Friday, July 22, 2005

Victor Davis Hanson: Enough is Enough

The Washington Times
Published July 22, 2005

After the July 7 London bombings, some in the United Kingdom wondered if the bombing was in retaliation for Britain having troops in Iraq. Perhaps, they suggested, a withdrawal, emulating the Spanish appeasement after the March 2004 bombings in Madrid, would prevent further attacks. Now there has been another series of explosions in London.

There are two flaws in such thinking.

First, after the Spanish ordered their soldiers home, the emboldened jihadists plotted further murders -- most notably, the foiled plot to assassinate members of the Spanish High Court in Madrid.

Second, after the London bombings, the al Qaeda-linked group that took credit for the carnage threatened, "We continue to warn the governments of Denmark and Italy and all crusader governments that they will receive the same punishment if they do not withdraw their troops from Iraq and Afghanistan."

Note the reference to both theaters. In the West, the new orthodoxy is that removing the theocratic Taliban in Afghanistan was the "correct" war that enjoyed widespread European and American support. In contrast, George W. Bush, in a "unilateral" and "pre-emptive" fashion, unnecessarily attacked the "secular" Saddam Hussein.

The terrorists, unlike us, make no such distinctions. Both actions, they insist, were equal affronts to radical Islam.

Somehow even Israel gets pulled into the story of the London bombings. The murderers decry the "Zionist crusader government" of Britain.

Speaking of Israel, shortly after the London attacks, a suicide bomber in Netanya, perhaps in sympathy with his kindred spirits in Britain, walked over to a group of women and blew them up.

He killed five persons, including two 16-year-old girls. This slaughter, in Israel proper, not the West Bank, took place during a mutually agreed "cease-fire" -- and on the eve of Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

The supposedly more "moderate" Hamas refused to condemn the attack by Islamic Jihad. That was logical given the recent statement of a senior Hamas official. Mahmoud al-Zahar said he would "definitely not" settle for co-existence with Israel -- even if it withdrew to it 1967 borders. As he put it, "[I]n the end, Palestine must return to become Muslim, and in the long term Israel will disappear from the face of the Earth."

Americans and others in the West should not be surprised at the Islamicists' determination to wage all-out war because of who we are rather than what we do.

When the killer of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh confessed last week, he boasted, "I can assure you that one day, should I be set free, I would do exactly the same."

If many progressives in the Netherlands expected the Dutch-Moroccan Mohammed Bouyeri would cite past ill-treatment by Westerners, they were sorely disappointed. Instead, the psychopath icily advised the mother of the murdered van Gogh: "I have to admit I do not feel for you, I do not feel your pain" and "I cannot feel for you. ... because I believe you are an infidel."

Thousands of innocent civilians such as van Gogh have been murdered by Islamic extremists -- in Darfur, Gaza, India, Israel, Lebanon, London, Madrid, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey and the United States. The carnage gives credence to the adage that while the vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists, the vast majority of global terrorists most certainly are Muslims.

The killers always allege particular gripes -- Australian troops in Iraq, Christian proselytizing, Hindu intolerance, occupation of the West Bank, theft of Arab petroleum, the Jews, attacks on the Taliban, the 15th-century reconquest of Spain, and, of course, the Crusades.

But in most cases -- from Mohamed Atta, who crashed into the World Trade Center, to Ahmed Sheik, the former London School of Economics student who planned the beheading of Daniel Pearl, to Magdy Mahmoud Mustafa el-Nashar, the suspected American-educated bomb-maker in London -- the common bond is not poverty, a lack of education or legitimate grievance. Instead it is blind hatred instilled by militant Islam.

Civilization has only two choices. It can continue appeasing these murderers, looking in vain for "root causes" of the mayhem. Maybe Mohammed Bouyeri did not have equal opportunity in the Netherlands? Maybe $50 billion in past American aid to Mohamed Atta's Egypt was too little? Maybe Britain was too insensitive to its Muslim minorities? Maybe the price paid for Middle East oil really is too low?

Or the United States and its allies can deny suspect Middle Eastern males entry into the West while distancing themselves from all Middle East dictatorships, which neither punish nor even shame thousands of their citizens whose money and psychological support fuel murderers across the globe.

We wait for a Western leader with the intellectual integrity and guts at last to say, "Enough is enough."

