Instead of watching the first presidential candidates’ debate on September 30, I went to watch Brian Wilson’s American debut of “Smile” in Minneapolis. I more or less flipped over the show and wrote about it the following morning in “Lost and found.” Yesterday Thomas Lipscomb kindly emailed me S.T. Karnick’s TechCentral Station column on the “Smile” recording: “Reason to SMiLE.”
This morning reader Glenn Patterson forwarded Paul Mulshine’s Newark Star-Ledger column contrasting Bruce Springsteen’s New York “Vote for Change” concert at the Meadowlands with Brian Wilson’s “Smile” concert at Carnegie Hall: “Bruce: How about a ‘Smile?'” In the column’s key paragraphs, Mulshine traces the downward spiral of post-60s rock music from the Beach Boys and the Beatles to Springsteen and Jackson Browne:
Both [Springsteen and Browne] fit into a common pattern among post-classical rockers. After a few good albums based on themes from his or her personal life, the artist will then head off into the wider world in search of a universal theme.
But their timing is off. The year is 2004 but these guys share a vision from the 1930s. A wise and benevolent government could be brought into being if only all the good people would just get together, raise their voices in song and … vote for F.D.R. or something.
If any of these guys has ever had a forward-looking thought about the political and social scene, I’ve yet to hear it. In the 1980s, for example, Jackson Browne discovered the cause of world socialism just in time to watch it collapse. As for Springsteen, he has come in on the tail end of every trend in recent American history. He began writing about muscle cars just as muscle cars were disappearing from the streets. He began writing about factory life just as factories were disappearing. Let’s hope he doesn’t start writing about sex.
Springsteen has written about sex directly and indirectly in some pretty good songs like “Fire” and “Rosalita.” Nevertheless, Mulshine makes a telling point about the imprisonment of these guys in a time capsule set to the Depression era.