Friends, today is a great day, the 40th anniversary of Mr. Springsteen’s masterpiece, “Born to Run.”
My drama teacher in high school – the man who introduced me to The Man – told me that there are two kinds of people in this world: those who get Mr. Springsteen, and those who don’t. If you are the former, you need not read further. We already understand each other perfectly. If you are the latter, I invite you to come along and feed your soul.
I have admired Mr. Springsteen’s music since I began liking music as a teenager. If memory serves, his greatest-hits album was among the first batch of CDs I bought for one penny from Columbia House, back in the days when life was simple and good.
Years later, after a very bad day during a very bad year, I flipped on the television and caught a majestic performance of “Thunder Road” at London’s Hammersmith Odeon, in 1975, the first song Mr. Springsteen played on his first trip to London. (See him discuss the trip and perform the same version of the song in 2012 by clicking here.) I was sitting in my living room on the Upper East Side utterly captivated, elevated, at peace with Mr. Springsteen’s message that while life is cruel and harsh, hoping is not futile; that hoping and dreaming and fighting are heroic and redemptive in and of themselves.
Those are a few lines from “Backstreets,” a song that begins with music so stately, so heartbreaking, that it might be the prelude to a rock & roll version of The Iliad. Once the piano and organ have established the theme the entire band comes and plays the theme again. There is an overwhelming sense of recognition: No, you’ve never heard anything like this before, but you understand it instantly, because this music — or Springsteen crying, singing wordlessly, moaning over the last guitar lines of “Born to Run,” or the astonishing chords that follow each verse of “Jungleland,” or the opening of “Thunder Road” — is what rock & roll is supposed to sound like.
The songs, the best of them, are adventures in the dark, incidents of wasted fury. Tales of kids born to run who lose anyway, the songs can, as with “Backstreets,” hit so hard and fast that it is almost impossible to sit through them without weeping. And yet the music is exhilarating. You may find yourself shaking your head in wonder, smiling through tears at the beauty of it all. I’m not talking about lyrics; they’re buried, as they should be, hard to hear for the first dozen playings or so, coming out in bits and pieces. To hear Springsteen sing the line “Hiding on the backstreets” is to be captured by an image; the details can come later. Who needed to figure out all the words to “Like a Rolling Stone” to understand it?
The whole review is worth reading.
And this performance of “Backstreets” is worth watching.
Okay, enough for now. The service is over. Go forth and spread the good word.
And congratulations, Boss, on four decades of filling our hearts and lifting our souls, facing the world as it is and finding beauty within it, recognizing that we are all fallen, but that we can be redeemed.