Sunday, August 3, 2014

Keith Olbermann keeps proving that not all reclamation attempts have satisfying endings

I’ve heard lots of firearm and blunt-object references to describe Keith Olbermann’s broadcasting style.
For those comparisons to be accurate, the person being described must have the requisite power and strength. That’s not the case here.
If Olbermann is a sledgehammer, he’s a Nerf sledgehammer.
If he’s a battering ram, he’s hollow and made of plastic.
If he’s a revolver, he fires blanks - thunderously loud, yet harmless blanks.
His reputation doesn’t jive with who he really is.
Not the part about turning into an intolerable malcontent at nearly every stop he’s made in his professional life. That’s true.
Not the part about his bosses inevitably tiring of his anti-authority attitude to the point they’re left with no choice but to fire him or force him to quit. That’s true, too.
Not the part about having undeniable broadcasting skill and a work ethic that, when turned all the way up, can translate into a television piece that makes grown men weep and convinces groups of impressionable people to parrot his words when they’re ready to climb atop their own soapboxes. Admittedly, that’s also true.
No, the part of his reputation that doesn’t jive is the notion of him being a fearless leader. That isn’t true of someone who relies too much on squaring up to a camera to read long opinion statements and who only invites comfort guests to his show.
In his own head, Olbermann probably thinks he can wield influence - which he did at MSNBC, in terms of driving ratings and changing the culture there.
Nowadays he wants nothing to do with MSNBC and the person who now wears the star tag, Rachel Maddow, has shown a capacity to exceed even Olbermann’s talent. That, more than anything else, is probably the reason he doesn’t have a relationship with any of his former NBC News colleagues.
A year ago, ESPN decided to give Olbermann another chance. I’ve lost precise count, but I’d say it was probably the fifth or sixth time Olbermann was rescued by a network after losing out on a previous job for being a such a menace - to the point someone once famously used napalm as a metaphor to describe his messy exit.
Olbermann’s returns to television are never unexpected. Following his embarrassing employment termination in March 2012 from Current TV, David Carr of the New York Times wrote, “It seems as if his next stop will be a puppet show shot from a basement somewhere. He’ll never work in this town, or any other, again, right? Wrong … the fact of the matter is that somewhere, sometime, after some kind of cooling-off period, Mr. Olbermann will be coming to a television near you.”
It took 16 months, but it happened. The length of the cooling-off period was the only part that was surprising.
ESPN’s rehire of Olbermann in the summer of 2013 was also the third time a network gave him another chance after he failed to behave himself or perform reliably during his prior stops.
Talent matters. It apparently causes memory loss, too.
Olbermann was up to some old, now tired tricks last week when he called upon NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to resign during a broadcast of Olbermann’s self-entitled show on ESPN2. Olbermann didn’t think Goodell answered his critics effectively enough when he explained his reasoning behind the lighter-than-expected penalty he imposed against Ray Rice, the Baltimore Ravens running back who admitted to knocking his wife unconscious last year during a fight in a casino elevator in New Jersey.
Rice isn’t allowed to play the first two games of the season. People everywhere understandably agreed it was too lenient.
On Friday night, hours after Goodell addressed the media for the first time, Olbermann belted out a diatribe he knew was going to make headlines - and make a few network executives squirm. Maybe he even thought he could put a scare into Goodell or perhaps spark a #fireGoodell movement via Twitter. Or maybe he thinks he has rehabbed his reputation enough so that enough people will like the song no matter the notoriety of the singer.
“This is enough,” Olbermann said, as if he’s the one who gets to set limits on a CEO’s perceived public missteps. “If there had been some recognition today, some form of acknowledgement for the women fans of the NFL, that this two-game suspension is a virtual attack on them perhaps these following words would not be necessary, but for the sake of the NFL - and more importantly for the sake of those women and all others (and) all of us in a country in which this is so much more than a mere sports league - it is necessary, Mr. Goodell, for you to now resign as its commissioner.”
With that earnest expression of his, Olbermann took an extra second or so to stare longer into the camera. Sans the Edward R. Murrow catch phrase, it’s a look millions have seen many times over - one me and countless others have grown tired of seeing, but it’s sure to still elicit a warm feeling among others who can’t see through the overconfidence.
It was another example, to me, of Olbermann’s lack of courage. How gutsy is it to write a script and read it (with a heavy use of inflections) into a camera? More on that later.
On the topic of the Rice suspension and Olbermann’s self-indulgent rant, how does a more severe suspension fix the domestic violence epidemic in this country? Yes, Rice's suspension was too light, but even after conceding that, how can Olbermann let his anger, if genuine, become so misguided? It's actually weird in this case how he aims almost all of his venom at a man who had nothing to do with the criminal act itself. Additionally, not once did he mention Ravens ownership, which also could have issued a punishment. Olbermann’s fury isn’t real to me. It comes off choreographed.

[And for the record, didn't Goodell's predecessor allow a player to continue to play football not only after he was convicted of DUI manslaughter, but also after he was investigated for continued criminal behavior (including a second incident of DUI)? Didn't one player accused of sexually battering a 17-year-old girl in a hot tub only get a ONE-GAME suspension under the Tagliabue regime? Goodell actually has been better and more consistent compared to other league commissioners. That's abundantly clear to most people. He's also been the opposite of arbitrary whenever he's decided to dole out punishment. He aimed too low with the Rice suspension, but Rice's public humiliation should not go overlooked - and neither should the fact that Rice, his wife, the couple's attorneys, the arresting police officer and assistant state attorney are possibly the only ones who have more information about the crime than Goodell. It was a calculated decision to suspend Rice for two games. Less than it should have been? Absolutely, but there was reasoning behind it. It’s definitely not something that should generate such an explosive reaction. It should also be noted that Goodell is the son of a Republican U.S. senator.]

It’s upsetting how Olbermann still has a stage. Furthermore, it’s positively infuriating that so many sports bloggers and viewers/readers feel the need to hold him to such high esteem. Nothing positive comes out of these “special comments.” He's not railing against an unjust war on a primetime opinion news show anymore. He’s just being an obnoxious talking head on a sports channel. We already have too many of those.
While on the topic of Olbermann’s history with news networks …

