Furitsu Taiikukan Gymnasium Kyoto 19.04.1985

I have just discovered this Born In The U.S.A. Tour bootleg, it has been recorded on April 19th 1985 in Kyoto.

Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band played in Japan 8 concerts in 13 days during the Born In The U.S.A. Tour.

Springsteen Furitsu Taiikukan Gymnasium Kyoto 19.04.1985

The bootleg contain the 24 songs played on that night. Continue reading

Springsteen At The Old Grey Whistle Test

Da DVD 1980-1989

The Old Grey Whistle Test era una trasmissione musicale della BBC andata in onda dal 1971 al 1987.

Questa puntata su Springsteen era stata trasmessa nel 1986.

Il DVD, oltre che l’intervista a Springsteen, contiene anche i seguenti spezzoni:

  • Born In The U.S.A. (Philly 1984)
  • Thunder Road (official video)
  • The River (official video)
  • Cover Me (Philly 1984)
  • Atlantic City (official video)
  • Dancing In The Dark (official video)
  • Rosalita (official video)
  • Detroit Medley (Philly 1984)

Il curatore del bootleg ha aggiunto le seguenti tracce.


  • Man At The Top (Washington 05.08.1985)
  • Stand On It (Meadowlands 31.08.1985)
  • Stolen Car (Oakland 18.09.1985)
  • Stand On It (Los Angeles 27.09.1985)
  • Janey, Don’t You Lose Heart (Los Angeles 27.09.1985)
  • Born In The U.S.A. (Bridge Benefit 13.10.1986)



Please rate the quality!

Breathless in Paris 29.06.1985

Audio tratto dal DVD bootleg (uno dei migliori in circolazione) del primo concerto di Springsteen a Parigi durante il tour di Born in the USA.

La data è infatti quella del 29 giugno 1985.

La scaletta della serata.

01 Born in the USA
02 Badlands
03 Out in the street
04 Johnny 99
05 Atlantic City
06 Shut out the light
07 The river
08 Working on the highway
09 Glory days
10 The promised land
11 My hometown
12 Thunder road
13 Cover me
14 Dancing in the dark
15 Hungry heart
16 Cadillac ranch
17 Downbound train
18 I’m on fire
19 Because the night
20 Rosalita (Come out tonight)
21 Can’t help falling in love
22 Born to run
23 Bobby Jean
24 Ramrod
25 Twist and shout
26 Rocking all over the world

Un esempio del video lo potete trovare in un vecchio post a questo link.

Vi ricordo, oltre che la pagina su FaceBook il canale youtube del blog.

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prossimi post (e soprattutto i bonus) direttamente nella tua casella di posta.


HE’S ON FIRE – SPRINGSTEEN 1985 (part 2)

Seconda parte del articolo su Springsteen tratto da un Newsweek del 1985.

On this tour, for the first time, the more somber songs have moved to the heart of the show. “Highway Patrolman” was a highlight of last year’s concerts—a lovely, heartbreaking song about a cop torn between loyalties to the law and his black-sheep brother. “The River” told the story of a working-class kid trapped in a sad marriage; “Johnny 99” was a laid-off autoworker driven to crime by insurmountable money troubles. And across America last year, the words of “My Hometown” resonated strongly at each stop: “Now Main Street’s whitewashed windows and vacant stores/Seems like there ain ‘t nobody want to come down here no more/ They’re closing down the textile mill across the tracks/Foreman says these jobs are goingboys andthey ain ‘t coming back …. “
Burners: These are grim messages, but Springsteen is too much a rocker at heart to let the sadder songs overwhelm. What makes his shows exhilarating pop events is the ease with which he shifts gears into high-energy burners like “Thunder Road” and “Cadillac Ranch” – songs that encapsulate all the fire and abandon of the rock-and-roll spirit. Springsteen seems to be everywhere at once on the concert stage: high atop a speaker bank, racing up a stairway to play to the people in the back, tearing back down to the lip of the stage. His shows are marathons, often reaching four hours in length. Says E Street guitarist Nils Lofgren, an established Columbia artist who signed on with Springsteen last year, “With Bruce you wind up treating those four hours as if someone said, ‘You’ve got four hours left on earth. What are you going to do with it?’ “

Springsteen, friends say, would rather be doing nothing else than playing rock and roll . Behind every show lies a thought that’s central to great rock-and-roll performing—the idea that only this moment matters. Not Yesterday, not tomorrow.
but now. His commitment to the moment is total,andevery show in every city bristles with passion and good
humor. Even the hokey moments are deliriously exciting—like the scene when Springsteen and sax player Clemons ( “The BigMan! The King of the World The Master of Disaster!”) square off at opposite ends of a long arena stage, mock scowling, eyes locked, each playing at full tilt—and then race toward one another to meet at center stage for an exuberant twist, twine or rumba.
Privacy: Offstage, the singer devotes his formidable drive to a more personal pursuit: keeping his private life his own business. He is surrounded by a determined cadre of loyal friends and handlers, none of whom has much enthusiasm for talking to the press, and Springsteen himself hasn’t given an interview since talking to Rolling Stone late last year. “I give my entire energy to the public,” he told his new father-in-law after marrying Julianne Phillips in May. “But this is different. Things that are private should be kept private. ” But privacy is harder than ever to come by. He is not only a bigger star than he has ever been, but a different kind of star—a political symbol, a national symbol … and, let’s face it, a sex symbol, thanks to a rigorous schedule of weight training that has chiseled him a whole new profile.
It’s not his first new look. Over the last dozen years Springsteen has worn several faces: the scowling late-Dylan of the late ’70s, the leather-clad tough of the middle decade, the earringed singer / songwriter of l974.To start with,back in his hometown of Freehold,N.J. he was a scrawny Jersey kid with an Irish father, an Italian mother and a Dutch name. A headstrong boy who chafed under discipline both at home and in parochial school, he felt everything turn when he bought a pawnshop guitar at 13. “It was one of the most beautiful sights I’d ever seen in my life,”he told rock journalist Dave Marsh. “I
had found a way to do everything I wanted to do. ” Hooking up with a local band called the Castiles, Springsteen began playing in Jersey bars. Stints in four more local groups followed before he landed an audition with Columbia executive John Hammond, who years earlier had discovered Billie Holiday and Bob Dylan. Hammond gave the young singer 15 minutes of his time. He was stunned. Springsteen signed with Columbia Records in 1972.
His first LP, “Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.,” was done in just three weeks and showed—maybe too strongly—the influence Dylan had had on Springsteen. Wild torrents of words skittered across the record’s surface: “Madman drummers bummers and Indians in the summer with a teen-age diplomat . . . ” Springsteen sang in the album’s opening line. Nobody was quite sure what that meant. From Dylan, who had been obtuse for a decade by that time, music fans expected such. No one knew what to make of this skinny Jersey kid with the scraggly beard. The second Springsteen LP, “The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle,” pared the verbiage back some, to better effect, and played up the jazzier side of Springsteen’s music. It also introduced characters who under one name or another would populate all the singer’s records from then on: this time out they were Spanish Johnny and Puerto Rican Jane, lonely teens fighting to keep their dreams alive in the big city.A few deejays,including Philadelphia’s Ed Sciaky, began to play the records and talk up Springsteen’s incendiary live shows. Sciaky, then with WMMR recalls with special fondness the first time he heard “Rosalita”: “I thought I’d never hear louder applause. It was like an explosion. “
Unfortunately, ecstatic reception in the clubs didn’t mean big sales in the record
stores. But Springsteen kept working the East Coast circuit and attracting a good measure of critical attention. His best notice came from a young Boston writer named Jon Landau: “I
saw rock and roll future,” he wrote in Boston’s weekly Real Paper in May 1974, after a typically exuberant show at the Harvard Square Theatre. “Its name is Bruce Springsteen.” By October 1975 the singer’s small,fiercely loyal group of fans was convinced that Springsteen couldn’t be held down much longer. They were right. The third LP,”Born to Run,”hit the street like a firecracker,a superb,passionate record that traced a whole heartbreaking day in the lives of Springsteen’s urban heroes. Although some critics dismissed the record’s dense sound and complex song cycle as bombastic, sales were brisk—finally—and the album landed in the Top 10. That’s when the national media came around. NEWSWEEK and Time featured the singer on their covers—both in the same week— initiating a chain reaction of press coverage that focused on Springsteen more as an event than a musician. Something of a backlash resulted, and according to associates the young rocker wasn’t ready. “But he learned a lot from it,” an insider says. “He learned to relax and keep focused on what’s real.”
He would need all his forbearance. A legal wrangle with Mike Appel, his manager at the time, would keep him out of the studio for almost two years, dampening his upward momentum and causing some observers to write him off. Springsteen wasn’t legally free to record again until May 1977, with Jon Landau now along as manager and coproducer. “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” released in 1978, was a grittier work than any of the earlier records—no doubt reflecting the frustrating two-year layoff—and it sounded a theme that Springsteen has continued to address: the terrible gap between expectation and reality in the American dream. Home and family emerged as the only comfort; the title tune reminded listeners how bleak the world can be beyond the safe confines of home, and what a high price it exacts from those who try to break away “Lives on the line dreams are found and lost, ” he sang, “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. “
Reacbing On subsequent records Springsteen’s America grew darkerstill. “The River,”a double LP released in 1980,boasted some of his most affecting work to date, and ended with a jolt: “Wreck on the Highway,” a somber Hank Williams sound-alike about a young man who sees his own mortality in a late-night auto crash on a deserted highway. This was deeply moving stuff, and there was more on “The River,” but on the whole the record felt bloated, overly fussed over. Springsteen seemed to be reaching toward something new. Two years later he found it: the surprising and heartfelt “Nebraska, ” a bleak collection of folk tunes recorded solo in his New Jersey home. Inspired (if that’s the right word) by the story of serial killer Charles Starkweather, it is his worst-selling LP to date, and his most powerful. “[The album] was about that American isolation,” he told Rolling Stone, “what happens to people when they’re alienated from their friends and their community and their government and their job. Those are the things that keep you sane, that give meaning to life in some fashion . And if they slip away, then anything can happen.” His Iyrics had grown stronger with each album— quicker, terser, more photographic. His live shows had continued to
attract glowing notices, not least for their skillful mingling of rave-up rockers and American Gothic. By the time “Born in the U.S.A.” was released last June, Springsteen
was ready to assume the title of The Great American Rock and Roller. But even those around him are a little surprised at the leap Springsteen has taken this year in the public consciousness. There is a sense that this latest round of frenzy is somehow beyond—a step past even the madness of last year’s American tour. “The depth and width of the attention have taken an exponential jump,” one associate said last week. “We’re only just adjusting to it now.” That means, among other things, fielding ticket requests from high-profile fans in every walk of life—even politics. New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley will be at the Washington show; some White
House staffers, who can usually wangle admittance to any event, won’t. A rumor about a secret VIP ticket list at federally owned RFK Stadium was shot down late last week, and the denial seems credible—even Gray & Co., the Capital’s premier public- relations firm, has been forced to score tickets from scalpers.
In the band, the press of public attention means more excitement focused on the stage. “Right now you’ve got 7 or 8 million people that are fanatic fans, ” Nils Lofgren says. “Two years ago 5 or 6 million of them didn’t know who Bruce was. There’s electricity that won’t ever quite be exactly like this.” Even allowing for rock-star hyperbole, there’s truth to this. And although this may not be the time to fan the flames, there’s one more reason for people to go nuts about this summer’s Springsteen tour: he and the band have been on the road for 13 months, and according to band intimates the last show on this tour—probably in October—will be the band’s last group activity for quite some time. Springsteen won’t go the way of Prince and retire from the stage. but
Lord, the man needs rest. No one is sure when work on the next record will start. This summer tour “seems like a friendly thing to do,” says a Springsteen insider, “a way to say goodbye for a while. ” During his layoff Springsteen will ponder his next album project, although no one around him knows what shape it will take. There is talk of a live record, as there is after every tour, but it’s just talk so far. The singer’s handlers will spend their time fielding offers from people who want to cash in on his huge new fame. There’s been speculation about movie roles, especially in the wake of Springsteen’s good performances in two rock videos—”I’m on Fire” and “Glory Days”—directed by John Sayles. It’s not likely that he’ll accept an outside offer, though. If he does decide to do a movie it will probably be a project of his own devising, like Prince’s “Purple Rain. ” One thing he definitely will not do is accept any of the offers that have come in for commercial endorsements. An associate rolls his eyes toward the ceiling as he promises that Springsteen will never rewrite “Born in the U.S.A.” for a TV commercial.
Some things, after all, are too important to mess around with. Springsteen’s hard core of admirers talk about how he and his music have changed their lives. They mean it literally. Everyone has a story to tell about the decisive moment when he realized that rock and roll
means as much to the man onstage as it does to him. There’s a sense of community in that moment between artist and audience, one that other forms of expression can’t approach for power and immediacy. In that instant, as guitars thunder and hot lights blaze, Springsteen and his fans share above all a conviction that the music means something—that properly applied, rock and roll can heal broken hearts, mend shattered lives, light the way through hard times or at least ease the pain for one thrilling moment. Another rock idol, Mick Jagger, once said, ‘It’s only rock and roll,
but I like it. ” In Springsteen’s world the thought would be different. It’s rock and roll, he might say. And it matters.


HE’S ON FIRE – SPRINGSTEEN 1985 (part 1)

Articolo su Bruce Springsteen tratto da un Newsweek del 1985.

Lo ho diviso in due parti essendo molto lungo.
Buona lettura e buona settimana

America’s latest rock-and-roll hero has the fans going wild about the Boss.
It was crazy on South Wabash last week, but a Chicago cop, surveying the scruffy scene, pronounced it “good craziness.” By Wednesday about two dozen people had moved their homes onto the street, sleeping under the el tracks and washing up at McDonald’s—all on the mere rumor that Bruce Springsteen tickets might soon be available at Ticketmaster. Jim Teymer drove from Madison, Wis.—140 miles one way—to take his place on the South Wabash line. “He’s an all-American guy. ” said Tevmer. who listens
to Springsteen six hours a day, carrying tapes and headphones to work at an Oscar Mayer plant. “I believe in him so much. ” ,A t the phone company technicians were feverishly working to keep phoned-in ticket sales from clogging exchanges all over the Midwest . Illinois Bell put on-line a computer system that ‘s usually used to control phone traffic on Mother’s Day or handle calls to towns hit by tornadoes. Washington was crazy, too. A few days earlier, when tickets had gone on sale for the Aug. 5 show that will open the last leg of Springsteen’s ’84-’85 tour, phone volume more than doubled, tying up circuits from Virginia to the Boss’s home state of New Jersey. (The 52,306 tickets for RFK Stadium sold out in just over an hour and a half, faster than D.C. tickets for Prince and the Jacksons had gone.) And in New York, Ticketron sold some 236,000 Springsteen tickets in one day—shattering the old record set by the King Tut exhibit. In the long ticket lines, fans reached new heights in creativity. One bagged the limit—eight tickets at $17.50 apiece—and then sneaked back again in disguise. “One of our ticket sellers caught him,” a weary Ticketron official said. “She told him, ‘You changed all your clothes, you changed your wig, but you forgot to change your earring’.” No sale.

Pass Even in the rock-and-roll business, this represents serious insanity. What’s going on? At 35, 10 years after “Born to Run” and 13 months after starting his latest tour, Bruce Springsteen has become a kind of American archetype. He is rock and roll’s Gary Cooper— a simple man who expresses strong beliefs with passion and unquestioned sincerity. He is rock and roll’s Jimmy Cagney as well—streetwise and fiery, a galvanic mixture of body and soul. Hands down the best performer in pop, Springsteen always gives honest value for the fans’ entertainment dollars. And in this summer of mindless Rambomania, the values championed in his songs offer an alternate vision of resurgent American patriotism. Deep affection for home
and family informs almost every line, and above all there is a message of faith in hard times—a conviction that although small towns may crumble and factories rust, hope must never die. “Born in the U.S.A.,”Springsteen’s seventh album,is the strongeststatement yet of what amounts to his rock-and-roll world view. It’s also a huge seller, at 7. 5 million copies sold in America the biggest in the history of Columbia Records, still in the Top 10 after more than a year.
Outside the UnitedStates the record has sold 5 millioncopies in 20 countries, and
was the number-one album in Britain, West Germany and the Netherlands last week. Springsteen’s overseas tour this year confirmed his position as an international symbol of America. In Australia, Japan (“Kyoto,” a Springsteen associate says wonderingly. “What a response! We felt like we were in New Jersey.”) and Europe, kids waved American flags and chanted along with “Born in the U.S.A.” “He represents the dynamism of the United States,” says Christiane Schaeler of radio-station 95.2 in Paris. Besides, “The problems of city life and the working class are the same everywhere,” Scottish music student Michael Hutson said at a sold-out Springsteen concert at Newcastle. And as European audiences cheered, something curious happened at home: Springsteen stepped over the line in the American mind. He went over there a rock star. He’s comingback a symbol.
Despair: Springsteen’s status as an icon, though, isn’t as simple as it seems. It is based largely on “Born in the U.S.A.,” a song that younger audiences (and older ones with short memories) tend to take as an exultant anthem for Reagan-era America in fact it is about a vet whose life was irreversibly scarred by Vietnam. The powerfuI refrain, which Springsteen rasps out in a voice of pure pain, is more about promises broken than promises kept. And although his songs are ultimately hopeful, they are studded with powerful images of despair. The pictures stick in the mind: a drifter speeds down an empty highway past the refinery towers, nowhere to go on a steamy summer night and nothing to do but drive. A kid from a mill town gazes longingly up at a mansion on a hill. A highway patrolman, lonely and confused, watches the taillights disappear as his criminal brother escapes into Canada. These are pictures of an America gone wrong.
Springsteen himself seems uneasy about wearing the mantle of American Archetype. Friends describe him as a genuinely humble man, far removed from the excesses ofthe rock- star life. ”That’s really the real him,” says Clarence Clemons saxophonist in Springsteen’s E Street Band and a longtime friend. “Hecaresforevery person in theaudience.” Besidesbeingdecent, he seems to be canny enough to sense that rock and rollers just don’t make very good archetypes—being an icon of any sort is the furthest remove, spiritually, from the idea of rebellion that lies at rock’s heart. Besides, it’s heavy lifting being a symbol, and the cost is high. Look what it did to Elvis Presley. The lessons of Presley’s lonely life and sad death weren’t lost on Springsteen, who once scaled the walls of Graceland in an attempt to meet the King. Earlier this year he released a reworked Chuck Berry song, “Johnny Bye Bye,” an elegy for Presley: “They found him slumped up against the drain / With a whole lot of trouble running through his veins …. “
“That’s one of the things that has shortened life spans, physically and creatively, of some of the best rockand-roll musicians—that cruel
isolation,” he- told Rolling Stone last year. “If the price of fame is that you have to be isolated from the people you write for, then that’s too f—— high a price to pay.” So Springsteen still mingles with the public whenever he can. Amazingly, fans tend to respect his privacy. Two nights before his wedding in May, he went out and shot pool with his future in-laws at an Oregon bar. And last week as ticket madness raged through half of America, he dined out in midtown
Manhattan with a few close friends. “He tries to
control his own life,” says an old friend. “He’s not interested in being an isolated person.” If Springsteen is reluctant to stand as a cultural symbol, he is even more leery about
politics. He has no strong attachment to any party, and his own politics might be described as populist. He probably wouldn’t have even acknowledged the 1984 presidential race if President Reagan hadn’t made a clumsy attempt to claim the rocker for his own at a September campaign stop. “America’s future rests in a thou- sand dreams,” the president told a whistle-stop crowd in—where else?—New Jersey. “It rests in the message of hope in thesongs of a man so many young Americans ad- mire—New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen.” An associate describes Springsteen as “astounded” by the incident. In October he told Rolling Stone: “You see the Reagan re-election ads on TV—you know: ‘It’s morning in America.’ And you say, ‘Well, it’s not morning in Pittsburgh . It’s not morning above 125th Street in New York. It’s midnight, and Iike.there’s a bad moon risin’.”
So the singer jabbed back, in his own fashion. In Pittsburgh, his first stop after the Reagan remark, he dedicated a song to an activist United Steelworkers’ local . In Tacoma, he dedicated a song to a local environmental organization and urged the audience to look into the group. He made pleas from the stage for local food banks in Atlanta Denver, Oakland and Los Angeles—and kicked in a series of $10,000 personal checks besides. He also delivered a few pointed remarks along the way. “This is a song about blind faith,” he told a Tacoma audience. “Like when the president talks about arms control. “
But that, intimates say, was only because Springsteen felt painted into a corner by the Reagan remark. Such direct volleys are rare. He is a musician first and last, his messages are in the music, and global concerns don’t often intrude. Most often it’s the small. personaltragedies that count in his world: lost jobs, shattered families, the high cost of broken dreams. 



Non è decisamente il mio Springsteen preferito quello del tour di Born in the USA ma questo bootleg merita.

La scaletta:

Disc One:
01. Born In The U.S.A.
02. Badlands
03. Darlington County
04. Johnny 99
05. Seeds
06. Darkness On The Edge Of Town
07. Intro / “Betraying Yourself & Your Neighbours” *
08. Highway Patrolman – first try –
09. Highway Patrolman
10. Intro / “Hanging Loose Tonight”
11. Used Cars
12. Trapped
13. Working On The Highway
14. Intro / “The Mystery Of Love”
15. I’m Goin’ Down
16. Glory Days
17. The Promised Land

Disc Two:
01. Intro / “Longest Walk In The World” *
02. My Hometown **
03. Thunder Road
04. Cover Me
05. Dancing In The Dark
06. Hungry Heart
07. Cadillac Ranch
08. Downbound Train
09. I’m On Fire
10. Growin’ Up
11. Bobby Jean

Disc Three:
01. Intro / “You Ain’t Nothing But Alone”
02. Can’t Help Falling In Love
03. Born To Run
04. Ramrod
05. Twist & Shout (w/ Do You Love Me)
06. Stand On It
07. Travellin’ Band

Bonus tracks dal concerto Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View, CA, May 2, 1988

08. Roulette
09. Intro / “Take Your Past & Put It Away”
10. Spare Parts
11. War
12. Tougher Than The Rest
13. One Step Up
14. Walk Like A Man



Seconda ed ultima parte di quest’ articolo del 1985.

