Freedom Rock

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J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 3, 2009; 2:00 PM

Washington Post music critic J. Freedom du Lac is online every Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET to talk about the latest on the music scene: alternative, country, alt-country, pop, hyphy, harp-rock, reggae, reggaeton, R and B and whatever it is that Nicole Scherzinger does.

The transcript follows.

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washingtonpost.com: Back From Ridiculous, Willie Offers a Swing Sublime

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washingtonpost.com: Blog: Post Rock

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Willie Nelson: He should do a song with Michael Phelps!!!!!! "Bong in the U.S.A.' or something.

J. Freedom du Lac: Ah, yes: It's Willie Nelson Day here in chatland.

And boy, do I see a doozy in the queue.

Let's shall, shall we?

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Washington, D.C.: I love Willie. My girlfriend hates him. She can't get past the voice (which I think is earthy and weathered maybe even Dylan-like, except in tune ... mostly). I play my favorites, "Across the Borderline," and "Stardust" to convince her. No go.

Help.

J. Freedom du Lac: Can you get a new girlfriend?

I keed, I keed. I think Willie might be like Roquefort. No, that's not a tax joke. Just that he might be an acquired taste, though I think his music and vocals go down pretty easy. Then again, I also like natto.

But it's like what Dolly Parton told me about her own voice, which sometimes sounds like a little girl singing into an electric fan after sucking the helium out of a balloon (though mostly, to me, it's the sound of high, lonesome heaven): "It's like blue cheese or liver: You either love it or hate it."

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Springfield, Va.: It's only February and I've already seen too many full choirs backing up rock legends. Please make it stop.

J. Freedom du Lac: That was about the only thing that made "Working on a Dream" even remotely passable to me during Bruce's Super Bowl set. I thought the opening one-two was pretty great, and then WOAD was like a buzzkill - and he could never recover.

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Ben Israeli: The new Springsteen album has gotten reviews that range from Five Stars from Rolling Stone Magazine to a 5.8 from Pitchfork (which I guess is bad from them since they tend to give everything a 7.8).

In general it seems that the outlets who have given this album a great review seem to be from a source that reaches an older demographic while the slightly negative reviews come from sources that reach a younger age demographic.

Do you think some publications tend to rate something higher/lower that they think would be marketed to the magazine's targeted demographic group or would say Rolling Stone just be more inclined to have more people on staff who were into someone like Springsteen to give it a good review? And how much do you think it has to do with access to the artists?

J. Freedom du Lac: That's possible, though We At The Washington Post (meaning: me) also didn't like the album. And TWP's demos aren't exactly in the Teen Beat range.

Rolling Stone has given the last three Springsteen rock albums five stars. Think about that: "Working on a Dream," "Magic," "The Rising" - all perfect albums according to Rolling Stone. No wonder Bruce keeps giving them cover interviews.

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McLean, Va.: I don't understand why in your review today and in your first answer in this forum you are acting like Willie Nelson is some kind of hardly known fringe act. He's one of the best-selling musicians of the last half century and has received a boatload of recognition, including a Kennedy Center president's award.

J. Freedom du Lac: That's an interesting take on my feelings about Willie, given my longstanding love of his music. Fringe act? Really?

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About that halftime show ...: Can I just say: Blah.

Yes, Bruce has a ton of energy, but four truncated songs and lots of scripted patter left me cold.

Let's tell the truth about Bruce. He's a great showman, but he's only recorded a handful of good songs since Tunnel of Love.

J. Freedom du Lac: Yep, Malitz and I - in our widely* panned blog post about the halftime show - noted the lameness of the banter, which we thought was kinda like the old Muppets in the balcony, only not as funny.

Bruce has definitely lost many miles off of his "speedball" as a songwriter. You're right about him being a great showman, though - even if the Super Bowl mini-set didn't really do it for me.

Prince 1, Bruce 0.

