Saturday, September 23, 2006

The National Holiday Commences

It’s that time of year again: The National Holiday. September 23. Bruce Springsteen is 57. Every year, for Bruce’s birthday, I do something a little… strange. By “strange,” I mean “stranger than normal.”

A couple of years ago, I started collecting e-mail memories of favorite Bruce Moments, that kind of stuff. It got so that some years, people knew I’d be knocking on the inbox before my missives actually arrived, and I’d get gifts. Wonderful Bruce-related masterpieces. In 2003, I received more gifts on Bruce’s Birthday than I did on my own. As an added bonus, all my Bruce’s Birthday gifts were Bruce-related.

2006 marks the first National Holiday since I launched Random Thoughts. So I tried something new.

This blog is about writing… So, who better to include in my celebration of the National Holiday than a writer… who writes about Bruce for a living.

We’re joined today by Christopher Phillips, editor and publisher of the spectacular Backstreets Magazine. Yeah, I subscribe. So should you. Click over there now and check them out. If you like Bruce, you likely subscribe anyway, but if you like Bruce and you don’t subscribe, what the hell are you waiting for? Click, my friends. Do it now. We’ll wait.

Chris makes a living chronicling Bruce, which immediately reminds me that I used to get paid to stand around at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum talking baseball with people. Great job, but Chris Phillips has a better one. He also works harder at it than I did at the Hall of Fame.

Chris took the time to sit down for an interview so we can celebrate the National Holiday in style. I’m running it verbatim here. After you’re done reading, click on over to Backstreets. Check out the site. Subscribe to the magazine. Or go shuffling through the merchandise. You’ll find lots of great stuff there.

The lights are up… The crowd’s screaming “Chriiiiiiiiiis,” and here he comes, folks.

AH: Give me a little background, if you can. About yourself, your wife, your daughter, your pre-Backstreets life.

CP: I'm 35, born in 1971. My mom's a Jersey girl, my dad grew up near Philly, and I lived up and down the east coast while I was growing up. Born in Pittsburgh, also lived in upstate New York and Augusta, Maine before my family settled down in the Deep South -- Thomasville, Georgia, which is right near the Florida line. Lived down there from when I was 10 until I got out of high school. I went to Duke University, with a double major in English and Studio Art (with a focus on printmaking and book design).

Graduated in 1993, with very little idea of what I wanted to do next -- didn't have a job lined up, and some friends were in the same boat, so we decided to throw all our stuff in a U-Haul and drive out to Seattle. For no good reason, other than it seemed like a cool place to be, good music scene, and another friend was already out there, renting a house on the cheap from his brother-in-law, and he had a couple rooms open. So -- I landed in Seattle with not a lot of dough and no job, but rent was only $250 a month -- which saved me, as I spent a few months unemployed, panic starting to build, starting to question the logic of moving to a new city on the opposite side of the country from my family and most of my friends.... at least the money was draining slowly.

Prior to moving there, there were only two companies I knew of in Seattle that I thought might hold prospects: Microsoft and Backstreets. I'd been an avid Backstreets reader in high school (used to have to drive down to a record store in Florida to find it), and so the first thing I did when I settled in was to send resumes to those two. And then I spent the next few months sending out 100 more resumes (to graphic design firms, other magazines), reading the resulting rejection letters, listening to Stevie Wonder, drinking beer and playing Nintendo with my also-unemployed roommate. So we were well into a 12-pack and a game of MegaMan 3 one afternoon when the phone rang, and it was Backstreets.

This was three months after I'd sent the resume, and I'd really forgotten about it. But as luck -- a whole LOT of luck -- would have it, the magazine's managing editor was leaving, and for the first time in the magazine's 13 years at that point, they had to look outside their circle of friends to hire someone to work on the magazine. That was literally the first time they had to look at a resume, and mine just happened to be there. So after a couple of interviews (to which, green behind the ears as I was, I wore a coat and tie), I came on board, and it's what I've been doing ever since -- so really, it's my first and only "real" job. In high school and college I'd worked at a record store, a book store, worked as a DJ at a local radio station, and spent a few summers "working on the highway" for the gas department in Thomasville; and while I've been at Backstreets I've done some freelance writing (music features, record reviews) and freelance design for other magazines, but Backstreets has been my only real JOB-job for the past 13 years.