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and a nationally syndicated columnist.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Christopher Hitchens: Rove Rage

The poverty of our current scandal.
Posted Monday, July 18, 2005, at 1:10 PM PT

Writing to a friend in 1954, P.G. Wodehouse commented:
Are you following the McCarthy business? If so, can you tell me what it's all about? "You dined with Mr. X on Friday the tenth?" "Yes, sir." (Keenly) "What did you eat?" "A chocolate nut sundae, sir." (Sensation) It's like Bardell vs Pickwick.

Wodehouse of course was only affecting ignorance and making light of a ludicrously pompous and slightly sinister proceeding. But he was essentially correct in his lampooning of the McCarthy hearings, since even the most convinced anti-communist would not learn anything from the spectacle that he did not already know, and since the show trials managed to go on without producing either any evidence of any crime, or any evidence of any perpetrator, or any evidence of any victim.

It is the entire absence of the above three elements that makes the hunt for Karl Rove (who was once so confidently confused with I. Lewis Libby) so utterly Snark-like. In fact, in his column of July 17, Frank Rich was compelled to concede that the whole thing is absolutely nothing in itself, but is rather a sideshow to a much larger event: the deception of the Bush-Cheney administration in preparing an intervention in Iraq. I want to return to this, but one must first winnow out some other chaff and nonsense.

First, the most exploded figure in the entire argument is Joseph Wilson. This is for three reasons. He claimed, in his own book, that his wife had nothing to do with his brief and inconclusive visit to Niger. "Valerie had nothing to do with the matter," he wrote. "She definitely had not proposed that I make the trip." There isn't enough wiggle room in those two definitive statements to make either of them congruent with a memo written by Valerie Wilson (or Valerie Plame, if you prefer) to a deputy chief in the CIA's directorate of operations. In this memo, in her wifely way, she announced that her husband would be ideal for the mission since he had "good relations with both the Prime Minister and the former Minister of Mines (of Niger), not to mention lots of French contacts." If you want to read the original, turn to the Senate committee's published report on the many "intelligence failures" that we have suffered recently. I want to return to those, too.

Speaking to the Washington Post about the CIA's documents on the Niger connection, Wilson made the further claim that "the dates were wrong and the names were wrong." Again according to the Senate report, these papers were not in CIA hands until eight months after Wilson made his trip. He has since admitted to the same newspaper that he may have "misspoken" about this.
The third bogus element in Wilson's boastful story is the claim that Niger's "yellowcake" uranium was never a subject of any interest to Saddam Hussein's agents. The British intelligence report on this, which does not lack criticism of the Blair government, finds the Niger connection to be among the most credible of the assertions made about Saddam's double-dealing. If you care to consult the Financial Times of June 28, 2004, and see the front-page report by its national security correspondent Mark Huband, you will be able to review the evidence that Niger—with whose ministers Mr. Wilson had such "good relations"—was trying to deal in yellowcake with North Korea and Libya as well as Iraq and Iran. This evidence is by no means refuted or contradicted by a forged or faked Italian document saying the same thing. It was a useful axiom of the late I.F. Stone that few people are so foolish as to counterfeit a bankrupt currency.

Thus, and to begin with, Joseph Wilson comes before us as a man whose word is effectively worthless. What do you do, if you work for the Bush administration, when a man of such quality is being lionized by an anti-war press? Well, you can fold your tent and let them print the legend. Or you can say that the word of a mediocre political malcontent who is at a loose end, and who is picking up side work from a wife who works at the anti-regime-change CIA, may not be as "objective" as it looks. I dare say that more than one supporter of regime change took this option. I would certainly have done so as a reporter if I had known.

OK, then, how do the opponents of regime change in Iraq make my last sentence into a statement of criminal intent and national-security endangerment? By citing the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982. This law, which is one of the most repressive and absurd pieces of legislation on our statute book, was a panicky attempt by the right to silence whistle-blowers at the CIA. In a rough effort to make it congruent with freedom of information and the First Amendment (after all, the United States managed to get through the Second World War and most of the Cold War without such a law), it sets a fairly high bar. You must knowingly wish to expose the cover of a CIA officer who you understand may be harmed as a result. It seems quite clear that nobody has broken even that arbitrary element of this silly law.