The only exception to the small venues was three nights in August at New York’s Madison Square
Garden, the scene of the disastrous set five years previously when he had opened for Chicago.
History did not repeat itself. The three nights were a triumph, culminating on the last night in Bruce’s
mother herself appearing on stage to drag him back in mock reluctance for an encore.
Springsteen was taking his music to the people it was meant for, the people who were the characters
in his songs. He was singled out at this time as the prime exponent of a new musical development,
‘Blue Collar rock’. Cynthia Rose wrote a telling essay on the phenomenon for the History Of Rock
magazine: ‘[It] is a critical term, disseminated by various rock critics who possess “white collar”
credentials. It was coined to deal with a number of American artists who were selling solidly (in the
case of Bruce Springsteen, spectacularly) and had achieved somewhat heroic stature; all with
“traditional” rock songs, whose lyrics featured girls, cars, rebellion and the radio…. Several supposed
similarities linked those artists (Springsteen, Tom Petty and Bob Seger). The great unspoken,
unwritten one was that they lacked “proper” (i.e. white collar) educations: that their smarts were
street smarts, their language limited to that of the truck stop, shopping mall or suburban housing
tract. That they were tough and randy rockers in the guise of people’s heroes – spokesmen and role
models for the little guy and his girl.’

In Springsteen’s case, that is certainly applicable. He was almost cocky about his lack of real
education, revelled in his role of rock’s noble savage (expressing direct emotion without the
hindrance of proper education) and phrasing his message and narratives in ‘traditional’ rock terms. It
was a point which David Hepworth amplified in a 1982 essay: ‘Springsteen has been called a
reactionary . .. he has shamelessly poured every last iota of his craft, enthusiasm, humour and
passion into giving back to the people what he himself got from the likes of the Drifters, Smokey
Robinson and the Who . . .’
Indeed, in America in the late seventies, people were looking for someone who offered hope, a
figure of integrity following the chicanery of Watergate. In politics they got Jimmy Carter, who at
least got off on the right foot by quoting Bob Dylan in his inaugural address. In rock’n’roll, they got
Bruce Springsteen. His concerts offered more than just good value for money; they became group
expressions of solidarity and hope, with Springsteen placing trust in his audience, making
spontaneous leaps into the heart of the crowd.
In Britain on the other hand, by the time of the release there of Darkness On The Edge Of Town the
majority of people had all but written Springsteen off. They remembered the hype of 1975, and there
had been nothing since then on record to substantiate the pretender. Certainly, there were stories of
the marathon gigs in the States, and a steady trickle of bootlegs. Certainly, there were pieces, too,
like Tony Parsons’ heartfelt New Musical Express interview of October 1978: ‘Kid, I’ve seen ’em all….
But this ain’t just the best gig I’ve ever seen in my life, it’s much more than that. It’s like watching
your entire life flashing by, and instead of dying, you’re dancing!’ But at the end of 1978 UK fans had
other things on their mind. The punk revolution of 1976 had entirely altered the face of the British
music scene. By 1978 the economic sky had become darker and gloomier than that which had seen
the Technicolor panache of Born To Run three years before. The New Wave had throbbed on its own
manic energy, and had produced its own spokesmen. There was the feeling that the hero worship of
remote American superstars – particularly those that sang about cars and cruisin’, and called every
woman ‘baby’ – was over. There were instead, real issues and dangers, which the young punks
confronted. A political swing to the Right, overt racism in British society, the intolerable level of
growing unemployment, all had to be confronted and indeed were confronted by the new
generation of musicians: Tom Robinson’s scathing ‘Winter of ’79’, Elvis Costello’s biting indictments
of fascism on ‘Less Than Zero’ and ‘Night Rally’, the Clash’s accusatory ‘I’m So Bored With The USA’,
the Jam’s attack on the odious National Front on ‘Down In The Tube Station At Midnight’ and the Sex
Pistols’ howl for ‘Anarchy In The UK’.
By now many British bands were no older than their audiences. Heavily political, eagerly embracing
reggae, spurning orthodox rock venues, scornful of fashion, lambasting the established old guard of
rock notables (Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger, Elton John, Genesis), the New Wave had no need for
museum pieces like Bob Dylan or the Pink Floyd. After the initial Luddite assault, which recalled the
heady days of Merseybeat, with every week throwing up dozens of new bands, the New Wave
established its own hierarchy, populated by concerned and articulate writers like Elvis Costello, Paul
Weller, Joe Strummer, Ian Dury and Difford and Tilbrook. Punk had given rock’n’roll a necessary
kick in the right direction, and the last thing anyone needed then was Born To Run II. But that is not
what was delivered, and the new sounds were dark and unlike the previous Springsteen. Rather than
writing him off, Darkness gave Springsteen a lot of new UK fans. It mirrored the turmoil at the end
of the seventies, and confronted contemporary issues head on. At a time when many rock idols were
dismantled and rendered obsolete, Springsteen proved in the tough British musical climate that he
had weathered the storm, and emerged with his principles and credibility intact.
This son of a New Jersey coach driver showed that he could convey sentiments and emotions which
would reverberate around the world. It was, in fact, his origins which enabled him to do this. Tired of
pretentious concept and flimsy philosophical albums, the fans found a gritty honesty and
straightforwardness in Springsteen. Tired of arrogant and aloof stars, they found a singer who was
affable and courteous offstage. Tired of rock music hung around with ‘art’ labels, they found a nonintellectual
who once said, ‘I was brought up on TV…. I didn’t hang round with no crowd that was
talking about William Burroughs!’ This was a man who shared their disillusionment, who also said,
‘When the guitar solos went on too long at the end of the sixties, I lost interest!’
Although political in its broader sense, Springsteen had never allied himself directly with any political
cause. His songs revealed a humanitarian, an artist with a concern for the issues of his time, but never
along orthodox party lines. So it was with some sur,prise that it was learned that Bruce Springsteen
and the E Street Band had agreed to play two charity shows on behalf of MUSE (Musicians United for
Safe Energy) in September 1979. The concerts were a response to the near-disaster at Three Mile
Island in Pennsylvania earlier in the year, when the nuclear process plant leaked and threatened to
explode, causing a hasty evacuation from the area. Springsteen had been friendly with Jackson
Browne, one usual rumours circulated: Springsteen was to play the Marlon Brando role in a re-make
of The Wild One; he was paralysed in hospital; he was making albums with Rickie Lee Jones and
Stevie Nicks; he was to be chosen as New Jersey’s ‘Youth Ambassador’ (he wasn’t, but ‘Born To Run’
was chosen as the state’s ‘unofficial Youth Rock Anthem’). In fact, there was a whisper of truth in the
hospital rumour as he had hurt his leg in a minor motor cycle accident, but this did not stop him
getting back into the studio to record his fifth album.
It was another long job. Work on The River started in April 1979, but the record did not see the light
of day until October 1980. As a reward for the time since Darkness On The Edge Of Town it was a
two-record set. In fact, it is one of the few double albums in rock to fully merit four sides, and still
stands as the best available insight into the Springsteen phenomenon. This was recognised by its
selling 2 million copies. Its strength lies in its diversity, with twenty songs covering the spectrum of
his writing, from the pensive ‘Independence Day’ and ‘Wreck On The
Highway’ to the exuberant ‘Sherry Darling’ and ‘You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)’. Its
span rangcs from a chilling ‘Point Blank’ to a throw-away ‘Cadillac Ranch’. It was a return to the
intensity of his first album seven years before, as if this was the one that Springsteen had to prove
himself with, and as a result poured everything into it. As Paolo Hewitt wrote in his Melody Maker
review: ‘Listening to it is like taking a trip through the rock’n’roll heartland as you’ve never
experienced it. It is a walk down all the streets, all the places, all the people and all the souls that rock
has ever visited, excited, cried for and loved.’
Springsteen had never sounded cockier or brasher on the rockers, or more reflective on the ballads.
As if marking his turning thirty during recording, The River offers a reconciliation between the
glorious optimism of Born To Run and the sombre introspection of Darkness On The Edge Of Town.
It marks a bridge between innocence and experience. The songs find Springsteen viewing the lives
and circumstances of his contemporaries with compassion, but with an objectivity which makes them
universally applicable. It acknowledges that the stark issues which were so clearly defined in youth,
grow blurred and confused with age.
Springsteen saw the album as an austere reflection of the times, but characterised by occasional
delights. The characters here are in danger of being crushed, of standing, drained of motivation and
ambition, but sustained by the possibility of dreams. He told Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles
Times soon after the album was released: ‘Rock’n’roll has always been this joy, this certain happiness
that is, in its way, the most beautiful thing in life. But rock is also about hardness and closeness and
being alone. With Darkness it was hard for me to make those things coexist . . . I wasn’t ready, for
some reason within myself, to feel those things. It was too confusing, too paradoxical. But I finally
got to the place where I realized I had paradoxes, a lot of them, and you’ve got to live with them….
What happens to most people is when their first dream gets killed off, nothing ever takes its place.
The important thing is to keep holding out for possibilities…. There’s an article by Norman Mailer
that says, “The one freedom people want most is the one they can’t have: The freedom from dread.”
That idea is somewhere at the heart of the new album, I know it is.’
Springsteen recognised that as people grow older – or, indeed, grow up – they have to make
compromises, and learn to live with them. It’s inevitable, whether in relationships, jobs, aspirations,
dreams. But there was still a vestige of the romantic clinging to him, saying that you must have
dreams, something to aim for, otherwise life itself loses all meaning, and becomes an empty charade.
He said to the New York Sunday News: ‘You can’t just be a drearner. That can become an illusion,
which turns into a delusion, you know? Having dreams is probably the most important thing in your
life. But letting them mutate into delusions, wow, that’s poison.
Dreams are there to be attained, not sustained, plateaux on the way up our individual Everests. Yet,
ironically, the essence of dreams is their ability to remain untouched or unattainable. The lines from
the album’s title song are especially significant: ‘Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true/Or is it
something worse?’
However, the lighter side of Springsteen was amply represented in The River, from the glorious
Searchers-influenced opening chords of’The Ties That Bind’, through an exultant ‘Sherry Darling’, a
defiant ‘Out On The Street’ and a gleefill ‘Crush On You’ and ‘I’m A Rocker’. Songs like ‘Hungry
Heart’, ‘Ramrod’ and ‘Cadillac Ranch’ are supremely crafted examples of high energy rock’n’roll. But
Springsteen’s strength has always been his variety, the ability to alter moods simply on the strength
of his songs. The contrast imbues the darker side of the album with a greater power and durability.
The characters on the album are people who have been ground down, but are still kicking. They
recognise the bitterness of the system which produced them, and how they have virtually outlived
their usefillness, so they escape, or try to escape, whether to the river, the highway or the edge of
town. What Springsteen so admires is their tryin,g. If any one line from the album epitomises
Springsteen’s realisation of those changes, it is ‘Point Blank’s’ valedictory: ‘I was gonna be your
Romeo, you were gonna be my Juliet/These days you don’t wait on Romeos, you wait on that
welfare check.’ In those ~vo bitterly resigned lines, Springsteen bids a sad farewell to that era of lost
innocence, goodbye t~ Spanish Johnny (‘Like a cool Romeo, he made his moves’) and the Romeo of
‘Fire’. A goodbye, too, to his youth. It was now time to face the harsh realities of adult life.Even the
rockers are peppered with marvellous throwaway lines: ‘So you fell for some jerk who was tall, dark
and handsome/Then he kidnapped your heart, and now he’s holdin’ it for ransom’ (‘I’m A Rocker’),
‘She makes the Venus de Milo look like she’s got no style/She makes Sheena of the Jungle look meek
and mild’ (‘Crush On You’) and the ironic last verse of ‘You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)’.
But although The River contains the best of Springsteen’s recorded work, it also has some low points.
It is difficult to take ‘Drive All Night’ seriously- driving all night for a pair of shoes? The song’s
length, and Springsteen’s hammy delivery, pall beside earlier versions of a similar theme, like ‘Streets
Of Fire’ or ‘Something In The Night’. ‘Stolen Car’ descends quickly into predictability, with the
unconvincing lines: ‘She asked if I re membered the letters I wrote/When our love was young and
bold/ She said last night she read those letters/And they made her feel one hundred years old.’ And
‘Out In The Street’ finds Springsteen at his most brash and feeble: ‘When I’m out in the street, I walk
the way I wanna walk . . . I talk the way I wanna talk.’
It is on a song like ‘Wreck On The Highway’ that Springsteen displays his strengths. It is stripped
down to the bone lyrically and musically, and acts as an iconoclastic coda to the album. The scope and
implication of the song are far broader than the story of a man witnessing somebody dying in the
aftermath of a car crash. By implication, Springsteen raises questions about our ideas of mortality, of
‘the ultimate question’ of life and death, of the haphazard snuffing out of an individual candle. But so
restrained is his performance, and so deft his writing, that the song never becomes pretentious.
‘The Price You Pay’ is an epic song, in both ambition and achievement, from the crashing drums
which introduced it, to Springsteen’s triumphant vocal finish. It touches on the Western myth so
beloved by John Ford, and sounds as if it was intended to be set in Monument Valley: ‘Do you
remember the story of the promised land/How he crossed the desert sands/And could not enter the
chosen land/On the banks of the river he stayed/To face the price you pay?’ The song touches on
the compromises we must make, and the dreams which sustain their purity. A man stands alone,
defiant, determined to fight for what he believes in, aware that sacrifices have to be made, and
willing to undergo purgatory for the glory and the dream.
The title track sprang from Springsteen’s conversations with his brother-in-law, and shows a
complete understanding of the realities of the new recession. His sister had married before she was
20, and started a family soon afterwards. Her husband, a construction worker, lost his job and the
family went through a terrible time. ‘The River’ is about their experiences, and the fortitude that
enabled them to pull through and later to thrive. To Springsteen such people are the real heroes of
today. The song is full of bitter intensity, and is very much of its time, but one which accommodates
the past, recalling carefree younger days in the final verse, without glamorising them. It is an acute
piece of narrative, conclusive proof that Springsteen had overcome the sentimentality which had
threatened to choke his development.
It was one from the heart, as was ‘Independence Day’ – a white flag flying over the no man’s land
which exists between parents and their errant children, which lasts through the years, as successive
generations try to come to terms and cope with that distance. The very understatement of the song
exonerates Springsteen from many of his previous excesses. He carefully, touchingly, delineates that
feeling, that time, when all men must make their way, come Independence Day.
As ever, with any Springsteen album, there was a lengthy, agonising search to decide the final
running order, made doubly difficult because of the 20 songs intended for it. Finally, Springsteen
himself, Jon Landau and Miami Steve managed to agree on the sequencing. So the Drifterish
resignation of’I Wanna Marry You’ slots neatly between the exuberance of’You Can Look . . .’ and
the melancholy ‘The River’, just as ‘Fade Away’ fits perfectly between ‘I’m A Rocker’ and ‘Stolen
The River gave Springsteen his first real hit single – ‘Hungry Heart’ reached number 5 in the US
charts in November 1980; ‘Born To Run’ had, incredibly, only got to 23. It also brought him a whole
vast new audience. The album was awarded a Platinum disc (for selling over one million copies) and
entered the Record World Top Ten at number 2, and Billboard’s at number 4. Such was his success
that only five albums into his career the press gave him one of their greatest accolades, and started
looking out for ‘New Springsteens’!
Not everyone was convinced, though. NewMusical Express’s Julie Burchill remarked that ‘There’s no
bore worse than a Bruce bore!’ and several other critics had a go at him: they thought he was
sentimental and juvenile. He was accused of male chauvinism, constantly referring to women with
the demeaning ‘baby’. These critics viewed his coy attitude to fame as a sham, and remembered the
‘future of rock’n’roll’ quote with bitterness. They also found him tiresomely evangelical about
rock’n’roll itself in interviews, Frances Lass wryly asking in London’s Time Out: ‘What would he have
done if he’d failed his driving test?’ Some of those who had previously liked his work carped about
the constant overpowering use of car imagery and symbols in the new album.
The criticism of him for excessive use of car imagery has been made against other albums. The
justification is that the car is a prime American symbol, and Springsteen has countered: ‘I don’t write
songs about cars. My songs are about people in those cars.’ Certainly, he uses the car and the
highway as recurrent symbols, but this springs from his background and environment. It is unfair to
criticise a writer for his stock of imagery if he expresses deeper emotions through it. Springsteen
simply takes a recognisable icon of America – the car – and utilises it to his own imaginative ends. It
can work to dazzling effect (‘Racing In The Street’, ‘Wreck On The Highway’) or be numbingly
amateurish (‘Drive All Night’).
The hostile critics were, however, in a minority, and the album was well received by the public. With
The River in the shops and on the charts, Springsteen hit the road for his most gruelling tour to date.
It was to last twelve months, cover thirteen countries, and include 132 gigs. Two months into it, in
Philadelphia, he took the stage on the day after one of the most fateful dates in rock history 8
December 1980. That night, John Lennon had been murdered in New York. Clearly shaken,
Springsteen addressed the crowd: ‘It’s a hard night to come out and play when so much has been lost
… if it wasn’t for John Lennon, we’d all be in a different place tonight. It’s a hard world that makes
you live a lot of things that are unlivable. And it’s hard to come out here and play, but there’s
no~hing else to do!’ Springsteen was visibly shocked by the death of a man he had never met, but
whose music had started him on his own career – ‘I got the same musical background as most 31-
yearolds: Stones, Beatles, Kinks.’ He finished that night with ‘Twist and Shout’.
Appropriately, when The River tour coiled into Europe in April 1981, the first date was in Hamburg,
the city where the Beatles had paid their dues in cellars along the Reeperbahn two decades before.
Promoter Fritz Rau called Springsteen’s visit ‘the most successful in German rock history’. It was a
promising beginning, and the promise was not to be confounded.
of the organizers, for a number of years, and it was at his suggestion that he agreed to appear on a
platform campaigning against nuclear energy.
Springsteen’s immediate reaction on hearing of the incident had been to write a song called
‘Roulette’. It speculated on how Three Mile Island would have affected a man and his family if they
had lived in the area. However, it is not a good song. While managing to evoke a feeling of eeriness
and threat, it is far too paranoid, and subscquently suffers by concentrating on such a specific
incident. The broader aspects of the song, and the possibility of nuclear holocaust, are clumsily tacked
on at the end. Wisely, Springsteen never officially recorded the song, and did not even perform it at
the MUSE concerts at Madison Square Garden.
The MUSE shows of September 1979 were a watershed for the music of the seventics. Therc were five
concerts. Springsteen closed each of the last two, and on both occasions stole the show. He played a
particularly energetic hour-and-a-half set in the second one, giving everything he had as if to
challenge time itself in defiance of the fact that the next day was his thirtieth birthday. But perhaps
the event was looming over him, because in an uncharacteristic burst of temper he swooped on his
photographer exgirlfriend, Lynn Goldsmith, in the front of the crowd, and had her ejected for taking
photographs of him in spite of an agreement that she wouldn’t.
A selection from the concerts appeared as a film, No Nukes, featuring threec of Springsteen’s songs,
accompanied by a No Nukes triple album, which featured two of the other songs he performed –
‘Stay’ and ‘The Devil With The Blue Dress Medley’.
Lined up were the rock establishment of James Taylor and Carly Simon, Crosby, Stills and Nash,
Jackson Browne and the Doobie Brothers, with Springsteen there to provide thc shock of the new.
Even for the unconverted, it’s no contest, with Springsteen winning hands down. From the moment
he makes his first appearance in the No Nukes fiLm, primed backstage, he is the undoubted star of
the event. The resultant film and triple album amply demonstrate just how entrenched and out-oftouch
the old guard had become. Graham Nash, who performed an embarrassing version of ‘Our
House’, unwittingly offered an epitaph for the occasion when he was asked what it was like playing
bcfore Springsteen: ‘Never open for Bruce Springsteen!’ Only Gil Scott-Heron’s passionate ‘We
Almost Lost Detroit’ and Jackson Browne’s haunting ‘Before The Deluge’ come anywhere near
matching Springsteen’s intensity.
He shook the concert to life with an energetic ‘Thunder Road’. But it was the newly written ballad
‘The River’ which was the real revelation. Couched in sombre blue light, and singing with an
intensity that surpassed even Darkness, Springsteen performed ‘Thc River’ at his most sensitive and
The album package was released in December 1979, and the film followed in August of the next year.
The LP was the sole live recording of Bruce Springsteen and the E Strcct Band at the time.
With the now customary two-year lapse between albums the
This Land Is Your Land
The tour was gathering momentum. From Germany it went to Switzerland, France, Spain, Belgium,
Holland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and finally to Britain.
Any doubts as to whether Springsteen was right for the current climate wcre soon confounded. In
Britain alone over 600,000 applications were received for the total of 100,000 seats available at his UK
shows. Although the deliberate ugliness of the punks was being replaced in a process of reaction by
the narcissism of the New Romantics, Springsteen survived the backlash that had had those who
sympathised with old-style rock’n’roll branded as ‘rockist’. Everyone involved was determined that
there would be no repetition of the 1975 debacle. Jon Landau told Billboard: ‘There was a great deal
of promotion around then. The situation wasn’t properly controlled. This time we wanted people to
know we were hcrc, to see the records, but beyond that we didn’t want to do anything especially
elaborate.’ Where earlier he had met coolness and scepticism, he was now greeted with enthusiasm.
Promoter Harvey Golclsmith, who hanclled the 1975, 1981 and 1985 shows, remembered how
sobering that first visit had been: ‘We went out to dinner afterwards, and he just couldn’t understand
it all. He was used to playing clubs in the US where audiences knew his songs, and went up the walls
for him, but here was an audience just sitting there, saying, “Okay Brucie baby, show me”.’ But this
time it was different.
In the midst of a depression British audiences found a song like ‘The River’ just as applicable to their
own experiences as it was in the USA. During the European leg of his tour Springsteen added Woody
Guthrie’s ‘This Land Is Your Land’ to his set; it seemed entirely appropriate at the start of a summer
that had already seen riots in one black ghetto and was to see a lot more. On the night of Bob
Marleys death, he altered a line to run ‘From California to thestreets of Brixton’.
The songs Springsteen performed in these concerts were an especially eclectic example of the range
he now presented regularly. As well as his own songs, he gave a liberal selection of rock classics: the
Elvis ballads ‘Follow That Dream’ and ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’, John Fogertys ‘Who’ll Stop The
Rain’ and ‘Rockin’ All Over The World’, Bobby Fuller’s ‘I Fought The Law’, Arthur Conleys ‘Sweet
Soul Music’, the Beatles’ ‘Twist And Shout’, and Jerry Lee Lewis’ ‘High School Confidential’, as well as
Guthrie’s democratic anthem. However, unaccountably, he only performed one song from his first
two albums, ‘Rosalita’.
Springsteen’s reason for including the classics in his shows was not to preserve them in some sort of
rock’n’roll museum, or to show off his knowledge of music. It is because rock’n’roll is his life, and
they are included as a homage, to pay tribute to the great liberating influence the music had on him.
He told Crawdaddy: ‘Sometimes people ask me who are your favourites. My favourites change….
For me the idea of rock’n’roll is sort of my favourite…. We don’t play oldies. They may be older
songs, but theyre not nostalgic…. It’s great right now, it’s great today, and if somebody plays it and
people hear it, theyll love it tomorrow.’ Once again, Springsteen showed that in rock you have to
move on, but in doing so you also have to be aware of what has been before.
Springsteen’s fascination with rock history is not just a matter of memories from his own past. The
past is there for constant exploration. He told Dave Marsh: ‘I go back, further all the time, back into
Hank Williams, back into Jimmie Rodgers…. What mysterious people they were. There’s this song,
“Jungle Rock”, by Hank Mizell. VYhere is Hank Mizell? What happened to him? What a mysterious
person. What a ghost. And you can put that thing on and see him. You can see him standing in some
little studio, way back when, and just singing that song. No reason. Nothing gonna come of it. Didn’t
sell. That wasn’t no Number One record, and he wasn’t playing no big arenas after it either…. But
what a mythic moment, what a mystery. Those records are filled with mystery; theyre shrouded
with mystery. Like these wild men come out of somewhere, and man they were so alive. The joy and
abandon, inspiration. Inspirational records.’
The European and Scandinavian concerts impressed even his critics with their commitment and their
length. It was a refreshing change after years of American stars going there with no apparent desire
other than to make money, and after several tours by inferior musicians with less integrity.
Springsteen’s performance style, his long monologues, and his affability particulary captivated
European audiences, who had never experienced anything like it before. After the European concerts
Springsteen and the E Street Band retumed to the States for an anti-nuclear benefit at the Hollywood
Bowl, followed by another three months of touring, once again crossing the country from New
Jersey to California. He added several new interpretations to the set – Woody Guthrie’s ‘Deportees’,
the Byrds’ ‘Ballad Of Easy Rider’, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Proud Mary, Frankie Ford’s ‘Sea
Cruise’ and Tommy James’ ‘Mony Mony’. By the time they had finished they had been seen by more
than a million people, performing to capacity crowds. But Springsteen tours are not just planned as
financial ventures. Touring for a large group like the E Street Band was an expensive business, and
when Jon Landau was asked about this, he replied: ‘Bruce Springsteen doesn’t usually make decisions
on a profit and loss basis.’
In the lull after the tour, Clarence and Miami Steve worked on solo albums, and Max Weinberg was
hard at work on a book about rock drummers. Of all the E Street Band, Miami Steve was closest to
Springsteen in his devotion to rock’n’roll, and missed being on the road. He created an alter-ego,
Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul, which produced one fine album Men Without Women (and a
great single, ‘Solidarity’). But Springsteen himself kept a low profile for most of 1982, emerging for
occasional jam sessions with musicians passing through New Jersey – The Stray Cats, Mitch Ryder,
Dave Edmunds, Nils Lofgren – and for a duet with Jackson Browne at a Rally For Disarmament
concert in New York’s Central Park in June. Otherwise he was involved in lengthy stints in the studio
with the E Street Band, where they stockpiled numerous songs for the follow-up to The River. He
was also spending time in a recording studio in a different role. The week after finishing The River he
