The Difference in Greatness: Bruce Springsteen or Neil Young?
Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young
"You know, the difference between the greatness of Bruce Springsteen and that of Neil Young as someone once explained to me back in college: Bruce makes you think you, too, can be as great as he is; Neil makes you think he is really no better than you are to begin with. Remember that."
Dr. Eric Alterman - Altercation
Back in 2006, we did a rather extensive look at the whole Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young mythologies in the posting Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young: The Difference in Greatness.
Our regular readers know we're always up for a spirited debate on the relative merits of our respective musical heroes. And of course -- as we always predispose -- it's not a competition and there are no winners and losers. Only players.
Now that said, here's a poll with the very simple question: Bruce Springsteen or Neil Young? over on Steve Hoffman Music Forums, an audiophile forum where we've found the folks to be highly musically knowledgeable and technically savvy. So FWIW, here's the data:
But it's really about folks thoughts behind the votes that are interesting. In the pro-Neil camp Poll: Bruce Springsteen or Neil Young | Page 5 | Steve Hoffman Music Forums by Heart of Gold:
Well, Bruce is a great artist and a great guy too. Bruce has this attitude of crowd pleaser. Neil has probably more artistry than Bruce. Neil seems less conditioned by the fame and money than Bruce. Neil, at a certain point of his career, chose the ditch. I hardly could think now about a concert of Harvest or After Gold Rush songs. Bruce plays for the stadium masses and can play the entire Darkness, BITUSA albums for the fans. Neil plays for himself according to his actual vision. Bruce plays 150 songs, Neil his preferred 15 for that tour.
I think that recording contracts of 70,000,000 dollars or playing in the stadiums have a price on your artistic freedom. Neil "plays" in a smaller scale.
Finally, Bruce wants to be great. I don't know, but he has 15 people playing with him. Neil plays solo or with 3-4 people. Often the Boss productions are overblown. Bruce "butchered" his old Darkness outtakes with new overdubs for his Promise album, Neil just edited a couple of songs for his Archives.
Both great artists, but I love more Neil. It's challenging to be a Neil fan.
Vote For Change tour 2004 (with Mike Mills on bass)
Photo by Danny Clinch
In the pro-Bruce camp Poll: Bruce Springsteen or Neil Young | Steve Hoffman Music Forums by chervokas:
Both are brilliant artists. But I much prefer Springsteen's music. I find I rarely listen to Young, but I often listen to Springsteen. Springteen has continued to do great work late in life. I don't think Young's recent work has been anywhere close to the caliber of his earlier work or of Springsteen's later work, so much so that I mostly stopped keeping up with Young after Mirror Ball -- I did hear his last few albums and didn't like them much at all; I though the songwriting on Psychedelic Pill was weak; Americana while it sounded like an interesting idea for an album didn't make for very good listening, Le Noise was just bad and underbaked. By contrast I think some latter day Springsteen, like Magic and Wrecking Ball, were excellent albums. So, I could make the argument that Springsteen's better because he's remained more consistent and more consistently good throughout his career. But of course Young's more prolific and more of an experimenter which is one of the things that's great about him although it's a quality that I think has produced spotty results. It's really just preference. Springsteen's music interests me more and touches me more, but I have profound respect and admiration for Neil Young.And we'll add this comment by Neil Young FAQ author Glen Boyd on the subject of Bruce & Neil:
Interesting piece Thrasher.Thanks Glen and all for your Bruce & Neil thoughts.
One thing I would disagree with for sure is Caryn's observation that Springsteen worries too much about what his fans think and doesn't take enough chances.
I would actually compare the Springsteen of the nineties to the neil Young of the eighties in many ways.
Think about it. Neil confounded his fans in the eighties by making a string of wildly experimental genre-bending albums...from the electro synth of Trans to the rockabilly of Everybodys Rockin to the country of Old Ways.
Bruce meanwhile confounded his fans in the nineties by firing the beloved E Street Band; releasing two albums simultaneously with a group of non-descript studio musicians and then touring with the same; and then pretty much disapearing off the radar altogether for the rest of the decade save for a decidedly dour and non-commercial record based on a Steinbeck novel (Tom Joad).
Right now, Neil is basically back on track doing one of the two things his fans love (there's that duality again) with the Prairie Wind/Heart of Gold accoustic thing. From what I read of his speech at SXSW, his next move is going to be a "loud one", which should please those other fans who dig the cranked to eleven thing.
