|Read a sample chapter from the book!
Got two cents?
Pass It On
THE BIG BOSS SOUNDS OF THE ACT OF CONTRITION
Loose lips sink ships and they don't do a helluva lot for the buoyant properties of a sullied reputation, either. Perhaps that's why I rank as an extremely dubious inclusion here within the backstage sanctum of Bruce Springsteen's 2-night stand at The Palace of Auburn Hills in Michigan.
Yet, present I am a fink and a fabler, a phony fabricator, and there are folks nearby who'd gladly add a couple more phonic indelicacies to the list had they any clue that the baldo seen sifting through the complimentary beer stash t'were none other than Benny The Rat -- a pigeonholed Boss blasphemer from way-way back. Then again, that's their rendering of this overblown squab.
Here's mine. Back during that peewee span where Mike Moore was editor of Mother Jones, he had the nutty notion of letting me write a column for each issue of the rag. He made it very clear that he would publish anything that I cared to send him. As if to test the elasticity of this decree, I responded with a piece that put the razz to a cluster o' rocknroll demigods for inappropriate depictions of servile factory clods like me. One of those given the dunk was Bruce Springsteen a longtime hero of Mike's. To say that MM didn't dig my slam would be most accurate. He phoned me in a snit.
"C'mon, Hamper. You can't lump Bruce in with these other guys. Perhaps you should reconsider the piece."
"No, thanks," I replied. "I have a message that must be heard."
"What message? Great musicians suck?"
Not exactly, but he was snortin' off the right cork. One of the things I was trying to convey in my rant was my displeasure with this reeky new trend that found rocknroll stars gill-netting for thematic blue-collar chub in the dank ol' eddies of crummy shit-jobs they'd left behind YEARS ago if indeed ever. Great musicians didn't necessarily suck, but it might've helped if they had. Anything would've been better than listening to these poachers waft work odes from play stations.
But this wasn't even the true intent of my harangue. Those jabs at rock stars were just quills strewn along the spine of a much larger message. It had very little to do with Bob Seger or John Mellenfarm or Springsteen per se and everything to do with the lethargic concessions being made by workin' stiffs of my own ilk who wouldn't refuse deliverance on out-sourced interpretations of their own workaday milieu. As I suggested at the time, why entrust surrogates to serenade us on how tedious and deprived our lives were? Good GRIEF, couldn't we handle that ourselves?
Eventually, this column was recycled for use in Rivethead. By this point I'd already been pegged as a conniving Boss-basher and, as detailed in his foreward to the book, Mike was left in a similar guilt-by-association lurch. Due to what I had written, MM was vilified by Bruce's camp, suffering the dreadful indignity of having rock-scribe-turned-Boss-minion, Dave Marsh, scold him out the door for having provided creamy rectal birth to his "ideological enemy." It wasn't to be the last time Mike was to rue puttin' my decal on his bumper
This summer I spent six weeks in New York playing TV sidekick to MM on a show called "Michael Moore Live." Unless you were over in the United Kingdom, you never saw the thing as it only aired there. My role on the show was fairly simple and inordinately simple-minded. I sat on a small couch just off to the side of Mike drinking Budweiser tall-boys, making passes at our on-screen spokesmodel, chain-smoking and pitching in with the occasional unhinged blurt. For better understanding, try to imagine a shaved-off Ed McMahon crossbred with every barfly dunderhead you ever wanted to smack the shit outta merged to the unkempt visage of Dennis Franz loafin' around a porn set. On second thought don't.
After one of the shows, a guy on the staff introduced me to Amy Lofgrin, the wife of Nils Lofgrin, current Springsteen axe-slinger and amazing rocknroll hepcat in his own right. We start gabbin' about how I'm a big fan of Nils and how she's a big fan of Mike's and how Mike's a big fan of Bruce's and how terrific it is that we're all loitering around this giddy HBO soundset with beers in our hands and bravos for all. Amy turns me onto a batch of her husband's CDs and I, in turn, hit her up with a copy of Rivethead.