Countdown drama

Not long after Olbermann began a routine of giving special comments at the end of his MSNBC show “Countdown,” he would start off by saying, “As promised, a special comment about …” and proceed to lambaste someone for 10 minutes. It was often about President Bush, or someone prominent in that administration, or Bill O’Reilly, or Sarah Palin or someone who oftentimes warranted criticism (but probably a little less than what Olbermann was spitting at them). Sometimes, however, indifference works best against right-wing celebrity provocateurs, a concept Olbermann clearly doesn’t understand.
Perhaps the best example of Olbermann’s penchant for ultra-sensitivity was during the 2008 Democratic primary season when he loudly criticized then-Sen. Hillary Clinton’s reason for staying in the race at least through July. She mentioned the assassination of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy during the 1968 primary following a victory speech in Los Angeles.
Olbermann’s temper boiled over because he felt it was inappropriate for Clinton to utter the word “assassination” at a time when a black man was on the verge of being elected president.
“Those words, Senator? You actually invoked the nightmare of political assassination? …”
“You, Senator … cannot say this!”
He called it an “insensitive and heartless thing” to say two weeks shy of the 40th anniversary of Kennedy’s slaying.
He said it opened the door to Clinton’s soul and revealed that whatever was inside was “not only troubling, but frightening.”
It gets even worse, much worse. Even for those rooting for an Obama victory and even for those who agreed that it was puzzlingly careless for Clinton to choose the words she used, it had to have been uncomfortable to watch.
(View it here:
Olbermann’s frequent special comments stirred a lot of feelings and generated a new batch of viewers. The network’s ratings spiked. Olbermann didn’t just speak into a camera, as he explained to Carr when he interviewed him for a magazine article years ago, he looked through the box and into the lens and saw the inner workings of it. It’s as though staring deeply into the camera made the viewer feel as though he was doing more than just pontificating. He was channeling. He was feeding. He felt a certain way and he was going to make sure his 1 million-plus viewers felt the same way.
He was at the height of his narcissism. He was plump and ripe then. It didn’t take long for the rot to set in.
His on-air sarcasm and off-air tension with management meant he couldn’t cover the 2008 election. David Gregory took over and he and Chris Matthews were relegated to the sidelines. He departed the network nearly six months later.
Olbermann told the Hollywood Reporter in June 2011, as he prepared for his new gig at Current, that everything changed for him at MSNBC after Tim Russert died. Olbermann always crowed about Russert. He wanted everyone to know how chummy they were. He lost his closest ally at the network, he said.
There was nothing not to like about the former host of “Meet the Press.” I recall seeing Russert getting angry or combative on the air twice. The first time was during an interview with then-Secretary of State Colin Powell because someone pulled the camera away while Powell was answering questions about Iraq (Russert voiced his displeasure and Powell promptly ordered the camera to be moved back and continued with the interview).
The other time was while he interviewed former Klansman David Duke, a man who once ran for governor of Louisiana as a Republican.
Of course, when it came time for Olbermann to eulogize Russert on air, he showed the Duke interview. I’m sure he showed the Powell interview, too.
No one remembers or wishes to remember Russert as someone who flashed anger or aggression to get his questions answered or his point across. He was brilliant at doing the opposite. He was strong and confident, but genteel. He used kindness to cut through zealotry. Olbermann chose to show Russert being out of character.
It’s almost like Olbermann exploited his deceased friend to prove something to his audience - that Republicans are evil racists and that it’s essential to belittle and ridicule them.
Olbermann kissed up to Tom Brokaw when they first shared the camera. Once Olbermann caught wind of Brokaw disapproval of Olbermann’s frankness (and open liberal bias), that love affair ended. Reports were that Brokaw, who was retired as anchor of “NBC Nightly News,” but still providing analysis for NBC News, had his airtime reduced on the cable network at the behest of a petulant Olbermann.
I don’t know whether it’s true, but I hope it isn’t. It’s appalling to think network executives kowtowed to Olbermann while stiff-arming Brokaw.
Let’s assume it was true. Olbermann didn’t repay that loyalty. His hatred of authority figures ultimately led to his acrimonious exit from MSNBC. The Hollywood Reporter published a quote from a network executive who said, “He’s the kind of person that the higher the rank of the person who asks him to stop doing something, the less likely he is to comply. He has a pretty serious authority issue.”
Olbermann said in the same article that he makes management uncomfortable because nobody else questions it, only him.
“I stand up to people,” he said.

Current expectations weren’t met - by anyone

Olbermann only worked one year of his five year, $50 million contract at Current. Months before his firing, he was conveying grievances to his executives, including Al Gore, and did so through his attorneys. How does a man claim to stand up to bullies when he doesn’t have the courage to pick up the phone and call - or better yet, barge into a manager’s office and express what he’s feeling?
They had a $50 million investment in him. He had leverage. He could say “fuck you” to any one of his bosses and probably get away with it. Instead, he hid behind his lawyers.
He shirked his responsibilities, too, according to media reports.
The New York Times reported Olbermann refused to do a primary special in January 2012 after his bosses assigned it. He missed several days of work that month and the next month - the heart of the primary season.
He took a vacation day - on the day before Super Tuesday, according to the same Times article.
During his stint at Current, Olbermann was a guest on “Real Time with Bill Maher.” The host of that show, who like Olbermann is a Cornell University alum, is someone who Olbermann admires passionately. Maher was obviously won over by Olbermann, too - probably because they have so much in common politically.
Maher talked about how his current job at HBO was so much better than the old job he had hosting “Politically Incorrect” on ABC. The major network fired him for statements he made six days after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and while he still maintains some bitterness, he acknowledged on that show, to Olbermann, he was much happier in “the lily fields of HBO.” He asked Olbermann whether he felt the same about his shift from MSNBC to Current.
Olbermann didn’t do well with that question.
“Well, yeah, there’s a balance to it, which is unfortunately (sic) ‘cause now I’m in, I’m in charge of the operation so my life is a living hell. I mean, just by … by being in charge of it.”
“Really?” Maher asked.
“Yeah, you have to do ..
“You have to know the names of the people of the staff now…”
“Oh no,” Maher said sarcastically.
“I mean come on,” answered Olbermann, who then realized how badly he was coming off. He tried to save himself.
“That was a joke,” he told the audience. No one on the panel looked convinced.
It was a bad look. Olbermann was being paid $50 million to launch a network and yet he didn’t even care to know the names of the people in charge of making his show run. One can easily picture the young, ambitious people who were eager for an opportunity to hammer out scripts, do research, line up guests or even fetch coffee for their ideological hero, Olbermann. People that young and ambitious can take a lot of abuse - as long as they believe in what they are doing and who they are working for.
Imagine their disappointment when they got to know the real Olbermann.
He wasn’t interested in being a mentor. He wasn’t willing to be patient. He wasn’t willing to give second chances.
If there was a mistake made on the set, he wouldn’t want to take the time to train his staff to get it right or take whatever steps were needed to improve the team performance. If he could eliminate the possibility of a mistake on-air by eliminating tasks, he would go that route.
It reached the point where Olbermann insisted on a solid black backdrop. He wasn’t putting up with hiccups - even if only 50,000 viewers (5 percent of his audience at MSNBC) were watching him.
He maybe could’ve grown that audience, if he had the commitment and the willingness to wade through some choppy waters. He didn’t have either and that’s why he was fired.
And also, according to The Hollywood Reporter article cited above, Olbermann had fellow star liberals appear on his show - Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas and documentary filmmakers Ken Burns and Michael Moore to name a few. Moulitsas took what he called a “token amount” for his appearances. Burns took nothing. Moore appeared in exchange for a donation to a charity of his choice.
Olbermann probably didn’t get all of the $50 million promised to him because he he was fired for breach of contract, but he and Current agreed to a settlement.
The liberal who railed against greedy corporate heads couldn’t have been any less generous with his own wealth.

More talk-show embarrassment

The “Real Time” episode that featured Olbermann exposed more warts.
One of the topics the panel discussed was whether presidential candidates would behave differently if there was no audience.
Another guest on the panel was stand-up comedian Louis CK, who said, “The crowd brings out something in a person.”
Maher then said a crowd can cause someone onstage to suppress his or her ideas. He sees conservative guests turn into liberals when the cameras start rolling.
“The crowd can be very intimidating,” he said.
He then said he admires people who aren’t afraid to stand on a stage and say something that generates boos.
Olbermann wasn’t swayed.
“The Nixon-Kennedy thing worked pretty well without a crowd,” he said.
It was a predictable statement from a person who never likes to be challenged on the air.
The debate culture at ESPN is offensive to a lot of viewers and Jon Stewart single-handedly brought down “Crossfire” on CNN many years ago - so there is evidence that people don’t like seeing people arguing on television. Neither do I. I often avoid it in my life, but there are times when you feel the urge to challenge someone to a debate. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. The losses are important because they make you more prepared the next time.
There is some benefit to arguing.
Olbermann avoids debating like it’s shingles.
Guests who are invited on the show are only there to discuss their opinion that has to be in agreement with Olbermann’s. He asks long, leading questions and the guest gives long-winded answers.
After the rosy question-and-answer session, Olbermann brown-noses that guest for a few seconds and they exchange pleasant thank yous and goodbyes.
That was the way it was on MSNBC, Current and now ESPN (although Olbermann’s current show also includes highlights drenched with catch phrases and yes, it comes off quaint).
Olbermann didn’t like former MLB manager Bobby Valentine. He criticized him unmercifully following Valentine’s one-year managerial stop in Boston and his public comments about how the New York Mets, while he managed them, were better at rallying New York City following 9/11 than the New York Yankees.
Valentine was rumored to join TBS’ team of broadcasters - until Olbermann was picked to host the post-game show. Valentine never made it to the air. Olbermann wasn’t going to be joined by someone he had publicly mocked. It would’ve been too awkward for him.
Passive-aggressiveness is not a crime. Not at all.
It is outrageous, however, to portray yourself as someone who stands up to bullies and challenges authority and yet do all you can to avoid confrontations on air.
That makes you look weak and hypocritical.
Olbermann obviously lacks confidence in his ability to think on his feet. He needs a script and ample rehearsal.
Days following his Current firing, Olbermann man an appearance on the “Late Show with David Letterman.” He was there to give his version of the story. He knew in his head what he wanted to say.
“I screwed up. I screwed up really big on this,” he told an attentive Letterman.
“I thought we could do this. It’s my fault that it didn’t succeed in the sense that I didn’t think the whole thing through.”
When he uttered the words “It’s my fault,” I thought, maybe this is it. He finally has perspective - but no. He was saying it was his fault that he didn’t foresee the incompetence level at Current so he never should’ve taken the job in the first place.
Olbermann continued.
“I didn’t say, ‘You know, if you buy a $10 million chandelier, you should have a house to put it in.’ Just walking around with a $10 million chandelier isn’t going to do anybody a lot of good and it’s not gonna do any good to the chandelier.”
Then he rambled and stumbled a bit more saying there wasn’t much else to put in the house other than the chandelier and there wasn’t even a building permit for the house.
A chandelier metaphor?
As it turns out, Olbermann picked the perfect metaphor for himself. He’s too expensive and too delicate.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Two major reasons the NBA lost me