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Baltimore, Md.: Loved the "Willie and The Wheel" review. One of the most unusual pairings back in the '70s was that of Willie Nelson and Atlantic Records. Atlantic issued what still may be Nelson's best album of original material, "Phases and Stages," his song cycle about the break up of a relationship. At the time, I couldn't figure out what the guy who wrote "Night Life" and "Funny How Time Slips Away" was doing on a label best known for R&B, but Jerry Wexler realized that Nelson was -- and is -- one of America's great pop singers.

That he should, in his 70s, bring out a Western swing project is probably bringing a smile to his old pal Waylon Jennings, wherever he is now. As Waylon put it:

Well if you ain't never been there, then I guess you ain't been told,

That you just can't live in Texas, 'less you got a lot of soul.

It's the home of Willie Nelson, the home of Western swing,

He'd be the first to tell you, Bob Wills is still the king.

J. Freedom du Lac: It's truly a marvelous album. That's a great observation about Willie and Atlantic. It's truly remarkable to think about how much great music he cut in that decade, there and for CBS/Columbia.

Willie apparently has at least one more album coming out this year, in which he remakes some of his old songs in a stripped-down setting, with Mickey Raphael producing. Could be terrific.

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WOAD: Hmm, I thought his live performance of it sounded much better than the studio version.

J. Freedom du Lac: Well, yeah: For one thing, there was no whistling break! But the song still doesn't do much for me.

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Ovid, N.Y.: I'm definitely picking up the new Willie!

Now for a more important topic, I need a recommendation for a good site for joining a fantasy baseball league this year, what say you?

Many thanks!

J. Freedom du Lac: Yahoo FBL Plus. It's where I've done my best work.

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Anonymous: Is Coachella still a thing for the young folks? I'd pay good money to see Morrissey, Leonard Cohen, and My Bloody Valentine on their own. But at well over what used to be the demographic for Coachella and these US fests, I'm not tempted to stand in a field to see them. You've got you're fingers on the pulse, how is an opening night line-up where the combined age of the three headliners is nearly 200 years old going over with the kids on the internets?

J. Freedom du Lac: Here's a better idea than standing in a field after making the long trek to the wilds of the California desert to see three acts on a long bill that otherwise doesn't interest you: Buy a ticket to see Leonard Cohen in New York this month. Get your tickets to see Moz, too; he'll be coming around on his own this year. And it looks like My Bloody Valentine might be ramping up for a tour, too. Skip the desert. There's no shame in seeing what you want to see and passing on the rest. Your old back and tired feet will thank you later.

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Reston, Va.: I know you gave the Ne-Yo CD a very positive review and endorsement, but I have heard nothing on that CD to justify your raving. If that is the best in R&B, God help us. My questions are: Why is R&B in such a sorry state? Why are there no writers/producers of the quality you had in the 60s and 70s? Why are the singers not of the quality of the 60s and 70s? Or is it the material the singers are working with lacking?

J. Freedom du Lac: There's plenty of quality there. But the prevailing sounds and styles represent a completely different kind of proffer. I think Ne-Yo does a terrific job at straddling the line between classic and contemporary. His sense of melody is fantastic, and I love his lyrical sensibilities. He has a fine, fine voice, too.

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Washington, D.C.: J Free,

I want you to step back from the guacamole, I want you to put the chicken fingers down, and start this here chat!

So, how do you think the Boss's halftime performance compared with the Prince's?

J. Freedom du Lac: Prince crushed him. There's just no debate about that, IMO.

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Prince was better, but:: "Yep, Malitz and I - in our widely- panned blog post about the halftime show - noted the lameness of the banter, which we thought was kinda like the old Muppets in the balcony, only not as funny. "

Actually, it was your banter that was lame. Sorry, Free, but you whiffed.

J. Freedom du Lac: Actually, that is precisely why I prefaced the IM exchange with the words "lame" and "inane." No need to apologize to me. Really.

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McLean, Va.: Are you answering questions or trying to start a flame war?

Yes, I said you act as if Nelson is not known to the mainstream -- a fringe act.

I'm also surprised that you overlooked the fact that the album is a collaboration with Asleep at the Wheel.

