Aug 082010

Not only did The Band and Martin Scorcese manage to squeeze at least 4 dozen troops on stage to join Bob Dylan for the singing of “I Shall Be Released,” the singers are strategically placed around the mics in a way that speaks to the greater good. All musicians in this performance are equally not-as-prominent as Dylan, a skill that the E Street Band perfected in support of The Boss once The Big Man accepted his demotion.

At the 1:05 mark, watch how Robbie Robertson, the undisputed leader of The Band and Scorcese’s partner in crime in this cinematic send-off, sings his heart out from nearly 3 feet away from Dylan’s mic. Robbie must have known that his voice wouldn’t be picked up, but his effort at being heard would lift Dylan’s message. Very Iwo Jima-esque.

At the 1:20 mark, check out Ronnie Hawkins merely bopping along, nowhere near a mic, with a beer in his hand. This would be a key frame for the rapidly ascending E Street Band. As reported in a 1986 supplement to Backstreets, Bruce, then in the middle of his “next Dylan”/Time/Newsweek media blitz, watched this film in a private screening with His band. “Can you freeze that frame!” he yelled up to the projectionist, “Clarence,” he exhorted, “that’s the kind of support I need when you’re not blowin’ your horn! If I don’t get that level of support we’re never gonna rise above!”

The proto-Iwo Jima alignment begins to falter when Richard Manuel takes a verse from his piano stool. Taking note of this, The Boss even found a way to work his own pianist, the late Roy Bittan into a touching show of strength and unity.

Freeze this clip at the 2:33 mark for yet another example of the certainty of The Boss’ coming Rock ‘n Roll Iwo Jima. All coked-up up eyes but Van Morrison‘s are on Dylan as he’s about to reclaim the lead vocal. (Van probably wanted to make sure the head on his Guiness was being prepared properly.) Bassist Rick Danko is hunched over to provide ballast. Any day, now/Any way, now… Neil Young is so dazzled by the thought of possibly achieving rock’s first Iwo Jima that you know he’s the wide-eyed wonder who’s finally going to get it between the eyes in Act 3.

Let the clip roll again and see how Joni Mitchell, unfazed by the heroics of this band of brothers, sets the stage for The Boss’ own Eula Goodnight, a strong-willed, strawberry blond, shotgun-capable woman in the guise of Patti Scialfa.

It’s likely that I’ve missed some key moments in the development of Bruce Springsteen and His E Street Band’s Rock ‘n Roll Iwo Jima, but I hope this helps establish this key moment in rock and enables other bands to build from their work. Please use the Comments to this thread to flesh out any gaps in my research. Thank you.


  13 Responses to “Rock ‘n Roll Iwo Jima”

  1. hrrundivbakshi

    A timeless post, and a welcome addition to the RTH Glossary of Terms, Mod. Just one thing: it’s spelled “cavalry.”

  2. I want to suggest that a true Rock Iwo Jima requires both a tilted mic stand and an upraised arm from one of the triumphal crew.

  3. Mr. Moderator

    Corrected, hrrundi. Thanks. After 2 days spent blazing through the southern regions of Colorado we’re settled in New Mexico. Even the boys are growing beards for this trip. This part of the country is AMAZING! WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

  4. hrrundivbakshi

    New Mexico totally kicks ass. Me and the missus took the Airstream down there last year. Hope you’re doing nearby stuff, too, like Canyon de Chelly in AZ. Willyou be doing Mesa Verde? It’s pretty boss, too. Love the desert Southwest!

  5. Mr. Moderator

    We’re now based in Taos for the week. We drove from Denver to Alamosa yesterday and then climbed giant sand dunes near there this morning. We stopped at the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, or whatever it’s called, about a half hour ago. I just love the land in this part of the country. My oldest son and I have already begun discussions about the need to buy leather cowboy hats.

  6. hrrundivbakshi

    Glad (?) to see you’re passing on the fine floppy leather hat tradition on to your son. I must correct you, however: proper “cowboy hats” are made of pressed felt — sometimes straw. I suppose there could be a few made of leather, but these would be gimmicks, I think. Teach your children well!

  7. Mr. Moderator

    What’s the material of the hat Eastwood wears in those Sergio Leone movies? You callin’ Clint a gimmicky sort? Regardless, I like the cut of that hat. We will look into straw hats, but the Peace Warriors don’t wear the traditional pressed felt hats of traditional cowboys. It’s just not right, man.

  8. BigSteve

    I can dig the Phalanx concept, but I always thought the Rock Iwo Jima meant hoisted/crossed guitars a la Blue Oyster Cult. I can only find this photo to give some idea of what I mean:

    Isn’t there a more famous album cover shot of them doing this kind of thing where the guitars are held higher, more like a flag being raised?

  9. Mr. Moderator

    Just two guitarists dueling like that don’t have the uplifting Iwo Jima effect. I’m not sure what the military procedure is called, but what BOC does is more like that stuff military groups do for show – when the one guy in the silver helmet calls out something and everyone flips his gun or cocks it.

  10. Mr. Moderator

    I think eh is onto something!

  11. 1)Roy Bittan is not dead. The E Street Band did however, lose keyboardist Danny Federici to melanoma in 2008. 2)I do remember seeing Blue Oyster Cult do what they called “The Five Guitar Attack” where each member would strap on an guitar, line up across the stage and belt out some jam. I cannot recall what they would play, but it was pretty cool and only outdone by thier spectacular laser extravaganza.

  12. Mr. Moderator

    pepe, I STAND CORRECTED! Roy Bittan has long added nothing to the music of The Boss. The organ guy, on the other hand, was more useful since Born to Run. Thanks.

  13. alexmagic

    I challenge the focal guitar aspect of a properly-executed Rock Iwo Jima. What’s needed is multiple (at least four?) band members in proximity, preferably leaning on one another, in a way that creates a slanted pyramid/triangle design.

    The apex of a Rock Iow Jima could be a a guitar up where the flag would be, but when executed by the E-Street Band, I’d say the apex of the Rock Iwo Jima is most likely to be the Big Man’s raised saxaphone or (best case scenario and most befitting of comparison to the American flag) Springsteen’s head.

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