So, long story short, I started at Backstreets in 1993, working for the magazine's founder, Charles R. Cross; became the Editor a few years later, and then in 1998, I took over the whole operation when Charley wanted to pursue some book projects (since then he's written two biographies, of Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix). So it's been my baby for about 8-1/2 years now. In 2000, I moved Backstreets from Seattle to Washington, DC, to move in with my girlfriend, Laura. We went to Duke together and have known each other since the first week of Freshman year, but it never occurred to us to start dating until we were on opposite sides of the country. We spent much of 1999 flying back and forth to see each other -- and honestly, I owe a lot to Bruce's '99 tour for keeping Laura and me together. I could take "business trips" to the east coast to see shows, and she'd come meet me, in Boston, in New York, etc. By the end of that year it was clear that something had to give, and luckily I had a job that was "portable." Not the easiest thing to move the operation across the country, but it was doable... and really, it made a lot of sense for the business to be close to the Springsteen epicenter. So I landed in DC in January 2000, set up shop near the zoo, Laura and I moved into an apartment right up the street from the office, and we spent 4 years there. As much as I missed Seattle, it really was like night and day in terms of having the business within driving distance of New Jersey -- rather than having to deal with expensive red-eye flights, I could just hop in the car. And with Bruce concentrating more and more on playing shows in the Northeast -- all those multi-night stands in NJ and NYC, the Holiday Shows in Asbury -- it was damn good timing.

Laura and I got married in the fall of 2001 (just 3 weeks after 9/11 -- National airport re-opened just in time for guests to fly in). We never meant to stay and settle down in DC, it was really just a stop-gap measure to get ourselves in the same place. So by 2004, we started to get serious about where we might want to put down roots, have kids. We liked the idea of being in a smaller town, with a more friendly cost of living, better schools, that kind of thing. My brother and his family were in San Francisco and they were having similar thoughts... so we decided, hey, why not put our heads together and move somewhere together? After some serious negotiations (and several cities vetoed by one of us or another), Laura and I suggested Chapel Hill, NC -- we've loved this area since we were in school (Duke is right down the road)... my brother and his wife came to check it out, spent 24 hours here, and basically said, "Yeah, that'll work." So it happened pretty quickly -- we all moved to Chapel Hill in the summer of 2004, going from having my brother, his wife Wendy and their two boys on the opposite side of the country, to literally right around the corner from us. It's good living.

Not that moving the business is easy, though -- with all the inventory, it's quite an undertaking. So the plan is to never, ever move again.

A year later Laura was pregnant, and Lucy Rose was born on February 24, 2006 -- she's almost seven months now, and Good Lord, she's a good egg.

AH: Note to self: Hurtubise, you are a very bad editor. You cut nothing from Chris’s answer. Retort to self: That’s because Chris’s answer was fascinating and a good editor knows when to lay down the editing pencil.

AH: Tell us a little about Backstreets. How does something that started as a mimeographed handout in 1980 grow into a respected magazine today? What's the circulation now?

CP: Well, even at the beginning, Backstreets was a notch up from a mimeographed handout -- Charles Cross, who published the first one himself in 1980, talked a local radio station into helping underwrite the cost in exchange for some advertising, so he was able to get it professionally printed, in three colors. That said, yeah, it was a far cry from what it became -- that first issue was just on one piece of newsprint, folded to be a four-pager.

I don't think Charley imagined at first that Backstreets would be an ongoing thing -- its predecessor and inspiration, Thunder Road, was a great magazine, but it stopped publishing after six issues. That first Backstreets issue just got a good enough response that he kept it going for a second issue, and a third... soon he was offering subscriptions, and it just kept going.

Charley was (and is) a music journalist, with a good deal of experience in writing, editing, and publishing already, so it was his world -- it's not like he was an architect by day. You can also partly chalk it up to how passionate he was about Bruce. But that passion being reflected by Springsteen fans all over the world -- I think that was the other major key to what kept everything rolling. Springsteen inspires the kind of abiding, "serious" fandom that makes a magazine like Backstreets work in a way that, say, a Britney Spears fanzine would not. And beyond that: the idea of community has always been a big part of Springsteen's music and his shows; so, prior to the internet, Backstreets was able to help that play out among fans, to help foster a sense of community -- or hell, an actual community.

