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.

  • Hurricane Sandy Is Rising Behind Us
  • Land of Hope & Dreams, This Train, and People Get Ready
  • Jason Heath and the Greedy Souls: California Wine
  • Paradise by the C
  • Paul McCartney & Bruce Springsteen: “I Saw Her Standing There”
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    Hurricane Sandy Is Rising Behind Us

    For our readers in the path of Hurricane Sandy, we wish you safety through the storm. Here in New York, they are shutting down the subways and making other preparations. Meanwhile, the residents have been out stocking up to prepare for the worst. It’s interesting to see the choices folks are making at the grocery stores in the face of possibly being holed up without power and refrigeration for some time. It seems the pessimists are grabbing up the water jugs, while the optimists are buying ice cream.

    As a Bruce Springsteen fan, I cannot think of the name “Sandy” without thinking of “Fourth of July (Sandy),” one of the great early E Street Band songs. In this early recording, featuring the late Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons, the band performs at the Capital Center in Landover, Maryland on August 15, 1978. (The audio is a little off from the video, but it is still a cool video.)

    Almost every line in the song is an arresting image in itself, whether the singer is telling us about the “tilt-a-whirl down on the south beach drag” or that “the cops finally busted Madame Marie for tellin’ fortunes better than they do.” Here and in the original, Springsteen sings to Sandy, “Love me tonight, and I promise I’ll love you forever.” But I have heard him change the words in other versions to an even more honest line, “Love me tonight, and I promise . . . I promise there won’t be any promises.”

    In Songs (1998), Springsteen explained that he wrote “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” in mid-1973 after moving in with a girlfriend in a garage apartment five minutes from Asbury Park in Bradley Beach, NJ. The 23-year-old wrote it as “a goodbye to my adopted hometown and the life I’d lived there before I recorded. Sandy was a composite of some of the girls I’d known along the Shore.” He later explained the themes he was trying to address, “I used the boardwalk and the closing down of the town as a metaphor for the end of a summer romance and the changes I was experiencing in my own life.”

    When the band planned to record the song, Springsteen hired a church children’s choir to sing on the track. But the kids did not show up on the day of the recording, so Suki Lahav — the wife of Springsteen’s sound engineer — sang the backing track and they overdubbed her voice to make it sound like a choir. It’s her voice you hear on “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” on The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle (1973).

    In the late 1980s, I took a road trip with a friend from Cleveland to New York, and along the way we stopped in Asbury Park. I was surprised to discover then that there actually was a fortune teller there named Madam Marie. She was closed that day, so I did not get my fortune told. But it made me realize how Springsteen was able to take things from real life and transform them into great poetry. Although Madam Marie is no longer in Asbury Park because she passed away in 2008, here is hoping that Asbury Park and other areas along the shore survive Hurricane Sandy.

    What is your favorite version of “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)”? Leave your two cents in the comments.

  • Hurricane Sandy Concert Ends With Springsteen’s Hope
  • Land of Hope & Dreams, This Train, and People Get Ready
  • Paradise by the C
  • Where Are You Now My Handsome Billy?
  • Who Was Bruce Springstone?
  • Shelter from the Storm
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    Land of Hope & Dreams, This Train, and People Get Ready

    Bruce Springsteen released his new album Wrecking Ball (2012) to good reviews. Instead of adding to the reviews of the album, Chimesfreedom takes a close look at the album’s “Land of Hope and Dreams,” a song that the Washington Post claims is like a “pose” full of “[c]artoonishly austere American cliches.” Well, the Post is wrong about the song, which was played during the 1999 reunion tour with the E Street Band, then appeared in a live version on 2001’s Live in New York City and 2003’s Essential Bruce Springsteen.

    Why would Springsteen release a song more than ten years after it had already appeared on an album? Besides the fact that the prolific songwriter has been known to sit on songs for decades before release, the timing is perfect for this one for three reasons discussed in more detail below.  First, it is a beautiful tribute to the late Clarence Clemons. Second, the song brings a little hope to an album about hard times.  Finally, the song is not a “pose;” it is one of Springsteen’s most beautiful songs, evoking Woody Guthrie and Curtis Mayfield while turning a classic folk song on its head.

    (1) A Fitting Tribute to Clarence Clemons

    First, the above new gospel version of the song from the new album is one of the final songs recorded with Clemons, so one may understand that it was important for Springsteen to include Clemons on the album. And because the song goes back to 1999 when Springsteen reunited with the E Street Band, it also evokes the connection among the band mates.

