Pete Johnson’s Blast From My Past: Bruce Springsteen – “Born to Run”

Believe it or not Bruce Springsteen is one artist that this Jersey Boy has a complicated history with. Chill’en, it all began way back in the early 1970’s, when I would be at family gatherings or with neighbors and you’d hear his name pop up from older kids. They had seen this band called E Street fronted by a guy named Bruce, at some bar or college in the Tri state and they had had a great time and they thought he and the group were really fun for a bar band. That is always the rub between Bruce and me.

There was a different class of music back then. There was a line between say, a Led Zeppelin and a Bruce Springsteen. You could never really imagine Led Zeppelin playing bars and you could not really imagine Bruce playing stadiums. The other rub for me was also that I never enjoyed people telling me that I “had to” like something. Especially, because I just happened to live in the same state as some guy. So I never bought a Bruce Springsteen record. I’d listen to whatever tune he had on the radio at the time, but there was just something about the guy’s frantic emotional vocal delivery that just turned me off a bit.

So for years he’s just a guy that I’d hear people telling stories about and I’d listen to his songs on the radio. That changed in 1984 with the release of “Born in the USA”. Bruce was huge back then. It was not like today. He was not a heritage artist. He was actually just a working guy who was just climbing the peak of rock stardom. The final plateau of rarified ‘super stardom’, that in itself was a little annoying still. I just did not enjoy the lemming aspect of music back then. But when a friend said he had an extra ticket for one of Bruce’s first ever runs of like 10 days at the Meadowlands, and I did not have to drive, I said “Sure I’ll go…how bad could it be?”

We got there for the tailgate party around 5:30 and at 7:15 we were waiting for Brooooce. He came out and shouted 1-2-3-4, went into “Born in the USA”, and the Meadowlands erupted in a way I had never seen before or since. I did not know more than a couple of songs and I had to stand up for almost the whole show. He really was that good at what he did. The next day I bought “Born to Run” and really gave it a listen with new ears. That is when I recognized the songwriting and production and the uniqueness of Bruce as an artist. I think of Bruce in literal artistic terms. I think he has sculpted himself out of a block of rock.

The opening notes of “Thunder Road” still evoke a NJ Summer day/evening for me. “Night” still captures the feel of heading out for an evening of fun in Monmouth County. The Bo Diddley beat of “She’s the One” still gets my toe’s a tapping, and was a great inspiration to leading me to the great Bo Diddley’s music. The song “Born to Run” is like a drive down highway 35 from Sayreville south. “Jungleland” marries the feel of what NYC is to a guy like me from NJ. It was almost a postcard from an exotic land that told you what life was about. Then there is the joy of “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out”, where he says the “Change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band, from the coastline to the city all the little pretties raised their hand”. That was the line repeating in my head, while waiting for a flight to Memphis, I noticed Clarence Clemons was sitting next to me in the lounge. I had a great time talking with him and his girlfriend about the state of the music biz and his playing gigs down in the casinos in Tunica, MS. We both knew how different it was to Atlantic City. Bruce is a Jersey guy and so am I. Just go buy this record, if you do not have it and thank me later. ;o)

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