Updated: Oct 12
September 28, 2023
Last month Simon & Schuster published a new anthology of Dave Marsh's writing entitled Kick Out The Jams: Jibes, Barbs, Tributes, and Rallying Cries from 35 Years of Music Writing. It is highly recommended reading for Springsteen fans, as is the book to which Kick Out The Jams very much serves as a sequel: 1985's Random House anthology Fortunate Son: The Best of Dave Marsh, now out of print and somewhat difficult to find.
(And no, unfortunately Fortunate Son remains officially unavailable to read in e-book form, despite Amazon continuing to claim otherwise.) Both books contain much significant Springsteen-related material, properly placing Bruce's work in the context of its importance within the larger spectrum of popular music.
Dave Marsh is well-known, of course, to several generations of Springsteen fans as the author of two essential Springsteen biographies that later were collected as one large, enhanced volume entitled Two Hearts: The Definitive Biography, 1972-2003. The original 1979 edition of Dave's initial Springsteen bio, Born To Run: The Bruce Springsteen Story, set the template for pretty much every possible approach to writing about Springsteen and his career that would follow, as it included not only facts and critical analysis mixed with a great collection of photos, but also closed with an appendix that included listings of all known songs that Bruce had written by that point, all songs written by others that Springsteen had covered in concert, and all known live-performance dates from 1972 through 1978.
Marsh wrote about Springsteen's career with the benefit of an insider's perspective. Dave was a close friend and colleague of music-writer-turned-producer-and-longtime-Springsteen-manager Jon Landau. (Marsh edited Landau's famous 1974 "I saw rock and roll future" essay.) He also is married to former longtime Springsteen co-manager Barbara Carr. Yet his books, articles, and commentary on Springsteen always have offered far more than just so much inside baseball. Dave always wrote and spoke from the not-necessarily-contradictory perspective of a music-critic who also was a bona-fide fan of the music, and stayed focused on the bigger picture of the meaning and importance to be found in what Bruce and his collaborators were doing, as well as how the audience was affected and responded. In later years, Marsh went on to write a third book focused on Springsteen: the highly recommended coffee-table book Bruce Springsteen On Tour: 1968-2005, published by Bloomsbury in 2006 and, though now officially out of print, still available via many booksellers. Around that same time, he served as a key programming-team member and on-air personality in launching, sustaining, and expanding E Street Radio.
Dave recently retired, but in his long career that stretched from the late 1960s through the first two decades of the twenty-first century, he has written and spoken passionately and brilliantly about many more aspects of music and culture than just the work of Bruce Springsteen. (The mere listing of Marsh's books at the beginning of the Kick Out The Jams anthology is staggering in and of itself.) In fact, the Kick Out The Jams anthology makes it clearer than ever why Dave Marsh should become widely recognized as one of our greatest and most insightful writers on popular music and the roles it has played - and can continue to play - in reflecting and supporting our struggles for a saner, safer, and more equitable planet.
Accompanying the arrival of the new Kick Out The Jams anthology is a free, live online event happening this coming weekend entitled Kick Out The Jams: Music Writing Like Our Lives Depend On It. Music-writer and scholar Lauren Onkey, who wrote the introduction to Kick Out The Jams, will lead a conversation with the anthology's co-editors, Daniel Wolff and Danny Alexander, and other special guests. The conversation, accompanied by some musical performances, will be centered around the work of Dave Marsh and how it fits into our larger collective history, looking back and moving forward.
In recognition and celebration of the publication of this major new anthology of Dave Marsh's writing, and this weekend's in-depth online exploration of its continued importance, here below is MUCH more on Marsh from some well-known folks, including some of Letters To You's contributors and friends. As Dave's longtime Detroit brethren in The MC5 famously exclaimed, "Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!"
“I connected to Dave because I knew he felt about music the way I felt about it. It was life-sustaining... It was central to your existence.”
- Bruce Springsteen
-excerpted from Danny’s essay “’Kick Out the Jams’ and the Debt I Owe,” the full version of which you can read at Danny’s Take ‘Em As They Come blog by clicking here.
