He strapped his hands ’cross the engines of suicide machines with the small-town teenage runaways in the Seventies. He swung pickaxes into the blacktop with the blue-collar highway workers in the Eighties. He’s swigged whiskey at night with the weary and grit-dusted ever since.
Bruce Springsteen seems to have told almost every tale in the grand old storybook of American mythologies, except perhaps one: a wide-eyed Californian dreamer finds the Golden State turns sour and flees back east, to some romantic speck of a town, to pine and rehabilitate. It’s the classic pop plotline of Bacharach and David’s “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?”, and it’s a tale Springsteen taps repeatedly here, on his sumptuous, cinematic 19th album, which is nothing short of a late-period masterpiece.
The Western Stars are the broken, ex-addict stuntman hobbling through “Drive Fast (The Stuntman)” and the washed-up cowboy actor trawling the Hollywood gutter bar scene on the title track, reliving the time he took an onscreen bullet from John Wayne shot by shot, for shots. But Springsteen’s faded stars include anyone that’s been beaten down by California: both “Chasin’ Wild Horses” and “Tucson Train” concern heartbroken lovers hitting the inland road to rebuild their lives in some far-away town.
In further tribute to Bacharach, rather than pluck these stories from a keening guitar, Bruce lavishes them with opulent strings and Sixties easy listening horns, as if overseeing a catalogue of west coast devastation from some Malibu beach house commanding a view from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Bellagio fountains.
Having restated his rock’n’roll credentials on 2012’sWrecking Ball, here Springsteen channels a Sixties crooner, and the album is as sleekly delivered as any Dionne Warwick TV special. “There Goes My Miracle” is pure euphoric orchestral pop, and there are parts of barfly lament “Sundown” where you’d swear The Boss has been possessed by the spirit of Gene Pitney, singing into a microphone that looks like a lollipop with his shirt collar down to his knees.
Yet, beneath the John Williams-style crescendos and Pacific Palisades twinkles, Springsteen’s sublime portraiture of the American struggle – his protagonists walking with him through the ages of life as he goes – endures. “Hitch Hikin’” and “The Wayfarer” are both charmed odes to the lost and rootless. “Sleepy Joe’s Café” is jubilant Latin pop, a remake of “Glory Days” tracing a weekend in the life of the hottest desert party bar in the state. A stark, dream-like subtlety suits Springsteen best here, as on the regretful “Stones” – a husband admitting to the marital lies that choke him daily – or the final “Moonlight Motel”, in which a ruined soul haunts the car park of the shut-down motel where long-snuffed passions ran riot.
Where most rock superstars sink into trad tedium by 69, Springsteen is still crafting sophisticated paeans of depth and illumination, a rock grandmaster worthy of the accolade. A must-have for anyone who has a heart.
In his 2016 autobiography “Born to Run,” Bruce Springsteen wrote about his fondness for hitchhiking, and the fact that he did it often, as a young man in the ’60s.
“Every sort of rube, redneck, responsible citizen and hell-raiser the Jersey Shore had to offer, I rode with ’em,” he wrote. “I loved hitchhiking and meeting people. I miss it today.”
Western Stars, Springsteen’s new album — which will be released on June 14 – starts with a song, “Hitch Hikin’,” that evokes that enthusiasm, and the carefree days (“I follow the weather and the wind”) that are long behind him now. I don’t think it’s an accident that one of the cars mentioned in the song is a “souped-up ’72”: Springsteen was discovered and signed to Columbia Records in 1972, so that was a big coming-of-age year for him. In a sense, ’72 was his last year of innocence.
The gorgeous, consistently absorbing and only rarely innocent-sounding Western Stars is populated by the types of rubes, rednecks, responsible citizens and hell-raiser a hitchhiker might meet, in the course of a lifetime. It’s one of the most character-driven albums of Springsteen’s career, and pretty much devoid of anything resembling a rock anthem. Springsteen’s vocal delivery tends to be dry and deliberate, though it occasionally builds to a heartfelt croon.
It’s a musically cohesive album, with its rich, orchestral arrangements evoking ’60s and ’70s hits by Glen Campbell, Harry Nilsson, Burt Bacharach, Roy Orbison and others. It sounds, in other words, unlike any other Springsteen album (though there have been hints of this sound in songs such as”Girls in Their Summer Clothes,” “Secret Garden” and “Queen of the Supermarket”).