But the coverage of this non-storm in an un-teacup has gone far beyond the fantasy of a Rovean hidden hand. Supposedly responsible journalists are now writing as if there was never any problem with Saddam's attempt to acquire yellowcake (or his regime's now-proven concealment of a nuclear centrifuge, or his regime's now-proven attempt to buy long-range missiles off the shelf from North Korea as late as March 2003). In the same way, the carefully phrased yet indistinct statement of the 9/11 Commission that Saddam had no proven "operational" relationship with al-Qaida has mutated lazily into the belief that there were no contacts or exchanges at all, which the commission by no means asserts and which in any case by no means possesses the merit of being true. The CIA got everything wrong before 9/11, and thereafter. It was conditioned by its own culture to see no evil. It regularly leaked—see any of Bob Woodward's narratives—against the administration. Now it, and its partisans and publicity-famished husband-and-wife teams, want to imprison or depose people who leak back at it. No, thanks. Many journalists are rightly appalled at Time magazine's collusion with a prosecutor who has proved no crime and identified no victim. Far worse is the willingness of the New York Times to accept the demented premise of a prosecutor who has put one of its own writers behind bars.

Related in Slate

In 2004, Christopher Hitchens examined the unholy alliance between the CIA and the Left in the Plame investigation. Last week, Mickey Kaus assessed the speculation that the press leaked to Rove, and why Joseph Wilson wrote that op-ed about the CIA if his wife's job was a concern. Bruce Reed wondered why Matthew Cooper couldn't find anyone better than Karl Rove to talk with about welfare reform. Timothy Noah speculated about whether Rove will get canned in the Rove Death Watch, parts one, two, three, and four; Noah asserted that "if Dubya doesn't fire the man he nicknamed 'Turd Blossom' for this offense, he's an even bigger hack than I think." And Jacob Weisberg argued that reporters are too obsessed with protecting anonymous sources.

Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair. His most recent book is Thomas Jefferson: Author of America.

David Hinckley: Confirming Springsteen, 1975

The Goods
The Daily News
31 May 2005

When Columbia Records signed Bruce Springsteen and released his first album in 1973, there was more than the occasional stray piece of talk that he was the New Bob Dylan.

But the phrase, while vaguely complimentary, did little to set Springsteen apart. In the early 1970s, New Dylans were as common as sea gulls on the Coney Island Boardwalk.

Steve Goodman was a New Dylan. John Prine was a New Dylan. Loudon Wainwright 3rd was a New Dylan. It was like the title was the door prize at the opening of a new supermarket.

It was also worth noting that virtually none of the artists who got this label asked for it or wanted it. They all loved Dylan's music, sure, but singing and songwriting in Dylan's shadow was a one-way ticket to Desolation Row.

In Springsteen's case, he got the tag for a couple of reasons. He had been signed by Columbia, Dylan's label, and had gone through John Hammond, the guy who signed Dylan.

Springsteen was also a singer-songwriter whose first album, "Greetings from Asbury Park," was stuffed with Dylanesque songs rife with colorful metaphors, verbal minidramas and breathless wordplay.

It produced no hit singles, however, and only modest sales, though it did help expand a loyal fan base.

When Springsteen came back a year later with "The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle," much the same thing happened. Springsteen fans were enchanted, but sales were tepid and murmurs were heard that this latest New Dylan was never going to be in the ballpark with the Old Dylan, who in 1974 had reemerged from a long hibernation for an electrifying reunion tour with his old buddies The Band.

Springsteen, however, had a trump card. Almost everyone who saw him in concert said he gave the greatest show this side of James Brown. Now he just needed to transfer some of that electricity to recordings.

So he got a new keyboard player, a new drummer and a new manager and he headed into the studio to make an album that would eventually be called "Born to Run."

Springsteen would in later years become legendary for the amount of time he spent making records, but as the "Born to Run" sessions stretched on, the murmurs started again about whether this kid really had the goods.

The preparation process got a lot of attention, however — so much that Springsteen was in the curious position of feeling a backlash to the volume of prerelease hype.

So once it finally had a firm release date, Sept. 1, 1975, Springsteen and CBS decided the best answer to the doubters would be to introduce it with live performances.

They booked the Bottom Line, a 400-seat club on Mercer St. in the Village, Aug. 13 to 17.

The Bottom Line had only been open about a year but had a reputation as a keeper. Although owners Allan Pepper and Stanley Snadowsky weren't known for overpaying their acts, they gave top names a good showcase, and getting Springsteen would hardly hurt their reputation.

Springsteen's regular venue was theaters that held five to 10 times as many fans, so from the moment the Bottom Line shows were announced they were an almost impossible ticket. Columbia also saved seats for busloads of press, industry people, VIPs, anyone who could help spread the word.