had set about producing Gary US Bonds’ album Dedication, which was released in 1981. In early 1982
he was working on the next one, On The Line, which was released in June of that year. This desire to
help an old friend shows that Springsteen’s dedication to rock heritage wasn’t simply limited to
including ‘oldies’ in his stage set. This was all part of that Asbury camaraderie: if someone influenced
you, or inspired your music, you owed that person a debt – which saw Miami Steve, literally, pulling
Lee Dorsey out from under a car in the garage where he worked; and which also saw Springsteen
rescuing Bonds from McDonalds’ openings, and including Ben E. King of the Drifters on the finished
Dedication album. Of the two albums, Dedication was the one that garnered the critical plaudits, with
soulfill renderings of songs by Dylan, the Beatles and Jackson Browne. It also had three new songs by
Springsteen himself. There were also two cracking rockers, ‘Dedication’ and ‘This Little Girl’, and a
Bonds/Springsteen duet on ‘Jole Blon’, a song which Buddy Holly had produced for Waylon Jennings
in 1959. But by the time of On The Line the formula was wearing thin, and Springsteen’s songs were
distinctly sub-standard. Only the exuberant ‘Angelyne’ sounded genuine, while ‘Club Soul City’ was
a clurnsy attempt at a big soul ballad, and ‘Out Of Work’ was almost offensive in its flippancy. The
album prompted accusations that Springsteen was simply using Bonds albums as a durnper for his
own below-par material, and Springsteen did not do any more work with him.
Much more successfill was ‘From Small Things, Big Things Come’, which Springsteen gave to Dave
Edmunds backstage after one of the concerts at the Wembley Arena during the British Tour. It can be
found on Edmunds’ DE7th album. In Edmunds’ capable hands, the song is a classic, tearaway rocker,
closely allied to ‘Ramrod’ or ‘Cadillac Ranch’. One can imagine that Springsteen’s version differs little.
It’s archetypal Springsteen from the word ‘go’. The first verse alone manages to include references to
‘high school’, ‘the promised land’ and ‘hamburger stands’. The killer line comes in the second verse:
‘First she took his order, then she took his heart.’ It skips along in suitably irreverent vein, until the
bridge: ‘Oh, but love is bleeding/It’s sad but it’s true . . .’ before swerving into darker territory on the
final verse: ‘Well, she shot him dead, on a sunny Florida road.’ The motive? ‘She couldn’t stand the
way he drove!’
A detour came when Springsteen donated a song, ‘Protection’, to Donna Summer, which appeared
on her eponymous 1982 album. While ‘Protection’ was not vintage Springsteen, it had its moments:
‘Well if you want it, here is my confession/Baby I can’t help it, you’re my obsession.’ He also donated
a song to Clarence Clemons for his Rescue album, ‘Savin’ Up’, but it was mediocre.
All this activity with different musicians masked a different Springsteen at work. By 1982 he was
being hailed as America’s premier rock’n’roller. With the E Street Band he had been playing all over
the USA and Western Europe to rapturous receptions. But in September, with the release of his next
album, he pulled the plugs out and took everybody by surprise. CBS were astounded when they
received the tapes of Nebraska. Knowing the man’s notoriety for studio perfection, it sounded
astonishingly like a bootleg – scraps of songs, Springsteen entirely solo, demos for the E Street Band.
Anyone expecting a Big Man solo, or any thunderous Mighty Max drumming, was in for a shock.
With the E Street Band back in the swamps of Jersey, Bruce Springsteen had been out on the road
alone, heading straight for the badlands of the Mid-West. He had spent a lot of time just driving
around the country, talking to people, relaxing in the anonymity. In fact, the finished tapes were
hand-delivered by Springsteen to CBS after one such long drive.
Nebraska is one of the most iconoclastic albums ever willingly released by a major rock artist. In
terms of shock and impact, it is comparable to Dylan’s John Wesley Harding and Lennon’s Plastic
Ono Band. Like both of these, it is the sound of an artist baring his soul in public, and doing it in a
radically unorthodox manner.
The seeds for the album were sown when Springsteen read Joe Klein’s biography of Woody Guthrie,
which had inspired him to include Guthrie’s ‘This Land Is Your Land’ at every one of his European
shows. The influence went deep. Talking to Marc Didden prior to the release of Nebraska,
Springsteen said: ‘Why do I cover Woody Guthrie? Because that is what is needed right now.
Everybody is in sackcloth and ashes in my country these days. After Watergate, America just died
emotionally…. Nobody had any hope left. People were so lhorrified when they learned of the largescale
corruption in the land of the brave and free that they stayed in their houses, scared and numbed
.. . I sing that song to let people know that America belongs to everybody who lives there: the blacks,
Chicanos, Indlians, Chinese and the whites…. It’s time that someone took on the reality of the
eighties. I’ll do my best!’
Half a century before, Woody Guthrie had rambled round the country in the fit of a Depression,
writing and commenting on what he saw. The recession of the thirties bit deep, cutting to the heart of
the American Dream.
Guthrie was a nomad, a social commentator, a weaver of fairy tales, a folk poet and a political
activist. His plaintive voice spoke for the oppressed and dispossessed. While the bankers were
evicting entire families, Guthrie wrote this of Pretty Boy Floyd: ‘Well, they say he was an outlaw/But
I never heard of an outlaw driving families from their homes.’ Guthrie was courageous and
outspoken, with ‘This machine kills fascists’ written on his guitar. He realised that songs and words
could be weapons, firing against uncaring governments and ‘legalized crooks’. Songs poured out of
him – ‘Pastures Of Plenty’, ‘Grand ~oulee Dam’, ‘So Long, It’s Been Good To Know Yuh’ – but it was
‘This Land Is Your Land’ that made him public property. Guthrie has been incensed by Irving Berlin’s
jingoistic ‘God Bless America’, and wrote the song as a reply, claiming that America was everyone’s.
At the bottom of the first draft of it he wrote: ‘All you can write is what you see.’
The other influence on Nebraska was another great figure of American popular music, Hank
Williams, the finest artist Country & Western music has yet produced. Williams’ songs conveyed a
feeling of pain and isolation, with titles like ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ and ‘I’ll Never Get Out Of
This World Alive’. It is no coincidence that Springsteen chose the title of one of his saddest songs,
‘Mansion On The Hill’, for one of his own songs on Nebraska. Long before the release of the album
he had told Dave Marsh: ‘I love that old country music … I listened to Hank Williams, I went back and
dug up all his first sessions…. That and the first Johnny Cash record.’ (Cash repaid the compliment in
1983 with his Johnny 99 album, which also included a gripping cover of Springsteen’s ‘Highway
Patrolman’, both from Nebraska.)
Ironically, Nebraska was the album John Hammond had envisaged Springsteen making for his CBS
debut ten years before, in the style of Bob Dylan, solo and acoustic. But Springsteen’s background
was not in folk, and the only element of Dylan’s career which had ever impinged on the young Bruce
was his controversial electric years of 1965/6. Springsteen’s adolescence was a diet of British Beat,
R&B, and rock’n’roll. The folk influence had only been apparent on the near-disastrous ‘Mary Queen
Of Arkansas’ from his first album, and the quirky ‘Wild Billy’s Circus Story’ from 1974. Now he
seemed to change direction, in a turnabout that was in the opposite direction to Dylan’s own. Dylan
had horrified the folk purists in 1965 by going electric. In 1982, Springsteen went from rock to
Nebraska had not started as a solo album; it just happened that way. Springsteen had written the
songs in about two months. He then bought a tape recorder so that he could record demos to play to
the band. He told InternationalMusician and Recordin,g World: ‘I got this little cassette recorder that’s
supposed to be really good, plugged it in, turned it on, and the first song I did was “Nebraska”. I just
kinda sat there: you can hear the chair creaking on “Highway Patrolman” in particular. I recorded
them in a couple of days…. I had only four tracks, so I could play the guitar, sing, then I could do two
other things. That was it. I mixed it on this little board, an old beat-up Echoplex.’
The tape was taken to the recording studio and was recorded in filll band versions, but Springsteen
was dissatisfied with the results. The cassette still seemed to sound better. So Springsteen and the
record engineer set about the task of making a master out of the home-made demos.
Initially, the album alienated many of his fans, as evinced by the slow sales, but halfway through
1983- it had sold a million copies in the States, and won a number of critics’ polls.
The album’s critical reception was generally healthy, with many writers surprised by Springsteen’s
honesty in laying his music so openly on the line. The comparisons with Guthrie and Williams are
apparent on the finished album, but there were also echoes of some of the best American rock
writers: the Band’s Robbie Robertson, Randy Newman and Tom Waits. Robertson (ironi-~ cally, a
Canadian) had proved himself a diligent and sympathetic chronicler of American history with songs
like ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’ and ‘Rocking Chair’, and Newman and Waits had a
penchant for singling out low-life characters on their albums. The eclectic Ry Cooder had also tackled
a project as ambitious as Nebraska with his 1972 album, ‘Into The Purple Valley’, which dwelt on the
Depression era through the songs of Guthrie and Sleepy John Estes.
Like Guthrie’s and Steinbeck’s characters, the people on Nebraska are victims, manipulated by
faceless bureaucrats and political systems which are beyond their comprehension or control. In
conversation with Chet Flippo of Musician Springsteen said that it was about the breakdown in
spiritual values: ‘It was kind of about a spiritual crisis, in which man is left lost. It’s like he has nothing
left to tie him to society anymore. He’s isolated from the government. Isolated from his job. Isolated
from his family. And, in something like “Highway Patrolman”, isolated from his friends.’ It is a record
for America under the Reagan administration. But throughout he observes these victims with
characteristic sympathy, and recognises that their individuality cannot, will not, be crushed.
Knowing the care that Springsteen attaches to his records, the starkness of this, his sixth album, is
symbolic of his desire to convey the topicality and earnestness of the songs. They are hung on the
bare frame of a simple guitar and harmonica, so that the lyrics will be paramount. By now, he was
confident enough in his lyrical abilities and the inherent strength of his characters to let them stand
on their own merits, and Nebraska’s strength lies in that starkness. On those ten tracks, there was
nothing for the singer to hide behind.
The title track is based on the Charlie Starkweather killings in Nebraska in 1959, events which
Terence Malick brilliantly depicted in his 1973 film, Badlands. Starkweather and his girlfriend had
gone on an orgy of killing in the badlands of Wyoming, and Springsteen contacted Ninette Beaver,
who had written a book on the couple, to obtain further background material.
Springsteen’s writing has always had a strong cinematic feel, never more so than on the Nebraska
songs. ‘Atlantic City’, Springsteen’s tale of racketeering on the boardwalk (a bitter distance from the
‘Little Eden’ of ten years before), obviously had some connection with Louis Malle’s 1980 film of the
same name. ‘Highway Patrolman’ refers to the loyalty of friendship so apparent in the films of John
Ford. ‘Mansion On The Hill’ has the atmosphere of a Holywood forties film noir, and the home in
‘My Father’s House’ sounds as if it’s straight out of Psycho! Indeed, so much of the album, starting
with the bleak cover shot, is like watching a black and white film. ‘Johnny 99’ could well have been
played by John Garfield or the sullen young Brando. The congregation on ‘Reason To Believe’ could
well be singing ‘Shall We Gather At The River?’ from any one of a dozen Ford films (and
representing the album’s darker side, the preacher could well be palyed by Robert Mitchum from
Charles Laughton’s eerie Night Of The Hunter).
Springsteen told Rolling Stone in 1978 about the visual aspect of his songs: ‘There’s no settling down,
no fixed action. You pick up on the action, and then at some . . . point . . . the camera pans away, and
whatever happened, that’s what happened. The songs I write, they don’t have particular beginnings,
and they don’t have endings. The camera focuses in and then out.’ A statement which mirrors Jean
Luc Godard’s ‘All my films have a beginning, a middle and an end – but not necessarily in that order!’
That cinematic element in Springsteen’s songs is dictated by the artist, zooming in and out on specific
scenes, a slice of the action. The original cover for Darkness On The Edge Of Town (and which was
subsequently used for the 12-inch single of ‘Rosalita’) was a black and white shot of Springsteen
sitting idly outside a gas station at night, caught in the viewfinder for a brief second, before moving
on. He may paint in big screen Technicolor, but Springsteen crams his songs with incident and detail
to make them intimate.
Also evident on Nebraska is the constant, deferential use of the word ‘sir’. The characters are
resigned to life at the bottom of the ladder, and despite America’s being the great democratic
paradise, there are still class differences. Even facing death (‘Sheriff, when that man pulls the switch
sir …’) all men are not equal. They are the underdogs, the people that the rest of the country (even
their own families) wipe their feet on. Robbed of the dignity of labour, crime becomes their only
option. These are the ‘Dustbowl Ballads of 1982’. ‘Johnny 99’ could well be a petty criminal, or playing
in a rock’n’roll band. But he turns to crime, and in a trial which is a cross between Kafka and Dylan in
‘Drifter’s Escape’, Johnny pours his heart out to ‘Mean John Brown’. But to no avail. As Dylan sang
on his 1968 song: ‘The judge he cast his robe aside, a tear came to his eye/You fail to understand’, he
said, ‘why must you even try?’. ‘Atlantic City’ is a bitter, dark song, but as on all of Springsteen’s best
work, there is a residual strand of hope: ‘Well I guess that everything dies, baby that’s a fact/But
maybe everything that dies someday comes back.’ ‘Highway Patrolman’, one of Springsteen’s finest
songs, has a stately, dignified narrative, which is anguished in its intensity.
Binding the songs is a sense of loyalty, whether it is the loyalty of the killer on the title track to his
girlfriend (a spellbinding opening image with the sense of small-town America, depicting the girl
‘twirling her baton’), or the loyalty of a son to his father, and his inability to atone for childhood sins,
or the loyalty of a man for his brother gone bad. The crisis of duty over filial affection is weighed up,
but the consideration that ‘man who turns his back on his family just ain’t no good’ overcomes the
guilt of turning a blind eye. But buried even deeper than that sense of loyalty, below even
Springsteen’s care and concern for the victims, at the core of the album, lies a sense of dignity, a sense
of optimism and wonder, that ‘at the end of every hard earned day, people find some reason to
Springsteen’s characters seem to have come from somewhere, before being captured in the songs.
For one brief, crucial moment, before they drive off, whether it is on the boardwalk, the night time
drive down Kingsley, the wreck on the highway, on the Canadian border or in the mansion on the
hill. And while the country lumbers on past them, towards an unknown destiny, those characters
exist, and have been given a voice.
Glory Days
It had been four years since Springsteen’s last rock’n’roll album and four years is a long time in
rock’n’roll terms. Four years that begged the question: could Bruce Springsteen still pack a punch, or
was he just punching the clock? It was another long wait to the next alburn, and the advance sounds
were not promising. On 10 May 1984 Bruce Springsteen’s first new song in 18 months and his first
rock’n’roll song in all those years, the single ‘Dancing In The Dark’ was released. The opening lines
were ominous: ‘I get up in the evening/And I ain’t got nothing to say . . .’. Some of the lines like ‘I
need a love reaction’, were dire. Moreover, ‘Dancing In The Dark’ was dance-rock, complete with a
synthesiser. It even appeared in three additional special 12-inch dance mixes, supervised by New
York master mixer Arthur Baker, the man who achieved the impossible by putting the funk into
New Order. The new version stretched the original by emphasising the rhythm, but it seemed little
more than a concession to the current fad for alternate mixes. The B-side of all versions, however,
was an interesting rarity, ‘Pink Cadillac’ a Springsteen song which Bette Midler had included in her
live shows for a couple of years. It was a pensive, bluesy ballad in the tradition of ‘Fire’, but it lacked
that song’s brooding sensuality, and frittered away its potential with regurgitated auto imagery and
recycled Biblical references. The single, however, shot up the charts. In the USA it was only kept from
the top spot by Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry’. In the UK it initially only got to nurnber 28, but then,
after a BBC special about Springsteen was screened just before Christmas, it started climbing again,
rising to nurnber 4, eight months after it was releascd.
The real meat, however, was not far behind. Born The USA was released on 4 June in both the UK
and the USA. In the UK it shot straight into the album charts at No.2, showing how well his 1981 tour
had established him, while in the States it made top of the charts in three weeks. Within a few months
it had sold over 5 million copies worldwide. The reviews were glowing, with critics delighted to find
Springsteen back in tandem with the E Street Band, and leaving behind the insularity of Nebraska.
Newsweek welcomed his return as a rock’n’roll hero. Village Voice called it his best album to date.
Rolling Stone proclaimed it ‘a classic’. The Los Angeles Times’ Robert Hilburn (a long-time fan)
waxed Iyrical: ‘John Lennon was wrong when he said no-one has ever improved on the pure rock
rejoicing of Jerry Lee Lewis’ “VVhole Lot Of Shakin’ Going On”. In terms of sheer exhilaration, Bruce
Springsteen’s “Born To Run” in 1975 blew “Shakin”‘ away. Nine years and four albums after “Born To
Run”, Springsteen continues to blow ’em away!’ In Britain, Adam Sweeting of MelodyMaker had his
finger on the pulse when he wrote: ‘With successive releases, Springsteen’s version of “rock” has
moved further and further from any remaining vestiges of what it might feel like to be a delinquent,
under-age beer drinker…. Despite the familiarity of themes and forms, Born In The USA makes a
stand in the teeth of history and stirs a few unfashionable emotions.’
The actual release of Born In The USA was characteristically fraught. Since The River in 1980,
Springsteen had stockpiled around 100 songs. Often the band had gone into the studio and recorded
numbers so new to them that they did not know the chords. In order to keep it fresh there was very
little rehearsing. These tracks ranged from rough demos, the most immediate of which became
Nebraska, to finished full band songs, which became the core of Born In The USA. Those songs were
endlessly sifted through until the final dozen tracks were selected – ironically, the album’s anthem,
‘No Surrender’, was only included at the very last minute, as a tribute to Miarni Steve, who had
decided to leave the band.
The second single lifted from Born In The USA was ‘Cover Me’, which included a bonus on the B-side
– a live version of Tom Waits’ haunting ‘Jersey Girl’, from his Heart Attack And Vine album. Many
people felt the song was written for Springsteen, but Waits actually wrote it for his wife, a real Jersey
girl. Springsteen had included it in his live shows, and duetted with Waits on the song in Los Angeles
in 1981.
Since the release of Nebraska in 1982, Springsteen’s activities had kept him confined to the studio,
recording again with his band. He did return to impromptu live work, though, averaging one
appearance a week at various Asbury clubs and bars (including one appearance at an Italian joketelling
contest, where he failed to win the $25 prize!). The bands he jammed with were old favourites,
such as Cats On A Smooth Surface, joining them onstage at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park for a
version of ZZ Top’s ‘I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide’. He also appeared regularly with Clarence Clemons,
and with Bystander he premiered ‘Dancing In The Dark’ at Asbury’s Gl~ub Xanadu in May 1984.
Four of Springsteen’s songs—’It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City’, ‘Adam Raised A Cain’, ‘She’s
The.One’ and ‘Streets Of Fire’ – were used effectively at this time in John Sayles’ film Baby It’s rOu,
which included a scenic detour in Asbury Park.
Such relative inactivity from Springsteen allowed the E Street Band to pursue their own activities.
Max Weinberg finished and published his book on the great rock drurnmers, The Big Beat, early in
1984. Clarence Clemons set up a new band, the Red Bank Rockers, who released their debt album on
CBS in late 1983. They attracted great notices for their live appearances, but when the music was
captured on vinyl, it lost its spontaneity, and sounded forced and desultory. Miarni Steve persevered
with his own band, the Disciples of Soul, but while Clemons also continued with the E Street Band,
Miami Steve decided to go it alone in early 1984. Springsteen noted the move on ‘No Surrender’, and
it is remembered in ‘Bobby Jean’. The split was amicable; as Van Zandt said: ‘We were friends long
before we played together, we’ll be friends forever,’ and on the inner sleeve of Born In The USA
Springsteen bade Little Steven ‘a good voyage, my brother’, in Italian. Any doubts which may have
lingered about the mood of their parting were scotched on 20 August 1984 when Miami Steve joined
Bruce on stage at the Meadowlands Arena in New Jersey for a classic version of Dobie Grey’s ‘Drift
Away’ and a scorching ‘Two Hearts’. Little Steven’s second album, Voice Of America, was released at
the same time as his former boss’s, and picked up sympathetic and occasionally glowing reviews,
with critics singling out its overtly human rights sentiments.
Although he had not joined the E Street Band officially until 1975, Steve Van Zandt had been a longtime
companion, having been a member of Steel Mill. With such a gap in the ranks, someone very
special was required to join as second guitarist. The person chosen was Nils Lofgren, who joined the
band, avowedly for a year starting with their 1984 US tour – after borrowing a boxful of bootlegs and
live tapes to acquaint himself fillly with his new band’s style. He and Springsteen had first met in 1969
when they both shared an audition for the Fillmore West, and their paths had crossed several times
over the intervening years. Lofgren was a gritty rock’n’roller of the old school, who started life as a
precocious 16-year-old guitarist in Chicago before talking his way into Neil Young’s backing band
and contributing to Young’s classic 1970 albumAffer The Goldrush. With his own band, Grin, Lofgren
then established a devoted cult following. He is also a songwriter, his style veering from the punchy
‘I Came To Dance’ to the sublime balladry of ‘Shine Silently’. His interpretation of the Goffin/King
standard ‘Goin’ Back’ emphasised his appreciation of rock history, which must have rated with
Springsteen. Following his reunion with Young on the latter’s 1983 ‘Trans’ tour, Lofgren played with
Springsteen in Asbury Park the Christmas of that year. Springsteen reckoned he had the same
musical feelings as Van Zandt: ‘We looked at music in the same way and cared about the same
With his band in order, a new album under his belt, even Springsteen could no longer ignore the
video boom. After discussions with video aces Godley and Creme, Springsteen eventually chose
director Brian de Palma (Phantom Of The Paradise, Carrie) to shoot him in his first video
performance for ‘Dancing In The Dark’ in June 1984. His only previous promotion video had been
for ‘Atlantic City’ in 1982, but he did not feature in it. The video showed only views of the town shot
from a moving car. He remained opposed in principle to videos, as he believed that his songs were
already full of cinematic detail and that visuals introduced an extraneous element. He also feels that
the songs work on people’s imaginations and that it is up to each individual to see what the song
suggests to him, and not to have someone else’s vision imposed on him. Nevertheless, he gave way
for ‘Dancing In The Dark’, and was to appreciate that this gave him an audience in pre-teen kids.
Moreover, he regarded the video as sufficiently successfill to commission John Sayles to shoot
another performance video for the ‘Born In The USA’ single, but the finished product was criticised as
Springsteen was clearly miming on it.
Any rumours that this burst of activity was to be Springsteen’s swansong were scotched on 29 June
1984, in St Paul, Minnesota, when Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band kicked offtheir first tour in
three years with a marathon three-and-a-half-hour,30-song set. Springsteen proved he had coped
with the intervening years, and did not compromise a jot in those shows. He had straightened up his
diet, kicking his junk food habit, and having chefs prepare large bowls of vegetables for him as soon
as he came offstage. He also pumped iron at local health clubs on the road, and the whole band
regularly worked out. Raring to get back on the road, Springsteen was fitter, healthier than ever, as
he told Debby Miller: ‘Jump up and down and screarn at the top of your lungs for 20 rninutes and see
howyou feel!’
The demand to see Springsteen in concert had not abated during his three-year lavoff. In New Jersey
the 200,000 tickets for his Meadowlands shows were sold out in one day! In Wisconsin, such was the
demand for tickets that 13 July was declared ‘Bruce Springsteen Day’ by Govemor Tony Earl.
The ’84 tour included full band versions of the solo songs Springsteen recorded for Nebraska – the
title track, ‘Atlantic City’, ‘Mansion On The Hill’, ‘Used Cars’ and ‘Highway Patrolman’, all of which
grew in stature when augrnented by the discreet band backing. From Born In The USA, ‘No
Surrender’, ‘Glory Days’ and ‘Working On The Highway’ became integral parts of the set. The
evening wrapped up with a swaggering version of the Rolling Stones’ 1968 ‘Street Fighting Man’,
which Springsteen included because, as he told friends, he just had to sing the line: ‘So what can a
poor boy dorcept sing for a rock’n’roll band.’ Also included were perennial live favourites like ‘Born
To Run’, ‘Fire’, ‘Thunder Road’, ‘Rosalita’ and ‘Badlands’. He adeptly juggled around all facets of his
recorded career, 1982’s ‘Used Cars’, for example, segued beautifi~lly into 1984’s ‘My Hometown’; the
gloomy ‘Downbound Train’ from Born In The U5A led into the sombre ‘Atlantic City’ from
Nebraska. Even the sluggish ‘Pink Cadillac’ came to life in concert, particularly with such laconic
Springsteen intros as: ‘It seems, according to the Bible, way back when, Eve showed Adarn the apple,
and Adarn took a bite. There’s gotta be more to it than that. Fruit?’
As well as ‘new boy Nils Lofgren, Springsteen featured anothe new E Streeter, back-up singer Patti
Scialfa, who had worked witl Southside Johnny, and whom Springsteen had seen singing in al
Asbury bar, where he was enchanted by the ‘country feeling’ in he voice. The presence of newcomers
did not dampen down th spirit of the band on stage: on Halloween Night, which found th E
Street Band at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, Springsteen cele brated the date with a suitably hammy
intro. He made his entranc Iying on a coffin, impervious to the attempts by Clarence Clemon and
Patti Scialfa to bring him back to life, until he was given hi guitar. Then he was off, bursting into a
frantic version of Jerry Le Lewis’ ‘High School Confidential’. But there was also a mor muted facet to
the concerts. At the Takoma Dome in Washingto] DC on 19 October, for the first time in 11 years he
did not pla ‘Rosalita’. Instead he took at some shows to finishing with th relatively more subdued
‘Racing In The Street’, highlighting th darker side of his recent albums.
In keeping with his desire to take his music to his real fans, Springsteen’s ’84 tour reached many
places usually ignored by touring bands, including a notable detour to Lincoln, Nebraska. In all the
tour was to last 14 months, and was not only to criss-cross the United States, but was to take him for
the first time to Australia and the Far East. The Jacksons’ ‘Victory’ tour was launched at the same
time as Springsteen’s and, although a huge commercial success, suffered notably by comparison.
There was howls of protest at a charge of $30 a ticket, plus a minimum ordel of four, and Bruce
would play for nearly three times as long Critics remained unimpressed by the Jacksons’
technological spec tacle, but were swayed by the earthy rock’n’roll power of Springsteen’s shows.
Typical was the comment at the end of the review in the venerable New York Times: ‘What makes
Mr Springsteen such a satisf ying harbinger of “the rock and roll f uture” is not his anticipation of
todays trends … but his role as a musician working lovingly within the rock tradition to make serious
adult art. That’s worth cheering about, just as much as the spellbinding fervour of his actual
performances.’ After three years away, he had returned to the spotlight, and with shows infused
with vigour and integrity rightly reclaimed his crown as rock music’s greatest live performer The
coronation itself was to come later when he was chosen by Rolling Stone readers as the Artist of the
