A friend of mine and I have both just finished a fantastic book about the making of the album, Nebraska, by Bruce Springsteen. Deliver Me From Nowhere by Warren Zanes is a deep dive and fascinating look into how the songs — recorded as demos and later released as they were — emerged from Springsteen’s self-imposed period of isolation after The River came out and before Born In The USA would make him a global pop star.
My friend asked about my thoughts, and this is what I wrote:
First, I have a new appreciation for Jon Landau. I’ve always considered him an extra part, someone who only wanted the hits and pushed Bruce in that direction. The book shows a more nuanced look at him, as a friend to Bruce and confidant. It’s key when Landau knows the tracks they recorded for what will become Born in USA are hits but then allows Bruce to shelve them for more than a year as he deals with what will become Nebraska. Landau seems to be the one friend that Bruce could turn to during that dark time.
Second, the response from the record company to Nebraska surprised me. I thought there would be push-back to the album, and its dark themes and raw recordings. Surprisingly, they could see the larger picture of an artist’s trajectory. I don’t think this happens anymore in the music field, where an artist is given creative space to do what they need to do.
Third, I was fascinated by the technical challenges of moving from the TEAC master cassette mix to something the record company could make and sell. They were in this moment of technology in the music studios, and the old equipment wouldn’t talk to the new. The frustrations that Bruce and his team had were interesting, and yet, Bruce kept on. He didn’t give up. He had that vision, and his people saw it through. I also kept thinking: if he loses that cassette tape he carried around in his pocket … or if the TEAC goes kaput …
Fourth, I didn’t know that Mike Batlan, his engineer, was always on the bedroom with him, a sort of corner technician, watching Bruce record. I would love to hear his story of the experience, and how he saw Nebraska unfold from inside the room but outside the creative art itself. I have had this vision of Bruce, alone, but he wasn’t alone. Mike was there.
Fifth, I know Nebraska was influential, of course, but the book really pulls back to look at how it completely reshaped the music landscape, making home recording not just a place for demos, but as a way to make albums, start to finish. It’s as much TEAC as TASCAM, too, but for musicians in the field, hearing what Bruce did and actually released, jumpstarted an entire world of music making that continues to this day (I am thinking of watching my son produce albums and release them on streaming services right from his seat at our dinner table over the years).
Peace (and Song),
PS — here is something worth viewing