1. Tim Donaghy

Convicted felon and former National Basketball Association referee Tim Donaghy said he won up to 80 percent of his bets on professional basketball games. He compared his pattern of success to that of an insider trader who had privileged information about various stocks. He knew which player, coach, owner or anyone else associated with a particular team had drawn the ire of his fellow officials and those officials would make calls that influenced the outcomes of several games.
Officials didn’t like Allen Iverson, so they called fouls on him - A LOT. If he got bumped as he drove to the hoop, no whistle. There were other personalities who received (and probably still receive) similar treatment. I can only imagine the numbers of Dallas Mavericks games altered because of Mark Cuban, or Detroit Pistons games that wound up in the loss column because of Rasheed Wallace, etc.
While Donaghy bet on some of the games he officiated, he swears he never did anything to change the outcome of who won or lost or the point spread.
“I didn’t have to do anything on the court to pick a winner,” he told “60 Minutes.”
He said he could elicit a strong guess on the outcome of any game simply by “knowing what I knew an hour before the game.”
Donaghy’s credibility comes under question and it is easy to understand why. He had a severe gambling addiction and as a result, got sucked into a vortex involving millions of dollars, organized crime and a separate life behind the curtain that he desperately scrambled to keep hidden from his family and employer. I’m sure he told lies to keep that part of his life from his friends and family. The short story of his downfall is that his partner in crime had loose lips, which attracted attention from the mob. They got into the action. That’s how the F.B.I. discovered him, from wiretap recordings.
Donaghy lost his career, his wife and custody of his daughters. He also was convicted and put behind bars. He got “knee-capped” while in prison.
After everything went down, Donaghy did the best thing he could do. He confessed. He cooperated with the F.B.I., which led to the prison attack.
The lead investigator, who learned about him and his gambling associates while probing the Gambino crime family in New York, fact-checked everything Donaghy said. He believed him. Hell, even the NBA, which conducted its own investigation, reached conclusions that were consistent with what Donaghy had told authorities.
Donaghy swears he was the only referee who was betting on games - to his knowledge. He wasn’t interested in wrecking the league he loved. His only urge was to come clean. He wished tell his side of the story, admit his mistakes, forgive himself and pick up the pieces - and yes, make a few pennies from his book.
In the end, I believe him. He shined a light on some major problems with the NBA, which generated sharp responses from then-Commissioner David Stern, who presumably ordered the network that shares coverage of the league - ESPN - from covering Donaghy’s story or interviewing him or mentioning anything about the allegations he made in his tell-all book. Stern dictated how the “World Leader” covered the NBA. If he didn’t like someone calling a game, he’d complain and that person would be reassigned. NBA “news” is over emphasized on the network - because ESPN is so desperate not to lose the rights to the league. That’s another subject for another day. The bottom line? Stern didn’t want Donaghy on the air, so ESPN obliged.
Donaghy exposed something specific that warranted attention - lots of it. Instead, sports journalists (if there is such a thing anymore), glossed over it.
Donaghy explained the absurdity of the 2003 Western Conference Finals, a seven-game series involving the mighty Los Angeles Lakers and small-market Sacramento Kings. The Kings “let” slip away a 3-2 lead and lost the series. The two games they “blew” were at home.
Game 6 involved a lot of free-throw shooting, mostly by the Lakers. It’s exceptionally rare for a visiting team to have an 18-free-throw-shot differential over the home team. It happened in 2003 - because the NBA wanted and expected a seven-game series as well as a victory by the darling Lakers. That mattered deeply to Stern - who wanted to avoid, at all costs, a New Jersey Nets-Sacramento Kings final.
How do we take this league seriously? Why is it that out of the 67 NBA championship series in history, the Lakers and/or Boston Celtics have appeared in a combined total of 61 (31 and 21, respectively)?
I know Stern is gone - but for such a small man, he casts an impressive shadow. I suspect it will linger for a while.
NBA fans probably roll their eyes at those who say the league is “fixed.” It’s an overstatement and an oversimplification, but I never roll my eyes when I hear someone say that, not anymore. They’re in the right zip code. I actually think defenders of the league come off more naive these days.

2. Predictability
After the Lakers and Celtics, the team third on the list with the most finals appearances is the Philadelphia 76ers - with 9. The 76ers last won a championship in 1983. Instead of starting there, let’s begin the list of NBA champions from 1980 playoffs. That was the year Ervin “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird were rookies. They’re credited with resuscitating the NBA, or better yet, lighting the spark that promptly burned out after Michael Jordan retired from the Chicago Bulls for the final time following the 1998 season (ratings are down about 40 percent compared to 1998 and they were at record lows in the mid-aughts).
The teams that won from 1980 through 2013 … Lakers, Celtics, Lakers, 76ers, Celtics, Lakers, Celtics, Lakers, Lakers, Detroit Pistons, Pistons, Bulls, Bulls, Bulls, Houston Rockets, Rockets, Bulls, Bulls, Bulls, San Antonio Spurs, Lakers, Lakers, Lakers, Spurs, Pistons, Spurs, Miami Heat, Spurs, Celtics, Lakers, Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, Heat, Heat.
In 34 years, nine teams have won at least one championship.
Parity? Not hardly.
It gives more credence to Donaghy’s claim that he didn’t need to do anything to alter the conclusion of games. It’s easy to pick a winner when the league is so top-heavy. The small cluster of elite teams sits on a different perch. Upsets happen during the course of a season, but players relax, particularly in November, December, January and February. You can see the “What’s-my-motivation” look on their faces for most of the season. It shows in their body language and effort, too.
Let’s face it, Lebron James and the Heat on cruise control are going to usually beat Arron Afflalo and the Orlando Magic at full throttle. So why should the Heat play hard?
Maybe I should consider sports gambling for a hobby. What could be easier than picking NBA playoff results?
Even teams that are playoff locks aren’t in the championship discussion. Does anyone think the 2013-14 Portland Trailblazers are going to contend? They won 54 games. Did anyone think the 2012-13 Denver Nuggets were going to make a run at the Finals? Not the NBA Finals, but the Western Conference Finals? They won 57 games! Nobody picked them. Everyone was right. They were ousted in the first round.
Going into this season, it was obvious there was going to be a Big Four - the Heat, the Spurs, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Indiana Pacers. Some out there are paying attention to the Los Angeles Clippers and maybe there are still some who are desperately clinging to the notion that the Brooklyn Nets will challenge (they won’t). The Rockets? Please.
The Heat will win the East. The Spurs have the best record, but have struggled against the Thunder. The Clippers are formidable, but the Thunder still have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who are respectively the best scorer and the most explosive point guard in the NBA.
The Spurs, with their home-court advantage, still get the edge over the Thunder. I’m only 60-40 on that.
If the Heat meet the Spurs, the Spurs win. If the Heat meet the Thunder, the Heat win.
See how easy that was? I’ve watched a total of 10 minutes of NBA action this season. Maybe 5 minutes.
Even if I’m off, I won’t be off by much.
There’s no need for an 82-game season nor is it necessary to have a post-season that stretches across the better part of three months.
Blow up the playoff system and make it more exciting.
At the very least, the coverage should better reflect the league’s modest ratings. Less airtime would be just fine.