    It was not surprising that when Dave Marsh wrote an essay memorializing Clarence Clemons that he entitled the article, “In the Land of Hope and Dreams.” Springsteen often has included references to the E Street Band members in his songs, ranging from “Tenth-Avenue Freeze-Out” to “The Last Carnival,” a tribute to deceased E Street Band member Danny Federici. Here, the placement of “Land of Hope and Dreams,” featuring Clemons’s sax solo, next to the final song on the regular album, “We Are Alive,” where Springsteen imagines his own death, connects the album to the Big Man and his sweet soul departed.

    In The Guardian, Springsteen noted that when listening to the new album, “When the sax comes up on ‘Land of Hope and Dreams,’ it’s a lovely moment for me.” What a perfect tribute.

    (2) A Song of Hope

    Second, the album Wrecking Ball is Springsteen’s recession-era CD, and the song signals a way out of hard times. Springsteen’s last CD, Working on a Dream, came out during the recent recession, but it had been recorded during a period of hope as then Senator Barack Obama was running for president.

    By the time Springsteen toured to support Working on a Dream (2009), the economy and the mood of the country had changed, so Springsteen had to rework setlists to include more of his past songs about hard times and even included Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More.” During that time, he apparently began thinking about this album, as during the tour he debuted this album’s title song, “Wrecking Ball.”

    While there is a touch of sadness in almost every Springsteen song, including classics like “Thunder Road,” he often mixes dark and light. When he sings about despair and hopelessness, he is rarely hopeless. So, on an album about hard times, it is not surprising that he would signal there is some hope: “Tomorrow there’ll be sunshine/ And all this darkness past.” As in the first single, “We Take Care of Our Own,” he embraces one of his common themes that hope lies in caring for each other.

    (3) The American Songbook and Trains: “This Train”

    Finally, we come to why “Land of Hope & Dreams,” one of Springsteen’s most optimistic songs, is also one of his greatest and not just a cartoon as the Washington Post claims. The song embraces much of the American songbook. With the song’s reference to “bells of freedom” it evokes the Bob Dylan song that inspired the name of this blog.

    But, more prominently, “Land of Hope and Dreams” connects to the long tradition of songs about trains.  This legacy travels from Robert Johnson, Jimmy Rodgers, and Hank Williams through songs like Cat Stevens’s “Peace Train.”

    To understand “Land of Hope and Dreams,” though, we must begin with a classic folk song, “This Train,” which Springsteen has confessed helped inspire “Land of Hope and Dreams.” Big Bill Broonzy recorded the traditional song “This Train,” and the great Sister Rosetta Tharpe had a hit with “This Train” in 1939.

    “This Train” goes back even further in time. Woody Guthrie adapted the traditional song as one about going to glory if you are good, because that train “Don’t carry nothing but the righteous and the holy.” The song specifically excludes gamblers, liars, smokers, con men, rustlers, side street walkers, wheeler dealers, and hustlers.

    One may hear Guthrie’s version in this scene from Bound for Glory (1976), with David Carradine portraying Woody Guthrie.

    It is interesting that Guthrie became associated with a righteous song, when the lyrics seem counter to many of his principles.  Yet, one may also see it as attacking the con men of the establishment.

    When Guthrie’s editor-agent proposed changing his autobiography’s title from Boomhchasers to Bound for Glory because of the book’s descriptions of Guthrie singing the song to homeless men, Guthrie initially balked. He was worried that readers would think he meant “Bound for Glory” to apply to himself.  His understanding of the phrase from the song was that “the common people” are bound for glory. (Joe Klein, Woody Guthrie: A Life.)

    “This Train” may be bound for glory, but many sinners have sung the song. Below is a performance by some of the early Sun Records rockers and admitted sinners, including Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Roy Orbison.

    The song goes back even further in American history, as “This Train” was used by slaves to convey messages to each other on the Underground Railroad, with “glory” meaning “freedom.” Still, despite the history and inclusiveness attributed to the song, in the lyrics the train that is bound for glory limits its ridership to exclude sinners, however that term is defined.

    Springsteen takes that limit and turns it on its head. As he has explained, “Land of Hope and Dreams” is a response to “This Train,” spreading a message of inclusiveness instead of a message of exclusion.

          “People Get Ready”

    In case anyone missed the message of “Land of Hope and Dreams,” on the new studio version one hears the Victorious Gospel Choir repeating the refrain from Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready.” That song originally was a hit for the Impressions in 1955 (discussed in more detail in a previous Chimesfreedom post).

