The performer and the musician

In he the space of a weekend, I’ve read two profiles of musicians. The first was on Friday: the profile of Justin Bieber in Rolling Stone by Josh Eells. Then today, there was a 15,000 word profile of Bruce Springsteen by David Remnick in The New Yorker. I enjoy reading profiles and these two were timed in such a way as to lead someone like me to make comparisons. Recently I wrote about hard work and the musicians in the spotlight in each of these profiles seem to represent opposite ends of the hard work spectrum.

I knew almost nothing about Justin Bieber going into that profile. While the profile itself was well done, I came away unimpressed with Bieber. He came across as deliberately incomprehensible. In addition, he came across as being lazy:

Every once in a while, in keeping with his duties as a professional music star, Justin Bieber participates in the making of music. It doesn’t appear to take long–he works in chunks of 45 minutes or so–but it’s the part of the process he loves the most.

Contrast this with the portrait of Bruce Springsteen, who, at 62 years old, is pushing some of his shows to nearly 4 hours long and summoning high energy throughout the show. While I have never been a huge Springsteen fan, his work ethic impressed me in the same way the work ethics of actors and actresses of old impressed me; the same way the work ethics of some writers impress me. There is a notion, I think, that to be an artist requires creativity, but not much in the way of hard work. Perhaps it’s performers like Bieber who help to bolster this cliche; and musicians like Springsteen who tear it down.

I found the Springsteen profile fascinating. Indeed, it made me want to reconsider Springsteen’s music. I’ve never disliked his music, it just hasn’t been the thing that I reach for the way I will, say, Def Leppard’s Pyromania album.

Then, too, perhaps I am being to harsh. After all, I’ve passed that point where young musicians (or performers) look like my peers; now they look more like kids in high school. And older musicians like Springsteen have been around as long as I can remember. Perhaps I have simply grown conservative in my idea of what a musician and/or performer should be. It’s not like I’ve ever listened to a JB (as he refers to himself in the profile) song. So I did. I grabbed the song that the profile said was his latest hit, “Boyfriend.” It has a nice beat to hit, but it seems awfully repetitive. It certainly was no loss leader for me to pick up the album.

Perhaps more than anything else, the two profiles highlighted the difference for me between a performer (Bieber) and a musician (Springsteen). That latter is the full package. The latter is the guy who, like Bing Crosby, will be up all night working on his lines until he has them just right–then come to the set (or stage, as the case may be) bright-eyed and ready to go. The former seems to be just along for the ride. (“I love what I do. I love performing. I love being famous.”) There’s nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but there’s something more appealing to me about the artist that has to sweat it out and give their all.


  1. I’ve seen Bruce in concert at least 15 times .. starting in the 1978 for the first time. He puts everything he has in to every show. I have never felt cheated or ripped off at any springsteen concert. I would say the average bruce show is around 3 hrs and 15-20 mins .. sometimes longer, sometimes shorter. He has the most loyal fans I think of any artist. It helps that he keeps himself in shape, stays out of public trouble, gives to the poor .. and writes quality songs.

    Nice article Jamie. I can feel you moving to the Bruce side of things .. if you little a little nudge .. just ask 🙂

      1. Ironically, given your admiration for his work ethic, Nebraska is the simplest and least-polished album that Springsteen has ever released. It was originally recorded as a demo tape for the full band to learn the songs from, but in the end they decided that the acoustic version was more powerful.

        I really like Wrecking Ball, the new album, and feel it’s his best work in a long time. And I’d recommend any of the concert DVDs that he’s released. The Live in Hyde Park concert is the most recent, and provides a decent idea of what his concerts are like nowadays.

        1. Kevin, I picked up that album because it sounded interesting in the profile and I didn’t want to pick up an album that I’d heard before. I’ve listened to about half of it and I really like it. The title track is haunting. I’ll pick up Wrecking Ball later this week and let you know what I think.


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