Tuesday, April 13, 2010

There is nothing political in this one. I promise.

There is a moment in Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" where it seems like everything is about to come undone. 

You know the song,  especially if you come from the Rust Belt.  There's Springsteen and Miami Steve on guitars, of course, Steve's rhythm line chugging like a 1968 Camaro. Gary Tallent pounds out this river of fat, deep bass notes, while Ernest "Boom" Carter keeps pace on drums. David Sancious gives his grand piano everything it can handle, staccato riffs urgent and insistent, while above it all floats Danny Federici's strange and wonderful glockenspiel, which should sound out of place, but somehow fits perfectly.

Springsteen's voice is raw, not quite cracking, singing like his soul depends on it.  "I wanna die with you, Wendy, on the streets tonight, in an everlasting kiss," he pleads, and behind him, you hear the band, shaking and sliding like an out of control muscle car.  You steel yourself for impact, fully expecting the whole thing to crash in a hail of blood and glass and Clarence Clemmon's splintered saxophone reed, when, from somewhere way in back, Springsteen counts down, "One, two, three, four," and somehow, it rights itself, it comes around stronger, faster, even more powerful than before.  It's a beautiful moment, a miracle that the tapes were rolling when this explosion of creative spontaneity occurred.


Except it wasn't a live take.

Don't it me wrong: it's great, maybe the greatest rock and roll song ever.  No matter the hit and miss quality of the last twenty years, Bruce Springsteen between 1973 and 1982 was at the height of his powers, and this may well be his crowning achievement.  But "Born to Run" wasn't a one-off, one-take, live performance masterpiece, despite what it sounds like.  Springsteen and his engineers, producers and fellow musicians worked for months on that song.  There were hundreds of takes, dozens of versions.  At one point, the chorus -- "Tramps like us, baby we were born to run" -- was sung by an all Black gospel choir.  Briefly, an overdub track featured streetcar bells.  Springsteen calls the song "My shot at the title," and he spared no effort, no expense (for studio time is ridiculously expesive, and the record company was less than pleased with the song's swollen budget) to make it perfect.

That doesn't ruin the song for me.  It enhances it.  

Everything great takes time, and effort, and thought.  F. Scott Fitzgerald was fond of telling people that his masterwork The Great Gatsby was completed in one draft.  That was a lie.  Sometime after his death, family members found a trunk, filled with earlier drafts of the work, more than a dozen of them, each one secret evidence of the artist's care in crafting his finished product.  Frederick Law Olmstead, the father of landscape architecture and the creator of Central Park, agonized over the placement of every tree, every rock in his designs.  His goal was to craft something that looked natural, uncrafted, a place where even the bridges, walkways and buildings would be so carefully placed, so integrated into their surrounds that they appear to have simply sprung up, like wildflowers.  

Even Claude Monet's famous "Waterlilies" paintings are staged.  Monet did indeed have a garden pond, and waterlilies did indeed grow there, and he did indeed paint them.  He did not simply wake up, throw on a smock and grab and easel, and traipse over to the ol' fishin' hole.  Monet employed gardeners, who carefully tended the pond.  Dead lilies were removed.  Plants were pruned, moved, adjusted, to enhance the aesthetic beauty of the scene.  Every single petal was there by design, the whole thing carefully staged.  It was a contrivance, but one that led to some of the greatest art of the expressionist era.

My friend Joel is a barbecue maven, a careful student of the fine art of smoking meat.  He frequently tells me that there's nothing fast about slow-smoking: rush the process, and you end up with a mess.  It takes time, Joel says.  You have to be patient.

Time, care, thoughtfulness.  Patience with the process.  Patience with ourselves.  Whatever we choose to do --  creating great music or literature, painting waterlilies, building parks, cooking brisket, or becoming even as He is -- we have to be patient.  We have to be willing to work, to hone, to fail, and then try again.  

We are children of God, not bags of microwave popcorn.  We aren't finished in two minutes.

1 comment:

  1. Sort of like great teaching, really. I always laugh (to myself) when my students ask if I do much to prepare for class. When I ask why, they say, "Well, you never read from the text, or even use notes, so we figured you were just making it up. You can't really KNOW all that, can you?" Hours and hours of slow, quiet preparation to make a few minutes seem spontaneous and fun and learning without pain. Your story made me appreciate Kreuz's Market even more.....