Columbia also mounted a major media campaign that prominently displayed a quote by Jon Landau, a longtime rock critic who was now a Springsteen confidante. He had seen the future of rock 'n' roll, wrote Landau in Rolling Stone, and it was Springsteen.

The stage, then, was set. The Bottom Line run would confirm either the fan buzz about Springsteen's electric stage presence — or the skeptics' weariness with The Hype.

The schedule called for two shows a night, with the early show Aug. 15 broadcast live over WNEW-FM. That further raised the stakes for shows built on songs almost no one had yet heard.

On the first night, first show, Springsteen walked out alone, sat at the piano and played a new tune called "Thunder Road." It received ripples of applause.

By the third night, for the WNEW show, the full band was with him from the start. That show, which would become one of the most famous in rock history, started with "Tenth Avenue Freezeout" and "Spirit in the Night," then tossed in Springsteen's version of an old Phil Spector favorite, "And Then She Kissed Me."

He played three of his earlier songs, "Growin' Up," "Hard to Be a Saint in the City" and "E Street Shuffle," before "Every Time You Walk Into the Room" and a run of new ones — "She's the One," "Born to Run" and "Thunder Road."

Then he did three more old ones, "Kitty's Back," "Rosalita" and "Sandy," before he closed with Gary U.S. Bonds' "Quarter to Three."

By the end of the run, the shows had their intended effect: They had lived up to and thus overshadowed The Hype. The New York Times started its review on the front page and even found a new way to praise Springsteen, suggesting that rather than the New Dylan, he might be the New Mick Jagger.

The record came out as scheduled Sept. 1 and was a major hit. It became an instant FM radio staple, though top-40 radio still found Springsteen's voice too raw to give him any significant pop exposure.

In October, Time and Newsweek both put him on their covers, in the same week.

But it was those five nights in mid-August that seemed to suggest both the New Bruce and the little club he picked for this coming-out party might be around for a while.

Nick Hornby Interviews Bruce Springsteen

A fan's eye view

Nick Hornby has always been a Springsteen fan, and listened to his music every day while writing his latest bestseller. But he never had the chance to meet his hero - until The Boss came to London for his recent Royal Albert Hall shows. In this OMM exclusive, the star reveals how he keeps abreast of modern music via his son, and why the likes of 'Born to Run' continue to inspire.

Sunday July 17, 2005
The Guardian

Still the Boss: Bruce Springsteen

Earlier on in the week that I met Bruce Springsteen, and before I knew I was going to meet him, I'd decided I was going to send him a copy of my new book. I got his home address off a mutual friend, and signed it to him, and the book was lying around in my office in an unstamped Jiffy bag when the editor of this magazine asked if I'd like to do this interview. So I took the book with me.

I wasn't expecting him to read the bloody thing, nor even to keep it, and yet even so it seemed like something I needed to do. A Long Way Down was fuelled by coffee, Silk Cuts and Bruce (specifically, a 1978 live bootleg recording of 'Prove it all Night', which I listened to a lot on the walk to my office as I was finishing the book). And Springsteen is one of the people who made me want to write in the first place, and one of the people who has, through words and deeds, helped me to think about the career I have had since that initial impulse. It seems to me that his ability to keep his working life fresh and compelling while working within the mainstream is an object lesson to just about anyone whose work has any sort of popular audience. [The live versions of 'Prove it All Night' from the 1978 tour remain some of the most moving songs that I've ever heard...the intro is staggering...If someone can listen to those renditions and remain untouched, then I just think they are doomed to wander the wasteland of popular music...lost out on the crags...probably tapping their toes to far lesser imitators like John Mellencamp and Bob Seger. Speaking of Mellencamp...what the hell is wrong with this world where one can see a concert that has Mellencamp getting top-billing over the great John Fogerty? Good Lord what a travesty! - JTF]

The first time I met him was after his Friday night show at the Royal Albert Hall, at a party in an upmarket West End hotel. He talked with an impressive ferocity and fluency to a little group of us about why he demanded restraint from his fans during the solo shows. The following afternoon I went to the soundcheck for the Saturday show, and sat on my own in the auditorium while he played 'My Father's House', from Nebraska. It wasn't the sort of experience you forget in a hurry. I interviewed him in his dressing room, and I was nervous: I have, in transcribing the questions, made them seem more cogent than they actually were.

He looked younger than the last time I saw him, and he's clearly incredibly fit; he changed his shirt for the photographer, and I could tell that he does a lot more two-and-a-half hour shows than I do. He was pleasant and friendly, but though he asked after a couple of younger musicians who both he and I know, there wasn't much small talk; his answers came in unbroken yet very carefully considered streams. He is one of the few artists I've met who is able to talk cogently about what he does without sounding either arrogant or defensively self-deprecating.