The newspaper format stuck around for a while — the first nine issues were on newsprint — but with issue #10 it became an actual magazine, and it was just in time for the Born in the U.S.A. boom, which certainly helped. But to be honest, as much as I've heard Charley's stories, it's still hard to imagine what it must have been like to start from nothing and build Backstreets up the way he did -- in the pre-internet age, with nothing but word-of-mouth. The failure rate for magazines has always been extraordinarily high, but consider a magazine with very little advertising, aimed at small niche, and it's mind-blowing that Backstreets became something sustainable.

As much as I feel like I've busted my ass here for the last 13 years, I was fortunate in that Backstreets was on a pretty solid footing when I came on board. We were no longer writing subscription labels by hand, as Charley did in the early days, or struggling for distribution. Well, distribution is always a challenge for a magazine like this, but even thinking about starting that from scratch just gives me a headache.

So it's a testament to Charley's vision, willpower and hard work -- and the support of fans who subscribed, contributed, and spread the word -- that Backstreets became more than just the fleeting whim of a wild-eyed kid who was crazy about Bruce.

And of course, you'd have to give Bruce some credit, too -- giving us more than enough to write about for 85 issues now.

AH: For the five people who read this who aren't evangelical Springsteen fans, what else does Backstreets offer in addition to the magazine?

CP: Well, we used to offer the Backstreets Boss Hotline -- which seems so quaint now, but again, pre-internet, it was a different world. Subscribers were given a phone number to get access to a recorded message that we'd change each week -- or more often than that if there was a lot going on -- which had breaking news, show reports, that kind of thing. Tour announcements --before you could get online and find this stuff instantaneously, the Boss Hotline was the way a lot of fans stayed informed in the months between issues of the magazine.

With the internet, of course, that changed -- and so around 1995, as the Tom Joad tour kicked off, we started up a Backstreets website, which eventually became And that became a better way to keep our readers up to date with Springsteen news between issues -- without any long-distance charges. And while the magazine is still the thing that's closest to my heart, I've spent more and more time maintaining and improving as the years have gone on, so that at this point there are a lot of visitors who don't even know we publish a magazine. (We try to fix that whenever we can.)

At this point, the website has regularly updated Springsteen news, reports after each show, the latest tour itinerary and links for tickets, message boards (including a ticket exchange, where fans can hook up with each other and move extra tickets at face value), and more. We actually kept updating that phone hotline up until about 3 years ago, when we finally put it out of its misery. If anyone misses it, it must be like you'd miss non-power steering. The website is so much easier, for everyone.

And then there's Backstreet Records, our all-Springsteen mail-order shop, which is a big part of what's going on in the office on a daily basis. In the early days of the magazine it became clear that we wouldn't be able to subsist on advertising revenue, like most magazines do, and while subscriptions certainly helped, we started up this retail arm to help support the magazine.

So Backstreet Records carries CDs, posters, T-shirts, vinyl -- all Bruce or Bruce-related stuff, all official, catering to collectors and fans. Sometimes we're dealing in rarities, we've been getting some exclusives lately which is fun, and some leftover tour merchandise that's hard to find, but we also carry all the "mainstream" stuff -- all these new books that are coming out, CDs that Bruce guests on, you name it. Basically, it's a one-stop Boss shop. And we handle all the order-taking and fulfillment ourselves -- everything's in-house, and all the inventory is here in the office. We're getting ready to ship out this new Greetings From E Street book right now, so we're up to our neck in boxes at the moment -- it's like an obstacle course in here.