J. Freedom du Lac: I'm going to say this as gently as possible: You are an idiot.

Let me quote from my own review:

"But for Nelson's new album, 'Willie and the Wheel,"' he found the perfect partners: Western swing preservationists Asleep at the Wheel, who helped the aging country outlaw get in touch with his inner Bob Wills, to marvelously vibrant effect."

"...With Asleep at the Wheel playing the role of the Texas Playboys (albeit Playboys punched up with horns), 'Willie and the Wheel' is a sprightly and very much swinging romp through the American genre that blended country, blues and rural folk music with Dixieland and, of course, swing jazz."

I also recall having written the names Ray Benson, Eddie Rivers and Elizabeth McQueen into the review - and last I checked, they were members of Asleep at the Wheel.

Thanks for playing.

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Fairfax, Va.: Hey, didn't you promise us a blog post comparing Bruce's later work to his early stuff or something like that? No slacking off. Just because Michael Phelps can't tune out with a bong doesn't mean you can, J Free!

J. Freedom du Lac: Well, I also promised a Calle 13 interview. But I'm waiting for Malitz to post his Kim Deal interview first. I mean, at least I have an excuse, what with the newborn arriving last month. About the only thing David gave birth to was a new diss song about [band name redacted].

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Re: Prince v. Boss: Universal sentiment I've seen among the 18-25 crowd on my college campus has Boss > Prince. And only some of that was due to the sheer weird factor of Prince's persona or whatever.

J. Freedom du Lac: Prince Super Bowl halftime show vs Springsteen Super Bowl halftime show - I'm pretty sure 538.com would take all the various polling data and project Prince to win running away.

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Washington, D.C.: Glory Days? Really. I could list 100 Sprignsteen songs that he should have done. Plus it's not cheerful or hopeful. Awesome start with the songs from Born to Run, then it fell apart.

I did win 50 bucks on the boss time shtick. Knew that was coming with the time limit conversations.

J. Freedom du Lac: Some folks on the blog and elsewhere were predicting "American Land" - I really wish he'd done that. Klimek keeps trying to make the case via IM that "Glory Days" was a great choice in that it was "a perfect, sly acknowledgment that he is selling out, a little bit, kind of, and also about to turn 60." Ehh.

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Anonymous: I'm pretty sure 538.com would take all the various polling data and project Prince to win running away.

Wanna make a non-monetary bet (since gambling is wrong, and don't do drugs, kids)?

J. Freedom du Lac: Sure, since we'd be (not actually) betting on polling data that doesn't actually exist.

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Anonymous: Barry Zito could write a blog entry better than yours and Malitz's

J. Freedom du Lac: Wow, we're getting really meta here.

Actually, Barry Zito would have one of the worst VORPs of any blogger in the business.

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Bethesda, Md.: No question, just a huge rant... yesterday I logged onto Ticketmaster on two separate browsers immediately when they opened up ticket sales for the Springsteen concert at Verizon. I know I was instantaneously in because I was continually hitting F5 to refresh every second. On neither browser was I able to get any tickets at 10:00 a.m. However, when I got the infamous Ticketmaster message saying they were unable to process my request, I did receive a generous offer from Ticketmaster to purchase tickets from Tickets Now (a Ticketmaster company), for only about 3-4 times the face value of the tickets.

So let's see... less than a minute after tickets go on sale I can't get tickets, but miraculously, the Ticketmaster-owned subsidiary has blocks of tickets for resale? This has got to be illegal somehow. Basically they are entrusted by the venue to be the sole distributor of the tickets, yet they hold on to large blocks for themselves to resell at multiple times face value.

I'd love for somebody to look into these practices. I've been burned countless times by the Ticketmaster "convenience charges" and "handling charges," and swallowed. But this time it just crosses the line.

J. Freedom du Lac: Smells pretty funny, doesn't it?

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Sterling, Va.: I thought your review of the new Willie Nelson/Asleep At The Wheel record today was about the worst I've ever read.

Beyond the fact that you seem to think this was a solo record by Nelson, your attacks on Nelson (saying he loves to smoke pot "and seemingly little else") are the kinds of childish taunts most of us abandon in 4th grade.

