I was raised in New Jersey, so if you say bad things about Bruce Springsteen, I have to impregnate your cousin. No, not that cousin, the other one, the one no one would expect. My family takes our New Jersey rock seriously: my cousin once punched out Jon Bon Jovi. That is an actual true fact.
For graduation, one of my friends gave, as a “graduation gift” (don’t ask, it was a suburban thing), around 10 people the exact same CD, The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle. Not only was it the ballsiest act of record snobbery in the books, but it was the most successful: all of those recipients still listen to the record regularly. Because it’s The Wild and the Innocent, man, But it was also telling for the fact that in New Jersey in the 90’s, everyone was simply assumed to be into Bruce.
So, what do Bruce and the Dead have in common? Quite a bit, but not very much at all.
They both made their bones as live performers, got ripped off by shady idiots, and became beloved by white people everywhere. The Dead built a Wall of Sound, Bruce ripped off the wall of sound. But the analogy quickly falls apart.
Both favored the approach of putting as many people on the payroll as possible, but Bruce hired employees, and then yelled at them a lot. Which shouldn’t be held against him: it’s how most bandleaders have always treated their musicians. James Brown used to fine people for missing notes. Gene Krupa only played the drums for the permission it gave him to scream at sax players. If E Street bassist Garry W. Tallent had ever tried any of Phil’s multi-octave meanderings, Bruce would’ve just outright beat him to death in front of the rest of the band as a warning.
Bruce and the Dead never met, seemingly. They certainly never jammed together. Neither Mickey nor Phil would have taken well to being counted off in such a commanding tone; it would have ended poorly.
Yes, both favored 8-minute long songs, but in Bruce’s case, 5 of those minutes were the band vamping while he told a story about his father. Or, possibly, about the Highway of Hope or the River of Faith or the Off-Ramp of False Equivalence or whatever the fuck he’s been yammering about for the past 15 years ago or so.
(Plus, Bruce’s accent has now lapsed into either speech impediment or elaborate put-on. Growing up, I had a friend whose mom had gone to high school with Bruce, because everyone in New Jersey is required to have some connection, however tenuous, to Bruce under penalty of someone going, “What the fuck, you don’t have a tenuous connection to Bruce? What the fuck over here?” Do I need to mention that this woman who grew up not two miles from Springsteen’s house at the exact same time had not one hint of grizzled twang to her voice? At the beginning of his career, Bruce sounded like a sweathog, but now he’s Johnny 99% and he wants to Occupy It (All Night Long.))
Although, I certainly would have enjoyed hearing Garcia try to do one of Bruce’s raps:
“So, see, my dad, who was very much kind of his own avatar? If you can grok me on that, y’know? So, he was very much a man of his times–ooh, wait, I heard this cool thing about watches…
“GIVE ME YOUR LIVERS!”
“Someone take away Phil’s mic, please.”