It's quite the skeleton crew here, always has been -- right now it's me and two other guys, Andrew Massimino and John Howie, Jr. So everybody's got a hand in everything, but Andrew (who is the Assistant Editor) and John are typically handling the customer service stuff -- subscriptions, Backstreet Records orders, essentially running the office -- while I'm maintaining the website and doing the magazine. As a guy who always wanted to be a rock critic but also fell in love with design, it's been a real treat to be able to have a job where I essentially get to put a whole magazine together myself. It kicks my ass from time to time, but it's also the kind of work I can get lost in -- where you look up at the clock and three hours have passed. When things get crazy -- like when these new books come in, I may be up from my desk with a tape gun in hand. But for the most part, those guys take care of everything else while I concentrate on the magazine stuff -- and they're good at helping with that too, with planning, proofreading, and they've both been writing more for the magazine lately, too.

AH: How long have you been with the magazine? How has it grown since you've been involved?

CP [who answered much of this in his backgrounder, above, but instead of the background paragraph I’d planned, I liked his answers better, so you get to read it twice]: 13 years. I came on board in 1993, with issue #43 -- and I'm working on issue #86 now, so it's been half the magazine's lifetime. I worked and learned under Charley for five years, as Managing Editor and then as Editor, and then in 1998, starting with issue #58, I took the whole thing over. Which was pretty daunting at first, running a business myself -- but Charley and I continued to work in the same office for a couple years, so it wasn't a total solo excursion -- he was always around to answer questions or help out when I felt out of my depth.

Developing was a big change under my watch. When I first started with Backstreets, the only way to get the word out about the magazine was either to advertise -- prohibitively expensive for us, for the most part -- or to get out there in person and spread the word. So we used to take stacks of flyers and magazines to shows, and stand outside afterwards handing stuff out.

I can't tell you the number of encores I missed so that we could run and grab our stuff and position ourselves by the exits. And then, insult to injury, you'd turn around after everyone has left and see 90 percent of those flyers littering the ground. So even just for the sake of catching full shows, the internet has been a wonderful thing -- thanks to search engines, people can find out about us much more easily, so I've been able to stop doing the flyer thing. Then again, sometimes I do look back fondly on the days when there wasn't a website to update, because it sure was easier to get magazine work done...

As for the magazine itself, there have been some very obvious changes. We've gone from all black-and-white to full-color, a move I finally made a few years back -- which has been a lot of fun from a design standpoint. And the magazine has grown, literally -- the page count has gone way up. 36 pages used to be standard; our latest issue was 92. That fluctuates, depending on how much content there is to pack in, and I keep telling myself I need to reign it in a bit, but with Bruce so busy, it’s hard. When people find out what I do for a living, the question I'm usually asked is, "How do you fill a whole magazine about Bruce?" But really, I tend to have the opposite problem -- what do I cut in order to publish an issue that won't break the bank?

And then there have been some changes necessitated by the internet, in terms of the way we have to think about the content. Pre-internet, Backstreets magazine could "break" news that was actually a couple months old. Now, when we break news, it's on, not in the magazine. The magazine can't be as current, period -- so we had to consciously shift the focus of the magazine to reflect the news cycle. And that's been the biggest change: more of a focus on features than news stories. We still run the news -- partly due to the "completism" urge that comes with being a geeky collector-type, and there's also the desire to have the magazine function as a historical record -- but we've put much more emphasis on analysis, interviews, photography, historical pieces (like the full-issue retrospective we did for the 20th anniversary of the Vietnam Vets show), the kind of in-depth coverage that print is more conducive to. So that's been the biggest challenge of the last ten years to me -- how to reposition the magazine so that the printed Backstreets and the online Backstreets complement each other without making one or the other unnecessary.

One constant has been contributions from readers -- Backstreets has always been a forum for fans, and we wouldn't be able to do it without other fans and freelance writers pitching in. Photographers, too. When I talk about doing the magazine "myself," I'm talking about the editing, layout, production, that kind of thing -- no way could I write the whole thing myself. For some issues I'll wind up writing a few features and columns, and for others I won't write much besides the editorial. So one of the things I've tried to do as editor is bring more and more good writers into the fold -- many of whom I've hooked up with just through email correspondence or meeting at a show. And again, it helps having good writers here in the office, too.