Year. Although it was the fourth time in six years he had won this accolade, he also scooped five
other awards: Album of the Year, Single of the Year (‘Dancin~ in the Dark’), Male Vocalist,
Songwriter, and, with the E Street Band, Band of the Year. Only in 1980, when he released The River.
had he amassed such a total. Clearly for lovers of rock, the tour and the new album were the events
of the year.
Significantly, Born In The USA was credited only to ‘Bruce Springsteen’, with no mention of the E
Street Band on the label o cover. And that cover! Three years for a shot of Bruce Spring steen’s bum!
One London paper even speculated that the caF hanging out of his back pocket was a none too subtle
gay hallmark.
The inner sleeve included ‘Thanks’ to scriptwriter/director Pau Schrader (Taxi Driver, Blue Collar,
American Gigolo). ‘Thank~ always’ to John Hammond Sr who helped bring the wheel full circle: the
man who had brought Bruce Springsteen to the world decade before, and who proved his ears were
as acute as ever with his signing and production of the raw Texas blues of Stevie Ray Vaughan in
The sound of Born In Thc USA is wholeheartedly, emphatically rock’n’roll – from the classic
Springsteen ‘Sha-la-laing’ of ‘Darlington County’ to the Creedence-style chooglin’ of ‘Working On
The Highway’. It also sounds surprisingly un-E Street – there is precious little saxophone, the whole
band sounds mixed down, the keyboards are sparsely used, – and the record marks the debut of
synthesisers on a Springsteen album. The overall impression is of Max’s drums driving the songs
along, relentlessly propelling them with a force few in rock can match. It is steeped in traditional rock
references and influences, and while there are concessions to metronomic pop on songs like ‘Dancing
In The Dark’ and ‘Cover Me’, Springsteen flouts the current fashions with rock music of such force.
The album marks a further development; play it back to back with Born To Run and you are aware
of the differences – the Iyrical sparseness of the later record, the hardhat impact of the songs and their
production, the authenticity of the characters and their situations. Born To Run is larger than life,
Born In The USA presents experience at life-size.
Born In The USA is a concept album (although we all breathed a sigh of relief when we thought we’d
seen the back of those mutants!). It is a series of songs f~om a man about to turn 36, trying to come
to terms with his age and his vocation in what is, prunarily, a young man’s game. Four of these
songs – ‘Born In The USA’, ‘Working On The Highway, ‘Downbound Train’ and ‘No Surrender’ are
crucial. They chart the dissipation of idealism, the futility of clinging to what has gone, the exultation
of love and partnership, and the acceptance of maturity in the face of diehard teenage dreams. Tlley
are, essentially, rock’n’roll dilemmas, which Springsteen tackles head on, because he has lived them,
because he is living them. As a background to these themes, Springsteen draws on the rich legacy of
American popular music – the plaintive hillbilly blues of Jimmie Rodgers on ‘Downbound Train’, the
Creedence-based, Eddie Cochran iock of ‘Working On The Highway, the Spectorish fusion of ‘No
Surrender’, the sly disco rhythms of ‘Dancing In The Dark’. He even starts pillaging his own past on
the album – ‘Darlington Country resembles the ‘up’ songs on The River. The stately drums which roll
in the title track, the first lines of the song, take us straight to the heart of darkness: ‘Born down in a
dead man’s town/First kick I took was when I hit the ground’ – Ground down and ensnared from
the very moment of birth. It is a sombre homage to Chuck Berry’s ‘Back In The USA’, the song which
eulogised and esteemed the values which Springsteen finds corrupted. Being away, Berry misses the
skyscrapers, long highways, drive-ins and corner cafes. Chuck’s back from exile, he’s missed the
hamburgers that ‘sizzle on an open grill night and day’ and fondly recalls ‘the juke box jumping with
records’. These are the things that Springsteen would miss, too. But while Berry’s 1959 song ends
with the triumphant testimonial: ‘Anything you want, they got right here in the USA,’ all Springsteen
finds a quarter of a century on is that ‘there’s nowhere to run, ain’t nowhere to go’. The chil&ood
belief in the American Dream has dissipated; it ends in disillusion and grief.
The title song traces a person’s life from birth to his mid-thirties. During his adolescence Springsteen
watched the country torn asunder by Vietnam, and his sympathy with the plight of the Vietnarn
Vets is such that ‘Racing In The Street’ was inspired by Vet Ron Kovic’s book Born On The 4th Of
July, and he has played a number of Vet benefits. In ‘Born In The USA’, after the ‘hometown jam’ of
the second verse, the intransigent youth is sent off’to a foreign land to go and kill and yellow man’.
The earlier ‘Highway Patrolman’ dealt with a similar situation, shipping the brother of the song’s
narrator to Vietnam in ’65. ‘Born In The USA’ also has two brothers, but both brothers are serving
there, now. Moreover the older brother dies at Khe Sahn, the Iynchpin of the 1968 Tet Offensive,
which proved, indisputably, that America could never win that war. ‘They’re still there, he’s all gone.’
And nothing changes, save the finality of one man’s death, and its repercussions. On his return home
the song’s narrator is a spent force – no hero, just an embarrassment. This helps explain the sleeve
credit to Paul Schrader, whose Taxi Dnver, ends with the protagonist, Travis Bickle, shooting into a
crowd, his revenge as a Vietnam veteran on a society that has spurned him. Back home, ‘the shadow
of the penitentiary’ nestles next to ‘the gas fires of the refinery’. The alternative to death in VietNam
is itself pretty bleak. Now, if you’re ‘Born In The USA’, there is none of the climactic optimism of
‘Thunder Road’ or ‘Wreck On The Highway’. Now ‘I’m 10 years running down the road/Nowhere
to run, ain’t nowhere to go.’
‘Working On The Highway’ is roots rockabilly, slapped bass and jagged guitar. The musical feel is
steeped in the fifties, although the lyrics go back to the thirties, to the era of Jimmie Rodgers, ‘The
Singing Brakeman’, flashing by Paul Muni as a fugitive from a chain gang. The London Guardian
called it ‘the best prison rocker since “Jailhouse Rock”.’ In the song’s trial, ‘the prosecutor kept the
promise … the judge got mad’ recalls the courtroom hysteria of ‘Johnny 99’. Despite its exuberant
musical punch, the feel of the song is confined, trapped again, whether it’s the boredom of working
on the two lane blacktop at the beginning, or the confinement of life on the Charlotte Country Road
Gang at the end.
‘Downbound Train’ is the first opportunity to draw breath on the album, a brooding, pensive ballad,
bleak and uncompromising. A splintered marriage opens the song, a resigned ‘we had it once, we
ain’t got it anymore’. The motif of the railroad runs throughout the song. Springsteen includes a
Nebraska-ish tip of the stetson to Hank Williams’ tune ‘I Heard That Lonesome Whistle’, and
embraces a tradition which stretches through ‘Waiting On A Train’, ‘Love In Vain’ and ‘Mystery
Train’ – C&W, blues and rock, the grand triumvirate of American popular music. But in the eighties
the trains aren’t running anymore, and nobody’s riding boxcars. There is a sense of emptiness,
enforced by the run through the woods at the song’s conclusion. In the big, cold house stands an
empty bridal bed, which recalls the sense of chilling isolation evoked by ‘My Father’s House’. A
sombre mansion on the hill, once a place of happy, shared memories, it now stands empty and silent.
‘No Surrender’ is the album’s clarion call, with a chorus addressed to the fans: ‘Like soldiers in the
winter’s night with a vow to defend/No retreat, no surrender!’ It is Springsteen’s statement of intent
and faith, to stay true to the power and the glory of rock’n’roll. He is celebrating the rock’n’roll of
which Chuck Berry claimed on ‘Schooldays’ in 1957, ‘We learned more from a threeminute record
than we ever learned in school’. But by the last verse of ‘No Surrender’, there’s a weary resignation
to the inevitability of ageing, something to which you have to surrender. The idealism of the first
verse is tarnished in the second, and has gone in the third. Springsteen accepts that the baton has
been passed on to a new generation. In lines which deliberately invite comparison with Bob Dylan’s
idealism of 1963: ‘There’s a battle outside and it’s ragin’/ It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle
your walls/For the times they are a-changin’.’ By 1984 the times have a-changed: Bob Dylan is a 43-
year-old conservative evangelist, and Bruce Springsteen (whom many deemed Dylan’s successor) is
acknowledging: ‘There’s a war outside still raging/You say it ain’t ours anymore to win.’ ‘No
Surrender’ ends with – for Springsteen – the crucial line, ‘these romantic dreams in my head’. The
dreams are not to be poured into any idealised Spanish Johnny or Johnny 99. They are there, but
confined to his head, a reaction to what he has witnessed and experienced, but locked away, and only
to be savoured alone, like a childhood diary, or a three-minute single bought in adolescence.
The whole last verse conveys, perhaps more successfillly than any other song on the album,
Springsteen’s realisation and recognition of his position: ‘I want to sleep beneath peaceful skies in my
lover’s bed, with a wide open country in my eyes, and these romantic dreams in my head.’ The
feeling in those lines again evokes the West of John Ford, of domestic contentment in the face of
adversity, of idealism contained. Of a whole vast country out there, and all you can do is stand and
stare out of your window and contemplate a fraction of that vastness.
The strength of these four songs is that the characters are given a substance and personality, which
stops them being mere ciphers. They are drawn from real life and are sympathetically drawn,
characters who share the same experiences and environment as Springsteen’s audience, with whom
they strike a responsive chord.
It is that substance which renders other songs on the album like ‘Cover Me’, ‘Bobby Jean’ and ‘I’m
Going Down’ ineffectual. ‘Cover Me’ is a throwaway, a disco concession, the sort of song Springsteen
could write in his sleep, but which he usually has the good sense to farm out to others. When he tries
to bolster the song with the lines ‘Times are tough now/Just getting tougher,’ they come across as
merely a sap to the prevalent political/economic climate, especially when the writer’s only solution to
these hard times is to find ‘a lover who will come in and cover me’, which .mply enforces the
stereotype of Springsteen as a male chauvinist nd ersatz romantic.
Despite its inspiration, ‘Bobby Jean’ is Springsteen productionline ‘remember when …?’ Because he
tries too hard, he fails to achieve the wistfillness the song needs. While a line like ‘We liked the same
music, we liked the same bands, we liked the same clothes’ is effective – because those things are so
important to teenagers – to hear a 35-year-old Springsteen sing ‘Now there ain’t nobody, nowhere,
nohow ever gonna understand me the way you did’ is merely embarrassing. It is an embarrassment
repeated by the trite lyrics of ‘I’m Going Down’, an otherwise reliable rocker (despite its beguiling
Tex-Mex intro). Beside other songs on the album which are amongst Springsteen’s most deliberate,
most consumately crafted songs, these come across as weak and clumsy.
However, as well as the four major songs, others songs like the stark and chillingly simple ‘I’m On
Fire’ have great force. It consists of three stabbing verses, pounded by the honed-down chorus. The
almost paedophiliac opening lines are sinister (‘Hey little girl is your daddy home? Did he go away
and leave you all alone? I got a bad desire!’) The all-consuming lust and passion is played out against
a slyly simple beat which fits the pathological lyrics like a glove. Springsteen imagines a knife ‘edgy
and dull’ cutting ‘a six inch valley through the middle of my soul’. It continues with the paranoid ~At
night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet and a freight train running through the middle of my
head’ – it’s as if someone gave Norman Bates in Psycho a guitar! There are no histrionics, no lyrical
legerdemain. As on ‘Factory’ or ‘Wreck On The Highway’, it is Springsteen’s very restraint which
elevates the song, the acts as a powerful argument against those who constantly accuse him of
Other songs support the main theme of growing older and disillusioned. With ‘Glory Days’, the initial
impression is that Springsteen has succumbed to the unabashed nostalgia he is constantly accused of,
but by the time the song has wound its way through three laconic verses, the overall mood is of
resignation. The first verse conjures an image of Springsteen sitting down in a bar, revelling in
reminiscences over a beer. The baseball hero sounds initially like the hopeful symbol of Joe Di
Maggio which Paul Simon drew on ‘Mrs Robinson’. But in Springsteen’s son you soon realise that all
this guy has to keep him going are his memories. In the second verse (and the second broken
marriage on the album) there’s a wry acceptance of what has been, as tears give way to laughter, but
by then it’s too late to recapture any of it. By the end of the song, Springsteen himself hopes that
when the times comes, he won’t be sitting round trying to recapture what has been: ‘Just sitting back,
trying to recapture/A little of the glory, but time slips away/And leaves you with nothing, mister,
but boring stories of glory days.’
That those stories could be boring is a revolutionary idea coming from Springsteen. Even by his own
standards, he has championed those whose own ‘glory days’ have long since gone – Gary Bonds,
Hank Mizzell, Mitch Ryder. It’s almost as if he’s asking not be taken as an archivist and revivalist.
Having celebrated the optimism and idealism of youth, on ‘Glory Days’, he reflects from the vantage
point of maturity, and castigates the time and effort spent trying to conjure up what has been. It is
the one song which acutely conveys the disillusion and wistfillness Springsteen must feel – a 35-yearold,
still plugging on in the business where to live fast, die young and have a good looking corpse
seemed to be the ambition! It was as if the ridiculousness of the situation suddenly struck him, as if he
remembered Mick Jagger saying he could never envisage himself onstage singing ‘Satisfaction’ when
he was 40.
The problem was not simply one of the passage of time, but the burdens one takes on in getting
older. As he told the audience on the opening night of his 1984 tour: ‘When I started playing guitar I
had a couple of ideas. One was to avoid as much responsibility as possible for the rest of my life….
Only one idea doesn’t work out – the responsibility idea. It seems like when you get older, you realise
you can’t get that out of the way.’
Born In The USA concludes, somehow inevitably, with ‘My Hometown’. The odyssey ends back
where it all began, in a black and white, home-movie finale. The song is a beautiful evocation of the
cosiness and conformity of small town America, which recalls the opening lines of Nebraska. After all
the ups and downs, the only place you can return to is where you came from. There you can revel in
the pride of environment, of knowing exactly where, why and how everything is, in the only place
where it all falls into place. Springsteen has said of the subject of the song: ‘It’s something you carry
with you forever, no matter where you go or what you become. There’s a lot of conflicting feelings
you have about the place. That’s just part of it.’
To begin, you have to go back to being-eight years old, with the safe, innocent memory of sitting on
your father’s lap, and steering ‘that big old Buick’ through the cosy, brightly lit streets of your
hometown. By the second verse, we’re in the turbulence of the mid-sixties. It’s 1965, the year of the
Watts Riots, and the era of innocence, the time of American Graffiti, has passed. Cruising to the heart
of Saturday night now involves carrying a shotgun.
The mood of the third verse is chillingly similar to Dylan’s 1963 ‘North Country Blues’ – a town dying
on its feet, choked by a new depression, beyond the ken of its citizens. Everything’s closed down,
there’s nothing to come home to. As Simon and Garfunkel sang in 1975: ‘There’s nothing but the
dead and dying in my little town.’ Even the vestige of pride in the environment has disappeared, the
communal memory has given way to desperate individual nostalgia. Now, a 35-year-old man drives
his own son around, past ‘Main Street’s whitewashed windows and vacant stores’, round the shell of
a town that the boy will never call home. There is talk of packing up and heading south, to some
vague promised land. There is nothing here, nothing in the hometown to hold them. Austerity has
sunk its claws too deep into the town…. It is time to be moving on.
Like the novelist Thomas Wolfe, in whose magnificent novel Can’t Go Home Again Dave Marsh
found a suitable coda for The River, Springsteen recognises the affinity a writer forges with his
country. Wolfe’s writing in the thirties bears frequent comparison with Springsteen’s attitude to
recording: Wolfe could never bear to commit anything to the finality of print, and his editor was
driven close to distraction in trying to derive something finite from the mass of manuscripts with
which Wolfe presented him – a 5 foot by 2 foot pile of papers, totalling over one million words,
constituted one novel! Echoes can be found in thc writings themselves: in a letter trying to distil the
essence of his work Wolfe wrote:
‘The idea … is that every man is searching for his father…. My conviction is that a native has the
whole consciousness of his people and nation in him, that he knows everything about it, every sight,
sound and memory of the people…. It is not a government, or the Revolutionary War or the Monroe
Doctrine, it is the ten million seconds and moments of your life – the shapes you see, the sounds you
hear, the food you eat, the colour and texture of the earth you live in.’
This sort of empathy infuses Darkness On The Edge Of Town,The River and Nebraska. It is this sort
of intuition which is made quite explicit in ‘My Hometown’ and the best of the other songs on Born
In The USA.
Born In The USA is an album about tackling the problems faced by many of the fans, those of
growing older, but still being driven and inspircd by rock’n’roll. Maybe Born In The USA will be the
last rock’n’roll album, and Springsteen its last true hero. The album’s strength is that it confronts
these problems with compassion and honesty, typical of a man who has maintained his integrity and
clung to the idealism which separates him from the avarice and compromise of his contemporaries.
He has stuck to the standards which Charles Shaar Murray acclaimed in his review of Born In The
USA in the New Musical Express: ‘It is very rare to see an artist take a clear cut’choice between selling
his audience the same old bullshit that he knows they love, and telling them the truth…. Springsteen
displays the kind of moral and artistic integrity that rock music rarely shows any more.’
Born To Run
Despite his worldwide success, and his years spent in the public eye, Bruce Springsteen remains an
enigmatic character. He uses none of Dylan’s capricious role-playing to enhance his charisma, and,
unlike the multi-influenced Dylan, his influences are all in music, particularly in the music he enjoyed,
instinctively and nonintellectually, as a kid. Apart from Woody Guthrie, as he has often said, it was
the rock’n’rollers of the fifties and the British groups of the early sixties that have been his inspiration.
With rock’n’roll, in the end it is its strength, purity, and vigour that count. This is why Springsteen
appeals across the spectrum of modern rock – why the ‘blue-collar’ rocker has also been taken up by
the rock intellectuals like Jon Landau, why the overt Americanism of his songs did not get in the way
of acceptance in a punk-influenced Britain. So many of the great rock stars have said, like George
Harrison of the Beatles, ‘We just wanted to play in a rock’n’roll band,’ but few have, like Springsteen,
achieved this ambition and stuck to it. It is the excitement of rock that appeals to all who love any
form of the music, and Springsteen’s great achievement has been to recapture that excitement after
the pomposity and vacuity of the early seventies.
This book has tended to concentrate on the Iyrics – inevitably because music cannot be captured in
print. But the words are but the smaller part of the story. The real strength of rock music is that a
collection of Iyrics, bound to a tune, highlighted by a heartfelt vocal, with special care taken in the
instrumentation and production, can convey a magical power which cannot be found in the cold
medium of print. The emotional impact of what is perhaps Springsteen’s finest song, ‘Independence
Day’, for example, loses its impact when one simply reads the Iyrics. They have to be taken in their
intended context – Bruce’s poignant reading of the Iyrics, the touching interplay between guitar and
organ, Clarence’s haunting sax break- to be fully appreciated.
This touches upon one of the paradoxes of Springsteen’s music. Although his amibition remains just
to ‘sing in a rock’n’roll band’, the songs still have a meaning. In fact, they have to have a meaning.
One of the reasons why it takes him so long to produce a record is that Springsteen rejects those
songs which when played back do not say anything. But the meaning is not ponderous, it is not
forced on the audience or delivered like Holy Writ. For Springsteen, the songs are not his personal
property, not philosophies he feels he must impart, but belong almost equally to the audience they
are their songs too. This provides the solution to the paradox. A concert by Bruce Springsteen and
the E Street Band is meant to be a good night out, and for those in the audience who just want to sing
along a bit, that’s fine. But for those who like to be prompted to thought by what they hear, well
then they are catered for as well.
The keyword here is community. The concerts are about sharing, about ‘breaking down the distance’
between the audience and the band. This is not a form of condescension, but is the genuine feeling of
a man who comes across as charming and affable, with none of the self-opinion of many in the rock
business, who strikes those who stage his shows, like Marlene Anderson, director of the Civic Center
in Minneapolis, as being a pleasure to work with, with none of the paranoia and neuroses of so many
stars. This sense of community means that there is no flash, no artificial glitter, no lasers at his shows,
only music, and to get to them no limousines, no buses overloaded with equipment and effects, but
just three or four station wagons. And it is also this sense of community that makes Springsteen so
particular about what he delivers to his fans. What other rock star is likely to spend up to four hours
doing a detailed sound check from every part of the hall while the band rehearses? Or refuse to play
a single night, in a large auditorium, as Springsteen did in Toronto, in favour of playing three nights
to only one part of it because he thought that would be more intimate?
Like the songs themselves, Springsteen’s long onstage monologues, reminiscing about girls, growing
up, music, his father, life and death, are not performances in which the artist tries to dazzle the
audience, but are the means of establishing common ground. The tradition stems from Will Rogers
and the narrative ballads of folk, blues and country singers. When Springsteen reminisces, he
describes feelings and experiences which most of his audience will have shared. So when the songs
follow the audience shares in them: ‘Independence Day’ speaks for every child who failed to
communicate with a parent; the exuberance of’Born To Run’ is everybody’s.
Springsteen’s identification with the people who listen to his music has also manifested itself in a
growing politicisation over recent years. Many people were surprised by his appearance at the MUSE
concerts in 1979, but he was to follow this up by appearing at a Vietnam Veterans’ concert in 1980
and making a speech that was used later in a series of radio advertisements: ‘It’s like when you’re
walking down a dark street at night, and out of the corner of your eye, you see somebody getting
hurt in a dark alley, but you keep walking because you think it don’t have nothing to do with you
and you just want to get home. Vietnam turned this whole country into that dark street, and unless
we can walk down those dark alleys and look into the eyes of those men and women, we are never
gonna get home!’
He also participated in the American music business’s fundraising record for victims of the Ethiopian
famine, ‘We Are The World’, in February 1985. ‘USA For Africa’, as the group was called, also
included Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie, Paul Simon, Smokey Robinson, Ray Charles and
Billy Joel.
His involvement in politics has since grown beyond interest in only those causes that appeal to his
own generation. Halfway through the 1984 American tour in Pittsburgh, Springsteen was
approached by an ex-steelworker, who asked him to read some information onstage about food
banks and help for the unemployed. Since then, Springsteen has made an effort to contact similar
organisations in every city he has played, and in concert will make a point of plugging local food
banks and unions. In Poughkeepsie in November 1984, he told the crowd about the OldTimers
Steelworkers Foundation Food Bank, and collected $1,300. He donated $20,000 himself to the
As he told Rolling Stone in December 1984, the growing politicisation ‘seems to be an inevitable
progression of what our band has been doing, of the idea that we got into this for – that idea being
the urge to make people think a bit as well as be entertained, to change the world a little bit’.
Showing his usual sensitivity, President Reagan claimed allegiance with Springsteen during his 1984
campaign. When in New Jersey, he quoted Springsteen’s songs as conveying a ‘message of hope’
similar to his own! Springsteen rightly saw this as a crass bit of political manipulation and told an
audience shortly after hearing of the President’s remarks: ‘I’ve heard the President of the USA liked
my records…. I don’t think he’s been listening to this one lately’ before launching into a blistering
‘Johnny 99’.
The sense of identification and involvement with the audience would not exist if the feeling of
community was not already there with, and amongst, the band. They have known each other a long
time, and most of them have played together for years. There is a pronounced empathy and trust
between them. Danny Federici dances behind his banks of keyboards; ‘Mighty’ Max Weinberg
crouches behind his kit, tiny in relation to the sound he produces; Garry Tallent, in the tradition of
great rock bassists, stands immovable, providing the rhythm; Steve Van Zandt used to prowl the
stage, like a gunfighter looking for a shoot out; ‘Professor’ Roy Bittan studiously sticks to his piano.
Then there’s ‘The King of the World! The Master of the Universe!! The Duke of Paducah!!! Spotlight
on the Big Man!’ Bruce and Clarence Clemons onstage are a great partnership; whether it’s the
Abbott and Costello clowning which accompanies ‘Fire’, or the sprinting climax to ‘Thunder Road’,
it’s pantomime rock’n’roll. It is fast and fun but the music is never forgotten for the antics.
The proof of the trust between the band members can be found in their repertoire. At the drop of a
hat, they can conjure up any spectre from rock’s 30-year history. Van Zandt remembered
Springsteen announcing ‘Midnight Hour’ as an encore once. They hadn’t played it in five years, but
as soon as the band swung into it, they were off and running. It is that sort of innate understanding
and comprehensive appreciation of music – that has enabled the E Street Band to become established
as the best live rock’n’roll band.
Springsteen has frequently been compared to Robert de Niro, who like Springsteen, shows total
dedication to his work. But there are other cinematic parallels. Dave Marsh singled out the outlaw
code as a parallel to Springsteen’s concern with loyalty, but in fact the parallel works with other
aspects of the Western, especially the films of John Ford. The search theme of Born To Run is an echo
of John Wayne’s quest in The Searchers, and it is more than coincidence that made Ford film John
Steinbeck’s Grapes Of Wrath, vividly capturing the despair of Depression-ridden America in the
thirties, the feeling of which was to so haunt Springsteen on Nebraska in 1982.
Many of Ford’s classic Westerns highlight that sense of community, of trust, of plaintive hillside
funerals singing ‘Shall We Gather At The River’ or exuberant community dances. They are tiny
figures in an enormous landscape. But Ford’s vision, like Springsteen’s, changed as he grew older.
Springsteen recognised this in 1981: ‘John Ford had a dance scene in every one of his rnovies, and a
fool would say that they were all the same. But for him those dance scenes were only a means
towards something….
When John Ford grew older, his dance scenes grew more bitter and they always said more about
how he saw people.’
In a typically enigmatic fashion, the world heard of Springsteen’s marriage only days before the
event in 13 May 1985. Bruce and 25-year-old actress Julianne Phillips met backstage in 1984 and tied
the knot near the bride’s home in Lake Oswego, Oregon. This event certainly reinforces his sense of
family, despite recent comments that he did not feel ready for marriage. Although now a millionaire,
money genuinely seems to be unimportant to him. And the communal feelings in performance
vanish after a concert, when his favourite way of winding down is to go home and eat on his own,
then go for a solitary walk in the small hours. But the paradoxes pale into insignificance when one
listens to the music, for that is the only real document.
From the primitive Hammond demos of 1972 to the assured superstar of 1985, it has been a long and
fruitful journey. To stay static is to moulder, to start dying, little by little, piece by piece. Whatever is
the future of rock’n’roll we can be sure that Springsteen will remain loyal to its essence, yet deliver
many surprises.