Friday, March 14, 2014

BUNNELL - The five-year prison sentence is one chapter in the long story about Anthony Fregenti and his penchant for taking money from unsuspecting people. It is a crime he admitted to twice in open court, once during his plea hearing six months ago and again before he was sentenced Wednesday.
It might not be the final chapter as long as he is required to pay back his victims. The judge ordered him to serve five years in prison and then pay at least $100,000 per year to those seven people he swindled. He has a history of paying off people by using the money he took from others – which is basically the definition of a Ponzi scheme.
The State Attorney’s Office reported Fregenti had stolen close to $4 million from seven people across two counties. The defense conceded most of that amount, but questioned a portion, about $750,000, being claimed by one of the victims.
The attorneys were given a couple days to settle on a final amount.
“Ponzi schemes devastate the victims and their families leaving many financially ruined,” said R.J. Larizza in an email Wednesday, hours after the verdict was announced. “The judge’s sentence should serve as a reminder to those who engage in white collar crime that they will face significant prison time as a consequence of their actions.”
Fregenti duped his victims by telling them he would acquire an inventory of exotic cars and motorcycles and sell them to wealthy customers overseas, including a Saudi Arabian prince.
Most of Fregenti’s victims were seated Wednesday in the courtroom at the Kim C. Hammond Justice Center. They were an attentive group. At times they also were demonstrative. They collectively rolled their eyes and sighed whenever they heard testimony that triggered bad memories. All of them felt a sense of familiarity after they learned Fregenti had not come up with all of the restitution that was required of him prior to his sentencing. They all knew what it was like to not have the money in hand the day Fregenti promised to deliver it.
The total restitution Fregenti was required to pay prior to his sentencing was $300,000.
The defendant’s deadline for the final payment of $150,000 was Tuesday. He had already submitted $50,000 when he entered his guilty plea last September and then another $100,000 a few months later.
The agreement between the state and the defense was that he would submit the money to his attorney’s law firm. Fregenti’s attorney is Harry Shorstein, formerly the state attorney for Florida’s 4th Judicial Circuit.
The financial director at Shorstein & Lasnetski was then required to submit the payments to the state. By Wednesday morning, the State Attorney’s Office still had not received the full $150,000.
The prosecutors would have the money in hand within a couple hours of when the hearing began, but there were snags.
Two cashier’s checks were submitted by the defendant. The first one was for $100,000 and the name on the recipient line of the check had the law firm’s name wrong. The second check, for $50,000, was brought into the courtroom mid-morning by one of Fregenti’s business associates while the state’s second witness was on the stand providing testimony.
Shorstein said the late payments were the result of an administrative mistake on the part of his law firm.
During his closing arguments, prosecutor Luis Bustamente laid the blame squarely on the defendant. He said the restitution schedule and the amounts due were clearly stated on the agreement Fregenti signed last September.
“This is another (act) of deception,” Bustamente said. “Another way to wiggle out of his responsibilities.”
The deadline was an important part of the deal. If Fregenti didn’t pay the full $300,000 on time, his maximum prison sentence would increase from 10 years to 15 years. The judge, however, reserved the right to sentence him to no prison time regardless of when the checks came in – or whether they came in at all. Circuit Judge J. David Walsh settled on a sentence of five years behind bars.
“Good riddance,” said Daryl Drown moments after the verdict was read and the cuffs were placed on Fregenti. He was among the handful of victims who took the stand Wednesday. He was the only one who agreed to talk to the News-Journal reporter following the sentencing hearing – and the above quote was all he provided.
Drown, who lives in St. Augustine, is a former professional skier. These days, he is an airline technician. In between those two careers, he owned and operated a sporting goods store.
He was more than Fregenti’s former business partner. He was his friend. The two of them bonded over their mutual love of motorcycles, he said.
He said he closed his store in 2012 after he lost more than $100,000 from his business dealings with Fregenti.
“It affected everything,” he said on the stand Wednesday. “My marriage almost fell apart and I lost my business.”
For several months, he desperately tried to get his money back. Drown said he would call Fregenti and leave voicemails. They often went unanswered. One day, Fregenti decided to call back.
Fregenti left an offensive message, according to Drown’s sworn testimony.
The prosecutor asked Drown to describe what Fregenti said to him.
“He would rather pay (for his) defense than pay it back to me,” Drown said.
Some of the victims in the courtroom gasped and shook their heads when Drown said those words.
One of those who submitted a written statement stated in his letter that justice would be felt more if Fregenti repaid his victims instead of being sent behind bars. However, he wasn’t confident enough that Fregenti would pay.
Another victim, who lost $1.6 million, wrote in his letter that Fregenti was a “creature of habit” who “lacks a moral compass.”
Their letters were read aloud by Bustamente.
Local residential contractor Antonio Amaral Jr., said his family business suffered substantially after they gave Fregenti $840,000.
“We are a lot less trustful,” Amaral said of the way he and his family were affected by Fregenti’s swindle.
The money that was lost also could have been used to pay for more equipment to help the business. The loss might’ve also led to some lay-offs, said Amaral.
“We probably would’ve kept a few more people longer,” he said while on the stand.
As for the restitution that came in late, it reminded Amaral of all the times he received bad checks or heard suspicious excuses whenever Fregenti explained why he never gave him a return on his investment.
“There’s always something,” Amaral said on the stand.
He continued to express how he feels about Fregenti honoring his sentencing requirement.
“If you know you’re set to do this … and the day before your hearing you don’t do what you’re supposed to do? I’m reluctant to say I’ll ever see (the money).”
Wayne Griner was another witness called to the stand by the state. He described several meetings he had with Fregenti. On one occasion, Fregenti pretended to be on the phone with the Saudi prince while he was sitting across from Griner. He would talk into the phone and then pressure Griner into a commitment to spend more money.
Griner said the deception worked. Eventually, after most of his fortune was gone, he came to the realization there was no Saudi prince on the other line. Fregenti lied to him about everything, he said.
Fregenti was the last witness called by the defense. He promised the victims he would make “leaps and bounds and jumps toward paying” the full restitution.
“I want to make everything right with the people sitting in court today,” he said.
There was one unusual development in court Wednesday. Shorstein listed three names of federal law enforcement officials, including one special agent with the F.B.I., who were present in the courtroom.
Shorstein said Fregenti, up until a few months ago, was providing information to the three men in connection with a federal investigation. Shorstein said he could not be specific because it was still an active case. He also wouldn’t call them to the stand because the men didn’t want details of their investigation to be exposed to cross-examination.
After Shorstein introduced them and the judge acknowledged them, the men exited the courtroom.
None of the attorneys mentioned them again.
Fregenti’s prison sentence is to be followed by 20 years of probation. He also is disallowed from making deals related to securities, real estate, time shares and insurance policies.
Fregenti pleaded guilty to 10 counts of sale of securities by an unlicensed dealer, 10 counts of sale of unregistered securities and one count of securities and investment fraud.

For the original story on the verdict and sentence, visit:

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Album representation broken down:
Born to Run was obviously well represented, both in terms of numbers and rankings (7 total; 3 in the top 10). Tracks had the highest number in terms of song representation, but the reason is obvious - it is a four-record set. I thought about listing just the numbers of songs per album, but I decided to put it into better context and include the total number of original songs on each album. Seven out of the eight songs on Born to Run are on the list while only two out of the 14 songs on Human Touch made the cut.
Two of the songs on my list (Protection and Seeds) aren't part of any studio album although the latter was part of the Live '75-'85 collection.

Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.
5 of 9

The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle
4 of 7

Born to Run
7 of 8

Darkness on the Edge of Town
7 of 10

The River
10 of 20

3 of 10

Born in the U.S.A.
7 of 12

Tunnel of Love
2 of 12

Lucky Town
4 of 10

Human Touch
2 of 14

Greatest Hits (previously unreleased tracks plus Streets of Philadelphia)
3 of 5

The Ghost of Tom Joad
2 of 12

Tracks (including 18 Tracks, excluding The Promise and This Hard Land)
11 of 67

The Rising
5 of 15

The Essential Bruce Springsteen (Disc 3 only, minus reworked Countin' on a Miracle and 2 covers)
2 of 9

Devils & Dust
4 of 12

5 of 12

Working on a Dream
3 of 13

The Promise
5 of 22

Wrecking Ball
4 of 13

High Hopes (excluding 3 covers)
3 of 9

I didn't study the Rolling Stone list all that closely before I started working on mine. I didn't want to find myself thinking twice about where I was ranking certain songs or whether I had made any major oversights. I'm sure others who are passionate about Bruce's music will find objectionable things on both. I was actually surprised at the number of songs on the RS list that were absent on mine (38).

