I’m not what you’d call a huge Bruce Springsteen fan. Don’t get me wrong – I like him just fine, but I couldn’t name a song he’s done since Courtney Cox was dancing on stage with him.
Last week though, my buddy Mark Krajnak (who is a huge Bruce fan) mentioned that there was a cool documentary about him on HBO called Promise: Darkness on the Edge of Town – all about the making of his second album. Something Mark said about it intrigued me, so I recorded it and watched it the next day. I’m always curious about the artistic process.
What does the making of an album have to do with photography? You’d be surprised.
After the success of Born To Run, Bruce had a ton of legal troubles to maintain control over his artistic vision. It went on for a couple of years and he wasn’t allowed to record at all during that time. Despite that though, he and his band still practiced every day – and no matter what, stayed true to his vision and passion. In the end, he won. Nice lesson in perseverance.
The show then moved into the recording studio, which is where the real insight came in. He talked about how, when he was just starting out, his perspective was very different:
You’re trying to learn how to write well, but your artistic instinct is what you’re going on – your artistic intelligence hasn’t been developed yet. Hopefully that increases and develops over a long period of time which gives you an ace to play further down the road. At the time though, I’m going on Artistic instinct and that’s a wide open game – you’re following all sorts of paths and all kinds of roads and all I know is “That doesn’t feel right” “That doesn’t feel right” That’s how I’m judging.
The analogy I thought of was that of a race car driver. As a driver is going 200mph around the track, he can become totally caught up with the racing chaos around him. But the good ones can do all that while analyzing the situation and communicating it back to his pit crew, so that they can correct things on the next stop. Hmmm.
Next was a scene from Charlie Plotkin (who mixed the album):
“I came back the next night he [Bruce] said “Look, let me tell you something about this song: Imagine you’re in a movie theater. On the screen is two lovers having a picnic. Then the camera Shock Cuts to a dead body. Every time this song comes up on the album – this song is that dead body”. That was an amazing experience in and of itself – to hear somebody talk about their music in that way. It was a brilliant set of cues. He didn’t tell me what to do with the music – he told me what he wanted it to feel like. [Bruce regarding Chuck]: He understood how to build a Sound Picture.
Another Hmmmm. A sound picture? What he’s really talking about is building an emotion or story around that piece of music – and the impact it can have in an instant. Hmmm. Aren’t we trying to do that with each of our photos as well?
More Bruce, talking about creating an environment in his concerts:
Nothing exists in that space until: One two three four voom – Then you and the audience together manifest an entire world – an entire set of values – an entire way of thinking about your life and the world around you. And an entire set of possibilities. That can never be taken away.
I know that’s what I try to do when I’m shooting a series.
Bruce is a man with a vision and at the same time is in search of a vision. Every one of these albums is that search for that vision of now. That’s what made these albums so difficult. It was that they weren’t done until he had advanced his vision.
That blew me away. He didn’t consider a project done until he has advanced his art in some way.
I’ll leave you with these parting words & lyrics from him:
“Blow away the dreams that tear you apart. Blow away the dreams that break your heart. Blow away the lies that leave you broken hearted”.
The song that needs to be sung is the one about how do you deal with those things – and move on to a creative life and a spiritual life and a life where you can just make it through the day and sleep at night.