Meanwhile, Bruce is doing an album of cover tunes by a folk music icon...complete with the fiddles and banjos...less than a year after a solo accoustic tour. Personally, I'd be lying if I said "The Seeger Sessions" has me exactly quivering with anticipation. To be honest, the song snippets I have heard from that record thus far haven't thrilled me much either.
And much as diehard fans like myself will tell you they liked Nebraska and Devils and Dust (both of which I did very much), I would also maintain that the quiet accoustic sound just sounds a lot more natural (at least to me) when Neil Young does it.
So you tell me who is the artist most pleasing his fans right now?
The E Street Band aren't getting any younger and with every minute Bruce spends exploring his "inner folkie", the clock ticks down on the possibility of one last E Street album and tour.
Quite the contrary. Bruce seems to have no problem exploring his muse and basically saying "Folk You" to those of us fans who don't like it right now.
Add your comments below.
Over the years, Neil Young has intersected with a wide variety of artists like Bob Dylan and Pearl Jam. Another interesting musical intersection is that of Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young.
So how does the Canadian Young become labeled an American treasure? From On Milwaukee by Bill Zaferos on Neil Young's place in American music:
"Other than, say, Bruce Springsteen, who else has better expressed the late 20th and early 21st century American experience? Whether it was "Ohio" or "Rockin' in the Free World," or "Southern Man" or "Unknown Legend" or even "Old King," Young has always given voice to the meaning of life among the amber waves of grain, the crack-laden neighborhoods or the romantic longing of an American heart."
For many, Springsteen brings a rare combination of complex singer-songwriting and entertaining showman together in ways that Bob Dylan or Neil Young failed to achieve. From the U.K.'s Telegraph
by Neil McCormick on arguably the greatest solo performer of all time:
"Springsteen is both the most populist and (in terms of sales and live audience) the most popular. His songs spring out of the American maverick tradition with echoes of Steinbeck, Kerouac, Ginsberg and (in his new collection) Cormac McCarthy. His music has the blood of tradition in its veins and high art in its sights.
Yet unlike many of his singer-songwriting peers, Springsteen does not neglect his role as an entertainer. With the E Street Band, he comes from the American school of road-tested rock and roll that has, in lesser hands, given us so many efficient but essentially soulless showbands.
Springsteen combines the best of two very different worlds, the highly personal songwriter and the crowd-pleasing entertainer. He is, in effect, Bob Dylan and Elton John rolled into one. It is an unusual but compelling combination that makes him arguably the greatest solo performer of all time."
photo by Buzz Person
From The History of Rock Music - The Sixties by Piero Scaruffi:
"Neil Young constitutes with Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen the great triad of 'moral' voices of American popular music.
As is the case with the other two, Young's art is, first and foremost, a fusion of music and words that identifies with his era's zeitgeist. Unlike the others, though, Young is unique in targeting the inner chaos of the individual that followed the outer chaos of society. While Dylan 'transfers' his era's events into a metaphysical universe, and Springsteen relates the epic sense of ordinary life, Young carries out a more complex psychological operation that, basically, bridges the idealism of the hippy communes and the neuroses of the urban population. His voice, his lyrics, his melodies and his guitar style compose a message of suffering and redemption that, at its best, transcends in hallucination, mystical vision, philosophical enlightenment, while still grounded in a context that is fundamentally a hell on earth."
Bruce and Neil fans tend to agree over their hero's merits, although there are occasional flare-ups. As Glen blogs regarding Springsteen's upcoming Seeger Sessions:
"I actually found one comment interesting...and that was the one about comparing Bruce fans who miss the E Street Band to the way Neil fans miss Crazy Horse.
Not the same at all.
Neil has carved out a very effective "duality" in my view.
The quiet, accoustic Neil resonates every bit as effectively as the cranked up to eleven Neil does.
When Neil is doing his full on, cranked up to eleven electric thing, it's more about Neil's guitar playing than it is about the band (Crazy Horse)."
And the always brilliantly vivid Caryn on the Jukebox Graduate blog responds to the Bruce versus Neil debate:
"Bruce, regrettably, cares a little too much about letting his fans down. He needs to take more chances, not less. Neil doesn't care whether or not the fans get cranky, as evidenced on the Greendale tour and what happened with the audience reaction there. Neil just GOES. They are wildly divergent personality types and you might as well compare Springsteen to Sinatra."
So with the setup of compare, contrast and discuss provided by Dr. Eric Alterman's "greatness" quote above, The Jukebox Graduate and blogger Glen's response to Thrasher's strawman argument, here's a look at the fascinating intersections of Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young.