Below is Rolling Stone's list:

100 - Fire*
99 - American Land*
98 - Brothers Under the Bridge*
97 - County Fair*
96 - Long Walk Home
95 - All That Heaven Will Allow*
94 - If I Was the Priest*
93 - The E Street Shuffle*
92 - Sad Eyes*
91 - Ramrod
90 - Back in Your Arms
89 - Blinded By the Light*
88 - Devils & Dust
87 - Bobby Jean
86 - Restless Nights
85 - Fade Away*
84 - Pink Cadillac*
83 - Lonesome Day
82 - Drive All Night
81 - Night
80 - Out in the Street
79 - The Ties That Bind
78 - My Hometown
77 - Two Faces*
76 - Roulette*
75 - We Are Alive*
74 - Johnny Bye Bye*
73 - Rocky Ground*
72 - Gypsy Biker
71 - Jack of All Trades
70 - Better Days*
69 - Cadillac Ranch*
68 - Your Own Worst Enemy*
67 - Seeds
66 - Glory Days*
65 - Walk Like a Man*
64 - American Skin (41 Shots)
63 - She’s the One
62 - Radio Nowhere*
61 - Point Blank*
60 - You’re Missing
59 - Reason to Believe
58 - Loose Ends*
57 - Girls in Their Summer Clothes
56 - Lucky Town
55 - Independence Day
54 - Streets of Fire*
53 - Hungry Heart
52 - I’m Goin’ Down*
51 - One Step Up*
50 - Death to My Hometown*
49 - Johnny 99*
48 - Growin’ Up
47 - Lost in the Flood
46 - This Hard Land
45 - Candy’s Room
44 - Downbound Train
43 - Wrecking Ball
42 - Meeting Across the River*
41 - If I Should Fall Behind
40 - Youngstown
39 - My City of Ruins
38 - For You
37 - No Surrender
36 - Shut Out the Light
35 - Tougher Than the Rest
34 - Adam Raised a Cain*
33 - Spirit in the Night
32 - Because the Night
31 - New York Serenade*
30 - Wreck on the Highway
29 - Brilliant Disguise
28 - The Rising*
27 - Highway Patrolman*
26 - Tunnel of Love*
25 - Stolen Car
24 - Streets of Philadelphia
23 - Land of Hope and Dreams
22 - Dancing in the Dark
21 - I’m on Fire
20 - Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
19 - The Promise
18 - State Trooper*
17 - Incident on 57th Street
16 - Prove it All Night
15 - 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)
14 - Nebraska*
13 - Jungleland
12 - The Ghost of Tom Joad
11 - Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
10 - The Promised Land
9 - Born in the U.S.A.
8 - Darkness on the Edge of Town
7 - Atlantic City
6 - Backstreets
5 - The River
4 - Racing in the Street
3 - Thunder Road
2 - Badlands
1 - Born to Run

*denotes which songs were left off my list

Friday, March 7, 2014

"Rolling Stone" recently counted down the Top 100 Bruce Springsteen songs. The list was assembled by a panel of fans, musicians and rock journalists and can be found at
It inspired me to do my own - not because I had any major objections to the RS list, but because I've listened to thousands of hours of Bruce songs, attended 15 shows across six tours and I'm dumb enough and determined enough to hammer out my own Top 100 list in spite of how ridiculously time-consuming such a task can be (maybe that's why I was so liberal with the lyric sampling). I included some songs Rolling Stone didn't and vice versa. Doing this "project" gave me a chance to explain why each song appeals to me. I hope I made a decent case for most of them. I also tried to sprinkle in some anecdotes and describe a few memories. Please enjoy the read:


100) Local Hero
"First they made me the king then they made me pope. Then they brought the rope." That line is sneaked in just prior to the harmonica solo. Leading up to that point, the song is catchy, funny. It ends on an optimistic note - not all of his songs do that. Maybe that's why I appreciate this one.

99) If I Should Fall Behind
The 1999-2000 tour was special. It was a reunion, but it didn't feel nostalgic. It wasn't a continuation either. It was a commencement. The start of a new era for the E Street Band. "If I Should Fall Behind" was played at every encore. This song wouldn't have sniffed this list if it wasn't performed the 100+ times during that tour. I didn't appreciate it enough until then. It's fitting this song is played at so many weddings. It's a show of appreciation for what you have in a partner - just before the two of you embark on what's in front of you.

98) Kitty’s Back
That guitar. That jazzy sound. It's a party.

97) The Ghost of Tom Joad
It's heavy and it's vivid. Nothing subtle about it. It's easy to see why someone with the political viewpoint that Tom Morello has would be drawn to this song.

96) Breakaway
I listened to this song a lot while driving along rural highways in Hernando Co., FL. Easy to lose yourself in it. Would love to hear Bruce dust off this one.

95) You’re Missing
Sadness felt to the bone.

94) Shackled and Drawn
Bruce didn't pull any punches with this one. "Shackled and drawn, shackled and drawn. Pick up the rock, son and carry it on. We're trudging through the dark in a world gone wrong. I woke up this morning shackled and drawn."

93) Born in the U.S.A.
Why is this so low? I'm not sure. It's an important song. My brother-in-law heard him play it with an acoustic guitar, not knowing he ever performed it that way. He sat there with his mouth gaped open. I suppose the full-band version - with a heavy dose of synthesizers - turned this tune into a relic.

92) Out in the Street
I rode in a van from Lexington to Lynchburg with a group from college. This song came on the radio and the driver switched stations. I told him to turn it back and he didn't. The other guys in the van sided with the driver. I never rode with them again.

91) Prove It All Night
'78 version was sublime. '99-'00 version was powerful. Studio version was a modest hit. It charted higher than "Badlands." I find that befuddling.

90) The Fuse
The song conjures the image of a couple in heat, sweating under a slow-spinning ceiling fan. This song drips with lust. Damn, it's good.

89) Spirit in the Night
Someone famous once alluded to this song and accused Bruce of writing fiction. I've wondered how much of this song is true (a bar owner in Richmond claims he's Hazy Davy), but it doesn't matter. Fiction, schmiction. I would imagine a lot of people have a beach week, fishing trip, vacation-to-the-lake story in their history that enters the mind when this song is played. Clarence's sax is heard from beginning to end. That makes it unique. Early concert footage of Bruce singing this song shows what makes him such a great stage performer. He was channeling James Brown.

88) Frankie Fell in Love
New song. How could you not like a song with lyrics like, "World peace gonna break out. From here on out we're eating take out. She ain't gonna be cookin' for the likes of us."?

87) All the Way Home
"Devils & Dust" is considered a contemporary folk album, but this song has a rockabilly hook and you can dance to it.

86) Lonesome Day
The second single off "The Rising" and I like it a little more than the first (the title cut). The band performs it better live. Love the violin. The main character is conflicted about revenge. That theme is revisited throughout "The Rising" album.

85) Spanish Eyes
When I hear this song, I think about a woman I met in Quito, Ecuador. I wish I had heard the song and memorized it before that trip. She didn't know a lick of English, but I might've sung a few bars for her anyway.

84) No Surrender
"Born in the U.S.A." had seven top 10 singles. This could've been number eight. I like it as much now as I did when I was 10 years old.

83) Ramrod
Show stopper. Explicit lyrics, too. I never tire of hearing live versions of it. It's rumored to be a favorite of Max Weinberg's.

82) My City of Ruins
I heard this song for the first time during the "Tribute to Heroes" after Sept. 11, 2001. Millions remember that performance. I was one of a small group who watched Bruce and the band play a reworked version at The Apollo Theater show in 2012. It included band intros and it was the first E Street Band show after Clarence died. A special moment burned into memory.

81) This is Your Sword
New tune. Very biblical. Bruce has woven in biblical themes into a lot of his songs, particularly during the past 12 years or so. Even still, great vocal. The violin sounds great, too.

80) Lucky Town
It took a long time - years even - for me to start liking this song. It really speaks to me for some reason. Bruce sings a lot about redemption and the long road to get there. If he didn't write about it so well, it might've gotten tiresome about seven albums ago. It hasn't and it won't.