Lyrically, though, it very much continues themes that Springsteen has been developing throughout his 46 years as a recording artist. Some of the characters are born to run. Others are feeling the pulls of the ties that bind. Some are trying to find a balance between these two traits that coexist within themselves.
Springsteen signals that he knows he’s visited this thematic territory before by singing, on “The Wayfarer”:
Same sad story, love and glory goin’ ’round and ’round Same old cliché, a wanderer on his way, slippin’ from town to town Some find peace here on the sweet streets, the sweet streets of home Where kindness falls and your heart calls for a permanent place of your own
Regrets? These characters have had a few. Or, as Springsteen sings in “Chasin’ Wild Horses”:
Guess it was somethin’ I shouldn’t have done Guess I regret it now Ever since I was a kid Tryin’ to keep my temper down is like Chasin’ wild horses
The album’s title has a double meaning, referring not only to celestial bodies but also, in the title track, to an actor in western movies, grown older now and living, to some extent, in the past. He is making ends meet by appearing in commercials, and enjoying the fact that people will buy him drinks because he was once killed by John Wayne in a movie. (In other words, he’s like the ex-high school baseball player in “Glory Days”).
Similarly, the resilient central character in “Drive Fast (The Stuntman)” has the scars to show for the physical chances he took in his profession. But even though he’s got a steel rod in his leg, he shrugs, “it walks me home.”
Not surprisingly, some of the most accessible songs already have been released. “Tucson Train” is a crisp, catchy song about starting over again. And “There Goes My Miracle” swells with larger-than-life emotion in a way that most of this generally understated album doesn’t.
It will be interesting to see what Springsteen does with these songs live, since they often sound more like something you’d hear on a movie soundtrack than at an arena-rock show. My guess is he’ll rearrange some of them rather than trying to reproduce them, note for note. But that’s really a question for another day. For now (or, I guess I should say, once the album comes out), just set aside some time so you can really focus on the music, maybe via headphones — so you can hear every small detail — and enjoy it.
I tend to view Springsteen’s recording career as two acts: 1973-1987 and 1992-2019 (nothing much came out between ’88 and ’91). Act I represents one of the most stunning creative surges in rock history; little in Act II comes close to the best songs and albums of Act I.
Yet Springsteen has had some moments of greatness in 1992-2019, too, and Western Stars, I believe, should be regarded as one of his best albums of that time period. And let me remind you, now, that Springsteen is 69 years old: I can’t think of another artist who has, at that age, released an album that has been so solid in its songwriting as well as such a big departure from the artist’s sonic norm.
(Danny Clinch) When Bruce Springsteen started out, he was a young man, frustrated at small-town life, roaring that he was born to run. In some ways he didn’t get very far, as he pointed out in recent one-man show Springsteen On Broadway. Over 40 years later, he still lives 10 minutes from his hometown of Freemantle, New Jersey. Springsteen turns 70 this year. He rose to stardom exploring the drudgery, sacrifice and rewards of working-class life while expressing a profound yearning for escape. The open road looms large in his songs, and in the mythology of America, but there is a very bittersweet tang to Springsteen’s latest road trip. “It’s the same old cliché/ Wanderer on his way/ Slipping from town to town,” Springsteen sings on The Wayfarer, acknowledging the itinerant leitmotif of his art. Even as the melody rises in a glorious rush of strings, the mood is tinged with regret. “Where are you now?” calls the wayfarer, thoughts stuck on someone left behind. Nostalgia has always been a core part of Springsteen’s oeuvre. The souped-up Seventies sound he created with the E Street Band was never particularly progressive, amalgamating blues, folk and rock ’n’ roll with the gossamer magic of pre-Beatles pop melodies and Phil Spector-style Wall of Sound production. On Western Stars, he follows an alternative thread of Sixties pop, evoking the orchestral baroque country of Jimmy Webb and Glen Campbell. Orchestras are woven into songs at source, with lush strings, booming timpani and flourishes of horns, while pedal steel guitars and tremolo effects add electric resonances. Springsteen drives proceedings with acoustic strumming, the rough tones of his voice rooting the symphonic gorgeousness in gritty reality. It stands comparison with his very best solo albums. Lyrics offer character sketches, lives caught with a few deft lines and evocative melodies. The title track pictures a washed-up Hollywood actor advertising Viagra, Drive Fast portrays a lonely, broken-down stuntman and Somewhere North of Nashville gives us an embittered songwriter who traded love for “a melody and time to kill”. The narrative is far from remorselessly bleak, however, lifted by the music and by Springsteen’s compassion for his characters. He has acknowledged lifelong struggles with depression, but the soaring Hello Sunshine chooses connection over the defeatist romance of isolation. It is a reminder that Springsteen’s own life as a touring musician has been grounded in family and domesticity (he has been married to his E Street bandmate Patti Scialfa since 1991). With its tension between escapism and responsibility, Western Stars is an album about reaching the end of the road, and what you might find there.
