The Street’s Alive, Secret Debts Are Paid

Born to Run  – for my money, one of the ten greatest albums in the history of American rock and roll, and of that list, one of my 2-3 favorites – turns thirty years old today.

No, wait – 1975?  That’s forty years go.


I’m going to re-run a post I first did on the album’s thirtieth anniversary.  Which is, itself, kind of a chronological whack in the head; I’ve been blogging long enough to cover two decennials of this album.

But it was one of my favorites when I first wrote it, and I’m glad to put it out there again.

Bruce Springsteen released Born To Run thirty years ago today.

Thirty years. The album is twice as old as I was when I first heard it.



I hear the album today, and it’s still just as fresh as it ever was. If Rock and Roll is a matter of crystalline moments that still cut and shine through the tarnish of the years and the background noise of everyday life, Born To Run is the mother of all diamonds.

I remember being a seventies-addled junior high kid, watching the guy at Mother’s Records in Jamestown – the one across from the high school – drop the needle on the first copy of Born To Run I ever saw, on the one hand thinking “no way it’s better thanBoston“, on the other hand looking at the sleeve – a 26 year old Bruce leaning on a 33 year old Clarence (with a Fender Freaking Telecaster Squire, in the middle of the heyday of the Gibson Les Paul, no less!), presaging the joy and tension and just plain ENERGY in the album, and thinking “Wow. That’s rock and roll”.

Clarence Clemons, Bruce, and Miami Steve, at Bruce’s UK debut in support of Born to Run, at the Hammersmith in London.

And then – Thunder Road:

The screen door slams, Mary’s dress sways
Like a vision she dances across the porch. As the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely
Hey that’s me and I want you only
Don’t turn me home again, I just can’t face myself alone again

A girl! Dancing on the porch! Sign me up!

Outtake from the Born to Run cover photo session.

All prelude of course, to the burst of energy to come that washed over me, that shot a chill up my spine:

With a chance to make it good somehow
Hey what else can we do now?
Except roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair
Well the night’s busting open
This two lanes will take us anywhere
We got one last chance to make it real
To trade in these wings on some wheels
Climb in back, Heaven’s waiting on down the tracks…

Bruce has done better albums (Darkness on the Edge of Town, Tunnel of Love), he’s had records that sold more albums (Born In The USA) – but no album, before or since, has ever had moments like Born To Run.

It breaks my heart just a little that two of the three guys in this 1975 pic – organist Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons – are gone now.

Moments – it’s a prosaic word, but in the world of Mitch, as applied to Rock and Roll, it has a very specific meaning that, for purposes of explanation, I should make clear; a “moment” is something, some tiny snippet of a song, that sends a chill up your spine, that rattles you to the core of your being. They can be huge and dramatic (Roger Daltrey’s scream in “Won’t Get Fooled Again”), or light and subtle (Susannah Hoffs’ cooing “to a perfect world” at the end of “Dover Beach”, from the first Bangles album); they can be part of a great song (the final “to bring the victory Jesus won…” in U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, the murderous guitar hooks in Big Country’s “Where The Rose Is Sown”, the bridge in Smokey Robinson’s “Cruisin’”), a mediocre one (the final coda in the Alarm’s “Blaze of Glory”, the bridges in the Babies’ “Isn’t It Time”), even a crappy one (Neil Schon’s entrance in Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”), it can beat you over the head (the beginning of Barry Goudreau’s blazing final solo in Boston’s “Long Time”), it can seduce you (the mournful, whispered chorus of Richard Thompson’s “Jenny”, Aimee Mann’s transclucent last line of the last verse of Til Tuesday’s “Coming Up Close”). You get the picture.

Moments are ephemeral, unpredictable. Most artists never have one (Laura Brannigan and Dee Snider searched their whole careers in vain); most albums never send a single chill up a lonely spine. A single such moment can redeem an otherwise mediocre career; the world could forget the Monkees, Roxette, 10,000 Maniacs, the Cars and Abba tomorrow, but I’d love them for a grand total of maybe fifteen seconds worth of moments among them (brief snippets of “I’m A Believer”, “It’s All Over Now”, “These Are Days”, “Bye Bye Love” and “SOS”, two-second flares of pop brilliance that are all I need). A talent for such moments – the ability to create more than one or two on a couple of albums – is a rare thing indeed, almost mythical. Pete Townsend, Ray Davies, Chuck D, Lennon/McCartney, Paul Westerberg, Chrissy Hynde (until about 1985), Bono/The Edge, Stuart Adamson, Smokey Robinson, Levi Stubbs, Aimee Mann – it’s a small, select list.

