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The Boss gets the tribute treatment

By Jon Johnson, December 2000

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Prior to "Badlands," the Boston-based Sampas had been best known for compiling two albums related to the works of beat writer Jack Kerouac for the Rykodisc label. 1997's "Kerouac - Kicks Joy Darkness" was a "Badlands"-esque collection featuring artists like singer/poet Patti Smith and Aerosmith's Steven Tyler reading from Kerouac's works. And 1999's "Jack Kerouac Reads 'On the Road'" compiled unreleased recordings of Kerouac himself reading from his best-known book.

Sampas - whose late aunt Stella Sampas was married to Kerouac at the time of his 1969 death - sees a clear thread between Kerouac and Springsteen.

"Absolutely; this record in particular. For instance, when Kerouac writes 'On the Road,' he's finding his own voice. He's literally creating spontaneous prose. There's a similarity between (that) and Springsteen creating a new style of writing for himself, which became 'Nebraska.' At the time he's writing this he's listening to old Folkways recordings for the first time, Hank Williams, (and) Woody Guthrie. But he's also writing in a more personal way about his childhood and the things that he has experienced, as well as other things that he had read about."

"I think there's also the fact that they were both so obsessive with America, and both of them write in such a loving way - and in such a detailed way - (about) life."

Perhaps surprisingly to some, "Badlands" has been released by the Seattle-based Sub Pop label, distributed by the giant WEA label conglomerate and best known for its association with Seattle's grunge scene of the early '90's, including early releases from the likes of Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney.

"They've been amazing to work with. They really understood this project. Every step of the way their comments and suggestions have been right on. And they have the muscle of Warner Brothers behind them, which helps."

And Springsteen's opinion of the project? Although Sampas hasn't spoken with Springsteen directly, he has - through his lawyer - given Sampas his blessing to the project.

"I know that he was happy that it was being made. As far as him liking the album, I don't know yet. I know he has it because I sent it to him last week, but I haven't heard a reaction yet."

"I want to do this album justice, but I also don't want to do something that would leave the artist cringing."

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