Articolo lunghissimo su Bruce Springsteen datato 1985. È talmente lungo che lo ho diviso in due post.

Buona lettura.

‘We’re gonna take a short break, then come back and do another whole set for you’ must be the
most encouraging words you can ever hear from a rock stage. But only one man can say it, mean it
and really do it. His name is Bruce Springsteen. He is 36 years old, and the only ceiling to his
ambitions is his own exacting standards. For those who believe that rock’n’roll can be a route to
salvation, Bruce Springsteen has become its prime exponent. To the fans, he has come to be the music
of the present, the inheritor of the past, and the symbol of hope for the future. But to understand
that, to understand him, you really ought to have been there . . .
In my case ‘there’ was Madison Square Garden, New York City, Thanksgiving Night 1980.
November 27, Gate 3, Section J, Row 21, Seat 3. It’s a long walk from the entrance, but after coming
3,000 miles and waiting five years, it doesn’t seem that far. Thanksgiving is a time to be spent with
the family, not to be alone, particularly in New York. The wind whips offthe East River, and
everyone I know in this strange town is gathered around the ceremonial turkey. Home is five hours
and an ocean away. All I am is a figure filling a seat 360,000 others wanted. But it’s okay. I may be a
stranger in a strange land, away from the things and people I know and love, but tonight this is
definitely the Promised Land!

