Saturday, June 25, 2011

My Favorite Music: Born to Run

I read Tim Egan's column on the passing of Clarence Clemons in the New York Times this morning.  It was very well done.  I confess to being an Egan fan; he lives here in the Northwest and shares many of my same sensibilities.  We're also in agreement that The Big Man was the straw that stirred the drink of the E Street Band's sound, giving it a gritty, soulful feeling that really set it apart from other bands.  Other bands of any other era.  It was a Jersey sound, but it translated across all borders and regions.
Springsteen and Clemons
I cop to being a Springsteen fan.  I know, it's something those my age volunteer.  I'm not typical, however, because I came to admire him late.  I find him to be something of an acquired taste.  I've never quite found a way to love his folk/singer/songwriter/acoustic work, and his music I enjoy most has that big, loud E Street sound.  Maybe it's got something to do with growing up in the Northwest, where that sound also employed a blaring sax as an important weapon of choice. I confess to not even having heard the Boss's entire catalog.  How cheesy is that?  Favorites, definitely got to be Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town, and Born in the USA.  But I'll state in front of Mark Lindsay, Paul Kantner, Jack White, Patrick Smyth, God and everybody else that Born to Run is my favorite American rock album of all time.
Born to Run remained relentlessly optimistic in contrast to Springsteen's following album Darkness on the Edge of TownBorn in the USA took it one step further with it's portrait of an America in decay.
Lord, why would I say such things?  Springsteen is nothing if not a great storyteller. Born to Run is eight little stories from Springsteen's Jersey life.  Some, like Jungleland paint a seamy picture of life on the streets.  Others such as Born to Run and Thunder Road point to a better life ahead, if only we can look forward.  Not an inconsequential message when one considers the time the album was released.  In 1975 the country was emerging from it's Vietnam experience to find the economy rife with stagflation, it's president disgraced and saved from prison only by the words of his appointed successor, and set on a course of four years of Jimmy Carter's malaise. Yet Springsteen still found words to paint a bright future for his himself, his friends, and his fans.

Not only are the stories uplifting, but listen to the music.  It's big, it's bold and bombastic.  It announces, it broadcasts the bright future with uptempo tunes featuring Springsteens big vocals, Clemons' wailing sax, Roy Bittan's buoyant keyboards on She's the One, or Born to Run. Together with the lyrics, this music is hopeful, it is optimistic, it's fun.  It's what rock and roll should always be about. Set Born to Run into its historical context and compare it to Led Zepplin's 1975 release, Physical Graffiti.  Great album, but would you rather listen to Jungleland and Meeting Across the River, or Kashmir and In My Time of Dying with your buddies?  What about disco?  Would you rather listen to Thunder Road or Van McCoy's The Hustle, or KC and the Sunshine Band's Get Down Tonight, both big 1975 hits? Give me Springsteen's streetsmart yarns, with his relentlessly positive view of a better life.  Born to Run remains my favorite American album of all time, a statement I don't take lightly or without careful consideration.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Well said, Mr Smyth!