Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Bruce Springstone Live at Bedrock

At the end of summer in 1982, a strange and wonderful record snuck onto the radio for a few weeks.

A singer with a fairly good Bruce Springsteen impression ran through what by then were already well-established Springsteen cliches: populist spoken word sections, fantastic sax solos, heartfelt wailing of a beloved girl's name, etc. Except the song was the theme from "Meet the Flintstones" and the spoken-word section was all about laborers getting off work at the quarry and powering stone cars with their feet.

The record (a 45 with "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" as the B-side, also in Springsteen style) was available in several of my favorite stores and after hearing it on the radio a few times, I forked over two dollars and bought it. The cover showed Fred Flintsone and Dino leaning against each other like Bruce and Clarence from Born to Run. I wondered who was responsible for these songs, but never found out and eventually forgot all about it. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

[Sorry, YouTube yanked the video after this was posted -- follow the above link to see/listen on MySpace, but embedding is disabled...]

Fast-forward nearly 27 years. I hear a live Bruce Springsteen song on XM radio and the structure of it reminds me exactly of Bruce Springstone. Years earlier, I might've wondered about it for a few days, then moved on. But today, music-lovers have an orgy of online facts and music at their fingertips.

So now I know that Bruce Springstone was the brainchild of Baltimore cartoonist/musician/writer Tom Chalkley (who used to perform Springsteen-ified versions of songs as a party trick). Chalkley sang lead and also drew the back cover image (Springsteen sliding into home plate while holding a guitar). Other musicians included drummer/cartoonist John Ebersberger (who drew the front cover), keyboardist and comics scholar Suzy Shaw, guitarist Craig Hankin (who also did the arrangements with Chalkley), and lead guitarist Tommy Keene.

Two years later, Keene's EP Places That Are Gone got rave reviews and led to a big record deal with Geffin. His album Songs From the Film (including the song "Places That Are Gone") was one of the highlights of the brief power-pop revival of the mid-80s. I couldn't find the "official" video online, but here's a pretty good live version from 1986:

According to Ask Mr. Pop History (and with a name like that, he must have massive cred), the Bruce Springstone single sold 35,000 copies before Hannah-Barbara slapped the musicians with a cease-and-desist order because they felt the cover art infringed on their trademarked images. (Since H-B is a cartoon company, I'm pretty sure their in-house lawyers must have been twirling their evil mustaches while they wrote that letter.)

And is it wrong to draw some solace from the knowledge that Fred Flintsone's stone-age lawyer is bound to get a hernia from lifting a briefcase filled with stone legal tablets?

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