My mind goes back to how it all began, when a neighbour the other side of the ocean pressed a copy
of Born To Run into my arms. But then, I am wrenched back into the present. A tape of the Crystals’
‘Then He Kissed Me’ blares from the PA, and sets the seal on the atmosphere of eager excitement.
The capacity crowd is restless in the vast auditorium, geeing itself up on the waiting. Madison Square
Garden takes on the appearance of a rock venue as might have been staged by Cecil B. de Mille:
frisbees cascade around the auditorium and the fans are divided into tribes, each bearing banners,
like medieval Crusaders. Each wears its own colours, each pledging its devotion to ‘The Boss’. Much
as my own reserve mistrusts the ceremony, it’s hard to remain uninvolved. Then the lights dim, and
there’s a roar that rattles your fillings. Seven figures race onstage and take their places – the roar gets
even louder, welcoming. Your eyes seek out the little guy, the figure who shuffles around stage
centre, who carries himself like a bantam-weight, who’s scuffing his feet, who skips on tiptoe, who’s
hungry to start. He’s ready. And, after everything you’ve read, heard and experienced, so are you. It
could be anywhere in the world; fortunately for me, it happens to be on his home turf, only a bus
ride from Asbury Park.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band start on an ovation most bands would kill to finish with! The
little guy grins delightedly as the lights burst on, pinpointing the band. He turns to them, stomps his
foot with an exultant ‘Ah-one-two-three-four . . .’ and they crash, as one, into ‘Born To Run’. They’re
off and running before the flag’s even dropped. And, within seconds, we’re into passion and
intensity. Nothing has prepared you for the blitzkrieg that is to follow. Opening with ‘Born To Run’!
It’s like Sam Goldwyn’s advice: ‘Start off with an earthquake, and build up to a climax!’ Then out
come the songs, dozens of them, each played with an energy and commitment which propels them
off the albums you’ve lived with for years. They span Springsteen’s career, pouring out, cataclysmic;
they barely pause for breath’Growin’ Up’, ‘Fire’, ‘Rosalita’, ‘Promised Land’, ‘Because The Night’,
‘Hungry Heart’, ‘Sherry Darling’. All the dreams you’ve hoarded are suddenly made vivid and real.
Everything you’ve heard about those legendary shows is true: the crowd really does cry out
‘Brooooose’ after each number (and the first time it does sound like booing, then you know better);
they do play for four hours; they do play everything you want to hear, and then some. They (we)
chant along with every song, and remain silent at his bidding. It’s like there’s 22,000 people trying to
reach him, focusing everything on that scrawny little figure. It’s frightening. It’s also unique and
So totally involving is the music that every mention of ‘New Jersey’ and ‘Asbury Park’, I, a stranger
from another continent, belonged there, an honorary citizen. During ‘I Hear A Train’, I diligently
trilled ‘Whoo whoo’, much to my later embarrassment. In ‘Independence Day’ tears fell like rain. By
the end of the show, the audience was as drained as the band. Four hours of high energy, high
intensity rock’n’roll, which took you to the heights of elation.
In concert, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are simply the best there is. That show piloted
you through a vast range of emotions. It gave you the possibility to forget your fears, to revel in the
camaraderie, to realise your dreams, to be transported away from reality. But it also took you back
to reality, clarifying your aspirations, charting your losses, celebrating your victories. By the end of
the show, it was the audience’s music. We chanted along to the throaty rockers, and remained
pensive during the ballads. What made it more than just a great rock’n’roll spectacular was that you
could learn something about yourself; the music reflects back on you, stopping the experience being
mere worship.
Springsteen knows he is the best, and his conviction convinces you too. So much has been written
about his power in concert that the hysteria has to be placed in some sort of context. Even his
harshest critics admit that he does put on one hell of a show. At Madison Square Garden, I felt a
revitalisation, a sense of regaining everything I’d ever wanted from rock’n’roll. For four glorious
hours, I experienced its restorative power. In the calm afterwards, the only question was, just who
was that man up there?
Bruce Springsteen is the single most important rock star to have emerged during the 1970s, but his
reputation is built on an astonishingly small recorded output, although fuelled by numerous
bootlegs. Unlike most other rock stars, it is his live shows that have made his name. And it is in these
that he comes over as rock’s great unifier, a performer who remembers the power and passion of
early rock’n’roll, and who is burning with the desire to preserve and pass on that excitement in his
own music. He zealously revels in rock’s rich past, and stands as one of the few artists who can
positively affect its future.
This excitement and commitment only fully come across in live performance. Despite the meticulous
care he attaches to recording, such is the intensity of a Springsteen performance that afterwards the
albums simply become pale souvenirs.
It can be said that rock’n’roll is one of America’s greatest contributions to the twentieth century. Ally
that to Hollywood’s domination of the cinema, the sharpness and vitality of its literature and the
country’s dominance in the Free World, and you have a powerful culture, unparalleled in its
modernity. Through his commitment to the roots and traditional qualities of rock’n’roll Springsteen
is linked to the full vitality of that culture, and in his music we can hear the authentic voice of modern
America. If the term has any meaning, Springsteen is a particularly American artist. In music his best
work can be said to have the same qualities as Thomas Wolfe in writing, of John Ford and Martin
Scorsese in the cinema, of Edward Hopper in painting and of Woody Guthrie and Robert Johnson in
folk music. His America is twofold – the America of urban New Jersey, and the vastness of the
frontier country, the America (particularly on The River and Nebraska) familiar from the images of
Hollywood and popular songs. He conjures up the American Dream, where every man can be a
king, and the only ceiling to ambition is the extent of your dreams. The realisation runs through his
songs, but the songs also dwell on the underside of the Dream, of the loser that never made it to the
mansion on the hill or the house up in Fairview. Springsteen’s characters are descendants of those
who populate the songs of Guthrie and Hank Williams, and, before them, the figures of the country
and blues worlds. His songs evoke the America described in the conclusion of Scott Fitzgerald’s The
Great Gatsby: ‘(It) had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a
transitory enchanted moment, man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent,
compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last
time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder … his dream must have
seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him,
somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled
on under the night.’
Born In The USA
Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen~ the only son of Douglas and Adele, was born in Freehold, New
Jersey, on 23 September 1949. He was their first child, and was later to acquire two sisters Virginia,
born the next year, and Pamela, who did not appear until 1962. Bruce’s father was mainly of Irish
extraction and his mother of Italian – a volatile combination – although the family name is Dutch.
Freehold is a small town in mid-New Jersey. It is about fifteen miles from the coast. For Freehold’s
young it was overshadowed for both vitality and opportunity by the nearest town, Asbury Park.
Freehold itself offered little to anyone with aspirations, or even a keen desire to enjoy himself. By
Bruce’s birth it was already in decline, the filling station next to the Springsteen home offering the
main social center for the local kids during Bruce’s youth.
Bruce’s father worked at various jobs, including as a factory hand, a gardener, and a prison guard,
although he was to settle primarily for driving coaches. Money was usually scarce – eating out, for
example, was out of the question, and Bruce was 22 years old before he went into a restaurant.
Douglas and Adele were both Catholics, so Bruce was sent to local Catholic schools. He hated them
and antagonized the nuns with his strong streak of individuality (so much so that on one occasion, in
an often-repeated story, one of them made the young Springsteen sit in a rubbish bin under her
Springsteen’s upbringing was pretty normal for someone from that background – unadventurous,
unscholastic, his only escape being via the radio or TV. There was little intellectual stimulus in his
home life, and he once claimed only ever to have read three books for pleasure.
In remembering those early year, there is only really one potent, deeply etched memory. He told
Crawdaddy: ‘Rock’n’roll, man, it changed my life. It was . . . the Voice of America, tic real America
coming to your home. It was the liberating thing, the way out of the pits. Once I found the guitar, I
had the key to the highway!’
This discovery came with seeing Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show when he was nine years old.
He was so excited afterwards that he persuaded his mother to buy him a guitar. But he could not get
his fingers round it, so it was put aside. Nevertheless, the experience lay dormant, resting under the
surface ready to reassert itself when the time was right.
From then (‘Man when I was nine, I couldn’t imagine anyone not wanting to be Elvis Presley!’) Bruce
was a fan, and he decided that for him it was rock’n’roll glory, or nothing. That singleminded
intensity, which, at times, has proved infuriating, has been a dominant force in his adult life. The urge
that won him to rock’n’roll in the first place is now reflected in his attitude to recording and
performing, of offering nothing but the best.
School was not the only source of trouble for the young Bruce. His father was as strong-willed as the
son would be, and they often clashed, particularly when Bruce was in his teens. These early
experiences at home and school were to appear later in the words of some of his songs – the loathing
of Catholic values, his edgy relationship with his father, rock’n’roll as the way out of the drudgery.
The tensions in the Springsteen household echoed those across the country during the turbulent
sixties. Bruce resented his father’s championing of the work ethic, never able to understand his
adherence to what he regarded as a corrupt and valueless system. It was the time of Vietnam,
student riots, drugs and hippies, and parental values were widely flouted. Although Bruce himself
has always been vehemently anti-drug, hasn’t smoked, and has only ever drunk in moderation, and
has never been overtly political, he shared in the rejection of parental authority. In later years, his
attitude towards his father was to mellow, and his adolescent arrogance was to be remembered with
guilt on certain crucial songs like ‘Factory, ‘Independence Day, and ‘My Father’s House’.
Nevertheless, his interests and ambitions encountered encouragement from his mother, who acted
as a buffer, while his father offered scorn and derision. In those early years in Freehold, Bruce and
Douglas Springsteen were typical examples of the ‘generation gap’.
The feeling of guilt evident in the songs shows just how bitterly Bruce and his father must have
argued, and also how Bruce still feels attached to his roots. But as he grew up, Springsteen could
realize just what made his father the way he was, but as an angry, dissatisfied adolescent, like all such
youths, he did not have that perspective.
Bruce’s acrimonious relationship with Douglas was, in fact, little different from that of other
teenagers, but rebellion has always been at the roots of rock’n’roll, and without it Bruce would
perhaps never have become the musician he is. That tension was to be the specific force behind a
series of fine songs. On ‘Factory he understood the bitterness and resentment which shaped his
father, watching him leave work ‘with death in his eyes’, half-deafened, simmering, resentfill, and all
for ‘the working life’. At times on record, almost embarrassingly, Springsteen atones for the sins
committed against his father. On the Gothic ‘My Father’s House’ he dreamed of those distant days,
then: ‘I awoke and I imagined the hard things that pulled us apart/VVill never again, sir, tear us from
each others’ hearts.’ On ‘Independence Day’ it all came together: ‘There was just no way this house
could hold the two of us/ I guess we were just too much of the same kind’. Here he made the
realisation, confirmed on ‘Highway Patrolman’: ‘Man who turns his back on his family, well he just
ain’t no good.’ And on the unreleased ‘Song Of The Orphans’, Springsteen sang poignantly of ‘The
sons return for fathers/But the fathers are all gone/The lost souls search for saviours/But saviours
don’t last long.’
In concert Springsteen has offered long, ruminative raps about his father. When in Britain on the 1981
tour, he told an audience in Newcastle about how his perception of his father’s way of life came to
influence his whole outlook. ‘I grew up in this little town, and we lived on this main street next door
to this gas station .. . and at 6am every morning I used to watch my old man, I’d hear him out back,
fiddling with the hood of the car so he could get it started . . . And as I grew older, I watched around,
and I didn’t see how my life was going to be much different than his, because it seemed that if you
were born in a certain place that things didn’t change much for you . . . When I got older I never had
a picture of him laughing – all I could remember him doing was sitting at the kitchen table at night
with the lights out, smoking a cigarette, waiting . . . for it all to go away, or something. And I tried to
think what was the thing that we all had in common, why did it – time after time – end up that way?
And that we didn’t have enough knowledge about the forces that were controlling our lives. I started
reading this book, The History Of The United States, and it seemed how the way that things were,
weren’t the way they were meant to be; like the way my old man was living, and his old man, and
the life that was waiting for me – that wasn’t the original idea. But even if you find those things out,
it’s so hard to change those things. And it wasn’t until I started listening to the radio, and I heard
something in those singers’ voices that said there was more to life than what my old man was doing,
and the life that I was living; and they held out a promise – and it was a promise that every man has a
right to live his life with some decency and dignity. And it’s a promise that gets broken every day, in
the most violent way. But it’s a promise that never, ever fuckin’ dies, and it’s always inside of you.
But I watched my old man forget that, and don’t let it happen to you.’
Springsteen, perhaps, talks so much about his father because he was the dominant influence on his
adolescence. The image of the American Dream was becoming apparent to him there in the example
of his father – not the Dream realised, but instead the Dream frustrated and forgotten. Bruce watched
his father, like many of his generation, and has never let himself forget what he saw. The themes of
many of his later songs were already forming in his youthfill mind.
Douglas offered another instance of the Dream, that of freewheeling mobility, though again, to
Bruce, it seemed that the ideal was soured. He told Marc Didden in 1981 of a typical Sunday of his
youth, which obviously was the basis for ‘Used Cars’ on Nebraska: ‘I used to dislike cars. That was
because of my father, he was obsessed by cars. When I would be listening to records in my room on
Sunday, he would come and bang on the door: “Come on Bruce, let’s go for a ride.” And then, no
matter how much we disliked it, my mother, sister and I had to tear across the highways because my
father thought it was the most beautifiul entertainment. I think he liked to show off his car because
he had worked so hard to buy it. The bad thing was that he liked to drive so much, we never stopped
anywhere! We would drive around the whole damned Sunday and come home in the evening all
exhausted. And he would just beam. Perhaps that kind of action was the only thing he needed after
working the whole week at his machine in the plastics plant …’ That parental dissension was not
unusual, but Springsteen’s single-mindedness about his music was.
A scrawny youth, non-academic, an unenthusiastic sportsman, and dissatisfied with his parents’ lives,
Springsteen turned to the radio and the record deck for sanctuary. Like so many of his generation, he
found that rock’n’roll offered some sort of escape from the ordinariness of his existence. However,
few bands ventured down to Freehold, so listening to music was essentially a solitary experiencc for
him. To this day, Springsteen is still basically a loner; while he thrives on audience contact in his
concerts, he is prone to long, solitary drives in his car, and many of the characters in his songs are
individuals, refusing to be ground down by a system which had all but destroyed his father.
When Bruce was 13 years old the most exciting music coming out of the record player and radio was
British. American pop in the early sixties was emasculated, until it was rescued by the British
Invasion. Like so many young Americans, Springsteen was mesmerised by the style and musical
ebullience of the Beatles (the first song he ever learned was ‘Twist And Shout’) and remained
captivated by the Animals, the Rolling Stones, Manfred Mann, the Searchers, Them and the Who.
Then the music of Tamla Motown blasted across the airwaves, the compelling rhythms of Martha
and The Vandellas, the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye. To these the avid listener added the
soul music of Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and the gritty R&B of Gary ‘US’ Bonds
and Mitch Ryder. Anything good was gratefully received by the young Springsteen, who not only
listened but absorbed and remembered. The effect of these groups can be heard still – Bruce
Springsteen in concert is a one man history of rock’n’roll, a human jukebox, lovingly replaying the
old rock classics.
The power of rock reasserted itself on the 13-year-old and the desire to play re-emerged. Springsteen
went out and bought himself another guitar, this time spending all of $18 on a secondhand one from
a pawnshop. For two years he listened and he learned, teaching himself to play. Then in 1965 he
heard that a local teenage group, the Castiles, needed a new guitarist. He offered his services to Tex
Vinyard, whom the group somewhat grandly had appointed manager. Tex was initially impressed
by the stringy kid, and asked him to come back when he had learned five songs. He was even more
impressed the next evening when Springsteen not only came back with five songs, but played them
fantasically – and then offered a couple more. He was in.
The Castiles, named after the soap, were modelled on the fashions of the time (there’s a photograph
of a 1 7-year-old Springsteen, with a haircut that looks as if it was grown for an audi tion for George
Harrison’s role in A Hard Day’s Nigght). For a high school band the Castiles were quite successfill.
They gave Springsteen his first professional gig, at the Woodhaven Swim Club, when the five of
them shared a princely $35 with Tex Vinyard. Springsteen had quickly made his mark as a composer
as well as a player, for the closing number was his arrangement of Glen Miller’s ‘In The Mood’. They
went on to play the normal round for local groups of teen clubs, high schools, supermarket openings
and drive-ins, generally finding the New Jersey shore more fruitful territory than their native
Freehold. During 1966 the group’s playing had improved sufficiently to win various local
competitions, and Tex bought stage uniforms for them. Then in May 1966 they hired time in a local
studio to cut a demo disc, ‘That’s What You Get’ and ‘Baby I’, written by Springsteen and lead singer
George Theiss.
A series of gigs in New York’s Greenwich Village followed in December 1966 and January 1967, but
then, like so many hundreds of bands formed in the wake of the Beatles, when the members left high
school in 1967 they drifted apart. No one really noticed and few people really cared. The group’s
drummer was to enlist and go to Vietnam. He never came back.
Springsteen’s next move was a group called Earth, formed while he was at Ocean County College
where he went when he left school. It was a combo heavily influenced by the extended blues riffing
of Cream and the dominant psychedelia of the period. Earth didn’t last long, but while with them
Bruce came more and more to regard Asbury Park as his musical home, and after they broke up he
played with several scratch Asbury bands. At this time he met ‘Miami’ Steve Van Zandt, who was to
become one of his closest friends and musical associates.
Springsteen formed his next band, Steel Mill, in 1969. They were to prove more durable, as their
name suggested. According to Springsteen, they were ‘a Humble Pie type band’, and it wa there that
the nucleus of the E Street Band was formed, with Springsteen joined by drummer Vini ‘Mad Dog’
Lopez anc organist Danny Federici. Fashionably hippy in appearance—Bruce sporting hair below his
shoulders – though not in attitude, Stee Mill played a tough, driving blues-based music. The group
gained a new level of popularity for Springsteen, playing in clubs an colleges, and has become
something of a New Jersey legend.
Steel Mill marked Springsteen’s first serious efforts at song writing—’Goin’ Back to Georgia’ was
reminiscent of Them circa 1965, ‘Resurrection’ was bitterly anti-Catholic, and ‘American Song’ was a
lengthy indictment of militarism.
In early 1969, Springsteen’s parents and sisters had moved to California, but the 20-year-old Bruce
defiantly stayed put on the Jersey shore, squatting in the family home. That streak of
selfdetermination was already apparent. It was a determination that helped him to avoid the draft in
1969 by the crude, but obviously effective, method of faking madness. He capitalised on the
concussion he had suffered in a motor bike accident two years before, and filled in the forms
deliberately irrationally.
Another New Jersey musician and friend, Southside Johnny, recalled the crisis points his group, the
Jukes, went through at the same time about whether to stick with a day job, or go all out for the
music: ‘Everyone went through it, except Bruce. Bruce always knew. There was never any question
about it as far as he was concerned.’ So little question, in fact, that Bruce readily left college, where he
did not feel particularly at home, without a degree in order to concentrate on his music. Miami Steve
remembered that intensity that Bruce and all the other Asbury musicians felt: ‘Rock’n’Roll is not
entertainment; it is motivation. No drugs, no alcohol, no lasting diversion!’
Steel Mill were not satisfied with having only local fame, and in winter 1969 Bruce and his band
followed his parents west to California. In the first three months of 1970 they got several bookings
supporting big name groups in San Francisco. They even cut a demo tape at Bill Graham’s Fillmore
Recording Studio and were offered a recording contract, but by now the group was sufficiently
confident and mature not to be tempted by the poor sum offered. They returned to Asbury Park in
spring 1970 with some good notices but little money to show for their trip.
By now, Asbury Park is as potent a piece of rock mythology as Penny Lane – for which the residents
are permanently grateful to Bruce Springsteen. Although compared with Freehold it was a Mecca,
Asbury had, in fact, always been a joke, a crumbling beach stop, which – out of season – was pretty
desperate. Asbury is 53 miles from New York City, a derisory sort of resort of which the locals said:
‘If you never had enough gas to get to Atlantic City, you’d stop at Asbury!’ From New York, you get
to it via the Lincoln Tunnel and the New Jersey Turnpike. That gave the place its first taste of rock
fame: ‘Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike’ was the memorable image of departure on
Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘America’. The Turnpike was also the place – as legend has it – from where
Jack Kerouac set out ‘on the road’. Atlantic City is further on down the road, supposedly the last
resort (as evinced by Louis Malle’s film and Bruce’s song of the same name) but Asbury Park was
even lower down the scale. The boardwalk (of’Sandy’ fame) runs from Ocean Avenue straight down
to the cold, grey Atlantic. As an urban centre, it distinctly lacked charisma, but for a musician it had
one great asset. The clubs were hot – like Southside Johnny the nascent E Street Band eked out a
living and built up a reputation at the Upstage and the Student Prince.
Inspired by Springsteen’s later success, there have been attempts to promote ‘The Sounds Of Asbury
Park’ (there was even a compilation album of that name), but, in truth, that sound lies on ‘Sandy
(Asbury Park, 4th of July)’ and Southside Johnny’s first album (complete with suitably effusive sleeve
notes from Springsteen). What inspired the musicians from Asbury Park was desperation. Its
seediness brought that glittering American dream into even sharper focus.
The mythology of Asbury Park as evoked by Springsteen on songs like ‘The E Street Shuffle’ and
‘lOth Avenue Freeze Out’, was rooted in reality. Clarence Clemons, the E Street Band’s saxophonist,
literally bumped into Bruce at the Student Prince one night: ‘A cold, rainy night on the boardwalk in
Asbury, windy, raining like crazy,’ recalled Clemons, ‘and I opened the door, the wind just blew the
door right off the hinges and down the street, and it was like “Here I am! I came to play!” and he
couldn’t say no. When we jammed, it was like we’d been together forever, like a team.’ As Miami
Steve told me: ‘There ain’t nothing magic about Asbury. You could do the same with . . . Brighton! All
it takes is a band.’ But you do need a rather special band.
In the summer of 1970 Asbury Park gained unaccustomed and unwelcome national publicity and
scrutiny when the town exploded in race riots. In the desolation that followed Steel Mill was allowed
to fall apart. It was a situation that called for either depression or humour and Springsteen responded
by forming the cumbersome Dr Zoom and the Sonic Boom, which only managed two gigs before
folding. Everyone in the band acquired nicknames, some of them, like ‘Mad Dog’ Lopez and ‘Miami’
Steve Van Zandt (who became members of the E Street Band) sticking. The Bruce Springsteen Band
that followed only lasted 12 months, but it was all experience, and the rigorous playing and gigging
helped forge a commitment which then bound together several of those who were later to form the
E Street Band. The friendships made in Asbury play an important role in Spingsteen’s music, and it
was then that an affinity was established with Van Zandt, Danny Federici, Garry Tallent, David
Sancious and Clarence Clemons.
It was in the Upstage club in Asbury that Springsteen cut his musical teeth, from the hard days
grinding on the Jersey shore, playing rock’n’roll when he could, and almost with whom he could,
often with no money and with necessity promoting his passion for junk food. In those clubs he met
the people who were to play with him around the country, and it was in their joint experiences that a
sense of community was forged – a community evidenced in his contract where it says that his narne
and the band’s are to appear in equal type on hoardings. And whatever city they now play in, there’s
a slice of Asbury Park up on stage.
The New Dylan
Springsteen’s professional career can be said to have begun in ernest when Mike Appel appeared on
the scene in early 1972 and signed him to a management contract. Springsteen would later bitterly
regret it, but at the time it represented the turning-point he needed. Appel and his partner Jim
Cretecos were strictly small time (their chief moment of glory prior to meeting Springsteen had been
a Top 10 hit for the Partridge Family), but they were in the record business. Springsteen’s audition
was a decisive moment for the three men. Having seen his band dwindle away the previous winter,
Bruce had decided to go it alone. ‘He sang as if his life depended on it,’ Appel told Dave Marsh of the
audition. In many ways it did, for here was the opportunity to make it. If Springsteen blew this one,
he might have no alternative but ‘the working life’ which had gutted his father.
Mike Appel has since been castigated for his heavy-handed approach in nurturing Springsteen, but
when Springsteen was a struggling 23-year-old, scraping a living in the bars of Asbury Park, it was
Appel who saw his raw talent. However brash and tactless his method, he went on to achieve the
vital breakthrough by impressing that raw talent on John Hammond at CBS. This was a crucial
development for it landed Springsteen a record deal – in fact with the company he has stayed with.
Appel went on to act as overseer on Springsteen’s first three crucial albums, and Born To Run itself
was a co-production between Appel and Springsteen.
When Springsteen was taken to the audition the significance of John Hammond was not lost on him.
One of the three books he claimed to have read for pleasure was Anthony Scaduto’s biography of
Bob Dylan, so he recognised Hammond’s name, and recalled that in the film of The Benny Goodman
Story Hammond had been played by the actor who played Dennis the Menace’s father on TVI John
Hammond stands as one of the most venerated figures in the history of American popular music. His