79) It’s Hard to be a Saint in the City
An urban rock song. It's soulful and quirky.

78) Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Live versions of this song far exceed the studio version. On a good night, this number can incite a stomper.

77) The Promised Land
The lyrics overshadow everything - even the sax and harmonica solos. "Working all day in my daddy's garage. Driving all night chasing some mirage. Pretty soon little girl I'm gonna take charge." Who writes like this at the age of 26?

76) Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
His girl's parents don't like him, but he plows ahead anyway - jubilant about what's ahead of him, as long as she's with him. I don't know why I haven't ranked this song higher. I guess it's because I've heard it live enough times where I don't beg for it to appear on the setlist anymore. I also grew tired of people screaming for it during the 99-00 tour. While hearing it at Shea Stadium, a couple climbed on top of the home team dugout and started dancing.

75) Atlantic City
It's bleak, just like mostly everything else on "Nebraska." Classic rock radio where I grew up didn't play many Bruce songs other than the usual few. I had never heard this one until it was 15 years old and appeared on "Greatest Hits." It immediately made an impression.

74) Lost in the Flood
His decision to re-introduce this tragic song to his audience during the July 1, 2000 concert at Madison Square Garden will stick with me forever. Piano intro, guitar solo and powerful vocal made it an unforgettable performance. I immediately thought of the first line of this song when it came time to name my blog.

73) Downbound Train
Five verses to this song. The first two matter little. The last three get me every time. I stop everything and listen. Also ... I don't pay close attention to Bruce covers, but The Smithereens do a version of this and it's extraordinary.

72) Land of Hope and Dreams
I thought this song was a nice addition to the encore during the 1999-2000 tour. This was included on every setlist of the first 11 Bruce shows I attended, so it has sentimental value. The studio version on "Wrecking Ball" caused me to like it even more. Recent performances are vastly better than the ones from 14-15 years earlier when the song was first being introduced to audiences.

71) Blood Brothers
Friendship rediscovered. Ranked kind of high for a song that isn't quite as good as it wants to be. It was the last song played during the 1999-2000 tour - my favorite version of the song. It was nobody's pick to close out the tour, but Bruce made it work thanks to a reworked last verse. My second-favorite version of "Blood Brothers" is when he's introduces the song to his band/producer during the documentary of the same name.

70) Leah
"Leah" could've appeared on "Human Touch." That album really would've benefited from an addition like this one. Then again, Brendan O'Brien wasn't around then. He really helped make this a stand-out song.

69) Open All Night
I heard a bootleg recording of this one - played in Philadelphia in 1984 - during which he talks about getting pulled over for speeding, pleading with the judge to let him off and then leaving the courtroom only to encounter the cocky cop who pulled him over. He was the biggest name in rock music at the time and he was still telling stories and singing songs about driving in New Jersey and the audience was gobbling it up. Great stuff.

68) My Love Will Not Let You Down
A straight-forward rocker. The lyrics portray a very, very confident man. It was the first song Bruce played on American soil during the 1999-2000 tour and he made sure to play it during the last show. I love the guitar solos on the live version.

67) From Small Things (Big Things One Day Will Come)
Gender roles are switched in this one. Momma is the deadbeat who runs away and goes to prison and the Daddy is the one left home raising the kids.

66) Last to Die
A magnificent anti-war song. He really gave it to the Bush Administration with these lyrics. "The wise men were all fools. What to do?" Perfect.

65) Shut Out the Light
War veteran with severe PTSD comes home and can't resume his regular life. Very dramatic.

64) Jungleland
Epic closing song to "Born to Run." Soaring sax solo, amazing vocal, great guitar work from Steven Van Zandt. Why then, is it ranked so low when most people consider it a classic? The West Side Story-like lyrics take away from it. I simply can't stand the "Boys flash guitars like switchblades, hustling for the record machine" line.

63) This Life
Bruce mixes in a little Beach Boys - to great effect here. Also, he really REALLY goes all out to express his love to the woman he's singing to.

62) Gypsy Biker
See #66. This one is more emotional than overtly political, and it packs a wallop.

61) The Promise
"Well I won big once and I hit the coast. Yeah, but I paid the cost. Inside I felt like I was carrying the broken spirits of all the other ones who lost." It's like all the dreams and optimism he was singing about in "Born to Run" blew up in his face. Here he is coping with the massive disappointment.

60) Protection
It's never been played live, it's never been released on an album and he wrote it for someone else (Donna Summer). He recorded "Cover Me" for the purpose of giving it to Summer, but manager Jon Landau, who realized it had hit potential, convinced Bruce to keep it - or so the story goes (amazingly similar to the more-famous "Hungry Heart" story). Bruce kept that one, but wrote "Protection" for Summer as a replacement. She didn't release it as a single and yet it was nominated for a Grammy (I think). Bruce has a few songs that you can dance to, but this is the only "dance song" Bruce has written and recorded that I know of - and I like it a lot. Donna's version is great, too.

59) Streets of Philadelphia
The movie was good. The song is better.

58) Held Up Without a Gun
Honky tonk meets punk rock.

57) Human Touch
It had been four years or so since Bruce had released a single. It felt like an eternity - and the music landscape had changed so much. I just remember how good it was to hear a song of his on the radio again. I really like the extended album cut.

56) The Ties That Bind
This song was written and recorded relatively fast. It was done by design. Bruce wanted the enthusiasm and spontaneity to come through - and it did. It's a great opener for "The River" and it's a great concert opener, too.

55) Talk to Me
"The Promise" is a mind-blowing double-album. So many great songs that Bruce shelved and didn't release for 30 years. "Talk to Me" is the one - other than the alternate version of "Racing in the Street" - that jumped out at me the most the first time I listened to it. How does a song like that remain in a vault for so long?

54) My Lucky Day
Every time hear this in the car and I have to be careful. Before I know it, I'm going 85 mph.

53) Dancing in the Dark
I don't get tired of this song. It's Bruce's highest-charted single (#2) and I'm cool with that (In fact, I'm disappointed it never went #1). When he and the band brought it back in 2002 and made it a regular part of the encore, I started liking the song even more. It sounds better live even though it's so slick and polished on the record. He doesn't mail it in on this song. When he's singing about his need for inspiration and companionship, he means it.

52) Sherry Darling
Bruce and the band were playing this years before it appeared on an album. It's a concert-friendly tune that harkens back to the days of 1960s fraternity rock. Such a blissful sound.

51) Where the Bands Are
For some reason, this song almost never gets played. I'm a slave to this beat.

50) Santa Ana
I've struggled to discover the meaning of this song, but it sounds interesting to me. It's a great listen, particularly during the last minute when it slows down and picks up again.

49) Reason to Believe
It's clear Bruce wanted to close the "Nebraska" album on a positive note considering how disturbing much of it is. In the face of poverty, tragedy and strife, people still maintain their optimism and faith.

48) American Skin (41 Shots)
I read about this song when it premiered in Atlanta in June 2000. I was going to see Bruce in New York weeks later and I didn't want to hear the song until the show. Napster was in its infancy stages, there was no YouTube and I was still using dial-up, so I was probably safe from spoilers. I'm glad, too, because listening to it for the first time that night was a privilege beyond words. The second verse, in particular, struck me the most. The version I heard that night is the same one that was released on the "Live in New York City" double album. It remains the superior version.

47) I’m on Fire
I like this song for its simplicity. It also feels timeless. "Every Breath You Take," "With or Without You" and "Boys of Summer" all are in that category. A scaled-down song with a simple, repetitive beat and no extravagant accompaniment - but somehow a masterpiece that never gets old even after the 500,000th listen.

46) Hungry Heart
John Lennon loved it from the first time he heard it. 'Nuff said.

45) Wreck on the Highway
Stark and haunting, this song closes "The River" album on a melancholy note. The first part of it is chock full of upbeat, party songs. The second part is comparatively much darker - and it ends with one of the saddest pieces Bruce has ever written.

44) Night
It makes me want to have that feeling ... Being so enamored with a woman that I'm "lost in the stars" and I try to "jockey my way through the cars" and with my "faith in the machine" I "scream into the night" on my way to see her. The sax and bass sound so good.

