The Ties That Bind
It’s all been recorded in the Book of Life. Seeing Bruce Springsteen live was as good as a concert performance got in the mid-to-late-70s. This is from someone who saw one of his early performances at the Armadillo World Headquarters and was slayed by his three-plus hour concert that ended in multiple encores and a cover of Gary U.S. Bonds “Quarter to Three.”
Bonds was innovative in the sense that his songs had a live feel, as if you were at a house party listening to the rock. “Gary Bonds party sounds were what we were going for,” Springsteen says in the HBO documentary The Ties That Bind, which takes a down-home approach to the years-long recording of The River double-LP.
The one-hour doc brackets itself with current footage shot in the back of Springsteen’s garage. The story of the recording of The River emerges in archival clips and Springsteen’s personal remembrances. Bruce plays cuts from The River with an acoustic guitar, some played in their entirety.
There’s “Two Hearts,” “The Ties That Bind,” “Sherry Darling,” “Point Blank,” and the song that was the bridge between the darker Springsteen of The River and Nebraska, “Independence Day.” “The River,” is heard in both a demo version and a backyard perf, which is then perfectly intercut with live concert footage of the same.
The recording of The River took years, and at one point the single disc version was replaced with a double disc version and songs like “Loose Ends,” “Roulette,” and “Be True,” were ditched for other songs that now compose the classic 1980 release. (Eventually those cuts were released on the “Tracks” release.) Springsteen recounts how he strived for a change of personality from his previous three LPs and was moving from that reflection of himself to a more pensive self. The River contains ballads that tell character narratives like the titular song and “Point Blank.” There was also an attempt to capture “Noise that creates mystery,” as Springsteen explains the dish and glass clatter that fills the background of “Sherry Darling.”
The River was the first Springsteen LP to deliver a bona fide hit single, “Hungry Heart.” Springsteen recalls the day the muse struck: “It was like writing a song in the amount of time it takes to sing it.”
The Ties That Bind premieres on HBO Friday, November 27 and runs on for the next month on the cabler.
— Michael Bergeron