I gave him the book, and he thanked me. I have no idea whether the cleaner took it home, but it didn't matter much to me either way.

Nick Hornby:
I was thinking when I was watching the show last night that maybe when you play with the band you can at least say to yourself, 'I know why people are coming to see us. We're good at what we do, and there's this dynamic between us.' But when it's you on your own, you can't tell yourself that any more. How does that feel? Have you got to a stage in life where it doesn't feel weird that so many people come to see only you?

Bruce Springsteen:
I performed like this in different periods of most of my playing life before I made records (1) [for footnotes see below]. It just so happens that I didn't do it on the Nebraska tour, maybe I was feeling unsure about ... I hadn't performed by myself in a while. It feels very natural to me, and I assume people come for the very same reasons as they do when I'm with the band: to be moved, for something to happen to them. So I think the same things that make people plunk down their hard-earned bucks for the tickets, it works both ways. You're looking for an experience and something that contextualises, as best as possible, a piece of the world. I'm just taking a different road to it out there at night. It's the same thing, you know?

NH: It's always struck me that you work very hard on the stage side of things, that you have a theory of stagecraft. Is that right?

Well, I don't know if I've worked hard at it. It's always felt natural, because I'm generally very comfortable with people. That's probably genetic in some fashion (laughs). There is a presentation and I think being aware of the fact that there's a show going on is a good idea (laughs) (2). I think it fell into some disrepute when the idea of the show became linked to falseness in some fashion, which is a superficial way to look at it. It's actually a bridge when used appropriately. It's simply a bridge for your ideas to reach the audience. It assists the music in connecting and that's what you're out there for. I think if you do it wrong, you can diminish your work, but if you do it right you can lightly assist what you're doing. It can be an enormous asset in reaching people with what might be otherwise difficult material. I have a large audience coming to see this kind of music, an audience which in other circumstances would not be there. The audiences are there as a result of my history with the band but also as a result of my being able to reach people with a tune. I have my ideas, I have my music and I also just enjoy showing off [laughs], so that's a big part of it. Also, I like to get up onstage and behave insanely or express myself physically, and the band can get pretty silly. But even in the course of an evening like this there's a way that you sort of attenuate the evening. Your spoken voice is a part of it - not a big part of it, but it's something. It puts people at ease, and once again kind of reaches out and makes a bridge for what's otherwise difficult music.

I think that's right. Those shows where you borrowed things from James Brown ... I think some people did find it troubling that this music is supposed to be real and authentic and yet there's this stagecraft, this messing around, at the same time (3). I think the people who get the shows always see that there's not a contradiction.

Plus, you know, when I was young, there was a lot of respect for clowning in rock music - look at Little Richard. It was a part of the whole thing, and I always also believed that it released the audience. And it was also a way that you shrunk yourself down to a certain sort of life-size (laughs) but I also enjoyed it, I had fun with it, and I never thought that seriousness and clowning were exclusive, so I've approached my work and my stagecraft with the idea that they're not exclusive. You can go from doing something quite silly to something dead serious in the blink of an eye, and if you're making those connections with your audience then they're going to go right along with it.

What have you been listening to the past couple of years?

I listen to all kinds of things, you know? Take your choice. [He reaches into a bag and pulls out a whole heap of home-made CDs.] I've made all this music for walking ... A lot of this is a little acoustic-oriented but I hear everything. I hear all the Britpop stuff, the Stone Roses and Oasis, and I go on to Suede and Pulp. I'm generally interested in almost everything.

For the benefit of the tape I'm looking at CDs which feature Dylan and Sleater Kinney and the Beach Boys and Jimmy Cliff and Sam Cooke and Bobby Bland and Joe Strummer; pretty much the whole history of recorded music.

I left a lot of my more rock things off, because this is my walking music. But I listen to old music; some Louis Armstrong stuff recently. And then I'll listen to, I don't know, Four Tet or something. I do a lot of curiosity buying; I buy it if I like the album cover, I buy it if I like the name of the band, anything that sparks my imagination. I still like to go to record stores, I like to just wander around and I'll buy whatever catches my attention ... Maybe I'll read a good review of something or even an interesting review. But then I go through long periods where I don't listen to things, usually when I'm working. In between the records and in between the writing I suck up books and music and movies and anything I can find.