(Danny Clinch) In 1981, after reading the paraplegic veteran Ron Kovic's memoir Born on the Fourth of July,Bruce Springsteenstaged a concert to benefit the advocacy group Vietnam Veterans of America. For the encore, he played a song he hadn't performed before and hasn't since. Roger McGuinn's "The Ballad of Easy Rider" is a slow-rolling meditation on freedom's attractions and its costs that McGuinn wrote after Bob Dylan offered him one couplet scrawled on a napkin: "The river flows, it flows to the sea/wherever that river goes, that's where I want to be." The song soundtracks an idyllic early scene in Dennis Hopper's hugely influential 1969 road movieEasy Rider, as he and his co-star Peter Fonda (playing drug-dealing hippie outlaws named Billy and Wyatt) ride their motorcycles through a magical Southwestern landscape. It plays again over the closing credits, after Billy and Wyatt have been shot dead on a Louisiana back road by a passing redneck. Springsteen's cover, according to his biographer Dave Marsh, was a nod to veterans' love for the song, with its undercurrents of social exile and personal loss. Reworking it in concert, the Boss also paid tribute to a type of hit he often emulated on his own albums: the big, highly produced existential rock ballad, whose rise dates from around the timeEasy Riderredefined the road movie as an expression of young people's confusion and weariness as the 1960s ended and the Nixon era began. It's possible to trace the path taken by Springsteen's new, highly orchestrated solo album,Western Stars, all the way back to his decision to cover "The Ballad of Easy Rider" thirty years ago. McGuinn's rendition in the film is relatively spare, but his band The Byrds released a version featuring a string section, added by producer Terry Melcher, to up its odds of becoming a Top 40 hit in the style of popular crooners like Glen Campbell. In Springsteen's take (findable on YouTube) Danny Federici's trickling piano lines fill in for the strings, echoing their presence in a ghostly but convincing way. Now, all this time later, Springsteen has found his way to those strings. Springsteen's embrace of what became known around 1966 as "orchestral pop" has struck many who've heardWestern Starsas a major turn, one perhaps inspired by his recent time spent on Broadway, the home of show tunes. ButWestern Stars is not the Boss'sWest Side Story. Instead, it connects to a different sensibility altogether, one closer toEasy Rider and other cinematic landmarks of the imploding 1960s cultural revolution. More pointedly,Western Stars connects to a certain stream of pop balladry that emerged in tandem with Hollywood's turn toward hippie antiheroes – songs that ask a question similar to the one haphazardly posed byEasy Rider: Who gets hurt when people, especially men, try to be free? "All he wanted was to be free, and that's the way it turned out to be," McGuinn sings in "Easy Rider," contemplating the crash on the highway where Wyatt and Billy lay. Writing in 1975, the film theorist Thomas Elsaesser coined the term "the pathos of failure" to describe the feeling movies likeEasy Ridercaptured — the poignancy of modern masculinity's fatalistic drift. In Fonda's Wyatt, an American flag patch affixed to his motorcycle jacket, he saw a new kind of antihero. Leather-clad and slim, this "unmotivated hero" wanders the landscape not looking for anything in particular, but not really escaping either, just spinning wheels. His psychic exhaustion has no room for the driven energy earlier road-bound heroes possessed, whether they were the Wild West's cowboys or the nervous escapees of film noir. Those characters usually met gruesome ends but still believed in themselves, or in trying, at least. The unmotivated hero has no hope, and no feeling that it matters whether he does or not. This attitude resonated at the turn of the 1970s, as a would-be cultural revolution gave way to the square realities of mainstream life: Nixonian politics, suburban sprawl, what Elsaesser called "stunned moments of inconsequentiality." OnWestern Stars, in songs that aren't particularly attached to a historical moment, Springsteen pursues a similar mood of anomie. Masculine damage is one of Springsteen's great topics, and it's not at all surprising that he revisits it throughoutWestern Stars. Over the decades he has written hundreds of humbly nihilistic lines like the one that opens the album's symphonic yet still somehow modest-feeling title track: "I wake up in the morning, just glad my boots are on." Continuing his long line of unreliable narrators, the voices in these songs mostly belong to older inhabitants of unstable professions – the movie industry, songwriting, shift and contract work – who pine for more stable lives with the women upon whom they rely, but are convinced they can't return to them. These characters are more seasoned versions of the petty street criminals of Springsteen's early and mid-period work, kin to the broken soldiers and immigrant drug runners of his 1980s and 1990s albums, and also to the "I" he inhabited on his more autobiographical solo albums, expressing various states of mental unrest. Springsteen often uses the ballad form to tell the stories of these unstable characters, and he's challenged himself to keep the music fresh. On 1982'sNebraska he recorded at home, by himself, producing a sound that some considered "folk" but which was closer to the work of edgy singer-songwriters like Townes Van Zandt. 