Posted tagged ‘Bruce Springsteen’

Blinded by the Light: My Springsteen Story

July 16, 2012

When I saw the news story about Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney having the plug pulled on their London concert this weekend, I had to sit back and laugh. Long before he became a rock icon, I saw him perform in the Christian Brothers Academy gymnasium in New Jersey, not far from where he grew up. It was 1973, and I was a junior at St. John Vianney (ironically, I now live near a different SJV in Kailua, Hawaii) and used to hang out with the jocks in my high school. A group of us bought some beer, got a little drunk, and paid $2 apiece at the door to hear Bruce’s new group… the E Street Band.

His first album, “Greetings From Asbury Park,” was getting some air play on NYC radio stations. Most everyone in the crowd — about 200-300 kids, all standing around or sitting on the floor since there were no seats — had heard “Blinded by the Light,” but his prior bands were known for covering other rock songs, including the Beatles’ hits. The jocks I was with weren’t big fans of his, nor were they the type of guys who were likely to break out into spontaneous dance as if they were on Glee… but about half an hour into the set, we were all dancing and jumping around like fools.

I remember hearing “Rosalita” for the first time, which was about to come out on his second album, and to this day I still get a tingly thrill whenever I hear the opening notes of that number. He played for more than three hours. Me and the boys were sweating and giddy when the concert was supposed to be over. But Bruce wasn’t finished. They launched into the longest version of “Twist and Shout” that I think has ever been played. At some point someone turned on all the gym lights to signal it was time to stop the music. Yet everyone kept dancing, so Bruce and the E Street Band played even harder… until finally, they actually cut the power to the stage. Little did I realize I was witnessing the birth of a rock and roll legend right before my eyes. I thought for sure there were probably a few accounts recorded for posterity, but this link was one of the few references I could find online. If you click on the photos from the CBA yearbook, you’ll see how scrawny he was back in the day.

I wonder if that skinny kid with the big grin could have ever dreamed that some day he would actually perform the very same Beatles tune with Paul McCartney himself — or that someone would pull the plug on him again after all these years! You know what’s really cool though? That he’s still performing with the same passion as when he first started out. The article about the London gig (click here) says he had already exceeded the curfew by half an hour when Paul joined him on stage.

That’s one thing I continue to see in people who are successful in life. They find something they are passionate about, and they keep at it because it never gets old for them. For some, it’s easy to figure out what it is they love to do. Some never find it, which is a shame. Worse, they wait too long before they even ask themselves what it is they truly want to do. All I know is that night in a hot, sweaty high school gym, when I heard “Blinded by the Light” sung by this scruffy young guy from Freehold like his life depended on it, I believed my future was going to be wide open because anything was possible. And I suppose that’s why I keep writing, whether it’s these little blog posts or screenplays and books that have yet to see the light of day. For better or worse, it’s like the Boss sang:

Mama always told me not to look into the sights of the sun

Oh, but Mama, that’s where the fun is…

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We Are the World: Remakes Suck

February 17, 2010

By now, you’ve probably seen the remake of Michael Jackson’s “We Are the World” with new talent. I use the word “talent” loosely, since some vocals apparently needed help from auto-tune technology. I accept that good songs will always be covered by other artists, bar bands, and hopeful American Idols who will re-interpret classics to show how “original” they are… which is my problem with the current state of the music and movies biz. Very little seems new these days.

It’s one thing to put a fresh spin on old tunes, or update black and white films from another era. But to take an event like the recording of “We Are the World” and use it for the crisis du jour, just seems… I dunno, unoriginal. The same goes for hip-hop that relies heavily on recycled beats and riffs from songs that were popular before these guys were born. As for movies, do we really need a remake of Weekend at Bernie’s? I kid you not. It’s in the works.

Anyhow, I have a personal connection to the original MJ song through a friend. James Arceneaux (father of former Hawaii football star Darnell Arceneaux) had started a local publication about cheap eats, called The Budget Gourmet, in the mid-80s. In exchange for free meals and drinks, I wrote restaurant reviews despite having no credentials to be a food critic. It folded after a few issues (not because of me) and James reinvented himself as a music publisher.

He began by working with local talent, produced a few demos and hired me to write his promotional materials. Then he moved to L.A. and I lost touch with him. A few years later, he called: James was living in Beverly Hills with Anita Pointer. He had made some music deals and was now trying to break into the TV biz. James wanted my help to write TV show pitches for the Pointer Sisters to star in. I came up with what I thought were great concepts. Alas, nothing came of those ideas.

However, around the same time (1994) I won a scholarship to attend the American Film Institute TV Writers Workshop. The AFI is a prestigious school for aspiring movie directors and screenwriters, so I was excited to be spending a month at the L.A. campus on their dime. And of course, James said we should get together while I was in town…

He took me to a birthday party in Venice Beach for a talented young black actor named Glenn Plummer. Since I had recently quit drinking, it was an awkward scene for me. Although it was fairly mellow — mostly beer and wine, some reefer, lots of dominoes playing — I wasn’t used to being sober at parties. Also, I was one of the only non-blacks there. Glenn was cool though. He saw this short half-Japanese guy in an aloha shirt standing off to the side, and came over to chat awhile with me.

Later on, the son of Motown legend Berry Gordy dropped by, along with other hip, young musicians, models and actors. When it came time to leave, James suggested I crash at Anita’s mansion instead of going back to the cheap fleabag motel room on Franklin Avenue that I had rented for the month.

The Pointer Sisters were off performing in Atlantic City, so she wasn’t around when James gave me the tour of her house way up on the hill, overlooking the city. We walked past a wall where her gold and platinum records were displayed. But what really caught my eye was in her small music room, which James used as a mini-recording studio. On the wall was a framed copy of the lyric sheets for “We Are the World,” signed by all the original artists who were there that day. Wow…

The rest of the mansion was nice, but everything else paled in comparison. Except for one other piece of paper James showed me. We were in the four-car garage looking at his and her collection of vehicles, when he reached into a cardboard box and pulled out a letter: it was a handwritten note from Bruce Springsteen to the Pointer Sisters, telling them how much he liked their version of his song, “Fire.”

James shrugged and said he couldn’t stand Bruce’s voice — but conceded the Boss did write great songs. Being from Jersey originally, I couldn’t believe Anita had relegated a piece of Springsteen memorabilia to a box of junk in her garage.

Just goes to show that when it comes to tastes in music, whether it be originals or remakes, everybody’s a critic.

Things I Failed At In This Post: Was unable to capitalize on the AFI TV Writers Workshop connections (pitches rejected); failed to use the Pointer Sisters connections to get representation by Hollywood agent; didn’t stay in touch with James to develop other TV/film project ideas.

Update on James Arceneaux: He and Anita eventually went their separate ways. He is now Eddie Murphy’s personal assistant — and yes, I’ve been trying to pitch James ideas for Eddie’s next movie! No luck yet.