The Born to Run era E Street Band; Clarence Clemons, Steve Van Zandt, Max Weinberg, Bruce, Roy Bittan, Danny Federici, Gary Tallent.

And in no album are there more such moments jammed so tightly together, moments enough to define the careers of a dozen other artists, moments that, thirty years later, still thrill and chill and drag you out into onto the Jersey Turnpike of the mind in Dad’s jalopy. None. Ever:

  • Thunder Road – “…roll down the window”, “it’s a town full of losers, and I’m pulling outta here to win…”
  • Tenth Avenue Freezeout – “While Scooter and the big man bust this city in half!”
  • Night – Almost too many to count – the frenetic opening, the raw harmonies of the first verse, the bridge (“Hell, all night, they’re busting you up on the outside…”)
  • Backstreets – The crescendo when the entire band joins, the exit from the bridge (“…but I hated him, and I hated you when you want away – whoooooah”, raw with aching and longing and unrequited pain)
  • The title cut – Again, too many to catalog; “Boom” Carter’s half-bar drum intro, “Beyond the palace, hemi-powered drones…”, the moment when Bruce counts off the beat to the last verse…
  • She’s The One – The band stomping into the Bo Diddley beat from the intro, heavy enough to crush rocks but deft enough to dance to – in fact, impossible not to dance to.
  • Meeting Across The River – All the sly little moments that tell us the song is about a couple of desperate losers looking for the big break; “Here, stuff this in your pocket, it’ll look like you’re carrying a friend…”
  • Jungleland – Too many to list; the first “Down…in…Jun…gle…Laaaaand”, the glorious guitar solo, “…in the parking lots the visionaries dress in the latest rage…, and of course, the song’s cornerstone “…and the poets down here write nothing at all, they just stand back and let it all be…”

Born To Run is the encyclopedia of rock and roll – one moment at a time.

And thirty years later, it still crackles like static from the speakers, feeling barely controlled, throbbing with potential energy (“Backstreets’” ominous buildup) and thundering with explosive release (“Night”), careening from smokey barroom to dragstrip to rumble to backseat like one of those lost weekend evenings from your teens – or the teenage years you imagined other people having – packed into a sleeve.

Born to Run is one of those rare records that feels as good today as the day it was released; it hasn’t aged or dated itself one iota; one of those bits of art that will long outlive its creator.

One moment at a time.

My writing has changed a bit in the past ten years.  So has Bruce’s.

But Born to Run has stuck with me, through my own 35 or so years of over-the-top fandom, like few other albums ever.

Politics?  Who cares.  I mean, yes – between 1975 and 1987 Bruce wrote a cavalcade of songs that couldn’t resonate with conservatives more if he had campaigned for Steve Forbes in 2000 – but again, some things are just more important than politics.

Anyway.  I’m outta here for the rest of the day, hanging out with the Duke Street Kings.

10 thoughts on “The Street’s Alive, Secret Debts Are Paid

  1. Believe it or not, I actually heard the Clash before I heard Springsteen. I have no memory of hearing Born to Run in 1975. Not sure if it didn’t get airplay in my town, but the songs I remember from the end of that summer of 1975 were things like “Love Will Keep Us Together,” “At Seventeen” and “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights.” The first Springsteen album that I heard in real time was The River. It was astonishing to learn that Springsteen had such an amazing body of work that I’d completely missed up to that point.

  2. I remember reading about Springsteen – and then seeing his name on the crdit line for the ’45 of Manfred Mann’s version of “Blinded by the Light”; I figured “how much different could it be?”

    Then I went into a record store in Jamestown in ’78, and the clerk dropped the needle on “Darkness on the Edge of Town”, and I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. And I told the clerk, and he pulled out and played a couple of tracks of Born to Run – the title,”Backstreets” and “Night”, IIRC, and I may very well not RC, but anyway, the rest is history.

