King of New Jersey and apple of my scruff-loving eye, Bruce Springsteen is called the Boss for a reason: you don’t mess with him. In my copious years of music listening, I have come to realize that there are some artists you just cannot cover. Bruce is one. Of course, there are some exceptions: Paul Baribeau, folk-punk beardo and magnum crooner, took on a host of Springsteen’s catalog to great success, while dad-rockers The Hold Steady cover the boss with a disturbing accuracy. These, though, are two positive cases in a sea of horribleness.
The more unpleasant attempts span many genres, from a horrendous disco-ified Bowie rendition of “It’s Hard to be a Saint in the City” to Owen Ashworth’s depressing versions of “Streets of Philadelphia” and “Born in the USA” as Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. And in assessing these fleeting ventures, it would seem that one needs not only the chops but intentions to fully service every element of the song–regardless of proposed insignificance. A somewhat authentic rendition is key otherwise the song falls apart. Springsteen’s tracks depend on a perfect mixture of lush, unpredictable sound and gorgeously relateable lyrics; a quirky take turns what is sincere and poignant into a messy, tongue-in-cheek mockery.
This dire ambivalence in regards to sung words over implied words struck me the most last night, while observing Ezra Koenig and company performing an unimpressive version of “I’m Goin’ Down.” I’d like to think that the irony of four suburban, white-collar kids in boat shoes and polo shirts singing their hearts out to an anthem of small town simplistic pride was what I found mediocre, but at the most basic aural level, Vampire Weekend was unable to perform the song in a fashion that did it justice.
A well pulled off Bruce Springsteen cover is much more than an additional track to add to your setlist–it is a fantastic asset for the conveyance of musical versatility, band ingenuity, and personal integrity. Artists should treat these tracks as sacred. I beg of musicians everywhere: respect the boss.