And is that part of the process of writing for you?

I don't think it has to be. I tend to be a subscriber to the idea that you have everything you need by the time you're 12 years old to do interesting writing for most of the rest of your life - certainly by the time you're 18. But I do find it helps me with form, in that something may just inspire me, may give me an idea as to the form I'm going to create something in, or maybe the setting. Ten or 12 years ago, nature writing struck my imagination and it's seeped into my work a little bit here and there ever since.. It's all kinds of things. I heard this live version of 'Too Much Monkey Business' by Chuck Berry and it sounds so close to punk music. So when you go to record with your band, you have all those sounds, you've created a bank. I like to stay as awake and as alert as I can. And I enjoy it too, I have a lot of interest in it ... I like not being sealed off from what's going on culturally.

Have you got to the stage where your kids are introducing you to things?

Yeah, my son likes a lot of guitar bands. He gave me something the other day which was really good. He'll burn a CD for me full of things that he has, so he's a pretty good call if I want to check some of that stuff out ... The other two aren't quite into that yet. My daughter's 12, 13, and she likes the top 40. So I end up at the Z100 Christmas show, sitting in the audience with my daughter and her friends watching every top 40 act ... I'm all over the place.

NH: How did that Suicide thing come about (4)?

I met Alan [Vega] in the late Seventies. I was just a fan. I liked them, they were unique. They're very dreamy, they have a dreamy quality, and they were also incredibly atmospheric and were going were others weren't. I just enjoyed them a lot. I happened to hear that song recently, I came across a compilation that it was on and it's very different at the end of the night. It's just those few phrases repeated, very mantra-like.

It's especially striking in a show that's built almost exclusively on narrative.

Right, but it's the fundamental idea behind all of the songs anyway (5). (Laughs) It's just a different moment at the end of the night, where you go to some of the same places with virtually very few words. I like narrative storytelling as being part of a tradition, a folk tradition. But this envelops the night. It's interesting watching people's faces. They look very different while that's happening. It's a look of some surprise, and that's part of what I set the night up for - unconventional pieces at the top to surprise the audience and to also make them aware that it's not going to be a regular night. It's going to be a night of all different things and the ritualistic aspect of the night is dispelled. As long as it's not something that I've done before ...

NH: How do you think of your relationship with your own material? Because when you were here with the band a couple of years ago, you were playing stuff from the first three albums and some of those you were doing solo as well. And yet last night I think there was one song from the first four albums ...

BS: Is that right? On certain nights I'll play more. I think I played 'For You' for a while ... It depends. My only general rule was to steer away from things I played with the band over the past couple of tours. I was interested in re-shaping the Rising material for live shows, so people could hear the bare bones of that. And the new material and [The Ghost of] Tom Joad and Nebraska gets a nod, and I think 'Tunnel of Love' comes up. I play 'Racing in the Street' ... I haven't played much off Born to Run. It's predicated on anything that doesn't have a formulated response built in.

Does it feel like young man's music to you now, the first three, four records?

I would say that it is, you know, because a lot of young people actually mention those records to me. I remember I was playing over here a while back and I was staring down and there was a kid, he couldn't have been more than 14, 15, he was mouthing every word to us, Greetings From Asbury Park, literally word for word and this kid - forget about it, his parents were the glimmer in somebody's eye [laughs]. In some ways I suppose it is, but also a good song takes years to find itself. When I go back and play 'Thunder Road' or something, I can sing very comfortably from my vantage point because a lot of the music was about a loss of innocence, there's innocence contained in you but there's also innocence in the process of being lost [laughs].

And that was the country at the time I wrote that music. I wrote that music immediately preceding the end of the Vietnam war, when that feeling swept the country. A part of me was interested in music which contained that innocence, the Spector stuff, a lot of the Fifties and Sixties rock'n'roll, but I myself wasn't one of those people. I realised I wasn't one of my heroes, I was something else and I had to take that into consideration. So when I wrote that music and incorporated a lot of the things I loved from those particular years, I was also aware that I had to set in place something that acknowledged what had happened to me and everybody else where I lived.

I presume that's where the emotional connection with your music came for so many people at the time. Because all those people had grown up loving that music, but it wasn't doing the job any more.

I think we were a funny amalgam of things at that moment. There was so much familiarity in the music that for a lot of people it felt like home; it touched either your real memories or just your imaginary home, the place that you think of when you think of your home town, or who you were, or who you might have been. And the music collected those things, so there was an element that made you feel comfortable. And yet at the same time we were in the process of moving some place else, and that was acknowledged in my music also, and that's why I think people felt deeply about it.