About half the column was a rehashing of Nelson's career from 40 years ago.

The 2008 Willie Nelson album "Two Men with the Blues" that you called "ridiculous," was almost universally praised by critics (including the Washington Post), was #1 on the Billboard Jazz chart and #20 on the Billboard Pop chart.

So, my question to you is: Did you listen to the album before filing your column?

Do you ever?

J. Freedom du Lac: You must not've read my review of "Countryman."

Either you're related to the poster who was ranting, incorrectly, about me not acknowledging Asleep at the Wheel's participation in this project, or you both suffer from the same reading-comprehension disease.

Let's start with this: "your attacks on Nelson (saying he loves to smoke pot "and seemingly little else") are the kinds of childish taunts most of us abandon in 4th grade."

Here is what I ACTUALLY wrote: "For several years, the iconoclastic singer-songwriter Willie Nelson has been surrounding himself with unlikely musical collaborators, from pop ditz Jessica Simpson and jazzman Wynton Marsalis to the rapper Snoop Dogg, with whom Nelson shares an abiding love of lighting up -- and seemingly little else."

Did I just write that Nelson loves to smoke pot? Yep. Was it a taunt? I mean, how can you taunt a guy who has appeared on the cover of High Times, holding a bushel of buds? Did I say that he loves seemingly little else? I most certainly did not.

Re: "The 2008 Willie Nelson album "Two Men with the Blues" that you called "ridiculous," was almost universally praised by critics (including the Washington Post), was #1 on the Billboard Jazz chart and #20 on the Billboard Pop chart."

I didn't call that album, or anything Nelson has done, ridiculous. But the editor who wrote the headline used the word to summarize the balance of Nelson's recent output so I'll give you a half-point there.

If you actually read my review before posting this, you'd see that I must've actually listened to the album that you say I never actually listened to, since I describe some of the songs in detail.

Again, thanks for playing.

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re: McLean, Va.: Are you answering questions or trying to start a flame war? : OMG, that is too funny. The person trying to start a flame war is accusing J Free of starting one so he can pretend to be all innocent.

J Free 1, McLean 0

Disagree all you want with reviews, but can't you do so with an intelligent post?

J. Freedom du Lac: I think I'm up 3-0 at this point.

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Twinbrook, Md.: So will my boys (7 & 11) be able to see what is going on at the Springsteen concert, or will everyone be standing on their seats the whole show?

J. Freedom du Lac: Standing. Unless they're behind Jann Wenner, who I saw at one of the Verizon shows. He was seated almost the entire time.

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Universal sentiment I've seen among the 18-25 crowd on my college campus has Boss > Prince.: Okay, but those are the same people who like Dave Matthews.

J. Freedom du Lac: Yes. And are wearing out "The Steve Miller Band Greatest Hits 1974-78." Not that I have anything against those songs, other than the fact that some of the kids in my dorm played them over. And over. And over. And over.

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Baltimore, Md.: Is Freedom Rock already over the Animal Collective lovefest? Any chance you or Malitz are going to profile the band before their stop in D.C.?

J. Freedom du Lac: Yes, there is a chance. But it's out of our hands at this point.

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Ashtabula, MS: a. Congrats on Baby Free;

b. I know you're a fan, but, in watching Sat. Night Live a few weeks back, I think I've cracked a mathematical code:

Avril Lavigne - Hot Topic = Taylor Swift

Which begs the question: please explain the lurve.

J. Freedom du Lac: Taylor writes great songs for the kids. She isn't singing' em so well live every time I see her on TV, but they work in recorded form. If I happened to be a 14 yr old girl, she'd probably be my favorite artist in the world.

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Last of the Breed: Sir, you wrote today about Willie: "The pairings have produced more misses than hits as Nelson's musical proffer has become wildly uneven. "

Good thing you did not include that superb collaboration with Merle and Ray as a miss, or we'd be throwing down right about now.

J. Freedom du Lac: Yeah, that was a fine album. Pretty nifty seeing them tour together, too.

Speaking of which, I just read that Jamey Johnson is opening some dates for Willie down south. That should be pretty cool. As will Jamey's May 14 date at the Birchmere.