1995'sThe Ghost of Tom Joadconscientiously connected to folk traditions. More recently, he's worked with pop-savvy studio men like Brendan O'Brien and Ron Aniello, who's also behindWestern Stars,dipping more than a toe in the classic pop sound he's now fully embraced. Two of his best songs from this century, "The Wrestler" and "Girls in Their Summer Clothes," could have easily appeared onWestern Stars, with their stories of alluring ramblers who are starting to fade into the cultural background, set within sumptuous arrangements. This album feels like an extension of that work. His characters here voice a hard-won maturity, though most remain unfulfilled. Sometimes, as on the sanguine early single "Hello Sunshine," they even are able to compromise their dreams and settle for a kind of happiness. They represent the imagined afterlives of the unmotivated heroes ofEasy Rider, trying to figure out what their unexpectedly longer lives mean. To find inspiration for stories like these, Springsteen looked not to the movies of his young adulthood, which usually ended in fiery explosions or shootouts or sudden cuts to black, but to the songs that brought the unmotivated hero's voice to the radio in the same cultural moment. Early reviews ofWestern Stars note the sources: the songbooks of rock and soul-inspired 1960s and 1970s hitmakers like Jimmy Webb, Harry Nilsson and the team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Their songs don't sound like they belong to outsiders: awash in violins and woodwinds, they claim none of the raucousness of rock and roll. But they express loss, and the state of being lost, as effectively asEasy Rider did in its more unhinged and violent way. "Everybody's Talkin'," written by Fred Neil and covered by Harry Nilsson in a version that became the theme for another key film of 1969,Midnight Cowboy, is a prime example. Neil's original version was spare, but Nilsson's adds strings, and they almost constitute a drone, creating an undertow that propels the guitar and lightly brushed drum and Nilsson's slippery vocals down the river toward oblivion. "Everybody's talkin' at me," he complains. "I can't hear a word they're sayin', only the echoes of my mind." The song is an expression of paranoia as much as it is a declaration of independence; it's about pushing off, but never landing. How did songs like this, so obviously about trouble and defeat, find a home at the heart of mainstream pop? Making losers beautiful, they poetically reinforced the anxieties many people were feeling about the costs of freedom. Vietnam was coming to its ugly end, and the kids who'd hoped to change the world were starting to feel the damage their more reckless moments had wrought. A beautiful arrangement could hold the dark emotions of those times in a comforting embrace. This paradoxical combination is still what resonates about these songs. It's what brings the tears when we listen to the best songs by Jimmy Webb, like the soldier's anguished self-elegy "Galveston" or the workingman's crisis of faith "Wichita Lineman." The pathos of this music resides in its blend of musical sophistication and lyrical rawness. This is what Springsteen finds onWestern Stars. Maybe it felt like a chance to take a path he'd avoided as a young rocker more intrigued by soul music and then punk; maybe he also recognized an echo that resonates today — a comforting musical palette that offered room to ruminate at a historical juncture, like our own, imbued with anxiety. "Make it easy on me just for a little while," Nilsson sings in "Don't Forget Me," another song that Springsteen might have spun while writing these. He's begging a lover he's probably wronged to put up with his pathetic ways, or at least his memory, for a little while; but he's also defining what his song does for the listener, creating a velvet cushion upon which to rest while pondering rough realities. It's easy to make a playlist full of tracks like this from the 1960s and 1970, any of which might have been inspiration for Springsteen as he craftedWestern Stars. (I've done so; the original article link above to find it) Start with "Early Morning Rain," written and recorded in 1966 by Gordon Lightfoot, one of the