I think that it made some people comfortable, and there were stylistic things that caught people's ears, that they were used to hearing ... but that alone wouldn't have made people feel very deeply, it was the other stuff. That's why 'Born to Run' resonates and 'Thunder Road'; people took that music and they really made it theirs. I think I worked hard for that to happen. I am providing a service and it's one that I like to think is needed. It's at the core of trying to do it right, from year to year. It's the motive when you go out there. You want that reaction: 'Hey, I know that kid. That's me!'. Because I still remember that my needs were very great, and they were addressed by things that people at the time thought were trash, popular music and B-movies ... But I found a real self in them that helped me make sense of the self that I grew up with - the person I actually was.

· Bruce Springsteen's latest album, 'Devils & Dust', is out now on Columbia.
· Nick Hornby's novel, 'A Long Way Down', is published by Viking, priced £17.99

Hornby's footnotes

1. A few years ago, a friend gave me a DVD of early Springsteen performances, bootleg stuff taken from the internet, and on it there's shaky black-and-white film of Bruce performing solo at some folk club, probably in 1970/71. And, of course, there's a difference between performing solo as an unknown artist and performing solo when you're one of the biggest acts in the world. Back then, it would have been very hard for Bruce to kid himself that anyone in the crowd had come to see him; they'd come to see the headline act, or they'd come for a drink. And if in those circumstances you can delay one person's retreat to the bar, then you're doing well. At the Royal Albert Hall, people had paid £50-£60 to watch Springsteen's every move, for over two hours. That must focus the mind.

2. This sounds like a throwaway remark, but how many shows have you been to where the band pretend to be unaware that there's a show going on? All that tuning up and talking to each other, while the audience waits for something to happen. Springsteen's simple recognition of the fact that people pay for every onstage second separates him from almost every single other act I've seen.

3. Every now and then, No Nukes, the film of a big 1979 anti-nuclear concert in Madison Square Garden, turns up in the middle of the night on Sky Movies. Springsteen is one of the artists featured: he sings 'The River', 'Thunder Road' and then 'Quarter to Three', the old Gary US Bonds hit that he used to play as an encore. In 'Quarter to Three', he does the whole hammy James Brown thing; he collapses on the stage, the band attempts to lead him off, he suddenly pulls away from them and does another couple of verses, stripped to the waist. It's electrifying, and funny; but what's remarkable, looking at it now, is that Springsteen's uncomplicated showbiz gestures seem way more 'authentic' than all the smiley, gleaming-teeth sincerity that James Taylor, Carly Simon and the rest of the performers are trying to project. What, after all, could be more sincere than a performer performing - and acknowledging that he's performing?

4. Springsteen closed the Royal Albert Hall shows with an extraordinary cover of 'Dream Baby Dream'. an old song by the scary punk-era experimental duo Suicide. He got some kind of echoed loop going out of his pump-organ and strolled around the stage singing the song's disconnected phrases; there were no beats, of course, but it was as hypnotic and as hymnal as Underworld's 'Born Slippy'.

5. 'All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music,' said the critic Walter Pater. As it turns out, even musicians aspire towards the condition of music - something less wordy, less structured, more visceral.

Those other fans ...

Dave Marsh Music critic
'The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle is still, to me, one of the greatest records that anybody's ever made. It just left you feeling more alive.'

Tony Blair Prime Minister
'I like Bruce Springsteen tremendously. Cherie and I used to listen [to him] together. I had this extremely grotty flat in St John's Wood [in north London], just around the corner from where she used to live, and we would play Bruce there.'

Eric Alterman Author of 'It Ain't No Sin to Be Glad You're Alive: the Promise of Bruce Springsteen'
'He's the only iconographic figure in my life who ultimately didn't betray me. He keeps growing and changing.'

Stephen Merchant Comedy writer
'Initially, when I first heard Born to Run it didn't grab me. Later, though, the romanticism of 'Thunder Road' got to me. It sounded like the soundtrack to a teen movie that one day I'd hope to make. When the sax comes in, that's the guy running through the rain at the end to get the girl.'

