Paul Heinz

Original Fiction, Music and Essays

Filtering by Tag: Netflix

Springsteen on Broadway

You gotta hand it to Bruce Springsteen.  The guy can compose a great tune, his stage performances are unparalleled, his autobiography is one of the best I’ve read by a musician, and now he’s completed a sort of companion piece with his autobiographic Broadway stage show, no small feat for this aging rocker.  I looked forward to checking out the Springsteen on Broadway release on Netflix a few weeks ago, and while I enjoyed aspects of it, I’m thankful I didn’t shell out $500 to see it in person, and it’s unlikely that I’ll view it again.

Pulling off a two and a half hour stage show with extensive narration is impressive, and the sheer volume of prose Springsteen had to memorize and deliver with conviction is to me no less admirable than, say, the one-man show on Hemingway that I saw Stacy Keach perform last summer at the Goodman Theater in Chicago.  I couldn’t tell by watching the film whether or not Springsteen used a teleprompter, but it wasn’t apparent, and aside from some initial narration that seemed a bit canned and rehearsed, he does a fine job of delivering the material as if for the first time.

It’s the first hour or so of the show that’s particularly hard to watch for me, and I found myself ready to press fast forward through some of the moments that felt routine and self-serving, as of course an autobiographical show must be.  It takes a tremendous ego to think people want to hear your story, but it takes skill to mask that ego enough to appear relatable, and there are times when Springsteen fails at this tightrope act.  Fortunately things begin to turn about mid-way through the show, as if the Boss needed a little time to gain his footing and truly immerse himself in the material, and I found his soliloquies on Vietnam, his father and mother, and the current political climate to be the strongest parts of the show.

His narration would hardly be a matter of critique if Springsteen’s musical performances – there are something like sixteen songs in all – provided their usual redemptive force, but absent the E Street Band, Springsteen’s pedestrian musicianship is glaringly obvious.  Bruce is not an accomplished guitar player, even less so as a pianist, and it’s woefully apparent throughout the show, as his three-chord songs provide no variation or upward lift in the hands of a limited instrumentalist.  Like Melissa Etheridge who I saw perform in Waukegan last month, Springsteen is a great songwriter and gifted lyricist whose music is bolstered by the skills of surrounding musicians, but alone is a strum and hum performer with a limited musical palette.  The Boss also sabotages his own works by reinventing the melodies in uninspiring ways, pausing and slowing things down at times when the song requires lift and momentum, and insisting on singing in his faux-western voice that he’s grown accustomed to using during the past decade and a half or so, summoning his inner Arlo Guthrie that some may find endearing and heartfelt, but I find to be as artificial as his blue-collar lyrics, which he refreshingly admits early in his show, “I made it all up.  That’s how good I am.”

Three songs do rise to the occasion: his stripped-down, dour take of ”Born in the U.S.A.” and the two songs performed with wife Patti Scialfa: “Tougher than the Rest” and “Brilliant Disguise.”  Having a partner to harmonize with and – perhaps more importantly – to play off of, is exactly what the show needs.  Springsteen has made a career out of interacting with his fellow musicians – the joy and sweat shared between his comrades on stages is half the fun of watching him perform – and it’s lacking for most of this Broadway show. 

Still, I can’t think of many artists who could pull off a relatively sincere theatrical show for 236 performances, sell the hell out of it, and still have demand to showcase it on Netflix.  I’m glad it exists, and it isn’t a bad legacy for the old man to leave behind – that of a great storyteller with love for his country and its people, and concern for its future.  I wish there were more artists – and hell, more people  - like the Boss.  Check out the entire show on demand on Netlfix.

Get to the End, Already

A friend of mine has an unusual (I’m avoiding the word I’d like to use) custom of reading the endings of books prior to starting them, thereby alleviating any unwanted tension in her life.  This perplexing habit contradicts my own insistence that endings of books, plays and movies not be divulged in any circumstances save for pacifying a blubbering child (“Honest, Sammy, E.T. is going to be just fine.”).  But I learned this week that there’s another exception to the rule.

Over the past several years, my wife and I have watched – or tried watching – a multitude of TV shows that we missed over the past decade and a half by not having cable.  Countless friends and family members said we “just have to see” this show or that show, and as our enjoyment of watching SNL and The Tonight Show kept diminishing because we didn’t understand any of the pop culture references (a cableless home has its disadvantages), we decided to catch up on various shows on Netflix.

We started with Six Feet Under and gave up after a season.  Weeds?  We lasted maybe half a season.  Mad Men?  We found it depressing and mean-spirited, which seems to be a trend in critically acclaimed cable TV shows these days.  The meaner it is, the better the critiques.  Downton Abbey:  yeah, sure, it’s well done, but it’s basically a soap opera, and I kept hoping that Luke and Laura would make an appearance to spice things up a bit.

But then we heard about Breaking Bad.  Surely this must be a show worth watching.  After all, everybody and their mother was talking about it, and I heard that even Charlie Rose was in the finale.  It had to be good!

Somehow my wife and I managed the impossible and went into the series completely ignorant about the subject matter except that it involved a meth lab.  And sure enough, after trudging through the first season and a half of unsympathetic characters, blood, murder and the unseemly underbelly of American society, I didn’t care one iota about Walt and his foray into meth production.   We’d finish a show – always expertly done – and feel kind of…assaulted, similar to how I felt after watching The Silence of the Lambs way back in ’91.

But here’s the thing: I watch TV to be entertained, not assaulted.   I guess I prefer laughing to ridiculous jokes on Scrubs than I do watching a man choke another man with a chain.  Call me crazy.

But I still felt like I needed to know the ending to Breaking Bad.  I mean, I knew what was going to happen: Walt had a terminal illness, for crying out loud.  One way or another he was !!!SPOILER ALERT!!! going to die.  But I kind of wanted to see Charlie Rose (does Charlie start doing meth?  Does he end up being murdered?), so, breaking the rule, I did what I had to do: I skipped half of season two and all of season three, four and five, and went straight to the second last episode.  Sure, there were characters I didn’t know, plot lines I had to catch up on, but I was able to follow things pretty well, and in the end, none of it really mattered anyhow.  I mean, Walt did in fact !!!SPOILER ALERT!!! die.

And now with the hours and hours of my life that I saved by not watching Breaking Bad I can watch reruns of Cheers and Scrubs.  Sure, I know the endings of those shows too, but unlike Breaking Bad, at least I’ll have a few laughs along the way.

Hmmm.  Maybe my friend who reads the endings to books first isn’t so far off the mark after all.

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