You asked earlier about circulation -- back in the mid-90s, we hovered around 10,000 or so; at this point we're up around 16,000. And while it'd be nice to take credit for that, I think we owe a lot of it to the internet, as well as to the fact that the '90s, frankly, were the doldrums for a lot of fans. I remember... oh, man, I fondly remember... days at the office where we'd sit around with nothing to do. But ever since Tracks in 1998 and the E Street Band reunion in '99, Bruce has been so active that there's hardly time been time to catch our breath. And there was a noticeable bump in terms of readership -- all that E Street Band activity has clearly gotten more fans on board. Or back on board.

AH: I notice from my trips to the site over the years that the official Backstreets mailing address tends to change whenever you move. Most recently, you moved from Washington to Chapel Hill. You answered a lot of this at the beginning but can you give us a few more details about the moves?

CP: One question we always used to get was, "What the hell is the Boss Magazine doing in Seattle instead of New Jersey?" And the simple, boring answer is, Seattle was where the guy who started it happened to live.

Back in 1997, when Charley and I were talking about my taking over the biz, one thing he pointed out was that I wouldn't have to stay in Seattle -- I could live anywhere and take this job with me. And as much as I love that city, and still have very good friends there, I was also starting to feel a pull back to the east coast, where my family is and where I grew up. So the idea of a "portable" job was pretty damn appealing, even if I didn't have any plans to move right away. And in 1999, when I started dating (my now-wife) Laura -- and she was living and working in Washington DC -- it was quite a blessing to have a job I could put on my back and take with me. (Well, put on a semi-truck and take with me, but still.) So the move to DC was, on one hand, purely personal -- Laura and I had had enough of long-distance calls and coast-to-coast flights. But the idea of being within driving distance of New York and New Jersey certainly didn't hurt. Backstreets functioned very well in Seattle, and really, could be done from anywhere. But for the sake of ease of travel to shows, that kind of thing, it made plenty of sense to be on the east coast.

Laura and I both went to school here in North Carolina -- we met our Freshman year at Duke, where we lived in the same dorm, in '89 -- and we'd been daydreaming about coming back to this area, which we both loved. So after four good years in DC, where we never really planned to put down roots, we picked Chapel Hill as the place to settle down. Basketball season's a little tricky for us here in Tarheel country, but otherwise it's a great place to be. And the BBQ can't be beat.

AH: Backstreets is obviously well respected by mainstream newspapers and the music press. The quality of the writing inside is great. How does it feel to have earned that kind of respect from your media peers? What's the best compliment you've been paid on behalf of Backstreets?

CP: Not to be falsely modest, but I haven't thought too much about respect from our media peers -- we're just kind of hanging out in our Backstreets bunker, clicking away on the keyboard and kicking out the jams on the office boombox and stuff. Do we have media peers? We do? They respect us? Cool! Can they hook us up to get on some label promo distribution lists?

But let's see. A producer of "The Simpsons" (we're not worthy!) invited us to a table reading next time we're in L.A. -- and I haven't been to L.A. in years, but I keep thinking I should get on a damn plane just for that. Dave Marsh has been kind. And any time Charley tells me, "Good issue," that's a good feeling. Plus, one time this blogger guy said, "The quality of the writing inside is great," and that was nice.

Ironically, the compliment that sticks with me most is one I can't really remember at all, because the whole thing is a blur. The first time I met Bruce -- just a couple years back -- was in a narrow backstage hallway, with Jon Landau. The image I have burned in my brain is of Bruce flipping through the magazine (issue #79), with Jon standing next to him and pointing things out over his shoulder. And they were smiling. And they both said nice things. What were those things? No idea. But it was a good day.

AH: Was there some magical moment in your life that turned you into a Springsteen fan? Do you have a clear and distinct memory of your musical tastes pre-Bruce?

CP: Oh yeah -- I've written about it in the magazine, so I won't bore you with the long version, but the thing that removed the veil from my eyes was a Springsteen mix tape my brother's girlfriend made for him, with the full Born to Run album on side B. Jon brought it into my room, cued up to Jungleland, and put it on the stereo... So, like eight minutes later… that was it. I was 13, in seventh grade, it was spring of 1984, and Dancing in the Dark was on the radio, but Born in the USA wasn't out yet... perfect timing. That was the Summer of Bruce for me: Nebraska, The River, and Darkness on the Edge of Town were the other ones I picked up right away, all in constant rotation. For some reason I didn't pick up the first two until much later, but I was certainly hooked right away. My girlfriend at the time hated Nebraska -- I remember calling her up with that opening harmonica wail cued up on the turntable just to drive her crazy.