43) Darkness on the Edge of Town
It is a slow burn from beginning to end. "'Cause tonight I'll be on that hill 'cause I can't stop. I'll be on that hill with everything I got. Lives on the line where dreams are found and lost. I'll be there on time and I'll pay the cost for wanting things that can only be found in the darkness on the edge of town."

42) For You
The piano ballad version never worked for me. But the full-band version? I flipped when I heard it the first time and thought it was one of the best things I've listened to on any album. It didn't quite stand the test of time - and the thousands of CD repetitions. Even still, how could anyone not like a song with a lyric like, "Crawl into my ambulance. Your pulse is getting weak. Reveal yourself now to me girl while you've got the strength to speak."?

41) Back in Your Arms
Now that's what despair over a lost love sounds like. Bruce croons to great effect.

40) Rendezvous
I once told a woman - an ex - that I thought of her when I heard this song. She didn't like that much, until she read the lyrics. She felt better about it afterward. I still haven't heard him play this in concert - because he doesn't pull it out often. I really wish he would. Every concert recording I've heard is great.

39) Real World
A real gem. He played it on the piano during a concert in 1990 - two years before it appeared on an album - and that remains the best version.

38) Long Time Comin’
Revisiting a theme he hammered home on "Lucky Town," this song is a "Devils & Dust" highlight. A heartfelt plea to his wife - very effective.

37) Jack of All Trades
The character in this song is a tough, resilient man. Probably an optimist, too. But it's clear he's desperately covering up his own doubts and insecurities. The music is straight-up ballad, but the words are reminiscent of the powerful stories Bruce wrote on any number of songs he was putting out 30-35 years earlier.

36) Seeds
Nothing frivolous about this song. A homeless family with a kid in the backseat with a "graveyard cough." A father's bitterness is so strong he spits on the "shiny chrome" of a rich man's car. A precursor to "Tom Joad." Bruce sang this as a Dylan-esque folk song during a show at the end of the "Human Touch" tour and it was unforgettable. He really belted it out, too. He didn't have much of a voice left at the end of that show and I think this performance had a lot to do with that.

35) Bobby Jean
I was 10 years old when I first owned "Born in the U.S.A." on cassette - and unlike most cassette packages at the time, this one included a lyrics sheet. I listened to this song and read over the lyrics time and time again. Even then, I put Bruce's songwriting in another category. Journey wasn't writing songs like this one. "Bobby Jean" was allegedly written about Steven Van Zandt, who had just departed the E Street Band. I have my own interpretation. I hear it over the radio and I think the main character is crazily in love with a girl. She only wishes to be friends - and he accepts that because he can't handle the thought of not seeing her, hearing from her or being part of her life in some way. He pours everything into that friendship. She leaves town. She moves on. He's left pining over her still. This song is close to home for me.

34) Devil’s & Dust
Brendan O'Brien really shows why he became a favorite collaborator of Bruce's during the last decade. It's quiet in the beginning and it has a great crescendo effect. That was O'Brien's idea. Anti-war songs don't get better than this.

33) The Wrestler
No Oscar nomination for this one? Really, Academy? It perfectly encapsulated what the film was about and what the main character felt about himself and where his life had taken him. This song also rescued the "Working on a Dream" album. Tacking this on the end made a major difference.

32) Drive All Night
Hearing the snippet of this song in the middle of "Backstreets" on 1978 tour recordings was enough to put this on the list. Recent performances of this song catapulted it upward. It's so full of emotion. Bruce's vocal performance is spectacular.

31) Dollhouse
One of my favorite choruses - and it's mostly just Bruce singing "We're living in a dollhouse!." I guess it's the way he sings it. And that intro? A piano solo jumps right into a catchy Ramones-like garage rock riff. One of the best cuts from "Tracks."

30) You’ll Be Coming Down
A famous sportswriter once said he woke up one morning in his 40s and realized the well had run dry. Whatever passion or inspiration he once had for writing just all of a sudden left him. "Magic" confirms that creative brilliance doesn't always expire. Bruce was in his 60s when he put out this masterpiece. My quibble with the album is that the opening track, which also was the first single, sounds sophomoric when stacked up against the rest of the material. "You'll Be Coming Down" is the album's second track ... and musically it fits perfectly with the robust lineup of songs. I could listen to those harmony vocals all day.

29) Empty Sky
Misinterpreting lyrics frustrates the hell out of him - and with good reason. The line that includes "I want an eye for an eye" is being said by a man who is conflicted and probably guilt-stricken about his lust for vengeance. Bruce had to start telling his audiences to stop cheering whenever he sang that part. "The Rising" wasn't my favorite record, but for some reason, I was never more angry watching an award show than when I saw it get passed over in the "Best Album" category at the 2003 Grammys. "Empty Sky" isn't a song that could be written by just anyone. In fact, I'm not sure anyone else out there could create something like this - something so emotionally on point in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

28) Take ‘em as They Come
I might not be giving enough love to E Street Band members in this countdown of mine, so let me take a moment to praise Gary W. Tallent for his bass work on this one. In my mind, "The River" sessions were even more outstanding than the comparatively more-balleyhooed "Darkness" sessions. I know this was said about so many other songs ... but I can't for the life of me understand why this was kept off the original album. Thank you, Bruce, for the gift of "Tracks."

27) The River
One man called into a Richmond, Va. classic rock station and requested "The River" be played during the lunch hour - and he specifically asked for the version that appears on the live boxed set. That version includes a story from Bruce about his father confronting him after he went missing for days. Bruce disappeared because he was petrified about taking his physical for the Vietnam draft. For reasons he didn't mention, he didn't pass. His father, who has always wanted more discipline from his son, was relieved. The father who called into that radio station 12 years ago requested that song specifically because his son had just enlisted. He wept as he made the request. The run time on that song is 11 minutes and 42 seconds, an eternity for FM stations. To his credit, the deejay, Dick Hungate, played it anyway.

26) Girls in Their Summer Clothes
Bruce summoned something from way down deep in his soul when he laid down this track. I've never heard him sing like this. The story sticks with me, too. It's about a man fraught with loneliness as he comes to grips with his age and his disconnect between himself and those around him. It's almost like he went back to the places he was singing about in the early to mid-1970s - and none of it looked familiar anymore. This song has never been played well live ... but it never has made a regular appearance on the setlist. I'm still hoping to hear it once in person.

25) Youngstown
The album, "The Ghost of Tom Joad" requires patience and attentiveness, but "Youngstown" was the one song that jumped out the most. It had more accompaniment besides an acoustic guitar and harmonica, so that was a factor, but the story is another reason for its widespread appeal. It has historical context. I wrote a paper in college in my "Civil War and Literature" class and I was offered a choice of term paper topics - and my choice was contemporary music and the Civil War. I might've mentioned a few Southern rock bands and songs, but most of the report centered on this song - for no other reason than the reference to Youngstown's history as a ammunition- and war machine-manufacturing city. The full-band version is powerful and it was a great addition to the 1999-2000 tour setlist, but I still prefer the stark, studio version. The last verse is killer. (I don't remember the grade I got for my term paper, but I don't think it was very good.)

24) This Hard Land
Max Weinberg thought this was one of the best songs Bruce and the band ever recorded. It stayed off the "Born in the U.S.A." record. It's hard to imagine anything improving that one, but this song would have. The band re-recorded it for the "Greatest Hits" collection and I'm one of the few who loves that version as much as the original, which was finally released on "Tracks." I wish Bruce played it more often.

23) My Hometown
For a couple years in the early 2000s, I lived in a rural town in Southside Virginia. An older couple from Freehold, N.J. owned a bagel shop in town and it was a regular stop for me. I talked to the wife about Bruce and she would just shrug. She didn't care about celebrities. It didn't matter. We had other things to talk about. I had visited Freehold once, so I decided to share a few stories about that trip. Then, out of the blue, she said something to me about Bruce. She made a point to tell me how much she liked this song. "He nailed it," she told me, recalling how her town was depicted in the lyrics. "He really nailed it." I once had a bootlegged recording of this song ... Bruce played in in the mid-1990s in Freehold. Just him and his acoustic guitar. I even think he played it at the auditorium of his high school. If someone asks me what concert would I most want to go back in time to see, I would have to consider that one.

22) Something in the Night
"Nothing is forgotten or forgiven, when it's your last time around. I got stuff runnin' around my head that I just can't live down!" His heart bleeds throughout the song.

