‘Born To Run’ at 40
Born To Run has been my favorite Bruce Springsteen album since I listened to it all the way through for the first time in August 1975. And since it’s my favorite Bruce Springsteen album, that means that it’s my very favorite album of all time.
I was 19 that summer, ready to head back to Ohio from Trenton, NJ to the University of Dayton for my sophomore year of college. I’d had a great summer, and Born To Run was icing on the cake. As hard as it was to leave my family and friends (especially my amazing girlfriend (who ended up becoming my amazing wife), I was eager to get back to school because I was really committed to continuing to learn everything I could about radio and broadcasting. I was the music director of our carrier current college radio station and was consumed with being on the air and everything else that went on at the radio station.
I loved Bruce’s music from the first time I heard the songs from Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ on my radio. When it was quickly followed by The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle, I was all in. This guy and his band were from Jersey and proud of it to boot. In 1973, not many people would make that claim. In his review of Born To Run, Greil Marcus wrote in Rolling Stone that “It is a magnificent album that pays off on every bet ever placed on him—a ’57 Chevy running on melted down Crystals records that shuts down every claim that has been made. And it should crack his future wide open.” Yup and amen.
There are only 8 songs on the album. That still boggles my mind. And the guy who wrote them was 24-25 years old. Bruce has long called “Thunder Road” an invitation. It continues to be that for me. While I’ll always think of “Born To Run” as Bruce Springsteen’s *greatest* song, I’ll always consider “Thunder Road” to be his *best* song. There are still people who remind me that I left “Jungleland” off a Top 20 list of fave Bruce songs some years back on the BTX. Sacrilege! (And to be fair, four of the album’s songs were on said list)
The 30th anniversary of the album gave us that excellent boxed set. From the beautiful documentary that Thom Zimny put together to the amazing (and previously unseen) concert from the Hammersmith Odeon in London, we were able to see behind the curtain. The footage shot by Barry Rebo in the studio still blows me away. Stevie Van Zandt once told me on the Bruce Brunch, that in retrospect he was surprised that Rebo had all of that access, as that really wasn’t the norm at the time. Turned out to be very good for us.
As the Working On A Dream tour was winding down in the fall of 2009, Bruce decided that he and the E Street Band would be performing some of his albums in their entirety. And no matter where I was or who I was with, I kept missing the Born To Run night. That tour was to conclude in Buffalo on a Sunday night. Given my Sunday am schedule, it would have been tough to pull off anyhow and that particular Sunday was a three hour all request show for the Food Bank, which made it mission impossible. But. The second to last show was in Baltimore AND they were playing Born To Run.
My pal Rich Russo had this BMW/rocket ship at the time and decided to drive. I decided to sit in the passenger seat. Bruce and the band hadn’t played Baltimore in more than 36 years, and after all that time were back at the same venue—the building formerly known as the Baltimore Civic Center. It was an antique—and a classic at that. Smallish and old school, this was the place that the likes of Earl “The Pearl” Monroe tore up for the old Baltimore Bullets. And as it turned out, a building much to the liking of one Bruce Springsteen.
According to Brucebase, the show was 3 hours and 20 minutes long, with 31 songs along the way. Three songs in, Bruce moved to the small stage back by the soundboard to sing “Hungry Heart” (Baltimore, Jack!!) and this was my cue to ignore all that and slip from the back of the pit toward the stage and take in the album performance from up close and personal. 6 years later, still a wise decision. It was breathtaking, majestic and amazing. Sadly, it was the last time that Clarence Clemons would ever perform “Jungleland.” It’s a night and show that I’ll never forget.
40 years burning down the road, Born To Run remains essential. Its imagery defies time. Its characters remain timeless. Its restless heart and spirit are as alive and vital today as they were forty summers ago. In those eight songs Bruce Springsteen realized a huge portion of his own dreams and at the same time opened up the ears and eyes and minds of the many who would feel its influence between then and now and beyond. Like all great art, Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run grows in stature and legend. It’s as perfect today as it was then.