A couple weeks later, I receive a call from Nils Lofgrin himself while I'm sittin' around the shed back in Michigan. I'm not in the habit of taking calls from rock stars, especially from the limited few I actually care about, so I'm rather amazed when Nils mentions that he'd like to have Mike & I be his guests for the upcoming show at The Palace in a couple weeks. He mentions that his wife Amy is enjoying the book and that he's looking forward to reading it when she's done.
"Uh, great," I add tepidly.
A race against the clock ensues. Nils calls from the road every few days to update me on the ticket situation and to report on how the tour is going. Meanwhile, I'm also hearing from Amy who's sitting out this leg of the tour back in Arizona. She's reading Rivethead slow-ly. It's a giant mystery as to which will occur first -- the arrival of the Bruce Springsteen concert or Amy's discovery of the Bruce sacrilege near the rear of Rivethead. I've got this sinking feeling that the two might not be able to coexist. It's making me antsy as hell, as proven by this phone snippet:
AMY: "Y'know, you really reamed the boss."
BEN: "O shit please forgive me! I was drinking way too much back "
AMY: "Why apologize? That prick foreman had it coming to him."
BEN: "Oh, that boss! Yeah, I guess he did."
It didn't matter to me if I saw the concert or not. I just didn't want to be the heel responsible for having Mike tossed off the guest list. He'd been a sincere Bruce fanatic for years, dating way back to the Flint Voice days when I'd show up at the office and plead with him to put something anything other than Darkness On The Edge Of Town on the turntable. I recall him as being the one who clued me to the fact that Born In The USA was a song about Vietnam. Hell, up to that point, I'd always thought Bruce was mutterin' about eating a cheeseburger on the trunk of his re-primered Impala. At least I wasn't quite as thematically misguided as this guy on the rivet line who used to shut down Bruce's I'm On Fire every time it rolled out of the radio because he interpreted the opening line, "Hey, little girl, is your daddy home?" as being the depraved come-on of a non-neighborly kiddy-pornster. No joke, that guy used to drink twice as much as me.
I decided to call Amy, prepared to confess my sin. However, before I could drop to my knees and attribute the sad malignant boner to an unsteady diet of beer, self-hate, too much overtime and an out-to-lunch inner-child, she allowed as how she'd just finished the book and thought it was a hoot.
"Even that jab at Bruce?" I hedged. "You must understand that "
"It's okay. Dave Marsh thinks you're a total shit, but I don't think there was any real malice behind what you were saying. You were just being funny right?"
"Well, yeah, of course," I replied. "Funny."
Anyway, that brings us back to the present. We are backstage at the Bruce show -- Mike and his party, me with mine. We're just sort of lolligagging, waiting to meet up with Nils and Amy. My son-in-law Chris has just come back from having a smoke on the loading dock. Apparently, it's no longer rocknroll to smoke indoors. He joins us as we lump together on a wall outside the guest room.
"What's with that guy?" Chris says.
"Who?" I ask.
He points down the hallway at some middle-aged fella prancing two dogs around on a leash. It takes a minute, but I finally recognize him as Dave Marsh. Well, I think to myself, this is how it must end for some guys. One day you're an acclaimed music journalist relied upon by dozens to fling your sapient rocknroll wisdoms their way -- then geezerdom rears its rubbery fangs, the mortgage bloats, the prostate swells, rocknroll reinvents itself as just another line on the W-2 form, and you spend your time on the fringe of the midway trotting rock star canines through their pee-spattered paces.
"Looks like my ideological enemy," I tell Chris.
"Oh," he says, rightfully confused.
A few moments later, a door opens across the hall from where the group of us are leaning. It's Springsteen. He doesn't look anything like a rock star. He looks like this spotwelder named Leonard that I used to drink with when I worked up in the cab shop. Bruce peers over at us and recognizes Moore. "Hey, come on in, Mike," he says.
