What do Taylor Swift and Bruce Springsteen Have In Common?

Release Date: 23rd November, 2021

Hello, my friends! If like me you’ve been making up for lost time since NSW ended its (hopefully final) lockdown, I appreciate you making time to read these fortnightly letters.

It was appropriate timing in a way for me to finally release a project that began in the first lockdown, a totally new way of writing a song. Luke Davison from The Preatures (who also plays drums with me live) wrote a drum beat, Mike Bloom from Rilo Kiley added guitars, the late Nick Weaver from Deep Sea Arcade put down a beautiful bass line, Jim Lauderdale wrote a stunning melody and then I wrote the lyrics with a little help from my song sister Anita Lester. The result is my new Christmas single When Can I Touch You Again?, a song about a simmering longing between two people who have been kept apart since last Christmas but can’t wait to be with each other again. I’m so proud of the song, which we finished with Holy Holy’s Oscar Dawson producing and mixing a few months ago. Listen to it here and I hope to see some Insta stories with this pumping out at your Christmas dinners!

It’s been like lifeblood finally being able to gig again! My awesome mate Lindsay (and new mate Jay) from Frenzal Rhomb had me along as special guest on their first shows post-lockdown and now that I’ve tasted being back on stage I’m never stopping again. In fact, we’ve just announced a stack of shows through to the end of next March! I’m playing solo shows, festivals, my tribute to Joni Mitchell and my finally-rescheduled and really-happening-this-time band shows in Newcastle and Sydney in January.
But maybe most exciting is that I’ve been able to announce my special celebration to ring in the new year and the return of live music: my Second Annual Holiday Hootenanny is happening on Saturday 8 January. As usual, my band and I will be joined by a series of amazing guests through the night to play my songs, their songs and some surprise covers. If you can believe it, I’ve got Ali Barter, Anita Lester, Dan Kelly, Eilish Gilligan, Gretta Ray, I Know Leopard and Mo’Ju joining me for this one!

In my downtime and driving time in between all of this, I have been listening almost exclusively to Red (Taylor’s Version) since it dropped on November 12. As many of you know, I am an absolute Taylor Swift tragic. The first time I heard her music was when I walked into a Video Ezy (yes, you read that correctly) at age 14 and the music video for Love Story was playing on the store’s TV. Shortly after that, my guitar teacher showed me the song White Horse, and I was officially hooked.
Here was a young woman who was not only a powerful singer/songwriter, she was a smart and savvy business person, who could somehow simultaneously be both an aspirational role model and a best friend who grew up alongside me. Red is one of my favourite Taylor albums, and through this re-record, the artist finally owns her work, which brings me such joy, both for Taylor and for the precedent this works towards setting within the music industry.

I have been known to ruin a dinner party (or seven) by arcing up when someone makes a condescending comment about Taylor Swift. To me, even if for some reason you can’t get around any of the multiple genres she has explored over the course of her ground-breaking career (which seems a little unlikely, but sure), I feel it’s irrefutable that she deserves immense respect for her artistry and what she’s managed to achieve thus far. I put Taylor Swift firmly in the camp of the most important, influential artists of our time, and that got me thinking. Although her haters would be quick to scoff, in many ways, Taylor Swift is extremely similar to another artist I put firmly in that G.O.A.T. camp – Bruce Springsteen. Here’s why…

  1. An emphasis on storytelling
    “Well, I’ve been looking for a job, but it’s hard to find. Down here, it’s just winners and losers and don’t get caught on the wrong side of that line. I’m tired of coming out on this losing end, so honey, last night I met this guy and I’m gonna do a little favour for him…” – Atlantic City – Bruce Springsteen.

“I didn’t have it in myself to go with grace, and you’re the hero flying around, saving face. And if I’m dead to you, why are you at the wake? Cursing my name, wishing I stayed, look at how my tears ricochet.” – My Tears Ricochet – Taylor Swift.