If 2008 ended today, I think I'd probably reorder my Top 10 and put "That Lonesome Song" at No. 1.

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"Wenner...was seated almost the entire time. ": Wouldn't have mattered -- if Wenner stood, the 7-year-old could still see over him.

J. Freedom du Lac: Zing.

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"convenience charges" and "handling charges," : dc rollergirls tickets are $12 at the door. but i have heard of sell out crowds in the past so i bought on line. $8 convenience charge. $4 handling charge. $.55 something else. $24.55 in total. seriously?! by the way, not blaming the rollergirls. they are fabulous. ticketmaster NOT so fabulous.

J. Freedom du Lac: Posting...

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RE: Standing for Springsteen: Umm, come to Houston in April - we don't stand up for rock concerts here, unless the are heavy metal bands.

Thank you for your mention of Barry Zito - I could not remember his name for the life of me. We used to read his reviews all the time, just to find out how bad the show that we saw the night before sucked - Barry never failed to amaze

J. Freedom du Lac: Do you mean Tom Zito?

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Boss being camp: And what would you rather he do? Get political? Talk about the war? Gaza? Economic hard times? He's the Boss and I think he realizes that everyone knows it's pretty bad out there and don't need to be reminded of it EVERY. SECOND. OF. THEIR. LIVES. The Boss lived up to his reputation by helping us, just for a minute, put in the back of our minds everything else going on.

J. Freedom du Lac: Actually, I wanted to see him take out another camera.

How do people feel about the constant barrage of fireworks during the set? Very un-Bruce like.

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Washington, D.C.: Regarding five star reviews: I usually read RS's reviews as well as AllMusic.com's, which both use the 5-point scale. Which got me to thinking: How many albums out there really deserve five stars? As in, they couldn't possibly be any better? The Beatles could certainly claim 5 or 6, which is why they're the Beatles. The Who? Probably only 3. The Stones? Four, IMHO. Even great bands like REM: Probably only one (Automatic for the People).

J. Freedom du Lac: Pet Sounds. Please, you MUST include Pet Sounds on your list.

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my seating dilemma: I scored two sets of four for the 4/28 Philly show. One set is gen admin floor; the others are behind the stage. Do I get shoved around by fat, sweaty, old hairy dudes on the floor or take the seats where I can easily escape when Patti sings "Beer Run"?

J. Freedom du Lac: You take the GA floor every time, don't you? And then talk your way into the pit.

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RE: Ticketmaster: I enjoyed the hour long wait of "15 minutes or more" which actually started as less than 3 minutes of wait time before I got an error message saying the website was undergoing "routine maintenance." Of course, now the shows are sold out, though, I can buy some tickets on TicketsNow for 200% more than face value-assuming I'd be okay with being behind the stage.

J. Freedom du Lac: Just posting this.

Weirdly, I was able to buy tickets to Bruce's Nov 07 shows when they went on sale here. (Wound up giving them to Malitz Sr.) I didn't even try this time around; was at a coffeehouse talking folk music with Tom Paxton.

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Richmond, Va.: During the halftime show, I kept thinking "30 year old songs? Really?" Also I thought Clarence Clemons looked like a robot, or one of the "Three Most Important People in the World" from Bill & Ted.

J. Freedom du Lac: What, you wanted to hear "Queen of the Supermarket"?

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Neko Case: Any word on her new, soon-to-be-released CD ?

J. Freedom du Lac: Haven't heard it yet. Style's new music editor, Joe Heim, will be reviewing it for TWP.

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The Springsteen debate: OK, I'm biased, Springsteen was the first concert I ever saw (on the Born in the USA tour, 8/28/85), but I love him and always will. Have his last three albums strayed away from his past brilliant material? Yes, I guess. And while "Girls in Their Summer Clothes" may be a bit over-orchestrated and over-produced, I think there is a lushness and deepness to his voice that just floors me.