key figures in the mainstream folk revival, which embraced new sonic approaches – including string-kissed, Beatles-inspired arrangements – to render the sounds and stories of traditional music more accessible. The key line in Lightfoot's song — "You can't jump a jet plane like you can a freight train" – brings folk into the aerospace age, replacing the Woody Guthrie-era image of the wandering hobo with a less romantic one, of a traveler stranded by his own limitations within the cold confines of city life. Here, the drifter becomes modern. Folk rock offered many memorable takes on this figure over the years: the more sanguine one in Tom Rush's "No Regrets"; the beautifully bitter "Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues," by Danny O'Keefe; the drugged-out version in John Phillips's "Holland Tunnel"; Jackson Browne's road dog considering his lot in "The Load Out." This is the easy rider who makes it long enough to feel washed up. He shows up a few times on Western Stars: He's the songwriter who didn't make it in "Somewhere North of Nashville," and the stunt man who's feeling the pain of his injuries in "Drive Fast." Country music is another prime conduit for exquisitely rendered existential angst. In tandem with the blues, it developed as music's repository of fully adult stories: It's where divorce, parenting, aging and other complex topics are tackled, and where subjects age, too, facing the consequences they've generated. In the 1960s, as it intersected with folk and, more subtly, rock, country also explored the tension generated when unvarnished emotions met ornate orchestration. Stars like Kris Kristofferson, Glen Campbell, Charlie Rich, Ronnie Milsap, Bobbie Gentry and even Elvis Presley made powerful songs at this crossroads. So did Nashville-influenced rockers like Bob Dylan and Neil Young, whose "A Man Needs A Maid," from 1972, is one the most vulnerable and disturbing musical expressions of the pathos of failure ever recorded. The lyric's deeply vulnerable (and paternalistic) expression of masculinity's emotional shortcomings – Young literally cries for a woman to help feed and clothe him, but then go away — gains its pathos from a grand orchestral arrangement. It's a lot like what Springsteen reaches for onWestern Stars – long-cultivated loneliness turned into high drama. The crisis Young expresses in "A Man Needs a Maid," like the one Springsteen's faithless lover faces in "Stones," doesn't immediately seem like a political one; and yet it is a reckoning with masculinity, an expression of how clinging to its privileges can destroy intimacy and make a man feel lost. The legacyWestern Stars taps traveled similar ground when artists like Bill Withers or Marvin Gaye carried it into soul. "Gotta keep movin'," Gaye sings in "Trouble Man," exuding machismo but also deep disquiet. The song's sumptuous groove soothes but the voice at its core unsettles. A trouble man is a troubled man. Western Stars sends this message, too, from a different point in time. The antiheroes Springsteen brings to life are not young men playing fast and loose with their destinies; they're not Easy Rider's Wyatt and Billy, nor are they his own earlier takes on those same characters, the Spanish Johnnys and Eddies and ragamuffin gunners he created in the 1970s. The men who populate Western Stars have sought freedom and know its edges in an unfree world. He knows these men well; on some level, they are him. Honoring a musical legacy he loves, Springsteen finds new life in familiar stories. "All he wanted was to be free, and that's the way it turned out to be," McGuinn wrote in the song Springsteen shared so long ago. Western Stars finds new places where that line can lead.
Amid Bruce Springsteen’s huge songwriting catalog, “Western Stars” is a side trip in place and time: a homage to a bygone pop era and a return to one of his recurring fascinations — the present-day American West as envisioned and, in the early 1990s, inhabited by a native New Jerseyan. It’s not an album courting new young fans or claiming any 2019 zeitgeist. It’s more like a speculative alternate history: What if Springsteen’s music had taken a very different direction at the start?
“Western Stars” arrives following the explicit autobiography and starkly staged sincerity of “Springsteen on Broadway,” even though it was in the works before those performances. Instead of trying to extend that revealing tour de force, the new album veers elsewhere; it’s an experiment in genre and narratives. Most (and perhaps all) of the songs are other people’s stories, not Springsteen’s own. In them, the West — California along with Arizona and Montana — can be a promise of open spaces and second chances. But more often, the western horizon is the end of the line, where Springsteen’s characters find themselves alone with their regrets.