Both Taylor and Bruce have a focus on storytelling which has underpinned their songwriting success. When I listen to both artists, I feel similarly engrossed in the narrative they’re laying out. Springsteen is known for his ability to perfectly capture the struggles of the working class and the downtrodden – people who find nobility in trying their best, in getting up every day and trying to make a better life, no matter what is stacked against them and their own human flaws, people like Bruce’s dad and the people he grew up with in New Jersey. Whether it’s the man trying to tempt the woman he desperately loves into cheating in I’m On Fire, the young couple struggling with poverty and unplanned pregnancy in The River, the couple putting up a front despite their inevitable doom in Brilliant Disguise or the Vietnam vet betrayed by his country in Born in the USA, Bruce paints vivid characters with depth and detail even in his shortest songs.
For Taylor, the vast majority of her songs are, pun somewhat intended, love stories. Whether she’s singing as the betrayed (Dear John), the betrayer (Back to December), the naïve girl flushed with love (Our Song) or the sage older sister (Fifteen), the woman at the heart of the narrative (All Too Well) or the narrator (No Body, No Crime), she shares Bruce’s quality of packing a movie-length story into a three or four minute song. At first, her songs were more romantic comedies than Bruce’s gritty epics, but over the arc of her stunningly rich career, she’s plumbed the darkest parts of the heart as well as the frothiest highs of love – the insecurities, rage, joy and desperation of it all.
They are also both masters of controlling their own stories. While many artists will lie and claim they don’t give a shit what people think about them, Bruce and Taylor both know the value of being the people to tell their own stories, outside of just what they put in their song lyrics.
Bruce has used interviews, on stage speeches, documentaries and his incredible memoir to shape how we understand his place in America, his relationship with his bandmates and the emotional journey he has been on over the fifty years of his career.
Taylor has used her incredible command of social media, her power in the industry and even the way she releases (and now re-records) her music to tell a story about what her music means and also how artists and women in particular are treated in the music industry. She’s used this storytelling power to validate the emotions of her largely female fanbase, to skewer attempts at painting her as crazy or overly emotionally, and to make a generation of women believe they could do what she did, in the way Bruce did for a generation of poor kids.

  1. Raw emotion
    “And there we are again when nobody had to know. You kept me like a secret but I kept you like an oath. Sacred prayer, and we’d swear to remember it all too well… And you call me up again just to break me like a promise, so casually cruel in the name of being honest. I’m a crumpled-up piece of paper lying here, ‘cause I remember it all too well…” – All Too Well (10 Minute Version) – Taylor Swift.

“But I remember us riding in my brother’s car, her body tan and wet, down at the reservoir. At night on them banks, I’d lie awake and pull her close just to feel each breath she’d take. Now those memories come back to haunt me, they haunt me like a curse. Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse that sends me down to the river, though I know the river is dry…” – The River – Bruce Springsteen.

I’m not sure there are any two artists who can leave me in pieces on the floor with their lyrics like Springsteen and Swift can. The pure emotional intellect and songwriting prowess it takes to understand how to make certain lines hit as powerfully as theirs do is admirable, and I often find myself thinking while writing, “What would Taylor/Bruce do for maximum emotional impact here?”

  1. Delivering the ultimate live shows
    Both Taylor and Bruce possess a showmanship on stage that is unstoppable. I’ve seen them both live multiple times, and while their shows might have different kinds of production elements, both artists command the stage in a similarly inspiring way.
    They both want to empty the tank for their fans, and are relentless in working at every aspect of the performance until it’s impossible to leave the show not entertained.
    They can take you from the power of lights blaring, drums pumping, darting across the stage to the intensity of sitting down solo at the piano or guitar and having a whole stadium lean in to listen to every word they’re singing, breaking your heart.
    Every time they step out on stage, they want it to be your favourite gig of all time and they put the fucking work in to make that happen.
  2. Being both unattainable and girl/boy next door
    Normally a great artist is one of two things – sometimes the sexiest, coolest person you’ve ever seen. You couldn’t imagine talking to them, let alone what it’s like to be them. Beyonce. Mick Jagger.
    Sometimes they’re just like you, or at least it seems like it. You half expect to run into them when you go for a drink after the show, because you listen to their music and it seems like they just get everything you’re going through and they just want to help you through it. Courtney Barnett. Jimmy Barnes.
    Somehow, Bruce and Taylor are both. Bruce is as handsome at 72 as he was at 27, Taylor is the classic blonde all-American beauty. Their album sales are bigger than the populations of most countries. They’re probably on you or your partner’s free pass list. But they also both manage to see into you, a person they don’t know even exists, and tell your story in their songs. Somehow, they get it.
    Bruce knows you work your ass off and your boss is an asshole and sometimes you don’t feel like getting up in the morning to grind it away again, and when you see him drenched in sweat at the end of a three hour set, it’s like he works so hard as a tip of the cap to you and your day to day struggle.
    Taylor knows every douchebag who’s led you on, every lover who’s broken your heart, every crush you dare not speak of, every man who’s treat you like you’re less than, every fear you have about your future. She knows you’re a dork sometimes, and that’s fine, she is too. But she’s there to tell you that you can survive it all and it’s worth keeping your heart open whatever happens.
    Because in the end, what these two have in common the most is that they teach us that what matters is to try and keep trying; that holding on to even a sliver of hope and putting yourself out there again is what makes life worth living. It’s what makes them the people we wish we could be, and in some ways the people we already are.

Okay, enough gushing about my favourite artists from me. I MISS YOU. I can’t wait to see you on the road, so click here and find out where we can be together again in person! 😊

See you soon,
IC x