I think to be fair, Free, your taste runs a bit more to the alternative and away from the mainstream. But for a lot of us, Bruce was, is and will continue to be the Poet Laureate of the Quest for the American Dream.

J. Freedom du Lac: Geez, I guess I wasn't being fair when I put Bruce at No. 1 on my 2006 AND 2007 top concerts lists!

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Change the Subject: Going to the Super Bowl and going to a Bruce Springsteen concert: two of the things I am least likely to do in my one, all-too-brief and hitherto unfulfilled lifetime. Can we please change the subject? Suggestions: Little Joy, the Fleet Foxes and The Fall (particularly the way Mark E. Smith pronounces "hairSTYLE" in the song "Solicitor in Studio").

J. Freedom du Lac: OK, I'll change the subject.

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Disney teen idol Miley Cyrus has been accused of taunting and mocking Asians by making slant-eye poses in a personal photograph with her friends.

A snapshot of Cyrus, 16, best known as the star of the Disney Channel show "Hannah Montana", and friends posing with an Asian friend and pulling their eyes sideways surfaced on the Internet this week.

The OCA, a national organization in the United States dedicated to advancing the social and political welfare of Asian Pacific Americans, called on the singer-actress to apologize.

The group said the image "falls within a long and unfortunate history of people mocking and denigrating individuals of Asian descent."

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A prayer for the souls of the departed: I see the Bruce apologists are out in force.

Here's a thought: How about if he had shut up and just played? If he'd done that, maybe he wouldn't have had to skip a verse or more from every song.

J. Freedom du Lac: From Backstreets:

Tenth Avenue Freeze-out - 4 minutes

Born to Run - 3 minutes, 40 seconds

Working on a Dream - 1 minute, 40 seconds

Glory Days - 3 minutes, 20 seconds

20 seconds of outro/applause and out at 13:05

Though that doesn't break out the intro riff.

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Washington, D.C.: Thirty years ago, I would have sold my (yet unborn) first born child for good seats at a Springsteen show and I didn't know who Willie Nelson or Asleep at the Wheel was.

Today, I HATED Bruce's Super Bowl show and your review of Willie and AATW made my day.

I feel old (not your fault).

J. Freedom du Lac: "Willie and the Wheel" -- album of the year! (In 1939.)

I learned something interesting, by the way: Elizabeth McQueen, who did that great duet with Willie on "I'm Sittin' on Top of the World," spent part of her childhood in Columbia, Md. Who knew?!

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Vienna, Va.: What is you email address? I have a request more than 20 characters.

J. Freedom du Lac: dulacj at washpost dot com

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Fairness and Bruce: OK, something got lost in translation...I do know your regrad for Springsteen the live act. I guess I was referring more to your views of his studio work.

There are some acts, Springsteen among them, where they could record an album of them reading the phone book and I will still buy it and love it. Probably makes me an idiot, but I'm cool with that.

J. Freedom du Lac: There was a funny line in a magazine once about the Grammys. It had to do with Sting winning a Grammy for farting in a Ziploc. For some reason, this comment made me think of that.

I actually liked "Magic" OK as an album. But I have a fairly strong negative reaction to the lyrical content of "Working on a Dream."

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Raleigh, N.C.: Interesting that you mention that Springsteen has lost some of his speedball, yet talk up Prince, who is now a knuckleballer and Willie, who now throws underhand. Bruce used to be Koufax and now is Mike Cuellar.

Sort of out of context, but interesting nonetheless,,,,

J. Freedom du Lac: Nah, Springsteen used to be Greg Maddux and now he's Rick Ankiel.

Prince has put out some serious studio dogs, too, by the way. I'm referring to them as live performers, where all they do is miss bats. Or something.

And you're wrong about Willie. He's Luis Tiant.

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Re: "If 2008 ended today": You're in luck, it actually already did (ba-dump-bump).

J. Freedom du Lac: Boom-tsk.

Thanks for stopping by today, folks. Back to the salt mines and then onto the club.

Big night for live music tonight, with sold out shows all over the place: Antony, Andrew Bird, Passion Pit, Buddy Miller w those Americana angels...

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