There were lots of wonderful records on the radio as I approached (chronological) adulthood, few more wonderful than the breakthrough international hit by The Easybeats, sort of the antipodal Beatles. At the beginning, as the singer bitches and moans, as the very young will, about being a wage slave, it’s fairly earthbound. But then, as he begins contemplating ever more voraciously the weekend to come, the music begins to soar. The Beatles and Hollies sang thrilling harmonies? Neither had anything on the Easies. “Friday On My Mind” was one of the three or four most exhilarating pop records of the 1960s.
On his 2014 visit to Australia, Bruce Springsteen performed the song, presumably as a special treat for his fans in Sydney, where the Easies were formed, though performed isn’t quite the right word — brutalized is more like it. I have never heard a worse vocal performance by a professional musician. It isn’t that he’s painfully out of tune — his atonality made all the more vivid and embarrassing by the lovely entrance of his four African American backing vocalists (white folk can’t jump, or sing backing vocals) — or that he seems to be stuck on Bellow. It’s also that he stomps around like an irate orangutan, gesticulating like a thwarted toddler. In this latter regard, one is reminded, unpleasantly, of Mick Jagger, who in his own dotage, has taken to gesticulating in exactly the same way 4000 times per song.
It’s OK to just stand there for a moment or two, fellows.
When he first emerged, I perceived Springteen as a hammy, vocally affected, musically banal, logorrheic blowhard, though there was no denying that his own breakthrough hit, “Born to Run,” had its thrilling moments. Strap your hands across my engine, indeed! Then I saw him live, where he exuded joy as no other performer I’d ever seen — a prisoner of rock and roll, pleading for a life sentence, in Greil Marcus’s wonderful phrase — and became an avid fan. I thought “Dancing in the Dark” might have been the best song about depression I’d ever heard, and I am the composer of "Falling Off the Face of the Earth."
The more popular he became, though, the more grandiose. He committed the rock superstar’s cardinal sin, of inviting his wife, with her alarming proclivity for singing in the key of H, to join his ever-larger band on stage. Apparently embarrassed by how exhaustingly bombastic he’d become, he unleashed his inner folk singer, complete with a twang that made his soul man affectations seem authentic in comparison, and it made one long for the old grandiosity. “Anyone who will claim to listen to Nebraska for pleasure,” a writer for Creem cogently noted, “will lie about other things too.”
In this century, he’s taken to showing up on TV nearly as relentlessly as Dave Grohl, but TV is so not his medium; that which looks really cool to someone 50 yards away in a stadium looks foolish or even obnoxious in close-up on TV. He is no less relentlessly passionate than in the old days, and entirely too fucking passionate. He grimaces horribly. The veins in his neck bulge ominously. Will the guy sing himself to death? Will he cause himself to explode before our very eyes?
His self-mocking turns alongside Jimmy Fallon nearly got me back on his side. But then there was Sydney. If I’d been a member of the audience there, “Friday On My Mind” would have made me more inclined to try to tar and feather him than to thrust my fist in the air and bellow, “Broooooce!”