Mike hustles into the dressing room. He closes the door and then reopens it, waving for his wife Kathy to follow. Kathy races into the dressing room and closes the door. She quickly reopens it to wave for her sister Dolores. Dolores heads into the dressing room. She closes the door, and and and, well, it never reopens. My daughter and sister are disappointed, wrongfully assuming they might be next in line for an arm-swoop summons. I'm bummed, too. Though the chances were quite remote that I'd wind up with an audience with The Boss, I'd prepared an apology just in case:
"Dear Mr. Springsteen. I hereby ask your forgiveness for having slandered you in both magazine and book form. I suppose it would be trite to say something like, 'you always hurt the ones you love' -- not that I'm actually IN love with you -- but, shit, I do dig most of your records and, hence, had zero business groupin' you in with opportunistic jakes like Silly Joel and/or Johnny Cougar Concentration Camp. Were you to decide that this apology is an overdue and inadequate remorse, I will fully accept the brutal drubbing I have coming to me via the hands of your loyalist goon contingent, or any other penance you might deem justified. Humbly Yours, Hamper."
Mike and his clan come back out of the dressing room just as I'm imagining the first blow of Boss vengeance crashing below my sternum. Kathy and Dolores beam broadly like hall monitors who've just achieved prom night orgasms. I shuffle Mike off to the side. "Well, pick up any new recipes?" I ask. For once in his life, Michael Moore has nothing to say.
We meet up with Nils and Amy back in the guest room. They are simply two of the nicest people I've ever met. Nils invites us to return backstage for a post-concert bash and then excuses himself to go warm up for the show. Amy discovers the guest room beer stash has run dry and makes a mission out of finding me a new source. She totes me by the arm through a network of small rooms filled with busy Bruce soldiers. I keep telling her I'm fine, but she doesn't rest until she locates a six-pack from somewhere. I really could've kissed her. A head fulla beer is all that I have to do battle with the Motown mob currently heard rumbling through the walls.
Amy leads us out to our seats. For some reason, we're not sitting together. The Moore party faces us directly from the other side of the stage. I wave at Mike from across the main floor of The Palace of Auburn Hills. He waves back, just another aged Boss zealot crammed into the giddy orbit of the rocknroll countdown.
So much time has passed since either one of us has claimed these rooms as our own. We'd surrendered it all years and years before, never bothering to lob bouquets toward the retreat of those extinct dope-hazed congeries that marched through Flint in our rocknroll prime. Tull and Purple and Skynyrd and Humble Pie they'd all vanished somewhere when we weren't looking, shoved beyond the floodlights to a relic-strewn patch of deposed glory. It really mattered little except for the sad and unavoidable truth that they'd taken the two of us with them.
Actually, the shift in this odd little hourglass would be driven home a whole lot deeper were it not for the fact that Springsteen fans seem to come in all assorted age brackets. Tonight there are just as many effervescent lobe-ring X-ers stacked in the house as inveterate hep-scant grandpappys like me. It's like The Mall of the Americas running aground on Spring Break. Not that there aren't scads of other telltale indicators serving to remind one of the fact that 1974 slunk off somewhere during a Don Brewer drum solo and never bothered to return.
For instance, when the fuck did they start fleecing concert-goers to the tune of $6.00 for a paper cup of beer? Then again, forget the exorbitant cost of the stuff when did they decide that it was proper and groovy to even provide this option to scummy rocknroll patrons? Time was when the only beer on hand at a rock gig was the one tauntingly swigged upon by the asshole singer of the asshole rock band while said asshole muddled on about sideburn larvae and monitor hiss during a string-change lull. The music would then re-rev and 10,628 pairs of eyeballs would spend the next 2 or 3 jams ogling that long-neck as it mocked their sorry prohibition from an amp-top perch.
Nowadays, you have boneheads in softball jackets paradin' up and down the aisles with multiple sud-silos lined up from belt loop to beard stubble and there appears to be NO LIMIT on how much of the shit you can suck down just as long as you've got a sturdy ATM balance and an elastic urethra. Not only that, but they serve cocktails, too. What the exchange rate is on a couple snifters of Jack & Coke is not readily known, but I'd be amazed if it didn't dwarf the total outlay I forked out for grass, Quaaludes, Visine and pipe screens at that Ten Years After shebang I took my galpal to back in the day.