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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Bruce Springsteen: Born To Run


1) Thunder Road; 2) 10th Avenue Freeze Out; 3) Night; 4) Backstreets; 5) Born To Run; 6) She's The One; 7) Meeting Across The River; 8) Jungleland.

After all these years, my favorite song on this album is still ʽ10th Avenue Freeze Outʼ. You know why? Because it is the only song on this album that inherits and develops the style of its prede­cessor — with that tight, cocky, vivacious, and not in the least simplistic jazz-pop sound. The guitar is sly and boppy rather than bombastic, Roy Bittan's honky-tonk piano and Clemmons' saxophone parts are deliciously New Orleanian, and as the verses merrily lead to the "10th ave­nue freeze out, 10th avenue freeze out!" chorus, defiantly shot out word by word, the track, to me, offers more sincere «rebellion» than a thousand ʽThunder Roadsʼ could ever hope to.

But the song is an anomaly here, on an album that is not about having defiant fun on the street corner. Born To Run is all about size — everything bigger than everything else, including life itself. Now that Jon Landau had seen rock'n'roll's future, and now that the man had properly cut his teeth with two uneven, but ultimately successful records, in Bruce's own words, he wanted to make «Roy Orbison singing Bob Dylan and produced by Phil Spector», yes indeed.

We could just leave it at that, stating the obvious fact that Bruce Springsteen does not possess the voice of a Roy Orbison, the verbal talents of Bob Dylan, and the studio experience of Phil Spec­tor. But that would not be honest, because in reality, he never tries to sing like Roy Orbison, write lyrics like Bob Dylan, or rip off Spector's wall-of-sound techniques. The statement has to be understood allegorically — all of these guys were the smashing-est in their class, and Born To Run tries to be smashing in all these respects, too: big tales of passion, hope, and despair sung with a big voice and played in a big sort of way. Melody? Groove? Yeah it's nice if we can have some of that, too, but it ain't what matters here.

I mean, ʽThunder Roadʼ has a riff alright (the piano-sax duo), but it only really appears in the coda section, once the tale is over — before that, all that matters is the crescendo, as the Boss gradually revs himself into action. The intrigue is — where does it all lead? Instruments enter one after the other, the voice rises higher and higher, and once it becomes clear that the protagonist is gonna grab his guitar, get Mary (another appearance by the Queen of Arkansas?), hop in the car, and skedaddle out of here, there's just no way we wouldn't be having that mighty coda. Melody-wise, I still have no idea what goes on there: I only know it started out small and inconspicuous and ended up bigger than a brontosaur's ass, and that's probably the only thing that matters in the grand scheme of things. Very grand scheme of things.

The question is — are you ready to get caught up in these windy blasts that the Boss is huffin' and puffin' at you, or have you got second thoughts about it? All of these «classics» — ʽThunder Roadʼ, ʽBackstreetsʼ, ʽBorn To Runʼ, ʽJunglelandʼ — all of them have always left me with mixed feelings. The skill, the craft, the energy are undeniable, and there has hardly been any «working class poet» in the pop music business (certainly not in 1975) who could beat the man in this de­partment. The sincerity of it could be doubted, of course, but why? It's not as if Bruce wrote and recorded ʽBorn To Runʼ out of some cynical «yeah, the boys back home will really dig this one and finally make me a superstar» motive — and it wouldn't really be until the Eighties, anyway, that «commercially oriented music-making» would become a big part of the man's life.

The key to this dissatisfaction is, I believe, in the songs' combination of simplicity, monotonous­ness, and predictability. The «Springsteen formula» gets established here as a viable critical and commercial proposition, but hardly as a gift for those who do not cherish pathos and bombast on their own, even if they are done really convincingly. The six-note riff of ʽBorn To Runʼ (which, if you pin it down, sounds like somebody trying to master the style of Duane Eddy) is okay, but it just serves as the backbone for a lot of instrumental bombast, and come on now, you're not here for the guitar or even for the crazy sax break, you're really supposed to be here to sing along with Bruce, also wanting to know if love is wild, or if love is real. "Tramps like us, baby, we were born to run" — that "us" does not mean me and my lady friend, it really means me and you, my devoted soon-to-be-stadium-rock-fan. But this sort of emotionalism is just too crude and too stereotypical. And, yes, too populist, of course — even if no cynical intention is suspected.

