HBO knows how to ‘do’ their music documentaries. Earlier this year, they gave us the packed story of Kurt Cobain in ‘Montage of Heck’, which included every kind of footage you can think of, from private home videos to animated sequences. ‘The Ties That Bind’ couldn’t be more different, if not a total opposite. The outcome is the same, though. A very interesting dissection of important music history; the making of the double LP ‘The River’ by Bruce Springsteen.
Own Personal Documentary Man
Bruce and his guitar. When has that ever not been enough? Precisely what director Thom Zimny must’ve thought. No one better to make that call, too, given Zimny’s track record. He’s Springsteen’s own personal documentary man. ‘The Ties That Bind’ surely isn’t his first step into Boss Territory. He’s pieced together the making of ‘Born to Run’, ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’, a few more Springsteen related features and I’m sure this reconstruction of the ‘The River’ sessions won’t be his last; there are many more classic albums to sink his teeth into.
Getting It Right
Sitting in his backyard, sitting indoors, there’s always a guitar in Bruce’s hand. He explains what it was like, almost 4 decades ago. An extensive recording process it was. It sounds like musicians back then were allowed lots of time to ‘get it right’. I wonder, but I’m assuming that’s no longer the case in this age. Could it be because of the time restraints and the huge influence of just a couple of producers, that makes today’s music all sound so similar? As Bruce describes, they used to produce their records all by themselves. They didn’t know what they were doing; they learnt as they went along. There was just one goal: getting it right. When would one reach that? No one knew. You’d just have to feel it, and in the case of ‘The River’, the band didn’t feel it for a long time.
They tried different things, wanting to capture the energy of their live performances. And Bruce was writing a lot. So much, in fact, that a double album wasn’t even enough. He had to kill darlings due to balancing out the record. One of my favorite Springsteen songs, ‘Loose Ends’, was cut, but was eventually released on the 1998 collection ‘Tracks’.
‘The Ties That Bind’ – named after the opening track – shows less is more. Bruce, looking better than ever – how’s that possible at 66? – shares his thought process, not just about the production itself, but also about where he was coming from and was headed. He’d turned 30; a crucial age. It’s when you realize you’re operating in the grownup world. You’re no longer an observer. ’The River’ would be an album about Bruce’s roots, politics and about figuring out how to get his message across. He discovered sometimes it’s easier to sing something in the third person. It allowed him to be autobiographical, funny and a storyteller at the same time.
It’s very refreshing to see one of the biggest rock stars since rock music recall what it was like to create one of the biggest rock records. Plainly, straight and nuanced. What it does is reinforce his image even more as the working man’s singing man of the people. You can’t get any more no nonsense than this.
The documentary is just one part of the celebration. Next week, the 35th anniversary of ‘The River’ will be on sale. ‘The Ties That Bind: The River Collection’ will feature everything ‘previously unreleased’ from this classic record.