As for musical tastes prior to that -- yep, very clear and distinct (sometimes embarrassingly so, but what can you do). I was always into music -- before I was old enough to do my own thing, records from my folks' collection that did it for me were Jim Croce, Simon & Garfunkel, Neil Diamond, the Beatles... I remember liking a Henry Mancini album a lot.

And then once I started school I was a real radio kid, always had pop radio on in my room, never missed a Top 40 Countdown. That awful-but-great late-'70s, early '80s period with Franke & the Knockouts' "Sweetheart," Robbie Dupree's "Steal Away"... But living where I did, it would take a long time for something like Springsteen to filter down to me (other than "Hungry Heart," which I knew and liked okay).

First records I bought with my own money (besides the Star Wars soundtrack) were Hall & Oates "Voices," Queen's "The Game," and Styx's "Pieces of Eight." I've kind of joked that before Bruce it was all shit like Styx, Kansas, and Rush... and indeed, I was crazy for some Styx.

Right after my Barry Manilow phase (second grade) and Bee Gees craze (third grade). But there was actually some good stuff in there too. Right before discovering Bruce at 13, I was liking Johnny Cougar, big into the Police, starting to dig Prince, discovered that there was more to like about Iron Maiden than their cover art, and was thrilled by hip-hop from the beginning -- my friends and I were all over Rapper's Delight, and just like Jungleland, I still remember where I was when I first heard Planet Rock. Of course, plenty of people would say most of that stuff's shit, too.

AH: Do you have a favorite album or song? Does this change from year to year or minute to minute? Why is your favorite album or song your favorite?

CP: Minute to minute, for sure. But always in the running are Born to Run, Tunnel of Love, and Nebraska. Because they're all perfect records. Tunnel often wins out, maybe because it's the underdog.

As for songs, off the top of my head... Be True, Born in the USA, Tunnel of Love, Shut Out the Light, Born to Run, Stolen Car (Tracks version), Living Proof...

AH: When you hear a song like Born To Run on the radio, do you still instinctively turn up the volume every time?

CP: Since you said "Born to Run," I've gotta say yes. That's a song that just kills me every time -- and if it's the car radio, even better.

But just as often, I'll hear a Bruce song on the radio, or at a restaurant, or in the grocery store -- like "Glory Days," or "Cover Me" -- and think, Christ, can't I get some peace?! Stop following me! I'm lucky to be as big a fan as I am -- otherwise, working at Backstreets, looking at Bruce's face all day every day, would kill it. It's rare that we'll have Bruce on the stereo here, for just that reason. But it happens -- when a new record is out, or if it's been a while and someone has a hankering to hear a particular show or something.

In the last 24 hours, the Backstreets stereo has played host to Dean Martin, the new Prince record, the Melvins, the Cure, Marvin Gaye, Ray Lamontagne, Dan the Automator, TV on the Radio, and, currently, The Carpenters. Specifically, at this moment, "Goodbye to Love." But Tracks is sitting over there, too, and I think disc two might be itching for a spin...

AH: You interviewed Bruce a couple of years ago during the Vote For Change tour. Did you do the interview in person or over the phone? You've interviewed quite a few Friends of Bruce over the years. How was the interview with The Man himself? (Perhaps I should have said "The Boss," but you'd have seen that one coming, right?)

CP: Surreal, and wonderful. Over the phone -- it was actually on the very day that we moved into the Chapel Hill office two years ago. That morning, we were helping the movers unload boxes from the truck; that afternoon I sat on a box with the phone newly plugged into the wall, my phone recorder just barely salvaged from the "IMPORTANT STUFF -- OPEN ME FIRST!" box, and the call from Bruce came.
"Hello, Backstreets..."
"Hey Chris?"
"This is Bruce!"
And then stunned silence out of me. Not that I didn't know he was going to call, it had been arranged two days prior... but still, it's BRUCE on the phone! So I got my act together and got down to business -- looking back, I kinda wish I was chattier, but in any case, we got right into questions, and he was incredibly quick, articulate, eloquent, funny... I'd imagined he might hem and haw, or take his time to answer, but the challenge was actually to keep up with him. It was before he'd done much press for the tour, so his answers didn't have any kind of "stock" feeling to them -- just very impressive, a lot of fun, and a long time coming.