"Even Bruce dropped in..."
Bruce Springsteen & Neil Young - Sydney, Australia
March 22, 1985
Photo from Thrasher's Archives
On March 22, 1985 in Sydney, Australia, Bruce Springsteen joined Neil onstage for an encore performance of "Down By The River". Bruce had performed the night before at Sydney's Entertainment Centre (3/21) and performed again the next night (3/23). In between Bruce's two concerts, Neil Young was scheduled to headline the Benefit for the Australian Cerebral Palsy Association concert. As noted in poster above, Neil's entire 1985 Australia tour was "ALL SOLD OUT".
Nils Lofgren, touring with Springsteen, joined Young onstage for several songs, including "Comes A Time" and "Helpless". At the conclusion of the 28 song setlist, Young invited Springsteen on stage. Bruce sang vocals on an amazing 20 minute version of "Down By The River".
Neil & Bruce
Bridge School Benefit Concert - October 13, 1986
"Helpless" - Neil Young with Bruce Springsteen
Neil Young invited Bruce Springsteen at the first annual Bridge School Benefit Concert in California in 1986. They performed Young's "Helpless" together. (Thanks Mike for reminder!)
Bruce & Neil
Jones Beach, New York on June 14, 1989
Springsteen joined Neil for an encore of "Down By The River" at Jones Beach, New York on June 14, 1989. Bruce is virtually inaudible on the tapes of the show. If Thrasher had not seen the video of the performance, it would have been hard to believe both Neil and Bruce sang at the mic.
Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young's music and careers have as many similarities as dissimilarities. Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World", has been compared with Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA," due to "the anthemic use of this song was based on largely ignoring the verses, which evoke social problems and implicitly criticize American government policies." (1) Neither artist has sold their songs for use as commercials, leaving them among a small handful not to do so.
Another Bruce and Neil connection occurred at the Academy Awards on March 21, 1994. Coincidentally, both Springsteen and Young were both nominated for Best Song in a Movie -- and in the same film -- Jonathan Demme's "Philadelphia". Bruce's nominated song was the film opening "Streets of Philadelphia" and Neil's was the closing title track "Philadelphia".
Bruce Springsteen won the Oscar award for his song "Streets of Philadelphia". In his acceptance speech, Springsteen acknowledged Young and said that the award really deserved to be shared by the other nominee's song.
In 1994, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Neil Young joined on stage at the Roseland in New York City to perform 'Rainy Day Woman' and 'Highway 61 Revisited'.
At the 1995 Bridge School Benefit Concert, Springsteen joined Young for an encore of 'Down by the River'. Young remarked: "Bruce says he doesn't have any more songs, so we'll do one of mine".
St. Paul, MN - October 5, 2004
photo by Muriël Kleisterlee and Jos Westenberg
At the 2004 Vote For Change concert in St. Paul, MN, Neil and Bruce jammed together on "All Along the Watchtower" and "Souls of the Departed".
But not all are totally impressed with this juncture in Springsteen's and Young's careers. From Nude as the News: review of both Springsteen's Devils and Dust and Young's Prairie Wind by Ben French:
"Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young have both been playing this sort of acoustic, singer/songwriter-type music for more than 30 years, so it’s not a crime if they repeat themselves from time to time. On the other hand, it surprises me when other writers blatantly ignore the fact that none of this is worth listening to more than a couple times – especially if you already own the artists’ older albums. UK writers always have a flare for the dramatic, but I think Guardian pushes the limits by calling Prairie Wind, “one of Shakey’s best.” Outrageous. Rolling Stone gave Devils & Dust 4 ½ stars, which seems incredibly polite."
As for reviewer Ben French's comments above, we're looking forward to Springsteen's upcoming Seeger Sessions and the crimes of artists repeating themselves from time to time.
In a review of the book Mansion on the Hill:Dylan, Young, Geffen, Springsteen, and the Head-On Collision of Rock and Commerce by Fred Goodman the reviewer feels that author Goodman has it backwards that Neil Young is the great musical hero and not Bruce:
- "Springsteen, because he has maintained a consistently high level of commercial success over the years, is a sell-out, and a manufactured creation of his manager. Whereas someone like Neil Young, because he hasn't been ashamed to release some real crap, is an artist of integrity, who won't give in to crass commercialism, by always giving his fans music that they will actually enjoy."
More Bruce and Neil mashups from the land of wheat fields and blog-ville [search].
Also, read more on other Neil Young collaborations, influences and mashups.
Add your comments below.