The music itself is a kind of character study. It harks back to an early 1970s pop style that Springsteen — now 69, whose debut album appeared in 1973 — had nothing to do with at the time. “Western Stars” revisits a sound that found a place in Los Angeles studios — particularly in Laurel Canyon in the late 1960s and early 1970s — and in Nashville as a means to get country singers onto pop radio by making country music “countrypolitan.” The era’s elaborate productions — the sound of performers like Glen Campbell, Harry Nilsson, Charlie Rich and the Mamas and the Papas — enfolded pristinely recorded acoustic guitars and keyboards, understated drums and mere whispers of country-style pedal steel guitar into lofty orchestral arrangements. At the time, it could turn corny and overwrought. In 2019, however, the style is a direct repudiation of current pop: smooth and liquid rather than rhythmic and sparse, and relying largely on acoustic, physical instruments (though on Springsteen’s album, a few synthesizers slip in).
Those early 1970s productions were unapologetically decorous, premeditated, luxurious and grown-up. Yet often, in songs like Skeeter Davis’s “The End of the World” or Campbell’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” the plush orchestral pop hits of the 1960s and 1970s cushioned sorrow and solitude. They were worlds away from the turbocharged bar band that would become Springsteen’s E Street Band, and they were clearly aiming for the middle of the road, not the fast lane. The craftsmanship in those studio efforts was as self-effacing as it was substantial; the hired musicians were intended to serve the song, not to be noticed. As a lifelong student of American popular music, Springsteen clearly noticed.
On “Western Stars,” a few songs — “Tucson Train,” “Sundown,” “Stones” — sound like the E Street Band could be swapped in for the orchestra. But Springsteen strives to meet his chosen idiom more than halfway. He wrote songs that thrive on the swells and undulations of orchestral drama, and he sings with long-breathed phrases that aren’t exactly crooning — he’s not built for that — but that set out to sustain more than they exhort.
One of the centerpieces of “Western Stars” is “Chasin’ Wild Horses.” Its narrator did something awful in his youth, then left home to lose himself as a cowboy, chasing wild horses in Montana for the Bureau of Land Management, sometimes shouting a lost love’s name to an empty echo. Its guitar-picking intro bears an odd, doubtless coincidental, resemblance to the Lady Gaga-Bradley Cooper hit “Shallow,” but its gathering impact comes from its expansive arrangement, which opens and deepens around his voice like an endless prairie.
The arc of the album — Springsteen still treats an album as a whole — moves from hope to desperation to elegy. The album begins with “Hitch Hikin’,” whose footloose narrator easily gets ride after ride (including one from a “gear head in a souped-up ’72,” to pin down the era). Next is “Wayfarer,” proclaiming chronic wanderlust as strings, horns, glockenspiel, women’s voices and even castanets arrive to cheer him onward.
But as usual for Springsteen, “Western Stars” doesn’t aim for comfort. Like his California-centered album from 1995, “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” its songs depict people who usually go unnoticed and who have little left to lose. The title song, “Western Stars,” is told by an aging actor — once a star of westerns — who is still working, picking up women and occasionally getting recognized: “Once I was shot by John Wayne,” he sings. “That one scene’s bought me a thousand drinks.”
Many of the album’s characters are men trying to lose themselves in physical labor, to sweat out memories of a love that they failed to hold onto. “Hard work’ll clear your mind and body/The hard sun will burn out the pain,” Springsteen sings in “Tucson Train,” and that’s one of the few songs on the album that anticipates a happy ending. In “Drive Fast (The Stuntman),” amid keening strings that recall “Wichita Lineman,” the singer is a stuntman itemizing his broken bones and scars, reminiscing about a romance on a B movie set. And in “There Goes My Miracle,” there’s only the barest hint of a back story behind the loss: just an orchestral crescendo and a leaping melody, stately and bereft.
By the end of the album, the possibilities of escape and renewal have long since faded away. “Hello Sunshine” is both the album’s first single and its summation. The sound is cozy: major chords, a light beat like a cruising train. But Springsteen sings about how empty the endless road ahead had become: “Miles to go is miles away,” he warns, and his refrain is actually a plea: “Hello sunshine, won’t you stay?” The rhythm guitar is a pleasant rustle, the pedal-steel guitar lends a golden glow and the strings are a warm bath. Yet as soothing as they are, they’re nowhere near enough to make things right.