21) Wrecking Ball
No matter my feelings of the old Giants Stadium (none good - especially the Jan. '87 NFC Championship Game), this is a kick-ass song.

20) She’s the One 
"With her hands on her hips oh, and that smile on her lips, because she knows that it kills me." We've all had women like that enter our lives. The band cuts loose when this is played. So does the audience. I've never heard a performance of this song that wasn't mesmerizing.

19) Don’t Look Back
The song grabs a hold of you from the start and doesn't let go. It's a song that opened the first of two shows I saw in Cleveland in November 1999 and it really set the tone for what was about to happen during those two nights. We walked out of Gund Arena following that first show and some guy yelled out, "I hope you people appreciate what you just witnessed tonight!" I've seen him 13 more times since then, so there's my answer.

18) Because the Night
Loved Patti Smith's version. Hard to imagine why Bruce never was satisfied with his recording and even harder to imagine his willingness to give it away, but Smith definitely made it soar. Hearing Bruce and the E Street Band play it alongside "Candy's Room" was a memorable two-fer during the "Darkness" tour. Even though I was 3 years old when that tour took place, I'm very familiar with those performances through the magic of bootlegging.

17) Restless Nights
Another gem from "Tracks." Those high-octave background vocals really add something, as does the Animals-influenced organ. Danny Federici's solo gives this song a unique ending.

16) Stolen Car
I used to comment on a number of songs in Bruce's catalog and say, "This is one of the saddest songs he's ever written." I found myself saying that so often that I stopped. So many of Bruce's songs drift into darkness and despair. This one, however, I will say without hesitation is one of the saddest songs I've ever heard. It comes seven years before "Tunnel of Love." Talk about prescient.

15) Independence Day
Lucky for me, my relationship with my father wasn't anything close to what Bruce had with his. This one is heart-breaking, but at times heart-tugging, too. Bruce is singing about forging a life of his own, which was in contrast to the kind of life his father wanted for him. "They ain't gonna do to me what I watched them do to you." Wow

14) Candy’s Room
This song is so explosive. It sounds fine on the record, but when it's live it's other-worldly. The guitars are relentless. The piano and percussion add a lot, too. "Oh, how I want her so. I'll never let her go. Oh no no no."

13) Long Walk Home
This song connected with me from the first listen. It really makes me think of home. The world I know now is very different from what I thought it was 20 years ago. Coming home isn't as easy is jumping on a plane and spending time with friends and family. But once you make peace with whatever you're battling with - home is exactly what you want it to be. "My father said, 'Son, we're lucky in this town, It's a beautiful place to be born. It just wraps its arms around you, nobody crowds you and nobody goes it alone.'" It's the highest-ranked "modern Bruce" song on this list. I hope others would agree it belongs this high.

12) Growin’ Up
This song needs to be ranked simply for the historical context. Of all the songs he played for legendary record producer John Hammond, this was the best one. It helped land him his record deal with Columbia. The full-band version is such a great recording. It's so raw. It's rarely played live nowadays, but I was lucky enough to hear it twice.

11) Living Proof
An ode to his newborn son, heavy on religious themes, set to the tempo and style of a rock-n-roll bar song. Bruce's references his own redemption and does so beautifully with these words. "I put my heart and soul, I put 'em high upon a shelf. Right next to the faith, the faith that I'd lost in myself." Then there are these words."You shot through my anger and rage to show me my prison was just an open cage. There were no keys no guards, just one frightened man and some old shadows for bars." Bruce has joked about how he wasn't known for writing happy songs. When he tried to write happy songs in the early 1990s, the public didn't like it. The two albums he put out then aren't among his best efforts, but there are strong spots (none as strong as this one). In my opinion, this song soars above almost everything else in his immensely impressive catalog.

10) Badlands
"Poor man wanna be rich. Rich man wanna be king. And a king ain't satisfied 'til he rules everything." Cynical and powerful. The story: Bruce came up with the title for the song before he wrote the first lyric or note. He wanted the song to live up to the title, so he spent a great deal of time on it. He still puts sweat into the song whenever he plays it - and he plays it pretty much every night.

9) Brilliant Disguise
Bruce is so intensely private, so I was surprised when I listened to an old interview during which he said how indifferent he was about the paparazzi taking his photograph during the "Tunnel of Love" tour. He was on the road, away from home and carrying on an extramarital affair with his backup singer (who would later become his wife and the mother of his three kids). He said because so much was happening in his life, he didn't care what some dude with a camera was doing in a tree 50 yards away. He was right. It didn't matter what any photographer snapped or what any tabloid published. Bruce already disclosed to the world what was going on inside his head and in his marriage. He let everyone know through this song. I remember when "Brilliant Disguise" premiered. I knew immediately it was going to be a hit.

8) Racing in the Street
Two studio versions. I didn't know another existed until about three years ago when it was included on "The Promise" compilation. Both are extraordinary.

7) Backstreets
Listening to the "Born to Run" album from start to finish for the first time was life-altering. I didn't listen to music the same way again. "Backstreets" stood out. The piano intro, the wall-of-sound effect, the lyrics and those howling vocals make this one a transcendent piece of music. Bootleg recordings from the "Darkness" tour that include the "Drive All Night" coda are heart-stopping.

6) Tougher Than The Rest
I put this one in "When a Man Loves a Woman" territory. If I could choose a ballad that would best describe my feelings about a woman I loved, this one might be it. How could you go wrong with lyrics like, "The road is dark and it’s a thin, thin line, but I want you to know I’ll walk it for you any time."? Forget it. You just can't.

5) The Price You Pay 
This is my favorite driving song. Lots of great lyrics to this one, and I prefer the outtake with the additional verse. The ending is so strong. "So let the game start, you better run you little wild heart. You can run through all the nights and all the days. But just across the county line, a stranger passing through put up a sign that counts the men fallen away to the price you pay. And girl before the end of the day, I'm gonna tear it down and throw it away!" Please, Bruce, start playing this one more often.

4) Born to Run
"My shot at the title," Bruce said of this song. He crushed it. He definitely slaved over it, but in the end, he cleared the bases. Pardon the hyperbole, and apologies to The Rolling Stones, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and whoever else took a shot at the title, but "Born to Run" is simply the best rock-and-roll single ever made. Oh, and the album of the same name is also the best album ever made.

3) Incident on 57th Street
"Upstairs a band was playin', the singer was singin' something about goin' home. She whispered, 'Spanish Johnny, you can leave me tonight but just don't leave me alone.'" Like "Lost in the Flood" and "Jungleland," it is a street epic. And for some reason, to me, this one delivers the biggest punch. He might've been channeling Bob Dylan with his first album, but the second album was more about following in the footsteps of Van Morrison. This song is as good as anything heard on "Astral Weeks," and I think "Astral Weeks" belongs on the Mount Rushmore of albums. The closing guitar solo and the piano segue into "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)" is one of the best things ever heard on vinyl. Of all the songs that I haven't heard Bruce sing live, this is the one I'm dying to hear the most. If he simply wants to perform it as a piano ballad, I'm fine with that, too.

2) 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)
Featured on the same album as "Incident," this one too, appears to be influenced by Morrison. Amazingly, it includes heavy use of an accordion and I still like it. In all seriousness, this song is comedic, poignant, romantic and epic. I visited Asbury Park in 2001 and I just had to have my photo taken standing next to Madame Marie's stand. I saw the 2008 Tampa show - the first one after the death of Danny Federici. The band played it in honor of their fallen brother. The audience that night consisted of a lot of Jersey transplants. I'm glad that performance took place in an arena full of fans who appreciated it.

1) Thunder Road 
One night in March 1995. I borrowed my friend's "Born to Run" CD. I lay in bed in my barracks room with my headphones on. The opening bars of "Thunder Road" were the first things I heard. I listened intently to the lyrics. There wasn't a hook. There wasn't a bridge. There wasn't anything "pop" about this song, but it stuck with me more than any other pop song could. It did for me what "Like a Rolling Stone" did for countless others. An aimless, flawed boy wants to whisk his girl away and go someplace and make a better life. "It's a town full of losers, and I'm pulling out of here to win." It's rebellion mixed with hope. Bruce called the song an "invitation." I RSVP'd right away and I haven't looked back. Thanks, Bruce.