Ronald Reagan Former American President (misreading 'Born in the USA' in October 1984)
'America's future rests in a thousand dreams inside our hearts. It rests in the message of hope so many young people admire: New Jersey's own Bruce Springsteen.' [I don't see where Mr. Reagan even mentioned 'BITUSA' let alone misread it...this silly myth has been making the rounds for years and it's time it was put down for good. George Will misread 'BITUSA' in a column from that time...Reagan misread's a non-story that still rears its ugly head 20 years later. - JTF]

Danny Jones McFly
'When I came home from school, instead of watching The Tweenies, I'd roll my sleeves up like him, put a band around my head and watch Springsteen live.'

Damon Gough Badly Drawn Boy
'It took me a long, long time to decide that I was going to be a songwriter myself, but 'Thunder Road' started the process.'

Greil Marcus Author
'It's amazing how much he can do in just a few lines ... you know exactly where you are and you can follow the story.'

Billy Bragg Singer
'Springsteen makes me keep faith in America.'

Related articles

30.05.2005: Review: Bruce Springsteen, Royal Albert Hall, London
22.04.2005: CD review: Bruce Springsteen, Devils and Dust

Useful link
Bruce Springsteen official site

AP: Springsteen's Musical Education Continues On Tour

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Associated Press Writer
July 21, 2005, 9:13 AM EDT

NEW YORK -- Nearly three decades after "Born to Run," with a dozen Grammys and an Oscar to show for his songwriting skills, Bruce Springsteen says he's still learning things about his music each time he steps on stage."I'm once again in search of different and exiting ways of voicing the material," he explained after finishing a sound check before a weeknight show in Buffalo. "If you've written good songs, sturdy songs, you find you've just scratched the surface."

From "Rosalita" through "The River" and into "The Rising," the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee has consistently produced songs with such resonance. On the current solo tour supporting his "Devils & Dust" album, Springsteen has revitalized rarely played favorites such as "Point Blank" or "Wreck on the Highway" by backing himself on banjo, electric piano or pump organ.

"That's the job," Springsteen said about his live shows. "As you go along, you're bringing the music and all these characters to life every night. And you can't do it without doing it, you know? I'm not going to come out and just run through some songs, or play favorites. I'm in search of some life essence. That's why people come."

In addition to reinventing his classic songs, Springsteen said he's creating some new music. In the downtime between shows, particularly during his five-week swing through Europe, the Boss spent his spare time on new material.

"I spent quite a bit of time sitting and writing," Springsteen said in a telephone interview. "It was a pretty fruitful time. I'd have the guitar with me, and I'd come home and do a good bit of writing _ sometimes all on one song. Two weeks go by, and I'm going page after page refining it."

Along with new music comes something completely different for Springsteen: a longer, more detailed version of his VH-1 "Storytellers" appearance at a Jersey shore theater. The one-of-a-kind solo performance will show up in stores Sept. 6, with a running time more than double the hour-long version that already aired.

It will include a previously unseen question and answer period between Springsteen and some lucky fans."That was quite a thing," Springsteen said about the evening spent deconstructing eight songs, offering a rare glimpse into his method of melding words and music. "I never did anything quite like it before, I don't think I've ever done that before. I felt it was something very singular. And it was a lot of fun."

Springsteen, 55, launched his second solo acoustic tour earlier this year after releasing "Devils & Dust," which hit No. 1 on the charts in the United States and nine countries in Europe.

The Springsteen tour continues Saturday with a show in Atlanta, with dates to follow in Charlotte; Greensboro, N.C.; Pittsburgh; Columbus, Ohio; Cincinnati; Grand Rapids, Mich.; St. Louis; Milwaukee; Portland, Seattle and Vancouver.

Springsteen suggested the tour could be extended to include a few more dates in cities with "longtime supporters," which typically includes East Coast strongholds like Boston, Philadelphia and New Jersey.But there was no official word yet on extra shows: "We may do a little more. There's a few cities we'll try to get back to."

Over the years, Springsteen has divided his time between band and solo records. In the last two decades, he's done just a single record with the E Street Band, while releasing the solo albums "Tunnel of Love," "The Ghost of Tom Joad" and "Devils & Dust."

Attention later this year, though, will turn to his seminal band album."Born to Run" was released in September 1975 _ putting the 30th anniversary of its debut at the end of this summer. Springsteen, who was just a 25-year-old Jersey shore kid destined for bigger things at the time, seemed somewhat perplexed at putting that number into perspective.

"Yeah, I don't know what to make of that, except here it is," Springsteen said. "Who woulda thunk? It's kind of funny. It some ways it doesn't seem that long, but when I look back at old (film) footage it's ..."Springsteen paused and laughed."Well," he finally said, "time flies when you're having fun."