“Know what I was most proud of?” presidential candidate Joe Biden told a crowd on Wednesday. “For eight years, there wasn’t one single hint of a scandal or a lie.”
In an era where every presidential tweet is an existential threat to democracy, there are probably plenty of people who believe this myth. Off the bat, though, it should be mentioned that even liberal factchecking outfit PolitiFact once awarded Barack Obama the “Lie of the Year” for misleading the American people about his technocratic health-care plan.
Our former vice president, no slouch about misleading the public on the ACA, probably forgot.
Obama’s most famous lie, of course, upturned millions of lives. Without it, it’s doubtful Obamacare—which was perhaps the only wholly partisan national reform effort in American history—would ever have passed. Even with a stream of falsehoods, the bill had to be shoe-horned through Congress. Media did a lot of heavy lifting for the administration in those heady days.
“If you like your health care plan, you can keep it” was only one of an array of demonstrably false statements fed to the public to give (now-extinct) moderate Democrats cover. You might remember one of Obamacare’s architects, Jonathan Gruber, explaining how this “lack of transparency” compounded by “the stupidity of the American voter” was a huge political advantage for the administration. Or maybe you don’t.
How many Americans knew, for instance, that “Operation Fast and Furious” put around 2,000 weapons into the hands of narco-traffickers (and an Islamic terrorist), leading to the murder of hundreds of Mexican citizens, and at least one American, a border agent named Brian Terry? Not enough.
There must have been at least a sniff of scandal, by the way, because even after a federal judge rejected Obama’s assertion of executive privilege in efforts to deny Congress files relating to the operation, the administration wouldn’t budge. Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, refused to cooperate in the investigation, becoming the first sitting attorney general in American history to be held in contempt of Congress — a vote that included 17 Democrats.
That’s odd, because today asserting executive privilege is exactly like Watergate. And ignoring courts? Well, Obama did that all the time.
Then again, Obama could secretly send planes filled with cash to pay ransom to an Islamist terror state responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American servicemen(using money that had been earmarked for terror victims), and most reporters would still regurgitate echo-chamber talking points. You remember Ben Rhodes bragging about how the Obama administration could trick 27-years-olds whose “only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns” because they “literally know nothing?”
Politico’s Josh Meyer, who did know something, would write a deeply sourced piece—featuring numerous real-life, on-the-record administration officials— about the Obama administration’s efforts to undermine investigations into a drug-trafficking ring run by Hezbollah operating in the United States, and most major news organizations never even mentioned it.
Today, President Trump’s Twitter attacks on CNN reporters are threats to the future of free expression. Back in 2012, the Obama’s Department of Justice spied on the Associated Press, tapping around 20 different phone lines—including cell phone and home lines—that captured at least 100 staffers who worked for the outlet. The government kept records of all outgoing calls “for both the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters” and the main line used by reporters in the House of Representatives.
The Justice Department had already spied on Fox News reporter James Rosen in 2010, collecting his telephone records, looking at his personal emails, and tracking his movements. Holder, by the way, shopped the case to three separate judges, until he found one who let him name Rosen a co-conspirator in the crime of reporting the news. If only this episode had gotten a fraction of the breathless coverage of a William Barr letter.
There is, of course, so much more. Obama’s CIA director, John Brennan, oversaw an operation of illegal spying on a staffer of the legislative branch of the U.S. government. At least five agency officials under his watch broke into Senate computer files, viewing drafts of a report on torture and reconstructing emails of at least one staffer. Brennan would attempt to cover up the agency’s actions by doubling down, blaming the Senate, and pushing to fire at least one staffer charged with investigating his agency.
Then there is Obama’s director of national intelligence, James Clapper, who brazenly lied to Congress about spying on American citizens.
Biden might not remember that Internal Revenue Service leadership aggressively targeted conservative groups to undermine their voice in elections. The IRS admitted as much in an apology letter. Then there was Obama national security advisor Susan Rice, who went on national television and claimed that terrorist attacks against Americans at Benghazi were a “spontaneous reaction” to “hateful and offensive video,” even when she knew it was a sophisticated and pre-planned terror attack. Defenders of free expression were nowhere to be found as the maker of the video was conveniently thrown into jail.
There were cronyistic green projects that enriched political allies. There was the Secret Service’s many embarrassing breaches and general debauchery. There was Hillary Clinton’s infamous attempts to circumvent transparency — more than likely to cover up favor-trading. Even more seriously, there was Veterans Affairs negligence.