AH: Let's turn to covers for a couple of questions. Who out there has the best covers of Bruce songs?

CP: Probably Emmylou Harris. But funny, as great as his songs are, they seem to be hard to cover -- maybe the standard is set too high. I get excited about tribute albums, but I'm rarely knocked out by much. I really like the version of "Wages of Sin" by Damien Jurado and Rose Thomas, on Sub Pop's Nebraska tribute album. I love those two Gary U.S. Bonds albums, of course. The Mavericks' "All That Heaven Will Allow" is perfect. Superchunk gets huge points for even attempting "Born to Run" live. Now I'm just waiting for The Hold Steady to cover "Jungleland."

AH: Staying with covers for a minute: What songs would you love to hear Bruce cover, or have you heard him cover, that really resonated? The motive here: My "Bruce should cover this" list includes “All Along the Watchtower,” “Rockin' in the Free World,” “Fortunate Son,” and “Folsom Prison Blues.” Apparently, if I'd seen the VFC tour stop in St. Paul, I'd have heard all except Folsom.

CP: "Trapped" resonates. "Jersey Girl" resonates -- more Tom Waits would be great, like "Hang Down Your Head."

With the Seeger Sessions Band, I'd love to hear him do Lucinda Williams' "Crescent City." And Dylan's "HIgh Water (For Charley Patton)." And something off of Robbie Robertson's Storyville -- "Night Parade"? "Hold Back the Dawn"? "Shake This Town"? And none of these just for the lyrics alone -- though they sure don't hurt.

And with the E Street Band, the Afghan Whigs' "Going to Town." If only so we could hear him sing:

When you say
Now we've got Hell to pay
Don't worry, baby, that's okay
I know the boss

Pair that one with "Murder Incorporated," and you've got gold, baby.

And then some Clash -- he's already done one of my dream covers, "London Calling" -- "Safe European Home" would be next on the list.

The Jayhawks - "Real Light"

Cheap Trick - "Come On, Come On"

WIth the horn section, "Domino," "Try a Little Tenderness," and "Signed, Sealed, Delivered."

"Walk a Mile in My Shoes," "Band of Gold," "Hold On I'm Comin'"... work "Roseville Fair" into "County Fair"...

We could do this all night.

AH: Do you have a favorite Bruce concert, or a few favorites? What made them particularly memorable?

CP: Not to rub it in -- but that St. Paul show you mentioned is way up there. I'm not a Neil Young freak (a fan, sure, but not hardcore), or even typically a fan of guest spots like that, but when he came out, the dynamic completely changed and it was like we were taken somewhere else. There was just enough Neil to make the whole thing feel wild -- in every sense -- while remaining an E Street show. It didn't feel like a guest spot, it felt, for a few songs, like he joined the band.

Other faves would be the second Fenway show in '03 [AH note: I concur. Best. Concert. Ever.], the DoubleTake benefits in Somerville, the '99 Boston stand (particulalry the last two nights), and my first show, 12/7/84, in Tallahassee, which literally changed my life.

AH: Which do you prefer, Bruce with the E Street Band or without?

CP: Judging by my favorite shows, I guess you'd think with... but really, I love it all. The Joad shows and D&D shows are high water marks in his career, to me -- I guess there wasn't one of those solo shows that stood out over any other to make the list. But I've just been thrilled at the way he made good on his intention to use the E Street Band like Neil Young uses Crazy Horse.

AH: In your ultimate fantasy Duet with Bruce, what song are you singing?

CP: Well, even in my ultimate fantasy, I'm still always watching, always watching... only, like, in my living room or something.

But singing along? Two Hearts would be cool, but it kinda belongs to someone else. Something big, I think, like The Rising, or The Promised Land, or the Detroit Medley. Let's make it the Medley, so it lasts longer.

AH: Where will Backstreets be in five years?

