Finally, someone is speaking up about the importance of rock critics. Bruce Springsteen, in a Zoom conversation broadcast May 8 (and embedded below), said rock critics were “incredibly influential” in his career, and helped sustain him and the E Street Band through hard times.
The talk, also featuring Nona Hendryx of LaBelle fame, was part of “Land of Hope and Dreams,” a series of discussions and other online offerings celebrating the “work and vision” of rock critic and Springsteen friend Dave Marsh. The series continues through May 15. For information, visit landofhopeanddreams.co. Or to see the YouTube page where the series’ videos are being compiled, click here.
Remembering the early days of his career, Springsteen says (at around the one-hour, five-minute mark in the video below), “we were supported primarily by rock writers, for the first two albums. The first two albums we made bombed, they didn’t go anywhere. And so the only support we had was … we had some radio support, but we had a lot of critical support, and that was really, really essential at that time. And it meant a lot to you, if you were struggling, and you were riding in your car, 13 hours a night, with six other guys. It was something that really kept you going, and it was really a big part of the conversation … in the ’70s, and early ’80s, and ’60s.
“You know, it really was an enormous part of the conversation of music, at that time, and was incredibly influential in my work life. I ended up with a rock critic (Jon Landau) as my manager, you know (laughs) … and really, it was a lot of rock writing that pretty much kicked off a certain part of my work life, you know. So, it was very, very influential. Dave and Jon, and Bob Christgau, and Lester Bangs, and Greil Marcus. They were all incredibly influential at that time.”
A few minutes later, Springsteen adds: “I think the symbiosis between musicians and the people who were writing about musicians, at that time, was at its peak. So it was just a fascinating and unique moment that we’re not going to see again.”
After Hendryx tells a story about being given a huge boost by a review in a Toronto newspaper, Springsteen says: “That was the power that rock writers had. Similar to theater critics, today, I suppose. They wrote about it, and people came down. People came down to see what someone was talking about. In a day when people had to pay to hear music. You know, you had to pay just to hear the music! … I mean, people couldn’t hear an album unless they paid to hear it, with the exception of what they might hear on the radio. So it was just a different time.”
Regarding today’s music critics, Springsteen says “I buy music from reading reviews, to this day. I will read a lot of different … I’ll read the magazines that are out there, whether it’s Mojo, or Uncut, or I still read Rolling Stone. Or I’ll go online, and it’s Pitchfork or whatever. I will buy music where I read a review that intrigues me. I’m not as familiar with the individual writers and their own personas and point of view as I would have been with the guys that I sort of came up with. And I’m still interested in their writing: Greil, or Dave, and their opinions about sort of what’s going on out there. I’m still kind of attached to the guys that were around when I started out.”
On the issue of how current music writers can support themselves, Springsteen says that “if they (music fans) won’t pay for the music, I doubt they’re going to pay for the music writing. That’s my guess.”
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This was an interesting article. Since Napster and other file-sharing internet sites that began to “share” music by means of virtual piracy from artists back in the 1990s, it has been a difficult, grueling, unfair, and litigious process to recover losses and collect their rightful royalties to earn a living. Consequently, music journalists have suffered financially as a result, too.