Then again, perhaps Biden feels “most proud” of his mythical eight years of non-scandals because it’s about the only thing in his political past he isn’t going to be forced to abandon.
BOSTON – In the end, Ryan O’Reilly kind of talked his way into all of this. If he doesn’t talk about falling “out of love” with the game when the Buffalo Sabres are cleaning out their lockers last season, perhaps he doesn’t get dealt to the St. Louis Blues and none of this happens.
O’Reilly had a lot to say after his trade and almost all of it came true Wednesday night when the Blues shocked the world and defeated the Boston Bruins 4-1 in Game 7 to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. And because he backed it up with his play, O’Reilly was named Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP.
To wit, in his first conversation with Blues GM Doug Armstrong after the trade: “Let’s go win a Stanley Cup.” Later that summer at the annual BioSteel camp in Toronto: “A Stanley Cup is possible. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s definitely possible.” The day before Game 7 of the final: “I know this has to be the best game of my life.”
The man who couldn’t win for losing before this season – heck, even for the first half of the season – hit the trifecta. Losing isn’t following Ryan O’Reilly around anymore. When Armstrong acquired O’Reilly July 1, and swallowed hard having to pay him a $5-million signing bonus, he said he was never concerned about the O’Reilly comments. Armstrong had already had talks with Buffalo GM Jason Botterill about a deal, then the two spoke during the free agency courting period. After Armstrong and the Blues didn’t even get an audience with John Tavares, Armstrong signed David Perron and Tyler Bozak in free agency and circled back on O’Reilly. “I think the raw emotion came out last year at his end-of-the-year meeting,” Armstrong said. “I think if Ryan could take it back he wouldn’t have said it like that, but at the end of the day that worked out really good for the St. Louis Blues.”
Fast-forward through a miserable first half of the season that started to turn in January. Ironically, because the first-round pick the Blues gave up in the O’Reilly trade was lottery protected, Armstrong was in Russia scouting an under-18 tournament when his team really started to rally. The Blues finished a five-game road trip by beating the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning back-to-back on their Dads’ trip, then beat the Nashville Predators in a home-and-home series. “That was when the For Sale sign officially went off the St. Louis Blues,” Armstrong said. “The guys just needed me to go to Russia to get going.”
It was revealed after Game 7 that O’Reilly was actually playing with a cracked rib he sustained in the second round against the Dallas Stars. Although O’Reilly said it had pretty much healed up by the final, that’s not an injury that is a comfortable one to endure. It was funny how lifting up 35 pounds of nickel and silver alloy didn’t seem to aggravate the injury. “I felt great this whole series, but I thought (the Cup) would be heavier,” O’Reilly said. “I guess all the adrenaline made it feel pretty light. I felt like I could have tossed it into the crowd.”
With the Washington Capitals and Blues knocking “win a Stanley Cup” off their bucket lists in the past two years, that leaves 11 markets in the league still without a championship – Arizona, Buffalo, Columbus, Florida, Minnesota, Nashville, Ottawa, San Jose, Vancouver, Vegas and Winnipeg. The Toronto Maple Leafs, meanwhile, are on notice. Their 52-year drought is now the longest in the NHL. In fact, they haven’t even been to a final since last winning the Stanley Cup in 1967, just months before the Blues came into the league along with five other expansion teams. In St. Louis, a fair number of older fans were sporting T-shirts emblazoned with, “Just one before I die.” They’re probably pretty happy right about now. The prairie drought is finally over and it came in a year when it looked bleaker and dryer than it had since the owners abandoned the franchise in 1983 and it almost moved to Saskatoon.
There are a lot of people to thank for that. The Blues don’t do this without Jordan Binnington coming in and saving their season. They don’t do it without Craig Berube, who will have his interim tag removed in record time. They probably don’t do it without Larry Robinson, who came in as a consultant and molded a defense corps that smothered one of the most dynamic teams in the NHL in the final. He’ll pick up his 10th Stanley Cup ring for his efforts – six as a player with Montreal, three as a coach/assistant coach with New Jersey and one as a senior consultant.
But they most certainly don’t do it without Ryan O’Reilly, who led the Blues in playoff scoring, won faceoffs, scored key goals and was a presence on every inch of the ice. “It was always there that we could do it, but to actually do it, it’s exhausting,” O’Reilly said. “It’s exhausting.”