Take Cover! Damien Jurado & Rosie Thomas Vs. Bruce Springsteen

When is a cover song better than the original? Only you can decide. This week Damien Jurado & Rosie Thomas take on Bruce Springsteen’s “Wages Of Sin.” MAGNET’s Ryan Burleson pulls the pin. Take cover!

The Boss’ haunting and sad “Wages Of Sin” originally appeared on Tracks, a four-disc boxed set released in 1998 filled with b-sides and alternate recordings of previously released material. Personally, I came to know it by Badlands: A Tribute To Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, which, perhaps oddly for a music writer, I’d heard before actually hearing the original, demo-filled folk album that many consider the greatest achievement of his charmed career. However, despite the tribute album being released by the well-respected Sub Pop label (we assume label execs working at that level do their homework), there does seem to be some dispute about whether “Wages Of Sin” was recorded during the Nebraska sessions or for Born In The U.S.A. (As for me, the stark, insular nature of the song makes it pretty clear, but I’d love some clarification in the comments section if you fancy yourself a Boss aficionado.)

Either way, “Wages Of Sin”—like the rest of Nebraska and, in many ways, Darkness On The Edge Of Town and The Ghost Of Tom Joad—gives us a look at the Springsteen many of us prefer over the E Street Band-backed, blue-collar symbol of Reagen-era patriotism. (For the record, I love the E Street Band and, in a classic sense, patriotism, but those influences aren’t as kind to Springsteen’s music, in my opinion, as Americana lit and the folk singers of yore.) It’s a love song, but one that wrestles with consequences. We don’t know what “sin” the Boss is referring to, but it’s clear that his indiscretions have wrought intense pain at home. Clothes are strewn about; conversation is non-existent. And all he wants to do is flee some persistent evil, to not be stricken with the sense that mankind can never be truly good. “Dancing In The Dark” is fine enough, but these are the kinds of songs that make a mark that won’t as quickly be forgotten. Brilliantly, in 1982, they were being recorded by one of the biggest pop stars in the world.

The severely undervalued Damien Jurado has been making “Wages Of Sin”-esque material since his debut in the late-’90s. In particular, The Ghost Of David, Now That I’m In Your Shadow and, more recently, Saint Bartlett are brimming over with characters who want more from their marriages and their gods, their sons and their fellow countrymen. So when the Seattle songwriter took on “Wages Of Sin,” assisted by the angelic vocals of Rosie Thomas, he was treading familiar waters. Indeed, in many ways the song sounds like a Jurado number: sad but devoid of melancholy, each simply performed note and beat all perfectly submissive to the larger story. One walks away from the best Jurado material with the sense that he just stared into the face of every conflicted American failing in an endeavor to do his best. A depressing picture, to be sure, but we somehow feel better because of it—affirmed in the knowledge that our “wages” are shared.

The Cover:

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The Original:

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8 Comments

  1. Bill
    Posted August 4, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    Well, nice try guys. I ‘m so glad that you recognize the master, but Bruce’s subtle, but powerful original can’t be matched, hands down.

  2. Alex
    Posted August 4, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    Springsteen recorded “Wages of Sin” in May of ’82, several months after the tracks on Nebraska were recorded, so technically it was part of a very early Born in the USA session.

  3. Sonny
    Posted August 5, 2011 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Get your facts straight, you lazy fuck. Springsteen ripped Reagan a new asshole for misappropriating–and completely misunderstanding–Born in the USA. And Bruce and the E Street Band’s “patriotism” has never been about the kind you find wrapped in the flag, as in “the last refuge of a scoundrel.” You prefer his solo stuff to his work with the band, fine. Just invest the time to get the truth before you reveal yourself to be the hack you obviously are.

  4. Posted August 5, 2011 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    It would be good for a MUSIC magazine to get things right – if the gentleman writing this article ever listened to Born in the USA, he would know it is NOT a patriotic song. It is a sad commentary on what many returning vets faced after Vietnam. This song has been dissected and interpreted many times over, and I cannot understand how it has yet again been interpreted wrong here.
    As to this vote, Bruce gets mine – infinitely better than the cover.

  5. Kevin Jeffers
    Posted August 5, 2011 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Wow people can be rude. Thanks for allowing us to hear both. Gotta give it to Bruce though, it works better as a solo than a duet I think.

  6. ryan
    Posted August 7, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    @Sonny and Linda, thanks for your comments. Please note that I refer to Springsteen as a “symbol” of a certain kind of patriotism, not that he emulated right-wing patriotism itself. I agree with your assessments. Also, nowhere in my piece did I say that his patriotism was the same as Reagan’s or his ilk. I’m suggesting that he was made, without his approval, into an icon of something he didn’t ideologically mesh with and, further, that my personal preference is for his more stripped down material. Moreover, I was talking about Born in the USA the album, not the song. Just speaking to two different sides of Springsteen.

  7. Mike
    Posted August 8, 2011 at 5:31 am | Permalink

    Well lets face it,can you better Bruce,this is not a good cover,my own is much better.From London,I understood Born in the USA from start,so why its misunderstood,Idon’t know.

  8. t. drew hardin
    Posted August 28, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    Sonny and Linda, unfortuantely, Ryan Burleson has a point. Nowhere does he make a comment on the song “Born in the U.S.A.” per se and if he did, I am betting a magazine subscription it would agree with the starkness you talk about. Also, Mr. Burleson points out that the “E-Street Band-backed, blue-collar symbol of Reagan-era patriotism” takes a back seat to a Springsteen many would prefer, the Nebraskas and The Ballad of Tom Joads. As for the quote itself, I am betting TWO magazines subscriptions that the “blue collar symbol of Reagan-era patriotism” refers to the blue collar they can identify with, the one where Springsteen struggled as a child because his parents, hard-working as they were always were treading water financially (pretty stark it sounds like) and not the blue collar patriotism that appears in Chevy commercials with “Like a Rock” or “This is our Country” accompanying in the background , a blue collar that just happened to appear when Reagan was President. In other words, this Springsteen-like patriotism would have appeared in Bozo the Clownera patriotism. That said, Bruce gets my vote because he always delivers. My Dad and I are major Springsteen fans and the reason why is because he just commands the stage and the airwaves. But Damien Jurado is severly undervalued desrves much better. I, for one, will spread his name.