CP: Covering Springsteen's stripped-down rockabilly tour, featuring Steve [Van Zandt], Garry [Tallent], and Larry Eagle -- Max [Weinberg] is busy with the 11:30 Tonight Show slot, of course. And we'll have Lucy Rose licking envelopes.

AH: I know that a lot of the time, Bruce's tour or album schedule determines the theme of upcoming issues of the magazine. You clearly have a winning formula. How else do you find ways to keep the magazine edgy after 26 years?

CP: That's easy -- I'm getting so little sleep because of the baby that I'm edgy all the time! To be honest, we try very hard to keep things fresh around here because if it bores us, it will bore our readers, too. It's not so much a formula as it is a foundation. And we keep our eyes and ears open, looking to add to it.

AH: Any final thoughts? Anything I haven't asked that you want to address?

CP: Nope -- this was fun! Thanks for letting me be a part of the National Holiday celebrations.

AH: is always my first stop during the National Holiday celebrations. Come back any time you want. We’re Open All Night. Christopher Phillips of Backstreets Magazine, thanks for doing the inaugural guest interview on Random Thoughts. We now return you to our regularly scheduled celebration of the National Holiday known as Bruce’s Birthday.


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Blogger Dana Y. T. Lin said...

Happy 57th to Bruce, and 1st to Random Thoughts!

Bruce - keep singing. Adam - keep writing. =)

11:20 AM, September 23, 2006  
Blogger The Mayor Of Awesometown said...

It is shocking that Bruce is 57. I mean I always knew how old he was but that number is pretty big. I hope we get Bruce for another 30 years.

1:08 PM, September 23, 2006  
Blogger reality check said...

Great read here! I will be making it a regular stop.

Dylan's "Watching The River Flow" would have been one of my choice covers. I'm writing down a list of yours to burn for road trips!

All the best to you and the Boss. Bruce gets younger to me all the time!

1:52 PM, September 23, 2006  
Blogger Adam Hurtubise said...

Welcome to the party, folks. Come back any time.


2:35 PM, September 23, 2006  
Blogger Adam Hurtubise said...

Holy shit, people, we need to go get more beer.

I had about 20 unique visitors an hour ago, and then Chris Phillips linked here from Backstreets and I have 700.

Turn up the music, I'll be right back.


3:32 PM, September 23, 2006  
Anonymous Ray Zirkle said...

HI Random Thoughts,
Great Idea for the holiday! Funny I thought Bruce was 59 this year! And I've been a big fan since 1980. Let's hope he stays forever young!

6:19 PM, September 23, 2006  
Blogger reality check said...

Write more on the Boss and we'll all be happy Adam! TY for checking out me blog - not sure it's of interest. I will be writing a very original piece on Bruce soon, It may not fit at my site. If you are interested, possibly you could help me place it where it would be appreciated best. Suggestions welcome!

Until then, raise cane!

9:00 PM, September 23, 2006  
Anonymous brooklynfox said...

Thanks for interviewing Chris and for completing my national holiday experience. Great read. I'll be back.

9:43 PM, September 23, 2006  
Blogger Adam Hurtubise said...

Thanks for coming by, everybody. The House Party is still rocking. We've got beer and food and plenty of Bruce on the stereo... We'll rock all night.


9:48 PM, September 23, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think a cover of Pearl Jam's "Once" with the E Street Band would be a really cool way to open a show. And on the flip side, I'd like to hear Eddie's band have a go with Darkness on the Edge of Town or Something in the Night.

Thanks for posting the interview. Happy National Holiday!

10:04 PM, September 23, 2006  
Anonymous Michael said...

Great interview. And I concur on the 9/7/03 Fenway show: this remains the greatest live show I've ever seen. I was lucky enough to be on the floor/outfield in short left, and that was a very special night.

8:59 AM, September 25, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great interview Adam!

12:01 PM, September 25, 2006  
Anonymous Nuno Miguel said...

Great interview! Congratulations to Bruce Springsteen and for you who has done a great job!

Best regards

2:15 PM, September 25, 2006  
Blogger Adam Hurtubise said...

Thanks everyone, for the visits, the kind words, and the returns.

Nuno Miguel, you rock. I LOVE Badlands.


6:49 PM, September 25, 2006  

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