Updated: Nov 5
October 30, 2023
Not surprisingly, the biggest highlight of this past Saturday's 50th Anniversary Of The Release Of The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle symposium, hosted by The Bruce Springsteen Archives & Center for American Music at Monmouth University, was that it marked the first time that Springsteen himself has participated in any Springsteen-focused symposium at Monmouth, before or after the Archives' formation. His onstage appearance wasn't announced officially or widely beforehand, though the Archives' Executive Director Robert Santelli teased and hinted at it earlier in the day, and the online agenda cryptically listed a 4:00-4:30 slot entitled "Writing the Songs: A Conversation with [Santelli and]…………………………" (A printed poster of the agenda, eventually displayed on Saturday only near the event's location at the University's Pollak Theatre, also confirmed Springsteen's appearance.) This probably was an extra-cautious and extra-smart move on the part of event organizers, given the possibility that Bruce's ongoing health/recovery issues might have prevented the appearance from happening. After all, why promise folks a Springsteen appearance and risk disappointing them if it can't occur, when you can just leave it unannounced and have everyone at the sold-out event be in a much more positive mood if and when it happens, without ever putting yourself in the position of having promised anything you didn't deliver?
In any case, Bruce couldn't have shown up at a better time. Prior to his onstage appearance, despite the symposium having started seven hours earlier and having more than a few interesting segments, it still was surprising that overall there hadn't yet been that much actual in-depth discussion centered around The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle album itself, its creation, and (most important) its lasting significance as a work of art. Perhaps it could be seen as sort of inevitable when discussing the history behind an album in which one of its songs' more memorable lines is "Someday we'll look back on this and it will all seem funny," but symposium participant and longest-tenured E Street Band member Garry Tallent was only half-joking (at most) and got right to the heart of the matter when, at several points throughout the day, he repeatedly raised his unwillingness to over-romanticize that history.
Part of the problem was that, unlike previous Springsteen-themed symposiums held at Monmouth, there was no time officially allotted for questions or comments from anyone in the audience. The decision to omit this kind of interaction (an interaction that is normally an essential element of any truly successful symposium) might have played a significant role in keeping unchallenged even some of the more dubious "tall-tale-"type pronouncements uttered onstage by some of the scheduled panelists and speakers (particularly one involving the late, great John Hammond and a stopwatch,) especially since no such challenges ever came from any of the onstage moderators. Here's hoping that the event organizers will reconsider this "no-questions-or-comments-from-the-audience" decision when planning future symposiums.
Fortunately, once Springsteen arrived onstage, the in-depth discussion of The Wild, The Innocent, & The E Street Shuffle kicked into high gear...big time. He participated not only in a one-on-one sitdown with Santelli, but also in the panel-discussion that directly followed it, hosted by Springsteen on Sunday's Tom Cunningham, featuring Bruce interacting with the three surviving E Street Band members who recorded The Wild, The Innocent, & The E Street Shuffle with him: Vini Lopez, David Sancious, and Garry Tallent.
A lot of what was said onstage (including Bruce's great story about skipping his high-school graduation ceremony to spend the day in New York City's Greenwich Village) also can be found in the The Wild, The Innocent, & The E Street Shuffle section of the 1998 book Songs, which was a collaboration between Springsteen and Santelli, and/or Chapters 14 and 27 of Springsteen's autobiography Born to Run. Nevertheless, there were some new wrinkles, selections of which have been transcribed below. (To see and hear - again or for the first time - everything that occurred onstage, just stick around for a few more years. As has happened with some previous events at Monmouth, the Springsteen Archives arranged to have all of this symposium filmed/recorded professionally, so that when its new building opens as planned, visitors will be able to watch and listen to such archival recordings on-demand.)
Bruce Springsteen: "['Kitty's Back'] was a distorted piece of big-band jazz. I have no idea where it came from... I was interested at the time in writing these very sort of complex songs that move through a variety of different types of progressions, that had a lot of big jazz elements and soul elements in them. Also, I had to write things that were showstoppers, because people didn't know us at the time. We were opening up for a lot of strange acts. We opened up for Black Oak Arkansas... Brownsville Station... We were unknown, so I had these very dramatic, complex, but showstopping pieces of music. 'Rosalita' was one... 'Thundercrack' [an outtake from the album] was another... My intent was to write something that would just blow people down when we played it live. Why ['Thundercrack'] didn't get on the record... Really, what needed to happen was... I needed to [release] more records than I actually [did] at the time, because I had a lot of pretty good material. There's a nice version of it on TRACKS. That was our 'Good night, everybody!' showstopper."