  3. I’m curious why you’d rate Darkness and Tunnel as “better” albums. To me, Born to Run is a much better distillation of teenage/young adult angst and frustration. I don’t see another album that better summarizes the young adult frustration with the world as it is and sympathizes with those who tilt Don Quixote-like against the windmills of The Establishment. For a teenager, especially one caught in the miasma of the mid 70s (stagflation, high unemployment, the defeat in Vietnam, the threat of nuclear annihilation, and worst of all: disco) Born to Run didn’t just reflect the rage against the status quo, it distilled it, concentrated it, and blew it back up into the listener’s face with almost physical force.

  4. I’m curious why you’d rate Darkness and Tunnel as “better” albums

    I’m not sure I do. I wrote that ten years ago.

    Darkness is still my favorite Bruce album, but picking a favorite between Darkness, the River and Born to Run is like picking your favorite kid.

    And I rate “Tunnel of Love ” behind those three. Ten years ago, I probably rated it even higher, because I’d been divorced for a couple of years, and “Tunnel” is one of the better albums ever made about watching things dissolve. That’s further from my mind these days.

  5. “For a teenager, especially one caught in the miasma of the mid 70s (stagflation, high unemployment, the defeat in Vietnam, the threat of nuclear annihilation, and worst of all: disco..”

    nerd, if you were taking notice of any of that during your teen years, you were getting ripped off by your ganj dealer.

    “I remember reading about Springsteen – and then seeing his name on the crdit line for the ’45 of Manfred Mann’s version of “Blinded by the Light”; I figured “how much different could it be?”

    And that was what tempted you to listen? Really?

  6. I hadn’t heard any of his music when I was in high school. My first awareness of him was the infamous Time and Newsweek covers appearing at the same time, and my first reaction was, “Oh, this is what I’m supposed to like, huh? What a dorky name.”

    When I moved to campus in the fall of ’76 my roommate had a huge record collection and was playing the Born to Run album constantly – and I loved it.I felt as if I’d been cheated out of something. As a bonus, my roommate had already added Greetings From Asbury Park and The Wild,The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle to his collection so it was an instant deep dive. It was great to see how Bruce had progressed through each album, even as each had it’s own kick-ass highlights (Lost in the Flood and Spirit in the Night from the first album for me, and if Bruce had died after recording Rosalita I think he’d still would have been hailed as a genius for that song alone).

    Of course, then came the legal-induced hiatus after BTR, leaving new Springsteen junkies twitchingly roaming the aisles of record stores, rubbing their arms raw, looking for a musical methadone (Southside Johnny) or – hope above all hope – some scratchy, staticky bootleg that could be mainlined. My roommate and I were up at 12:01 a.m. on the day Darkness was released, tuned into the campus radio station which was going to play all of side one.

    While the first three albums are still the touchstone for me, Darkness and Nebraska both grew on me. I liked some of the songs on The River, but was largely indifferent to the album, which pretty much describes my take on Tunnel as well, but then I didn’t have the type of life experience to add resonance to that album; certainly no “Mister I ain’t a boy, no I’m a man” moments. The Rising was a gut-shot of adrenaline, though, that came close to the original rush back in ’76.

  7. And that was what tempted you to listen? Really?


    It was that episode after school at the record store.

  8. nerd, if you were taking notice of any of that during your teen years, you were getting ripped off by your ganj dealer.

    Never touched the stuff. I’m weird enough as it is: I was trying to learn special relativity and quantum mechanics as a freshman in high school from books and the physics teacher who was chess club adviser (he wasn’t much help). If you want to warp your mind, there’s nothing like those subjects to prove that the universe is a strange and twisted place and you don’t need to ingest strange chemicals to experience it.

    Besides, who could avoid disco in the 70s? That crap was everywhere. And as for the rest, I suppose you never noticed friends’ families getting laid off, your family struggling to get meat it was so expensive, etc? If you could ignore what was happening then, well, your teen years were either very, very sheltered, or you were completely clueless. Me? As a teenager I worked in a meat room and couldn’t help but to notice how many folks just couldn’t afford the stuff. They’d pick up the packages, look at the price and put them back down with sadness, not anger.

  9. Pingback: Blinded By The Date | Shot in the Dark

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