You Ain't a Beauty But Hey You're Allright

Columbia just reissued Born to Run, complete with a DVD of a 1975 London concert. Sometimes I forget how much I like Springsteen. It's like the way I like hamburgers or television -- it's always been there, always been good, and its not one of those things I wonder a lot about.

So its interesting to read this original review of Born to Run, by Greil Marcus, from the October 9, 1975 Rolling Stone. For those of us who discovered Springsteen the way we discovered a lot of rock, in reverse order, it's hard to believe that at one point he was a "new Dylan," a Jersey punk with a lot of hair and attitude and potential who nobody was quite sure was ever going to amount to much.

Born to Run pretty much changed all that. Here's what Marcus had to say in October 1975:

...while it was clear Springsteen was after bigger game, the records made me wonder if he knew what it was. Whether he did or not, with two "you gotta see him live" albums behind him, the question of whether Springsteen would ever make his mark on rock & roll -- or hang onto the chance to do so -- rested on that third LP, which was somehow "long awaited" before the ink was dry on the second. Very soon, he would have to come across, put up or shut up. It is the rock & roller's great shoot-out with himself: The kid with promise hits the dirt and the hero turns slowly, blows the smoke from his pistol, and goes on his way.

Springsteen's answer is Born to Run. 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.

Needless to say, we all know what happened next. Listening to that album now, especially now that I'm trying to be a less sucky writer, I'm struck by the storytelling. Its almost cliche to call Springsteen a great American storyteller, but its no less true now than when Marcus first listened to Born to Run:

It is the drama that counts; the stories Springsteen is telling are nothing new, though no one has ever told them better or made them matter more. Their familiar romance is half their power: The promise and the threat of the night; the lure of the road; the quest for a chance worth taking and the lust to pay its price; girls glimpsed once at 80 miles an hour and never forgotten; the city streets as the last, permanent American frontier.

If you need evidence, you ironically removed hipsters, I'd introduce the first few lines of Thunder Road:

the screen door slams
Mary's dress waves
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

That's just good, solid, tight storytelling. A whole lot of shit going on in what is basically the first paragraph.

This isn't anything new, I know. And I guess it shouldn't be any surprise at this point that Springsteen songs have inspired at least two books: Meeting Across the River, in which various authors take a shot at creating a story based on the song, and Deliver me From Nowhere, Tennessee Jones' book of stories based on the Nebraska album.

I can't think of any way to end this post, and I could probably keep on going, and that would probably be embarrassing in the long run. So here's the last word from the man himself in all his overblown, messy, earnest, fantastic glory:

Outside the street's on fire in a real death waltz
Between flesh and what's fantasy
and the poets down here
Don't write nothing at all
they just stand back and let it all be
And in the quick of the night they reach for their moment
And try to make an honest stand
but they wind up wounded, not even dead
Tonight in Jungleland


Kistulentz said...

Thunder Road still kills me, every time.

Jon Landau once wrote, "I have seen the future of rock and roll and its name is Bruce Springsteen."

I wonder who the future is. The first person to say Coldplay gets bitch-slapped.

Mike said...

Puddle of Mudd?

Or we can always hope Scott Strapp's solo career takes off.

The stripped-down, acoustic version of Thunder Road is one of the best songs ever. It's such a great reworking of an already classic song that whenever I think of Thunder Road now, that's the version that plays in my head.

Sort of like the opposite of that acoustic version of Layla. That's also the one I hear in my head, but it makes me want to spoon my eyes out.

aaron said...

Definitely Puddle of Mudd...one of the best Onion headlines is this one:

Horrible Band Obviously Not Listening to Its Influences


joe said...

Forget who the future is. I'd be happy if mainstream music would make an effort to suck only half as much as it does currently.

Let's be honest: If Springsteen's debut album came out last week would it have been on a major like Sony or something smaller with less power like Lost Highway?