"When we went to [Asbury Park,] we thought we were going, like, to Barbados or something. It was so far away, and... there were these rides there, the beach. From Freehold, when you're a kid... ['Incident on 57th Street' and 'New York City Serenade'] were just sort of my romanticized visions of New York City. I wrote ['Incident...'] in Bradley Beach. 'New York City Serenade...' a lot of that record we improvised. We went to the studio; it had that one progression and a few changes, and Davey [Sancious,] of course, did that fantastic piano intro. It was just a groove we got into; it was pretty free and spontaneous... That album is very carny... 'E Street Shuffle,' 'Sandy,' even 'Wild Billy's Circus Story...' It was very much connected to the scene in Asbury Park on the street around the time of [now-defunct and now-legendary after-hours musicians' club] The Upstage... late sixties... early seventies. And I just sort of manifested stories from the locals that I knew, and people that were around... The thing I had all to myself at the time was the New Jersey thing. I remember going to San Francisco in 1969, and I went to the men's room at The Matrix. There was a guy at the urinal, nice to me, who said, 'Where ya from? You guys are pretty good!' I said, 'We're from New Jersey.' He said, 'What's that?!' Not 'Where is it?' ''What is it?!' So [with the album] I was trying to show what it is, y'know? And I was just very locked into that."
"Luis Lahav, our engineer, is here. [Lahav traveled from his home in Israel for the symposium, and his wife Suki, who played and sang on the album and some of the tour dates that followed its release, appeared via a video-segment from one of Santelli's recently recorded oral histories for the Archives.] Luis, that record sounds great to this day, man... When you listen to it... all of the tube-amps and everything we used at that time; it was so authentic. I put it on today, and it sounds like a modern record. You did such a good job, Luis. Thank you."
"[The album is] a lovely wild-card. It's a very youthful record, and it's me finally getting a chance to really express who I was, which I felt I didn't quite have the opportunity to do on the first album. All of my talents came to fruition: my ability to write lyrics, my ability to write evocative music to set cinematic scenes... Everything that I've basically done with the rest of my career really began on [this album.] It wasn't as stripped-down or as streamlined as Born to Run became, with the influence of Jon Landau... but it was a wonderful record that holds up tremendously well. I love just the eclecticness [sic] of it... all those horns, Davey's doing classical fill on 'New York City Serenade...' There's only seven songs on it, it's a lovely little record, and I'm still very proud of it." "[Vini Lopez] totally has his own style [of drumming.] The sounds that Luis and Mike got really made Vini's drum-style work on those [first two Springsteen albums.] It just worked; it was something that was totally his own and eccentric, but it worked on those records really well. When I go back to those records, I enjoy it tremendously."
Vini Lopez on sharing a tent with Clarence Clemons on the grounds outside of 914 Sound Studios in Blauvelt, NY, where The Wild, The Innocent, & the E Street Shuffle was recorded, so the two financially struggling musicians could sleep close enough to where they worked without having to pay for a nearby hotel- or motel-room: "Clarence wanted to stay there... and we had the tent in the back. It was like the original Temple of Soul. It was funny. Nobody wanted to go in there but me and Clarence."
Garry Tallent on his fondest memory related to the recording of the album: "[Several times when driving from home to the studio,] I got to bring John Hammond from Black Rock [nickname for The CBS Building in New York City] up to the studio because he wanted to visit... and [Springsteen's former manager and producer Mike Appel] called me, so I brought [Hammond] up with his car. It was about three times, but he had the greatest stories, so I just pumped him and asked him lots of questions. He probably got sick of it, but it was...the best part of the record for me..."
David Sancious on the role of improvisation in developing his piano parts on the album: "Bruce gave me a lot of freedom, and I've always been able to improvise music. Basically you're composing in real time. So when you get good at that, and you kind of have to have a pretty broad harmonic sense, but once you get into it, to this day it surprises me what comes out when you improvise like that. So whatever I did, that was that day, y'know? It wasn't something that I thought a lot and said, 'Hmm, when I get back in the studio, I'll do this,' y'know? It just wasn't like that kind of energy. And thankfully, he really gave me this tremendous amount of freedom to come up with that."
Bruce Springsteen: "Davey has never played anything bad. I don't know if he's capable of doing that, so it was always easy to give him free rein."
