman’s motivations when he singled out the Florida gay nightclub for his horrible act.

    The politicians will have many words in the upcoming weeks, connecting the shooting to their issues, rightly or wrongly. We will hear more about the shooter’s affiliations and we will again debate a killer’s ability to gain access to weapons. And most likely, they will fail to agree on a solution.

    At times like this one, it can sometimes be helpful to turn off the TVs and seek comfort in music. Maybe eventually there will be some hope that will lead us to songs like Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” But today, we can only think about the victims.

    Along those lines, one of the sweetest songs about losing someone comes from Bruce Springsteen’s “The Last Carnival.” While the song was written about the loss of E Street Band member Danny Federici, it still seems appropriate for a wider meaning.

    Moon rise, moon rise, the light that was in your eyes is gone away;
    Daybreak, daybreak, the thing in you that made me ache has gone to stay;
    We’ll be riding the train without you tonight,
    The train that keeps on moving.

    It’s black smoke scorching the evening sky;
    A million stars shining above us like every soul living and dead
    Has been gathered together by God to sing a hymn
    Over the old bones.

    Photo by Chimesfreedom. What is your favorite song of comfort? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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