A MARSH MEMORY FROM E STREET RADIO AND SIRIUS/XM PERSONALITY/PRODUCER JIM ROTOLO, WHO WAS DAVE MARSH’S SOLE PRODUCER AND REGULAR ON-AIR COMPANION FOR HIS ENTIRE SIRIUS/XM RUN: In 2004, I was a [radio] producer. I was working for a different company at the time, and I’d been dying to get to Sirius Radio. Steve Leeds [former Vice-President of Talent and Industry Affairs at the then-fledgling satellite-radio company] had told Dave that he should be on the radio, with his legacy of interviews, writing, and journalism. So they gave Dave a show [Kick Out The Jams with Dave Marsh,] and by chance, the channel director at the time put us together.
And of course I already knew of Dave; I remember reading some of his articles and his reviews. I remember being upset with him because he gave the second Black Crowes album a bad review. But along the way, I’ve always found it so amazing how he always could see and show people how music has such a profound effect on everything around us: society, culture, why we are the way we are. I’m looking at the first piece in the anthology, where he linked The New Deal to Elvis and rock-and-roll. Who does that?! Being with Dave has been the best music-history class you could ever possibly have, and I’ve learned so much about culture and society and people, through music and meeting all of these great musicians and fellow writers along the way. I’m blown away by the education. You couldn’t put a price on what I was taught just being around Dave, sitting there having lunch with him, the stories and the conversation, and the way he looks at different things.
And below you can watch a special promo-video created for the Kick Out The Jams anthology, featuring a few familiar friends of Dave; edited by Samuel Shapiro, with music by Lorenzo Wolff:
Click the arrow on the left to expand and read Letters To You contributor Andrea Dyche's report from last month's Kick Out The Jams book-publication celebration in Kansas City, MO.
To celebrate the publication of Dave Marsh's new Kick Out the Jams anthology, co-editor Danny Alexander threw a book-release party in the heart of Kansas City, Missouri. It wasn't just about celebrating Marsh; it was about throwing a spotlight on the ties that bind a community together. As Alexander noted throughout the evening, “Writing about music is writing about community.” And it was that sense of community that stood out throughout the evening.
The evening started with a promo-video for Kick Out the Jams, featuring an array of musicians and writers sharing their personal connections to Dave Marsh. Jackson Browne brought laughter to the room as he recalled Dave Marsh telling him, “There's no excuse for writing ‘Take It Easy.'” Bruce Springsteen noted that he connected with Marsh over their shared view that music is life-sustaining, a sentiment that was likely shared by all those in the room. Wayne Kramer of MC5 highlighted Marsh's unwavering commitment to a “larger vision about how rock fits into the American experience.” Little Steven recognized Marsh's pivotal role in infusing credibility into rock music and broadening discussions to include soul music. Writer Greg Tate eloquently expressed how Marsh's commitment to critical conversations being “democratized and inclusive” made space for all people to fit into the music community. The collective sentiment captured in the video underlined Marsh's impact on both the music industry and the broader cultural discourse.
The spotlight then turned to writers, musicians, and music lovers alike, as they took turns reading selections from Kick Out the Jams. Journalist CJ Janovy set the tone by starting the evening with “I Shall Be Free, the Blacklisting of the Dixie Chicks.” In her introduction, she noted, “As I immersed myself in this book over the past few weeks, I traversed American history [from 1982-2016]… Every facet of American culture finds a place in this book, spanning the entire latter half of the 20th century.” Her words emphasized how Marsh's writings delve into history, politics, life, death, as well as sex, love, and rock’n’roll, to borrow from the title of a 2000 piece Marsh wrote for Rock and Rap Confidential (that, yes, also can be found in Kick Out The Jams.)
Beyond his writing, Marsh is also recognized and respected as an advocate for human rights and social justice, and the party reflected that by showcasing two local non-profit agencies. First to speak was Justice Gatson, Founder and Director of The Reale Justice Network. The Reale Justice Network is “a Black and Indigenous, survivor led, reproductive justice group, advocating for a range of political and social justice issues that directly impact Black and Brown communities.” Gatson delivered a passionate speech on the battle against qualified immunity following the tragic killing of Ryan Stokes by a Kansas City Police officer in 2013.