Vini Lopez on the beautifully gentle cymbals-bass interplay that occurs between him and Garry Tallent four minutes into "Incident on 57th Street:" "That's another thing that just came about because it was that kind of a part in the song, and like Bruce said, you're looking for the best way to do the songs. Everybody wanted to be pleased themselves, too, with the song, the way it came out, y'know? And we were. At certain times, we came into that booth and listened back and said, 'Wow! We did THAT?!'"
Bruce Springsteen: "You have to remember... We hadn't heard ourselves very much. In those days, to get yourself recorded, you either had to know somebody or have some money or... So we were really kinda hearing ourselves for the first or second time [with the first two Springsteen albums.] It was just an adventure."
David Sancious on strumming the piano's strings at the beginning of "New York City Serenade:" "That's a technique I saw... There's a brilliant jazz pianist named Keith Jarrett. That's something that he used to do. He used to give entire concerts with just a grand piano on his own, and he would improvise a composition. His improvisations were so tight [that it sounded] like something that he wrote and worked on... but he would just be flowing... and he would do this thing occasionally. He would stand up, and it's a weird technique. You have to stand up and do it, and you have to hold down the chord on the piano, but not so hard that it sounds. So you just lift the dampers off the keys, and then you just stroke it like it's a dulcimer or something. It's not that easy to do. It's very delicate, because if you hold the chord down too hard, you hear the chord produced. I saw him do that and thought, 'Yeah, I can maybe do that.' It took me a minute to figure it out, but..."
Bruce Springsteen: "It was a great intro. [imitating the sound of the strumming] Wonderful intro."
Tom Cunningham: "Vini, there is a drum part in 'Rosalita' that only you know..."
Vini Lopez: "Uh, I don't know about that."
Tom Cunningham: "Can Max [Weinberg] play that part?"
Bruce Springsteen: "Uh, absolutely not. Vini is being humble. I guarantee [Max] cannot. You cannot imitate the style of Vincent Lopez. It simply can't be done. And I gotta salute Garry; Garry kept up with him somehow."
"[Recording the entire album] only took three months. It wasn't a long time, and it was the first record where we got involved in actually overdubbing...putting guitars and keyboards on after the rhythm track. There was a good amount of that, that we just started getting into."
"I wanted to get [Richard Blackwell on the album.] When he slides his thumb across the top of that conga drum at the beginning of 'New York City Serenade,' it was a sound that I'd never heard before. [imitates the sound] And he also played on 'E Street Shuffle.' So it was nice having one of my old friends from Freehold there."
"Mike [Appel] and [co-producer Jim Cretecos] and Luis... they got good sounds; they did a good job. I remember Mike, when I first went up to his office [to begin planning the album,] he said, 'Listen to this acoustic guitar.' And he played me Cat Stevens' 'Peace Train.' I said, 'That sounds great. That's a great-sounding record.' And when we went in [to the studio to begin recording,] Mike compressed the acoustic [guitar sound] in a way that was something similar. They just got good sounds. For that stage of the band, it was the perfect marriage."
"The guys played great. We had played together for quite a while before [recording this album,] and hey, we were the best of Asbury Park at the time, y'know? The band was a tremendous sense of support, and their musicianship was tailored to what I was writing and then playing. They really tailored themselves to my music in a way that was totally unique. There weren't any other musicians who could have captured that sound like that at that moment... It's a real 'gumbo' record, a gumbo of so many different things, probably the most diverse record I've ever made, still to this day. It's a record that's a lot of fun."
Appropriately, the symposium concluded with live performances of all seven songs from The Wild, The Innocent, & the E Street Shuffle, performed by various Jersey-based artists joined by Hall of Fame E Streeters Lopez, Sancious, and Tallent. And extra-appropriately, the album-sequence wasn't followed, instead placing those three "Good night, everybody!" showstoppers at the end of the set.
After the music ended, and the audience began to file out of the Pollak Theatre, Santelli said that he hoped to see everyone again in 2025 for The Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music's 50th Anniversary Of The Release Of Born to Run symposium. That's definitely something to look forward to, of course, but here's hoping they don't fixate on just 50th anniversaries from now on. After all, in 2018 the Archives hosted a great 40th-anniversary symposium for Darkness on the Edge of Town, and next year a fairly popular Springsteen long-player entitled Born in the U.S.A. will hit its big 4-0 mark. Just sayin'...
- Special thanks to Lisa Iannucci