    The gospel songs of Mayfield’s youth inspired him in writing “People Get Ready.” And in looking closer at the lyrics and hearing the song sung below by Alicia Keys, one may understand how the song inspired Springsteen either consciously or unconsciously in writing “Land of Hope and Dreams.”

    People get ready there’s a train comin’;
    You don’t need no baggage, just get on board;
    All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin’,
    You don’t need no ticket, just thank the Lord.

    Mayfield did not specifically address the sinners of “This Train” in “People Get Ready.”  But his song implied the sinners could still board the train as long as they had faith.

          Climb On Board This Train

    Springsteen, though, goes even further than Guthrie and Mayfield. His train has no requirements and calls everyone to board.

    Springsteen does note that “faith will be rewarded.” Faith in what? God? Rock and roll? He does not say. And that is the beauty of the song. We are all saints and sinners and we are all welcome. Just have faith in something, even if it is each other.

    Yes, Washington Post, the welcoming train in American music is an American cliche. But every decade or so it is good for us lost souls to be reminded that we all are on the same journey together.

    This train
    Carries saints and sinners;
    This train
    Carries losers and winners;
    This Train
    Carries whores and gamblers;
    This Train
    Carries lost souls.

    {This last video from a Springsteen performance at the Civic Center in Hartford, Connecticut on May 8, 2000 is the E Street Band’s wonderful guitar-heavy version of the song that also appeared on 2001’s Live in New York City album. I love the opening riff of this earlier live version of the song, but I will reserve judgment for which version I prefer after numerous more listens of the newer gospel version.}

    Do you prefer the new 2012 version of “Land of Hope and Dreams” at the beginning of this post or the 2001 live version of “Land of Hope and Dreams” at the end of the post? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Jason Heath and the Greedy Souls: California Wine

    I recently discovered Jason Heath and the Greedy Souls through their Twitter account and checked out their website to discover some wonderful rootsy rocking music. Check out their video for “California Wine,” and I guarantee you will be singing the catchy song the rest of the day.

    Their website describes their music: “Firmly entrenched in organically American music, the band mines elements of rock, country and folk coupled with rich storytelling and the poking and prodding of emotional contexts both personal and worldly.” Those are some fancy words, but the music speaks for itself. You may hear more of their songs on their music page. Also, on their website you will find downloads and a sampler EP of Packed for Exile as well as their debut album, The Vain Hope of Horse (2008), which includes some help from Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Nels Cline of Wilco.

    Our readers who are Springsteen fans may be interested to know that the Greedy Souls include Jason Federici, the son of the E Street Band’s late Danny Federici, playing accordian and organ, of course. Along those lines, Jason Heath and the Greedy Souls recorded a version of Springsteen’s “4th of July, Asbury Park” available for free download at Backstreets.com if you click on the song title here. Other members of the Greedy Souls along with Jason Heath include Ben Perdue, Abe Etz, Jonathan Chi, Aaron Gitnick, Chris Joyner, and Ysanne Spevack.

    The band is located in California, where Heath grew up and met drummer Abe Etz when they both were in sixth grade. They planned to create a band even before they could play instruments, and, unlike usual childhood dreams, they worked to make this one come true.

    If you enjoy the music, check out their website and support the band. Also, for all of the fans of Springsteen, the Greedy Souls, and the Federici’s, do not forget to check out the DannyFund to help fight melanoma, which took Danny Federici away from us way too soon.

  • Tom Joad’s Inspiration
  • Where Are You Now My Handsome Billy?
  • Springsteen Discusses His “High Hopes”
  • Bruce Springsteen Releasing New Album With “High Hopes”
  • Hurricane Sandy Is Rising Behind Us
  • This Land Is Your Land: The Angry Protest Song That Became an American Standard
  • (Some Related Chimesfreedom Posts)

    Paradise by the C

    Rest in peace, Clarence Clemons, and thanks for being a part of many of the best music experiences of my life. Somewhere, the Big Man and Danny Federici are playing together again, perhaps working on their joyous solos for “Paradise by the C.”

  • Hurricane Sandy Is Rising Behind Us
  • Land of Hope & Dreams, This Train, and People Get Ready
  • Bruce Springsteen on Jimmy Fallon: Wrecking Ball
  • New E Street Band Sax Player: Eddie Manion?
  • Clarence Clemons: You’re a Friend of Mine
  • Where Are You Now My Handsome Billy?
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