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Published: 2003/09/28
by Benjy Eisen

Light of Day: A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen – various artists

Schoolhouse Records

Bruce Springsteen is a storyteller. His songs are miniature novels, told by
a weary narrator. The music is a vehicle for his words, a way of lifting
them off the page, turning them into three-dimensional characters for three
minutes but with longer-lasting impressions. And while Springsteen may also
be known as a singer-songwriter, leader of the E Street Band, and a rock
star, all of it rests in his ability to tell a good story.

Light of Day: A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen, then, is a two-disc
collection of other people trying to tell someone else's stories. That's
not to say that they are second rate — just second hand. It's a problem
that plagues most tribute albums, but which is especially pronounced on
Light of Day. Why is that?

One explanation is that Springsteen's songs move through words and arrive by
their delivery. And while they certainly have plenty of musical merit (the
E Street Band is one of the greatest stadium-rock bands of all time),
they're essentially all folk songs – rock songs if you must – where the
music is meant to support the song, and the song is meant to tell a story.
The problem is that, for all their universal characters and widespread
appeal, they're Bruce Springsteen's stories. No matter how you try to
retell them, verbatim or embellished, they still sound second-generation.

An interesting conundrum (and curse): There's little point in the faithful
reproductions, but the rearrangements are nearly as annoying. Cowboy Mouth
turns up the volume on "Born To Run," adding screams and speed; Kirk Kelly
performs "Downtown Train" on nothing but a ukulele; Jennifer Glass, by
virtue of nature, gives the first-person narrator in "Bobby Jean" a sex
change; Dan Bern turns "Thunder Road" into a Bob Dylan tune. But if these
revisions, slight or pointed, reveal anything it's that the songs are
perfect already. They can't be improved upon.

In the liner notes, most of the artists chose to write a few words about
their cover choice. Remarkably and predictably, everyone says the same
thing — the song spoke to them. Nobody said, "Well, the song had
interesting elements, but I had a better idea for it." Or "Great story, but
what if it ended like this?"

Regardless, as the back tray reminds us, "All of the record company's
proceeds and the artists' royalties from sales of this album will be split
equally between the Parkinsons Disease
Foundation and the Kristen Ann Carr
Fund." Great and noble causes that desperately need additional funding.
So, whatever shortcomings you may have read in the above paragraphs you
should kindly think of as the jaded and insecure statements of a critic who
is clearly insensitive to the intentions behind this project. Buy the
album; support the cause.

Light of Day is a recommended purchase for philanthropists, humanitarians,
and a particular group of Springsteen fans — the hardcores who have all the
albums already and are in love with the music as much (if not more than) the
performer. Furthermore, Springsteen's own career has been frequently
footnoted for his genuine support of genuine causes. Thus, while the
artists on Light of Day have admirably attempted to pay tribute,
perhaps the real tribute is in the worthy charities that the compilation
benefits.

But Light of Day pays tribute to Bruce Springsteen in another way as
well. After a couple listens, it made me want to go back to my old bedroom
in my parents' house, in "my hometown," and dust off the Bruce Springsteen
box set that I got as a Christmas present in 1986, when I was ten years old.
Back then, his lyrics were mystical to me, full of the kinds of emotions,
relationships, and situations that wouldn't come into my life for at least a
couple more years and some of which are only revealing themselves now.

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