Kid Rock: Born Free

RIYL: Bryan Adams, Bob Seger, Glenn Frey

It still hardly seems possible to those of us who remember the gleefully profane, barely conscious persona he cultivated with his first four albums (including his 1998 breakthrough Devil Without a Cause), but Kid Rock has somehow become the heir apparent to Bob Seger’s Motor City rock ‘n’ roll throne. In fact, modern rock is such a graveyard that Rock is damn near an elder statesman of the genre – the kind of artist who routinely draws fawning reviews from Rolling Stone, along with interviews where he’s given a forum to roll his eyes at Steven Tyler joining the judges’ table on “American Idol.” Actually, on that last count, Rock’s no guiltier than the rest of us. But you get the point – that stringy-haired honky rapper with the glassy-eyed stare and the fedora-and-wife-beater wardrobe was never supposed to grow up and give us songs like “Rock N’ Roll Pain Train,” “Rock N’ Roll,” “Rock N Roll Jesus,” and “Rock On.”

But here we are with Kid Rock’s eighth(!) studio album, the flag-wrapped Born Free, offering up a dozen mind-numbingly bland alternatives to actual old-time rock ‘n’ roll. If Seger’s classic records are as solidly unassuming as a cold can of Stroh’s, consider Born Free the equivalent of Natty Light – it’s cheap, and it’ll get the job done if you’re desperate enough, but it really should be better. Really, for the most part, this sounds a lot like an early ’90s Bryan Adams record – which is sort of fitting, considering that Adams’ Canuck take on heartland rock was just as counterfeit as this corny, Rick Rubin-produced collection of would-be anthems and motel ballads.

It feels strange to miss the guy who made songs as proudly brain-dead as “Bawitdaba,” but at least that song had balls and a dangerous vibe, however slight; these days, Rock’s gelded, commercial-ready music is slickly competent at best. On the Born Free album cover, he’s reclining in the back of a convertible, feet up on the seats, amber waves of grain in the background. You can’t tell that the car is rolling gently down the middle of the road, but you can definitely see that no one’s in the driver’s seat. (Atlantic 2010)

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Book Review: The Light in Darkness by Lawrence Kirsch

bruce and band

For many die-hard Bruce Springsteen fans, the 1978 tour ranks as his best. It was Springsteen at the height of his powers, when his live shows truly became the stuff of legend. The tour lasted only seven months, and he wasn’t playing arenas yet so he wasn’t yet drawing the huge crowds that would see him in the 1980’s, but the tour lived on in the numerous bootlegs created during these incredible shows.

So, when I heard of a new book about the tour, I had to check it out. The Light in Darkness by Lawrence Kirsch is an excellent tribute to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and the memorable tour from 1978. Bruce would release Darkness on the Edge of Town during the tour, which broke a three-year drought caused by Springsteen’s legal battles with his previous manager following the success of Born to Run.

The first thing you notice is the photography. Kirsch compiled an impressive collection of photos from that time period, many of which came from fans and had never been previously published. But the stories are equally rich, as writers, fans, DJs and others who saw the tour or participated in various ways share their experiences.

Bruce piano

Growing up in Cleveland, I was introduced to Springsteen through WMMS, the legendary AOR station that featured Kid Leo as the afternoon drive DJ. Kid Leo became Springsteen’s most enthusiastic supporter outside of Springsteen Jersey/Philly base. I didn’t get to see my first Springsteen show until 1980, but I was introduced to the 1978 tour when WMMS would replay the incredible free concert Bruce gave at the Agora in Cleveland that was broadcast on WMMS. Like everyone else I taped it and memorized the entire show. Kid Leo game the memorable introduction to Bruce and the band that everyone can hear on the recording: “I have the duty and the pleasure of welcoming, ladies and gentlemen, the main event. Round for round, pound for pound, there ain’t no finer band around – Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band!” Bruce then tore into Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” and then “Badlands” to kick off the epic performance. Through the years you hear the evolution of Springsteen’s live versions of his signature songs, but the raw intensity he displayed on this tour has always stuck with me as Bruce at his very best.

In The Light in Darkness, Kirsch includes four stories about this memorable performance, two from die-hard fans, one from John Gorman who helped produce the show’s broadcast and one from WMMS DJ Denny Sanders. I learned that Bob Segar was quoted as saying “This was the greatest rock and roll show I ever heard,” and that Max Weinberg called it “The best show the E Street Band ever did.”

The book is a celebration of rock history. If you’re a Springsteen fan, it’s something you’ll have to add to your collection. You’ll want to break out the old bootlegs and rock out to the Boss all over again. If you’re a rock and roll junkie who’s never been a big Springsteen fan, this book might be the introduction you need to one of the best live artists in rock history.

inside front cover


Rolling Stone breaks down the odds for Super Bowl XLIV halftime act

It’s almost a year away, but that didn’t stop the folks at Rolling Stone from throwing out the names of a few potential acts to follow in Bruce Springsteen’s footsteps.

It’s a tall order to fill: applicants must be legendary but still active, rocking but not raucous, and as big as the game itself. So who’s left? Oddsmakers are already lining up favorites for next year’s Lombardi Trophy (The Patriots? Really? No love for your new champs, the Pittsburgh Steelers? Your loss, Vegas.), so we thought we’d set the odds for next year’s halftime show. The NFL could go country (Tim McGraw? Taylor Swift?) or pop (Kelly Clarkson will soon return to us), but you have to presume they’ll stick with what works — big rock from big names. We have, of course, completely pulled these names and numbers out of thin air, plus gambling’s illegal just about everywhere, so keep your money in your wallet.

The Who
Pros: Legendary band with a sound louder than the game itself.
Cons: None. They’re the Who.
Odds: 3/2

In addition to the magazine’s suggestions — The Who (solid), Bon Jovi (solid), AC/DC (too hard), John Mellencamp (solid), Metallica (too hard), Van Halen (maybe), Nickelback (why?), Green Day (big enough profile?), Foo Fighters (see Green Day), Jay-Z (didn’t he retire?) — I’ll throw a few out there as well: Bob Seger, Neil Diamond, Fleetwood Mac, Eric Clapton, the Black Crowes, the Eagles and the Steve Miller Band.

Who do you think should provide the halftime entertainment next year?