track record speaks for itself- he recorded Benny Goodman, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday. He had
gone out in search of the legendary Robert Johnson. He had signed the young Aretha Franklin and
Bob Dylan to CBS. He had also numbered Charles Laughton an Sergei Eisenstein among his friends.
When they met on 2 May 1972, Hammond immediately say that Springsteen had talent, and was
keen to have him on CBS even though he found Appel overbearing, and had to shut him u~ in order
to listen to his protege. When Bruce started with ‘It’ Hard To Be A Saint In The City’ Hammond sat
up, and in no time had booked him into the Gaslight Club that evening so he could( hear him
perform before an audience. The next day Bruce was a. the CBS Studios recording 14 tracks.
Hammond was keen to cast Springsteen in the role of an acoustic poet, much as he envisaged the
young Bob Dylan over ten years before. Although Bruce’s experience was mainly playing with
bands, there was logic in this as he auditioned solo, accompanying himself on piano or acoustic
guitar. Of the two, Springsteen struck Hammond as being more mature than the unknown Dylan.
He told Crawdaddy’s Peter Knobler: ‘When Bobby came to see me he was Bobby Zimmerman. He
said he was Bob Dylan, he had created all this mystique. Bruce is Bruce Springsteen. And he’s much
further along, much more developed than Bobby was when he came to me.’
It is to Hammond’s credit that he recognised Springsteen’s potential at that early stage (Springsteen
remembered Hamrnond’s faith in him, and dedicated ‘Growin’ Up’ to him during his 1980
Thanksgiving Show.) If one examines the evidence contained on the bootleg of The Hammond
Demos, the songs are clumsy and cluttered, wordy and unwieldy, with Springsteen nervously
accompanying himself on guitar and piano. That wordiness was a trait that Springsteen was to carry
on well into his recording career, as if syllables and images piled on top of each other could enhance
the intensity of his performance. But the song, ‘If I Was The Priest’, held Hammond spellbound,
loaded with its virulent anti-Catholic imagery, and steeped in the myths of the Wild West: ‘And Jesus,
he’s standing in the doorway/With his six guns drawn, and ready to fan/He says “We need you, son,
up in Dodge City”/ But I’m already overdue in Cheyenne.’
Inevitably, comparisons with Dylan spread as soon as it was heard that John Hammond had signed
another young singer/ songwriter. In terms of impact and influence, Dylan is, indeed, the obvious
comparison to make with Springsteen (Springsteen acknowledged that Dylan ‘was the guy who
made it possible to do the things I wanted’), but the differences are immense. Two years into his
recording career Dylan was already addressing himself to ‘every hung-up person in the whole wide
universe’. In contrast, Springsteen hadn’t even cast his net beyond New York City by that time! The
comparisons are, in fact, tenuous, for the only Dylan ‘period’ which had any real effect on
Springsteen was the immaculate quick burn ‘folk rock’ years of 1965-6, and Springsteen’s most
Dylan-like album, Nebraska, was not released until 1982, 20 years after Dylan’s debut and ten years
after his own. The comparisons are further stretched when you compare the two: Dylan has gone
out of his way to be anyone but Bob Dylan, presenting a chorus line of characters – the concerned
social poet of 1963, the ‘spokesman of a generation’ in 1964, the iconoclastic folk-rocker of 1965, the
contented married man of 1970, the aggressive evangelist of 1979 and the born-again Jew of 1983.
Springsteen has never attracted any of Dvlan’s sort of mystique. seeing his job as being simply to
rock, and not to get bogged down in anthologies of ‘Rock Poets’. While the influences on Dylan
extend from a 19thcentury French Symbolist poet to Little Richard, you get the impression that Bruce
Springsteen wouldn’t know the difference between Arthur Rimbaud and ‘Over The Rainbow’!
Hammond signed Springsteen up to record on 9 June 1972, and Bruce then asserted his difference
from Dylan by insisting on recording with a band. In no time he scraped together a rudimentary E
Street Band from his Asbury Park friends – Clarence Clemons (saxophone), Garry Tallent (bass),
David Sancious (piano) and Vini Lopez (drums) – and tore into the studio to record. In the back of his
mind, John Hammond remained convinced that Springsteen was a solo performer, and could not
understand why he wanted these characters from across the Hudson. Bruce had to fight with him
and Mike Appel to get his way.
Greetings From Asbury Park NJ surfaced in the middle of an outbreak of ‘new Dylans’, a particularly
meaningless epithet which the music press invented, their sixties’ responsibilities endeavouring to
come to terms with seventies’ aspirations. Promising singer/ songwriters like Steve Goodman, John
Prine, Loudon Wainwright – even Dylan himself- were lumbered with that millstone. It did not help
the album gain acceptance, especially when CBS decided to put their might behind it and deliberately
promote it under the Dylan comparison. Disc jockeys and large parts of the public did not want a
new Dylan – there were those who even thought the original had been around long enough.
This quest for the ‘new Dylan’ was indicative of the poverty o~ the music industry in the early
seventies. The power of the original rock’n’roll had dissipated. The enthusiasm and experimentation
o~ the sixties had led up a lot of blind alleys, and the yellow submarine had failed to deliver its
passengers to a psychedelic Shangri-La. In the hope that the past could be recaptured every group of
promise was touted as the ‘new Beatles’, every singer/songwriter was the ‘new Dylan’. The only star
to have emerged with any real degree of permanence was David Bowie, with his androgynous
visions of a rock’n’roll apocalypse. The heroes of the sixties couldn’t be relied on any more at the
beginning of the new decade – the Beatles were no more, Dylan was in retreat, the Stones had
become tax exiles, Neil Young and Rod Stewart had failed to live up to their expectations. Lumbering
rock technologists like Emerson Lake and Palmer, Yes and Pink Floyd took their truckloads of
equipment into vast stadiums for an increasingly cerebral audience. For the kids there was the
manufactured teeny pap of the Osmonds, David Cassidy, Chicory Tip, the Bay City Rollers and
Sweet. But, like yesterday’s papers, most of these soon outlived their usefulness. The greats had
gone; by 1970 Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin were dead; Jim Morrison was to follow soon. Syd Barrett
had disappeared; John Fogerty had gone into hiding. By the beginning of 1973 there was a definite
Greetings From Asbury Park NJ wasn’t enough to fill that void. But its very brashness and terrierlike
tenacity blew a breath of fresh air into a foetid world. The first blast of’Blinded By The Light’ was
enough to make people sit up and take notice, even if it was only to draw unfavourable comparisons
with Dylan’s ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ eight years before. ‘Blinded By The Light’, for all its
flamboyance and wordiness, certainly packed a punch. It was cocky and exultant; you could even
overlook the cumbersome wordplay for the sheer enthusiasm of the performance. Here was
someone not whining about the angst of super-stardom, or penning wimpish love songs to a dream
heroine. Greetings was hard, shiny leather playing off against the prevalent denim. That first album
sounded as if Springsteen figured he had only one crack at the big time, and subsequently poured
everything into it.
‘Lost In The Flood’ managed to sustain elements of the epic sweep Springsteen intended (although
‘His countryside’s burning with wolfman fairies’ must rank as his worst-ever line). There was
something brash and invigorating in the way the characters were painted, like the ‘pure American
brother’ who ‘races Sundays in Jersey in a Chevy Stock Super 8…. On the side he’s got ‘Bound For
Glory’ painted in red, white and blue flash paint/He leans on the hood telling racing stories, the kids
call him Jimmy the Saint.’ When Springsteen exercised restraint, and distanced himself from his
characters, the effect was exhilarating, but when he cluttered the songs with excess verbiage – as on
‘Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?’ – they groan and sink under their own verbosity. He did shine,
though – the snotty sincerity of ‘It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City’, the Scorsese-style pazzaz
of’Spirit In The Night’ and the swirling climax to ‘Lost In The Flood’. The faults were equally obvious:
the uncomfortableness of ‘Mary Queen Of Arkansas’ and the elaborate metaphors piled onto ‘For
You’ which diminish its stark, morbid power.
The alburn’s best song, and one that Springsteen still includes in his live performances, is ‘Growin’
Up’, an audacious and vivid depiction of rock’n’roll rebellion, and the encapsulation of his attitudes in
his teens. The very brashness is irresistible, particularly when he joyously declares, ‘I swear I found
the key to the universe in the engine of an old parked car!’ That one line could well be said to sum up
Springsteen’s defiance and attitude at the time, coupled with his true loves: ‘I had a jukebox graduate
for a first mate, she couldn’t sail but she sure could sing!’ He is uncertain exactly what he’s searching
for, but is determined to carry on looking. Glowing with pride at his achievements, disregarding all
that’s been, heedless and free, and chancing on the Holy Grail beneath the bonnet!
It was an assertive debut album, and on those early songs there were many themes that were later to
become familiar – the unashamed romanticism, the car obsession, the anti-Catholicism. Although the
layered imagery and rhymes grew tiresome, Springsteen obviously revelled in the richness of
language, and married his ideas to strident rock rhythms. But the album didn’t set the world on fire,
and sales were disappointing. Neither the ‘Dylan’ tag nor the poor production helped. However, the
quality of the material on Greetins was recognised by other artists, and it was drained for cover
In September 1972, with an album on the way, a manager, and a band he trusted, Bruce Springsteen
hit the road. Touring to help promote an album is nothing new, but people were surprised by the
vigour with which Springsteen tackled it. Weaving across the USA, the E Street Band supported the
then fashionable Chicago, working at establishing a reputation. They were an odd bunch; drummer
‘Mad Dog’ Lopez lives up to his nickname, and seems determined to be remembered as America’s
answer to Keith Moon. Clarence Clemons, ‘Big Man’, is a 6ft 4ins ex-college football player who
amply justifies his nicknarne. Danny Federici, once dubbed the ‘mystery man’ by Bruce, is a careful
and warm keyboard and accordion player. And holding them all together was thc mercurial and
indefatigable 5ft 10ins, 1551b frame of Bruce Springsteen.
The tour was not a success for the Springsteen outfit. Their rough tough style did not go well with
the smooth jazz-rock sound of Chicago and audiences did not warm to them. The nadir came in June
1973 when they gave a wretched performance at New York’s Madison Square Garden, watched by
several CBS executives. It was particularly bad timing as they needed to improve their stock with the
company because CBS’s president Clive Davis, who had personally backcd thc promotion of
Springsteen, had left the company the previous month. One highlight, however, was three nights at
Max’s Kansas City where they headed the bill with Bob Marley and the Wailers.
Nevertheless, before the end of 1973, the motley E Street Band was back in the studio. Springsteen
had a clutch of songs ready for recording, many of which even at that early stage would never see
the light of day, offficially (bootlegging is another matter, of which more later). Eventually, the
selection was narrowed down to seven songs, which constituted The Wild, The Innocent And The E
Street Shuffle, which was released in February 1974.
Springsteen’s second album marked a musical maturity, although the breezy ‘E Street Shuffle’
sounded like a hangover from the first album; despite being enlivened by a snappy brass
arrangement, it didn’t offer anything new. But ‘Sandy (4th of July, Asbury Park)’ emphatically did.
While the song was, and remains, Springsteen’s finest love song, it also helped establish Asbury Park
as a myth. ‘Sandy’ pinpoints a time, a place, a girl in an idealised youth. The places mentioned in
Asbury are real (you can still see Madame Marie’s fortune-telling booth on the boardwalk), but
Springsteen portrays it as a ‘Little Eden’, a place of lost innocence. The song describes the passing of
not only a relationship but of that whole time for which everybody has nostalgic memories which is
always associated with a particular place, but is different from person to person – in this case, the
New Jersey shore. Springsteen’s evocation is conveyed without sounding precious or twee; it sounds
like a drunken message left on the girl’s answering machine. Unable to face her, the song’s narrator
pours out fragments of memory and bitter resignation, recalling the wizards and fortune-tellers, and
realising that for him ‘this boardwalk scene’s through’. Asbury Park, that Independence Day, is a
special place. Evelyn Waugh wrote of another place in Brideshead Revisited: ‘I should like to bury
something precious in every place where I’ve been happy and then, when I was old and ugly and
miserable, I could come back and dig it up, and remember.’ That feeling is what Asbury Park meant
to Springsteen, that Fourth of July, when he was young and uncluttered; it is a touching farewell to
‘Wild Billy’s Circus Story’ is one of Springsteen’s most uncharacteristic songs, which offers an all-toorare
outing for Danny Federici’s accordion. The circus has always exercised a fascination for rock
writers: the Everly Brothers, the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Richard Thompson have all tried their hand
at a circus song. Springsteen’s is a curious exercise, a sort of veiled homosexual paean – or not so
veiled when you consider lines like: ‘The hired hand tightens his legs on the sword swallower’s
blade…. And the strong man Samson lifts the midget . . . way up, and carries him on down the
midway . . . past the sailors, to his dimly lit trailer!’ More realistically, it’s an impressionistic
fairground fable, which significantly ends with: ‘All aboard, Nebraska’s our next stop!’
The most mature song on the album is the sweeping ‘Incident On 57th Street’. While Springsteen still
romanticises the street gangs (‘little heroes’, ‘romantic young boys’) the song has a genuine narrative
thread, with fully realised characters, soaked in atmosphere. It stands as archetypal Springsteen,
conveying a drowsy big city day, with plenty of astute vignettes: ‘Upstairs the band was playing, the
singer was singin’ something about going home…. And the sister prays for lost souls, then breaks
down in the chapel after everyone’s gone.’
‘Rosalita’ is the album’s outstanding rocker, and became Springsteen’s show-stopper for years. It
was, perhaps, the song most associated with him in Britain, as for six long years it was the only film
clip available of him there. Filmed in Phoenix Arizona in July 1978 by Malcolm Leo, ‘Rosalita’ is a filllthroated
celebration, with Springsteen exulting that the record company, Rosie, just gave me a big
advance’. The mythologising continued, with his car stuck out ‘somewhere in the swamps of Jersey’.
However, the song has the verbosity of ‘Blinded By The Light’, with a whole new cast of characters –
‘Weak Knee Willie . . . Sloppy Sue and Big Bone Billy’. The lengthy ‘New York City Serenade’ was a
jazzy excursion, influenced by pianist David Sancious, and based on an earlier Springsteen song
‘Vibes Man’.
The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle was vinyl proof of Springsteen’s development, and
his concerts to promote the album laid the foundations for his epic gigs of later years, dipping into
the musical reservoir that made up rock history, and performing a number of his own new songs,
like ‘The Fever’, ‘Born To Run’ and ‘Jungleland’. After the release of the album there was a change in
personnel. In February 1974 Bruce sacked Vini Lopez, replacing him with Ernest ‘Boom’ Carter, a
friend of David Sancious . He had agonised for a long time over dismissing Lopez, who was an old
friend from Asbury Park, but the move strengthened the group. Carter stayed with the band until
only August 1974 when Sancious himself left in order to follow a solo career.
They took to touring again, building up their numbers so that by the end of 1974 they were playing
90-minute sets. During a break between shows on this tour, in Massachusetts in April 1974,
Springsteen met Jon Landau for the first time. Landau was to play a crucial role in the development
of Springsteen’s career, and when they met he already had a reputation as one of America’s finest
rock writers. At Rolling Stone, along with Greil Marcus and Dave Marsh, Landau’s exhaustive
interviews and thoughtfill features had helped elevate rock writing to a respected critical level.
Landau had already dabbled in record production, with the MC5 and Livingstone Taylor, but was –
by the time he met Springsteen – reconciling himself to growing old gracefillly in a young man’s
business. He was 27 when he saw Springsteen perform for the first time, and was blown away by his
energy and enthusiasm. The two men continued to see each other over the next few months. In Jon
Landau Springsteen intuitively recognised someone whose academic (albeit heartfelt) approach to
rock’n’roll mirrored his own fervent enthusiasm.
Even with two albums to his name, and a decade of performing under his belt, Springsteen was still a
virtual novice when it came to the intricacies of the music business. Mike Appel oversaw
Springsteen’s management as well as his record production. The two had developed a mutual trust,
and despite the hostility Appel and his sometimes heavy-handed methods attracted, Springsteen had
faith in him. He adhered to the Western code that if you gave a man your trust, it was a stronger
bond than any written contract.
CBS were plainly unhappy with Springsteen’s sales. While he garnered all sorts of critical eulogies,
good notices didn’t shift albums in the quantity a major record company required, and Springsteen’s
first two albums had all but stiffed. Then Landau ran a piece on Springsteen in Boston’s Real Paper in
May 1974. It was, at times, hyperbolic: ‘Springsteen .. . is a rock’n’roll punk, a Latin street poet, a
ballet dancer, a joker, a bar band leader . . .’ but more often thoughtful: ‘I saw my tock’n’roll past
flash before my eyes. . . . On a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was hearing
music for the first time.’ CBS executives gleefillly rubbed their hands, and singled out the one line, ‘I
saw rock’n’roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen!’, and used it as the cornerstone of a massive
marketing campaign, designed to bring Springsteen to the nation’s attention. The campaign worked
better than anyone had dared hope. Landau’s quote echoed round the world. Sensing a story, other
publications also ran features. This blitz was an indication of just how desperate the media were
during the early seventies, lavishing such attention onto a relatively unknown quantity, but it had an
enormous effect on Springsteen’s status. Suddenly, from being a struggling musician up against
massive indifference, he was becoming known. Springsteen himself was understandably upset on
account of the accusations of hype: ‘I was always the kind of guy who liked to walk around and slip
back into the shadows. What you dig is the respect of doing what you do, not the attention.
Attention, without respect, is jive.’
Within months Springsteen was being hailed as America’s rocking salvationist. While the fame was
most welcome, to an extent the massive media coverage rebounded on him. Many people felt it was
simply an opportunistic method of inflating a minor talent into a major one, with little real proof of
talent or durability. While it undoubtedly helped bring him to the attention of a vast new audience,
and was essential in ensuring his position at CBS, the whole exercise smacked of’hype’, particularly in
Britain, where such excessive zeal in marketing a new talent was regarded with cynical caution. The
coverage also exerted other less salutory pressures on Springsteen himself. He had begun recording
his third album, which, conventional wisdom has it, is the crucial one in an artist’s career. If he makes
it with that, then he’s there to stay. If he fouls up, then the first two can be seen as flukes. Springsteen
was as aware of that as anyone, and was experiencing problems himself with the album. Now there
was all this extraneous pressure bearing down on his work. On the other hand, it did now mean that
people were paying attention.
Springsteen ushered Landau into his inner circle, feeling he could supply the objectivity crucial in
finishing the album. It had been taking months, and progress was excruciatingly slow. But Appel also
had his own forceful ideas on how the record should sound, and Springsteen was caught between the
two of them. Further delays were inevitable. The months threatened to drag on into years, and all
concerned were growing tired with the delays, which they saw as the product of Springsteen’s
unrealistically painstaking approach to recording. Everybody urged him to get the record out. But
Springsteen would not be moved. ‘Listen,’ he said, ‘the release date is one day. The album is forever.’
When it was finally released in August 1975, a year had passed since he had employed Ron Bittan
(piano) and Max Winberg (drums) to replace Sancious and Carter to work on the album. But the
finished record proved Bruce right. The surging, urgent power chords which usher in Born To Run
are classic rock’n’roll. Its thrashing, restless energy takes the listener back to America of innocence
and drive, of Phil Spector and the lost highway, of Buicks and Thunderbirds, of a time before
Watergate and Reaganomics. Perhaps that time of innocence never really existed, except in our
imagination, but the sheer joy of Born To Run is enough to convince one that it should have done.
Despite numerous attempts at emulating it (Bob Seger, Meat Loaf, John Cougar) and subsequent
efforts at deriding it, Born To Run stands as a classic rock album. Like Sergeant Pepper it had become
synonymous with its time, and like Pepper, it has worn less well than the maker’s later works. At its
worst, it sounds like bargain-bin Spector, with songs populated by cliched characters, and
Springsteen already sounding like a parody of himself. At its best, it is exultant, full-throated
rock’n’roll, with Iyrics that ably display Springsteen’s ability as a narrator and storyteller.
It found its audience in those who were looking for a reassertion of rock values, for whom rock had
lost its way, and for whom the current rock heroes were deficient: Bowie was too aloof and
mercurial, Dylan was all wrapped up with nowhere to go, and Elton John was gutless.
The reputation of Springsteen’s concerts was spreading. After Madison Square Garden in 1973
Springsteen stuck to smaller venues, seating about 3,000, where he could feel in touch with the
audience, resounding with genuine commitment and concern for them. His gigs carne across as
accessible and desirable. Springsteen found himself swiftly propelled right onto the front grid. The
tour which accompanied Born To Run saw Springsteen established as a virtuoso performer; his sets
began to expand, frequently running to over 20 songs, and attracted celebrities like Jack Nicholson,
Carole King, Robert de Niro, and Warren Beatty. After Born To Run, there was no looking back. In
the audience rush to share that experience, to celebrate the new contender, the weak spots of the
album were overlooked.
All over the world, the effect was shattering. Here was an album which evoked that genuine feel of
authentic rock’n’roll, which many had feared was lost forever. Born To Run reasserted all rock’s
promises. It spoke the traditional language of rock’n’roll, of highways and cars, of love and
redemption in burned-out Chevrolets, sunshine and salvation over the Jersey state line. From the
opening punch of ‘Thunder Road’, invoking the spirit of Roy Orbison’s ‘Only The Lonely’, through to
the song’s exultant, defiant ‘It’s a town full of losers, and I’m pulling out of here to win!’ the album
sounds a triumph of ideals over circumstance. A line like ‘Your graduation gown lies in rags at your
feet’ speaks of the lost ideals and tarnished hopes of a generation. Born To Run was a shining clarion
call at a time of grey mediocrity.
‘Jungleland’ can be seen as a climactic expansion of ‘Incident On 57th Street’. Springsteen casts an eye
over a vivid city, sprawling beneath that giant Exxon sign. He over-reaches himself with the
appalling line ‘There’s a ballet being fought out in the alley.’ But the stark conclusion about the poets
reaching for their moment, and winding up ‘wounded, not even dead’ echoes the conclusion to T. S.
Eliot’s ‘The Hollow Men’: ‘This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.’
Springsteen sees something glorious in the achievement of death in the pursuit of something worth
dying for, but the street poets aren’t even allowed the dignity of death. For them it remains the
ignominy of a life compromised by lost ideals and a weary acceptance of the routine.
On the bootlegged ‘Contessa’ (properly known as ‘Hey, Santa Ana’) from 1973, Springsteen sang of:
‘Some punk’s idea of a teenage nation’; in ‘Jungleland’ lies the realisation of that bitter ideal.
Appositely, Charles Shaar Murray quoted extensively from ‘Jungleland’ in his excellent New Musical
Express piece on the punk phenomenon two years later, singling out urgent lines like ‘Kids ~ash
guitars like switchblades . . . hustle for the record machine . . . explode into rock’n’roll bands’. But
above that street level sincerity, Springsteen’s writing isolates character and incident in rock’n’roll
film noir, the song’s focus shifting like a camera – a tracking shot down Flamingo Road, parallel with
the Magic Rat burning over the state line. A crane shot over the Exxon sign, swift cutting to the
streets, throbbing with action, with lovers crying and gangs slicing into each other, and all the while
the soundtrack is rock’n’roll radio. Then the final, slow pull away from the ambulance, and the ‘girl
shuts out the bedroom light’. A dark screen, the credits roll.
The ‘theme’ of the album is one of escape. On ‘Backstreets’ the forlorn love is lived out in movie
houses, the streets, the beach. On ‘Night’ it is the union between a man and his motor ‘with all the
wonder it brings’, and an escape into the velvet darkness. On ‘Born To Run’ it is escape with the
dream heroine, and even though ‘broken heroes’ clog the highways, salvation lies ‘out on the streets
tonight in an everlasting kiss’. Even on the uncharacteristic ‘Meeting Across The River’ there is some
sort of hope offered even though it is salvation through a sordid drug deal, a last desperate chance.
According to Springsteen himself, though, escape is only one aspect of the album; it was also about
searching. He told Musiciar, magazine in 1984 of the feelings that motivated Born To Run: ‘I think
that what happened during the seventies was that, first of all, the hustle became legitimised. First
through Watergate. That was a real hurting thing, in that the hustler, the dope pusher on the street –
that was legitimisation for him. It was: you can do it, just don’l get caught. Someone will ask, what
did you do wrong? And you’ll say, I got caught. In a funny kind of way, Born To Run was a spiritual
record in dealing with values.’ In answer to the corruption endemic to the Watergate era it praised
the values of hope, faith, friendship and optimism. Those very qualities also gave Springsteen’s critics
plenty of ammunition. They singled out his efforts at mythologizing his characters, his ‘everything
but the kitchen sink style of production. At a time when America was dead from the feet up
musically, Springsteen’s album revelled in Americana Springsteen glamorized the common-place,
relied on Chuck Berry imagery, and celebrated a past most were happy to forget, or have moved on
Immediately following the album’s release at the end of August 1975, Bruce Springsteen had made it.
The album hit Reeord World’s Top 10 in its first week and went gold (500,000 copies sold) a few
weeks later. Following the media build-up that had started with Landau’s piece 18 months
previously, Springsteen achieved the unique scoop of simultaneous covers on Time and Newsweek
on 27 October. The accusations of hype upset Newsweek and were to colour its coverage of rock for
years after, but at the time the accolade meant that Springsteen had definitely arrived.
Springsteen’s 1975 dates carried him around the States and into Europe. The critical and commercial
success of the album inspired him, and spurred by that enthusiasm, Springsteen poured everything
into his live shows. In Britain, the hype had preceeded him and posters blossomed around the capital
proclaiming ‘Finally, London is ready for Bruce Springsteen’. Springsteen was incensed by this
heavy-handed campaign and personally tore down as many offending posters as he could lay his
hands on. The publicity affected his performances and he later recalled that his first show at London’s
Hammersmith Odeon was one of the worst he had ever given.
With the E Street Band honed as a performing unit, Springsteen kept on running. Fans accustomed to
distant and clinical ‘concerts’ by groups could not believe their energy and strength. By the end of
1975 Springsteen could well look back, and smile that familiar broad grin of his. It was apparent that
his real energies were devoted to performance or studio work. After a rigorous tour, he took a wellearned