Rhonda Lyne, Executive Director of Midwest Music Foundation, also took the stage, shining light on their efforts to provide Kansas City-area musicians and music industry professionals with access to healthcare. Thanks to MMF, the KC music community can receive dental screenings, mammograms, flu shots, and vital healthcare services. Notably, MMF also extends grants to musicians struggling with urgent healthcare expenses through a program called Abby’s Fund, named for Abigail Henderson, a Kansas City musician who lost her battle with breast cancer in 2013.
Musician and entertainer Cody Wyoming spoke to the significance of these grants in a musician’s life, drawing from his own experience with chronic illness. Wyoming reflected on the heartache of seeing fellow musicians sell cherished guitar collections in order to pay medical bills. He acknowledged how, thanks to Abby’s Fund, he didn't have to part with his instruments to cover medical bills.
In its entirety, Kick Out the Jams is not only a tribute to Marsh's legacy but also a testament to the power of music to foster unity and kinship. As the essays within the book traverse through decades and genres, they unveil the timeless truth that great music carries stories, emotions, and messages that connect us all, and great music writers help us uncover the shared connections and universal truths found within those songs.
- Andrea Dyche reporting for Letters To You
DAVE MARSH'S DREAM
A world where everybody has a place to live and nobody has to stay up at night trying to figure out how to pay for it. Same with food. Same with education.
A world where health care is dispensed rationally, not to the highest bidder.
A world where everyone has some kind of productive work, everybody shares in the scut work at some level and nobody capable has to or gets to not have a job.
A world where being child-centered is something more than rhetoric, where no child is left behind because no child is pushed forward by circumstances of birth.
A world where decisions about important things (not just who's going to decide about the important things) are made by a broad, educated consensus.
A world where a major goal is to keep technology, resources and the environment in balance.
A world where everybody is free to exhibit their differences so long as the aim is not harming others.
A world where the consequences of misbehavior are the same for everybody—and so are the incentives for misbehavior.
A world where creativity is nurtured, inquiry is supported and encouraged, and rules are made to be broken but only with care.
A world where there is peace, and when there can't be, nobody makes a profit or gets to bully others as a result of it.
This is a world that would require tremendous gains in education; rather than the liberal “nanny state” it requires the utmost in personal accountability: a world where the government serves but doesn't control. A world where freedom is more than an abstraction.
Do I believe there are ways to accomplish this? Absolutely. Every bit of it, and as I say, more that I can’t even imagine right now. Because with freedom, as with everything else, quantity changes quality.
Do I think that this stuff is easily realizable? From the top down, sort of--meaning, I think we could almost overnight solve the problems of homelessness, hunger and lack of education and training. I think it would take a great deal more time before peace could be achieved—for one thing, the real capitalists, the guys that own the guys that loaned your restaurant owner the money to start his joint, would rather die. (I think.) For another, we all think in ways that are pointlessly competitive, uncooperative, selfish in all the wrong ways. ALL of us do this, to some degree, and really, it can hardly be helped—we have never lived in a world where a lot of advantage didn't accrue to competitiveness and selfishness didn't confer great advantages. For a third, we need to develop our sense of each other as worthy of trust and respect.
Andrew Vachss wrote a book about child abuse that has my favorite title, I think ever, for anything. It is called Another Chance to Get It Right. What Andrew means is, every child is another chance to get it right, to raise a human free of the burdens predatory adults bring with them. But you know, we humans as a species are children for an extremely long time—far longer than any other animal on Earth. It may well be that we are always children, in some respects. And that is a good thing. Because the quality that, all children, except for those seriously impaired, possess is the ability to learn. In fact, the quality that almost all children possess before this ruthless world begins its extremely strenuous effort to dissuade them is the DESIRE to learn.
As adults, we lose that quality at our peril. Because we lose the chance to get OURSELVES right. I'd die to create a world where that chance came home more often. But I'd rather live for it.
- Email to Stratlist online group, 8/15/03