rest, then slowly set about work on the follow up to Born To Run. It proved to be a long and
frustrating wait for all concerned.
Streets of Fire
Springsteen has always been a notoriously methodical person when it comes to recording. He first
went into the 914 Studios in New York to start recording Born To Run in May 1974 but the album
was not ready for release until August 1975. It is not that he is unawarc or does not care about his
fans’ desire to have the fire and energy they enjoy in his concerts repeated in albums for home
consumption, but his drive for perfection has always made himself his own harshest critic when it
comes to fixing the music on vinyl. He told International Musician and Recording World in October
1984 of how he docs not understand himself why it takes so long to produce his records: ‘Well it’s a
bizarre thing. If I kncw that, I’d probably put ’em out faster. I just kinda wait till I feel there’s
something going on there. The only bad thing about it is that I feel kinda like a friend that goes away
and doesn’t write. But it’s unbelievable how great the kids are. I’d see a kid like a year afterwards,
and he’ll say, “How ya doin’?” “Still working on it.” “Aw, take your time. We want it to be right.” It’s
amazing. The funny thing about the record is that we don’t do any more than five or six takes on a
However, after Born To Run a far more serious problem than his own working methods was to
prevent Springsteen recording.
A growing estrangement between Mike Appel and Springstee (with Landau’s increased involvement,
much to Appel’s dissatisfac tion) came to a head in July 1976, when Springsteen sued Appel for
mismanagement. On 2 July, when Springsteen was thinkin seriously about recordhlg a fourth album,
he reccivcd a letter fror Mike Appel which said that under the terms of his contract h could not use
Jon Landau as producer. This brought home to Bruce just how circumscribed he was, and on 27 July
he filed his mismanagement suit. In his enthusiasm to get into the music business, Springsteen had
only read his original contract with Appel cursorily, and had signed it on a car bonnet in the parking
lot of a club.
But for a very long time Bruce Springsteen’s faith in Mike Appel – his mentor, the only man to place
any faith in his nascent talent – was such that he would not have it redrawn. However, this trust was
not to persist indefinitely; by 1976 Springsteen was reckoned to have earned around two million
dollars, but had actually only received $100,000. Moreover, the contracts gave Appel control over
most of Springsteen’s creative work, so that when he countersued on 29 July he was able to gain an
injunction preventing Springsteen from entering a recording studio without him.
Springsteen’s original naivety was to cause a protracted and rancorous dispute. He told journalist
Peter Knobler in 1978: ‘What did I know? I didn’t know what publishing was! What’s publishing? Ask
the guy down the street, he isn’t gonna know. You’re gonna think it’s what happens in books. It’s
one of those words. I knew no one who had ever made a record before. I knew no one who had
ever had any contact whatsoever with the music business.’ The essence of his charge was that this
innocence had been exploited, and he sued for ‘fraud … undue influence and breach of trust’.
Springsteen felt that he had been betrayed, and – worst of all betrayed by a friend. That undermined
one of the basic features of Springsteen’s way of working – the camaraderie on which the E Street
Band had been founded and run. What particularly incensed him was the discovery that he did not
even control his songs, and that the material he had written hirnself could only be used with Appel’s
permission. For all his faults, there was, however, no denying Mike Appel’s devotion to Springsteen,
and his guidance of his career. But Springsteen was aware that he had outgrown him creatively, and
was torn between the man who had got him his start in the business, and the man he felt could help
him develop as a musician. The battles were fought out in court, and, as is inevitable in such cases,
were bitter. They kept Springsteen out of a recording studio for almost exactly twelve months. The
ban hurt him considerably and he fought against it throughout the proceedings, appealing in both
September and December 1976 against it, but without success. In the December appeal he even asked
to be allowed to record with Landau as his producer on the condition that the tapes were deposited
with the court until such time as the case was settled.
In the first hearings Appel had the upper hand. He could afford for the case to be long and drawnout,
but Springsteen was both eager as a committed musician to get back into the studio and needed
the money. Then in October Springsteen changed his lawyer and took on Michael Tanner, who
specialised in rock musicians, numbering Paul Simon, the Rolling Stones and John Lennon among his
clients. It was a turning-point, and on 28 May 1977 both parties agreed to settle their differences out
of court. The terms were never officially made public, but it was a compromise that satisfied both
men. Springsteen was free of his management contract and was able to record with whatever
producer he wanted; Appel received a flat payment and kept a share in the profits of the records
Springsteen 4ad already made. Four day later Springsteen and Landau were in New York’s Atlantic
Studio to start work on Darkness On The Edge Of Town.
During the layoff from the studio Springsteen poured all hi energies into touring and performing.
They started him on a energetic programme that was to keep going through 1976, 197 and 1978,
when he covered the USA as comprehensively as a map maker: Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Ohio,
Tennessee, Cleveland Poughkeepsie…. These gigs saw the establishment of his mar athon set, and by
the end of 1978 a typical performance would b pushing four hours, including something like 26
songs. He alsl came to be lionised, joined onstage by such luminaries as Gar Bonds, Patti Smith, Eddie
Floyd, Ronnie Spector, Southsid Johnny and Gary Busey.
The 1976 tour saw Springsteen and the E Street Band become the first rock’n’roll band to play the
legendary home of Country and Western music – Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry on 28 April. The
following night found Springsteen trying to bluff his way into Elvis’ home, Graceland, in Memphis.
From that first glimpse of Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1958 he had been Springsteen’s idol. ‘Fire’
had been written specifically for him, and the 1981 song ‘Johnny Bye Bye’ was written about Presleys
death. In it Springsteen spoke movingly of his hero’s death, prefacing the song in concert with: ‘It’s
hard to understand that somebody who had so much and seemed to loom so large, could in the end
lose so bad!’ In addition as a tribute to the King, Springsteen regularly included two Presley ballads –
‘Follow That Dream’ and ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’ – in his shows, and recorded ‘Johnny Bye Bye’
as a B-side of his 1985 single ‘I’m On Fire’.
Those lengthy and flexible shows and the dearth of official albums were a Godsend to bootleggers.
There had been bootlegs of him before, but the legal battles and the tour of 1978 opened the
floodgates. Fans of any star (real fans) will go to incredible lengths to obtain rare material; whether
studio recordings, or, more usually, live tapes of gigs, primarily as souvenirs. And Springsteen was
exactly the performer to fuel this demand. In his live shows from the 1975 to 1978 period he
performed countless new or rarely heard songs, many of which he was never to record.
Bootlegging is, of course, criminal. It denies an artist his royalties, and offers the fans sub-standard
recordings of songs which were never intended for official release. It gives a wholly distorted idea of
how a song develops. Jon Landau has called it ‘out and out theft’, stating: ‘These people come along
and confiscate material that was never intended for release on an alburn, sell it, and make a profit.’
He and Springsteen were obviously concerned that songs which were intended to be heard
professionally recorded and produced, in sequence, on an official album, were being stolen,
duplicated and sold on inferior quality vinyl.
In addition, Dave Marsh has contended: ‘It is no more fair or just to release the scraps and fragments
of a performer’s work without his consent than it would be to publish the crumpled first draft of a
book, or the cutting room out-takes of a movie.’ However, there is another case. Legally, Marsh is
right but artistically he is wrong. Who would deny that Ezra Pound’s annotatedversion of T. S. Eliot’s
The Waste Land has given an audience a greater understanding and insight into the writer’s craft, or
that Rembrandt’s sketches are great works of art in themselves? Of course, the fans resent having to
fork out extortionate prices for inferior recordings. But as a loyal fan, who has dutifillly played (and
paid) along with CBS, is it theft to want a souvenir of the best live rock show you have ever seen – or
are likely to see – when there is a marked reluctance to release any official souvenir?
With the growth of home videos, the threat of bootleg videos has also presented itself to the
Springsteen organisation. In these times when a promo video for a record has become recognised as
an art form in itself, fans now have the opportunity to hear and see their heroes in action. The
package is usually either a wildly overinflated collection of promos, or a straightforward film of an
artist in concert. Typically, neither had surfaced from Springsteen, until ‘Dancin’ In The Dark’ in late
1984, when he belatedly realised the impact of video and authorised a number of TV specials. The
promo video for ‘Atlantic City’ in 1982 was an atmospheric black and white effort in which
Springsteen did not appear. However, low-quality bootleg videos are available in the same way as
bootleg records and it is now possible to see rehearsals for ‘The River’ tour (real fly on the wall stuff)
and badly shot hand-held films of concerts.
Only Bob Dylan has been more bootlegged than Springsteen, and like Dylan, Springsteen has some
infuriating characteristics. Much of his finest material has never been (quite possibly, never will be)
released. Dylan’s attitude to bootlegging was ambiguous; he shrugged off the eight-year delay
accompanying the legendary Basement Tapes with ‘I thought everyone had ’em anyway!’
Springsteen’s attitude, too, has been ambiguous. Initially, he wryly acknowledged the industry he
had spawned, but latterly he has been clamping down with a vengeance. At the height of his
exhaustive gigging, at San Francisco’s Winterland in 1978, he can be heard exultantly crying
‘Bootleggers . . . roll your tapes!’, and later in that same show, as he introduced ‘Racing In The Street’:
‘This is for all the guys in Asbury Park, who I am sure will hear this one day through thc magic of
bootlegging.’ In Europe, fans were particularly attracted to bootlegs, because prior to 1981 not many
people had seen him live.
Springsteen’s perfectionism feeds the bootleggers. He applies massive dedication to everything he
does, aiming for both the highest quality recordings, and the best live shows. But to achieve that is a
lengthy and frustrating process. Even after the Appel lawsuit had been resolved, and with a stockpile
of songs, enough for a double album, there was still a year’s delay before his fourth album was
released. And there has never been a live album by the man that many consider to be the finest
living exponent of rock’n’roll. There has never bcen an official opportunity to hear records of the
composer’s own versions of Southside Johnny’s ‘The Fever’, the Pointer Sisters ‘Fire’, Patti Smith’s
‘Because The Night’ (which he co-wrote with her), Dave Edmunds’ ‘From Small Things …’, Gary
Bonds’ ‘Rendczvous’. We have yet to hear Springsteen’s interpretations of John Fogerty’s ‘Who’ll
Stop The Rain’, Woody Guthrie’s ‘This Land Is Your Land’, Jimmy Cliff’s ‘Trapped’, Jackie de
Shannon’s ‘When You Walk In The Room’ and hundreds more. Springsteen seemed to be waiting for
the ideal live show for release, when everything coagulates. Such is his frustrating search for
perfection that we may never get to hear such an album. Hundreds of shows have been legitimately
recorded, but, even with judicious editing, such an album has never even come close to official
By 1984 Springsteen was to cool entirely on the idea. He told BBC television’s ‘Whistle Test’ that he
was unlikely to make a live album because the essence of his performances was being present at
them and because a live album would create a distance between the audience and the band: ‘Our
band is about breaking down distance.’ He also fclt it would be boring to record his old songs.
Springsteen himself is aware of the criticisms of his slowness, telling Dave Marsh: ‘In the studio, I’m
slow, I take a long time . . . I’m lucky because I’m in there, I’m seeing it every step of the way. I
would assume that if you didn’t know what was going on, and you cared about it, it would be
frustrating … I got into a situation where I just said “Hey, this is what I do, and these are my assets.
and these are my burdens.” I got comfortable with myself bein~ that kind of person…. So at this
point, I just settled into accepting certain things that I’ve always been uncomfortable with. I stopped
setting limits and definitions – which I always threw out anyway but which I’d always felt guilty
about. Spending a long time in the studio, I stopped feeling bad about that. I said: “That’s me, that’s
what I do. I work slow, and I work slow for a reason. To get the results that I want.”‘
And again, to Point Blank, in discussing his responsibility as an artist: ‘Of course I could have done an
album a year, but would they have been good? I have a responsibility to myself and the fans I won’t
release anything I’m not satisfied with, that I don’t have my heart and soul in…. If people aren’t ready
to wait, then they weren’t interested in the first place.’ Perhaps these arc admirable sentiments,
evincing a genuine sense of responsibility and concern but they are frustrating too, as anyone will
testify who has heard any of Springsteen’s studio out-takes, or seen him in concert. It is the quantity,
as well as the quality, of material which seems to be lost forever.
Even by the time of The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle in 1974, Springsteen had already
accrued a backlog of material which would never find its way officially on to record. He has always
been a prolific writer, but he grew increasingly selective as the pressures on him mounted.
Memorable songs from that 1973/74 period include the chilling ‘Ballad Of A Self-Loading Pistol’
(‘Papa, you showed me the beauty of buckshot/The love song a bullet sings as she whistles …’) ‘Hey,
Santa Ana’ (bootlegged as either ‘Contessa’ or ‘Guns of Kid Cole’), ‘Thundercrack’ (a.k.a. ‘Angel
From the Inner Lake’/’Heart Of A Ballerina’) with its marvellous vocal harmonies from the E Street
Band. The same period saw ‘Zero And Blind Terry’, a tale of renegade children pursued by an
avenging father, which recalls Terence Malick’s film Badlands (which in turn was the inspiration for
the title track of Nebraska). ‘Jeannie Needs A Shooter’ (which was covered by Warren Zevon on his
Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School album) is in a similar vein, about the love for a lawman’s
daughter, which finds the hero in the final verse in the best outlaw tradition, shot down by the
border, and Iying in the darkness ‘with a pistol by my side’. And there is the beautiful ‘Southern Son’:
‘And though the Western plains are still stained/with the blood of great cowboys/ It’s a Southern
sun that shines down on this Yankee boy.’
Between 1975 and 1978, Springsteen was writing furiously, and the songs which appeared on Born To
Run and Darkness On The Edge Of Town were only the tip of the iceberg. Even the officially released
versions have fascinating antecedents, like a version of ‘Thunder Road’ which only features a piano
accompaniment, enforcing the quality of the Iyrics, or the plethora of renderings of ‘Bom To Run’.
‘Streets Of Fire’ and ‘Racing In The Street’ can be seen to have undergone massive Iyrical alterations.
‘The Promise’ is a moody ballad, which comes dangerously close to self parody (‘Johnny works in a
factory and Billy works downtown’) and was held from Darkness because a number of people
interpreted it as Springsteen’s comment on his acrimonious court battle with Appel, although
Springsteen snapped: ‘I don’t write songs about lawsuits!’ During these three years Springsteen’s
concerts became practically potted histories of rock’n’roll itself. Those four-hour shows encompassed
his own three albums, as well as generous slices of the Bobby Fuller Four, Sam and Dave, Creedence
Clearwater Revival, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, the Ronettes, Dylan, Chuck Berry, Mitch Ryder,
Jerry Lee Lewis, the Beatles and others. Even familiar songs from his own albums took on a life of
their own. ‘Thunder Road’, ‘Growin’ Up’, ‘Badlands’ and ‘The Promised Land’ sounded even better in
concert than on vinyl.
After the long delays since Born To Run it would have made perfect sense for a live double album to
be issued next, or after the album that was eventually to be issued, or, failing that, in the wake of the
dynamic 1981 shows. But Springsteen refrained, so much of the fine work of those years, such as an
official version of his own composition ‘Because The Night’, or his dramatic reworking of Jimmy
Cliff’s ‘Trapped’, did not appear. Small wonder then that the Springsteen bootleg industry is such a
thriving concern, particularly when you consider such a lavish package as the triple Teardrops On
The City set. Having tolerated them for a long time Landau and Springsteen eventually moved into
action in August 1979, when they took five bootleggers to court, which served as a warning and
stemmed the flood momentarily.
However frustrating the layoffof 1976-77 proved, it gave Springsteen an opportunity to assess
himself and the position he found himself in. Catapulted to the top after Born To Run, the year gave
him time to gain a perspective on himself and his career. As an artist, it gave him the opportunity to
chart the changes his country was undergoing – how the characters in his songs were coping with
maturity and a recession; how dreams were stifled, but never died. The result of those deliberations
was Darkness On The Edge Of Town, which finally appeared on 2 June 1978, a year and a day after
recording work had started. There had been innumerable problems sifting through the songs which
were to constitute the final album and, in the meantime, Springsteen had changed studios, from
Atlantic to the Record Plant. He had caused a further delay just before the scheduled release, because
he was unhappy with the proofing of the sleeve. Even after all the time spent in the studio
Springsteen remained dissatisfied with the recording quality and later said he would like to re-record
it, especially as the album contained some of his best stuff.
In the album a sense of resignation was apparent in Springsteen’s writing. Up until then he had
eulogised the punks who kicked against the system, but his belief in ‘the pursuit of happiness’
remained intact. But from this album on, he was to look at the underside of the Dream. The Promised
Land was still there, alluring at the end of the highway, but to obtain entry, an arduous journey had
to be undertaken, through suffering to salvation. Springsteen’s new songs were manifestly aware of
the rigours facing man in society. He now knew the characters he wrote about, and there was no
need to turn them into Magic Rats or Spanish Johnnys.
Of that change in his writing, and how his perspective had altered, Springsteen told Dave Marsh in
1981: ‘I guess it just started after Born To Run somehow. I had all that time off, and I spent a lotta
time home. We were offfor three years, and home for a long time. It came out of a local kind of thing
– what my old friends were doing, what my relatives were doing. How things were affecting them,
and what their lives were like. And what my life was like.’
This emphasis on apprehending ordinary life was important to him. He later toldMusician magazine:
‘I wanted the record to feel like what life felt like. You know, not romantic and not some sort of big
heroic thing. I just wanted it to feel like an everyday, Darlington County kind of thing.’
The album was originally to have been called ‘American Madness’, after Frank Capra’s 1932 film
about the effects of the Great Depression on small town America. But Springsteen eventually settled
for the sombre Darkness On The Edge Of Town. By the time of its release, in June 1978, he was
edging 30, a tricky age for anyone, but for a rocker, a boundary. It was to that darkness that
Springsteen found himself drawn. The face that stared bleakly out from the album cover was one
that had endured three years of bitter wrangles, self-doubt, gruelling touring and soul-searching. The
mistrust and self-doubt were, inevitably, reflected on the finished album. Darkness stands as one of
rock’s bleakest testimonies, not wallowing in self-pity, but permeated by a sense of realisation, tinged
with bitter experience.
Of the ten new songs, seven dwell on darkness. They speak of trust, betrayal, faith and belief. The
cars are still there, but only as a means of escape. All of the songs are intensely autobiographical, but
in the cases where Springsteen casts himself as observer (‘Factory’, ‘Candy’s Room’) the results are
moving, following the narrative exposition of ‘Incident on 57th Street’ and ‘Meeting Across The
River’. The heroine of ‘Candy’s Room’ is no idealised Wendy, to die with on the streets in an
everlasting kiss. She’s an embittered hooker, dealing in dreams, provided the dollars are upfront in
subsidising those dteams. The litany on ‘Factory’ comes from the poignant observation by an only
son of the indignity of his father’s life seen slipping away in front of his eyes. It is on ‘Factory’ that
Springsteen sings with unashamed sympathy, for the first time, of his father, undergoing the
numbing repetition of a factory job for a living wage, making sacrifices which remain unrecognised
by his family. The implicit message was that there must be more to life – any life – than this. By the
time of Nebraska in 1982, and the economic depression it reflected, the dignity of work was to take
second place to the job itself.
The key lines from the album are to be found on ‘Racing In The Street’: ‘Some guys just give up
living/And start dying, little by little, piece by piece/Some guys come home from work and wash
up/And go racing in the street.’ It’s where the world is split in two: on one side of the line slump
those who have been crushed by the system, on the other side stand those who can still see the
dream, and are willing to pursue it. The street is still sacred, but not because it’s populated by gangs –
that’s adolescent time. This time it’s the road that stretches to the Interstate, which propels them
towards a destiny which is a blessed relief from the stifling conformity of their lives. Where a Spanish
Johnny, four years on, can express his individuality, or cling to the carnaraderie of his youth. Where,
in a closed shop of car parts, he can escape the monotony of TV dinners, his hollow marriage and the
scream of the factory whistle. Where he can prove himself, if only to himself. The song’s chorus acts
as a gloomy counterpoint to Martha and the Vandellas’ ‘Dancing In The Street’.
The song from Darkness that most typifies the whole album is ‘The Promised Land’ (again, surely no
coincidence that Springsteen filched the title from Chuck Berry?). It is here that the evidence of
Springsteen’s maturing as a writer is apparent – driving all night, but only chasing a mirage, and
knowing it’s a mirage. It describes a smouldering resentment of time, place and circumstances, to
‘take a knife and cut this pain from my heart/Find somebody itching for something to start’.
Searching, again, even if only for a mirage, someone, something, that offers salvation. ‘The Promised
Land’ is where you escape to – it may be a girl, a jukebox, a stretch of road – but it’s where you have
what is your own, and to enter it you have to have a faith in yourself and your own abilities. When
Springsteen sings ‘I believe in a Promised Land’, he can persuade his audience to sing along with him
and seize his belief as their own, because if you haven’t got that belief, there isn’t anywhere else to
Of the characters on the album, Springsteen told Crawdaddy: ‘Theyre 28 to 30 years old, like my age,
theyre not kids anymore. . . . On Born To Run there was the hope of a free ride. On Darkness there
ain’t no free ride – You wanna ride, you gotta pay! And maybe you’ll make it through, but you ain’t
gonna make it through till you been beat, you’ve been hurt, until you been messed up. There’s hope,
but it’s just the hope of, like, survival.’ Darkness shows Springsteen struggling to come to terms with
life, and with the lives of his contemporaries, and charting those changes in his songs. He is learning
to see the world in shades of grey, instead of starkly divided black and white. It marks his maturing.
The album’s title track describes the line that has to be walked. Pleasures and salvation which can
only be found on the edge, in the darkness, away from the bright lights of suburbia and conformity.
The singer drives to his ex-lover’s home where she lives in middle-class respectability, with ‘that
blood that never burned in her veins’ – blood should burn not just flow. Springsteen calls her to the
place where their dreams are buried, ‘neath Abram’s Bridge’. To regain those precious dreams, you
have to leave the light, and scrabble around in the darkness. It may not work, maybe theyre buried
too deep. They may not be able to rekindle that old flame, but theyve got to try. For the old times,
theyve got to try for what they had, for what theyve lost. To try for what they are still searching for.
On ‘Prove It All Night’, he scornfully asks ‘If dreams came true, oh wouldn’t that be nice?’ He’s
enough of a realist to know now that dreams are dreams and have to be kept like that. But all those
sacrifices are worth it, if ‘you want it, you take it, you pay the price’. There is redemption, but it’s
redemption which is won through bitter experience, not a prize on a TV game show. (An early
version of ‘Something In The Night’ finds Springsteen still ‘riding down Kingsley, but on the
recorded version, he picks up a hitch-hiker who’s looking ‘to die or be redeemed’.)
‘Badlands’ was an apocalyptic vision (with which Springsteen appropriately opened his set the night
Reagan was elected). ‘I don’t give a damn/For the same old played out scenes/I don’t give a
damn/For just the in-betweens/Honey I want the heart, I want the soul/I want control right now’,
stands as a statement of intent on the album’s opening track. Ultimately, though, there is that
residual strand of hope which Springsteen offers: ‘I believe in the love that you gave me! I believe in
the hope that can save me! I believe in the faith! And I pray that someday it may raise me above
these Badlands!’
The production of the album reflected its stark Iyrical feel. There were no strings, no embellishments,
just hard, thunderous rock’n’roll. Springsteen’s singing, too, had changed. It was more assertive,
more prominent. The aching howl on ‘Streets Of Fire’. which lapses almost into incoherence, sounds
like some wounded animal sloping through the city streets, injured, but defiant.
In the turbulent America of the times, Darkness On The Edge Of Town reflected that changing
society, and firmly established Bruce Springsteen as the American rock star of the seventies.
The Price You Pay
The impending release of Darkness On The Edge Of Town prompted a new surge of touring,
starting on 23 May in Buffalo, his first live performance for five months. While mcga-bands like
Aerosmith, Kiss, Rush and Kansas plugged round the large venues, and stuck pretty close to the
same linc, Springstccn’s itinerary cncompassed the whole country, playing in 37 states and ,anada.
From East Coast to West, and back via the neglected leartland of thc Mid-West, the tour careered
across the States for six solid months, with the band playing shows usually in excess of three hours
every night, then on the bus, and further on down the .oad. It was a gruelling slog which exacted a
high physical price – Springsteen would lose between three and five pounds a show dnd it says much
about his dedication that he both undertook it so :omprehensively, and did not skimp on any show.
He told Sounds In 1978 why he never let up: ‘You may be playing 80 shows in eight months, but this
kid out there, it’s his money, and it’s his one night. He may not see you again for a year. So you
mustn’t let him down…. You’ve got a lot to live up to when you walk out on that stage – a certain
tradition from the early rockers up to now that I believe in a lot. It’s like, you’ve got to be your own
hero, find it out for yourself – I’m just sort of like the catalyst.’
Springsteen still shunned large auditoriums, preferring the clubs, where the audience could fully
appreciate the excitement and intensity of an E Street Band show. It was as if he was repaying a debt,
for it had been clubs like Asbury Park’s Upstage, New York’s Bottom Line and the LA Roxy which
had helped establish his live reputation. He felt he could communicate better with a small audience
than a large one. This community of response was what the shows were about, with Bruce
interspersing the numbers with long monologues about his past. An E Street Band concert wasn’t a
matter of the group just playing and the audience receiving the sounds; it was meant to be a shared
experience. Once when a French journalist went backstage to ask him for an interview after a
concert, Springsteen replied: ‘But haven’t I just been talking to you for the last four hours?’