Other than that, few people talk about the non-classics, and for good reason — ʽNightʼ is really like a lesser quality preview of ʽBorn To Runʼ, rather pleonastic in light of the latter; ʽShe's The Oneʼ wastes a good Bo Diddley beat on an unsuitably pompous arrangement; and ʽMeeting Across The Riverʼ, dominated by Randy Brecker's midnight trumpet, meanders and sinatras its way across the brief filler space that leads us to the much more prominent ʽJunglelandʼ. A skeptic like me could have tried to build up a stronger case for these lesser known songs, but no, they have every reason to be lesser known — two out of three at least following the album's general logic, but failing to deliver quite as well in the energy and bombast department.

If there is one indisputable hero on Born To Run, it is The Big Man — sax guy Clarence Clemons. I am pretty sure that without his contributions the album might have flopped as badly as its predecessors, because nothing here hits as hard as his blasts: not even Bruce at his brawni­est, when he is roaring out "hiding on the backstreets, hiding on the backstreets!", can really com­pare with the totally focused, totally magnetic short solo on the title track — and the best instru­mental passage by far on the entire album is the famous sax solo on ʽJunglelandʼ, well worth waiting for even if you happen to find the rest of the urban tale somewhat of a drag. Unfortunate­ly, there's only so much you can do with a saxophone, and all of Clarence's breaks set the same mood — perfectly compatible with Bruce's lonesome-heroic approach and more nimble and awe-inspiring than any other voice or instrument here, but the guy is really used as much as he should be used, no more, no less.

I think he's also pretty much absent on ʽBackstreetsʼ, where Roy Bittan is instead the hero — and he plays it loyal and regal, but six minutes of his keyboards are boring, because... well, could he play something else for just a moment? Oh no, he could not, because the Boss really just needs him to accompany his power Lied about Terry (and, by the way, we still do not know if Terry was a man, a woman, a dog, or Ziggy in disguise). Do not get me wrong — the basic punch of ʽBackstreetsʼ punches heavy and hard, but when the major hook in your song is the sound of your own voice screaming, it's... well, imagine ʽWon't Get Fooled Againʼ getting along solely on the strength of Daltrey's final roar. Would we want to spend those nine minutes so we could all just live up to it? And in ʽBackstreetsʼ, there's just too much pathos and not enough resolution.

Ultimately, Born To Run sealed the man's fate. Before that one, his creative trajectory was still somewhat unpredictable — but the success of this «future of rock'n'roll» project established him as Working Class Rock Hero №1, and since a working class hero is something to be, this leaves less space to experiment with music and piles up many more obligations to conform to the image. But that would be later: on Born To Run, he still has that image to construct, before he can begin to con­form to much of anything, and so the album is not so much «calculated» and «manipu­lative» as it is simply «mono-focused». We just want everything to be big, huge, voluminous beyond measure. Whoever said it was in bad taste to be young, wild, and ambitious circa 1975? Even Billy Joel was young, wild, and ambitious circa 1975.

So there's really no reason to insist upon «hating» the record or viciously thumbing it down. It was unquestionably an event, it went on to become a classic that still attracts young listeners even today, it's got its share of unforgettable songs and its undeniably brilliant musical moments. It is probably responsible, at least in part, for the subsequent careers of Bob Seger, John Mellencamp, Bryan Adams, and God knows who else, but we are not going to hold that against it, either. It in­troduced the «big bearded muscular man with Telecaster» image, too, which is not accidental because of all guitars in the world, nothing resembles a mighty sledgehammer as much as a good old Fender Telecaster — cue Working Class Rock Hero №1 image yet again — but why should we suppose anything other than just a personal preference for this particular model? Let's just say this: Born To Run is sort of a fascinating record, torn between genius and mediocrity, richness and cheapness, rampant imagination and clichéd formula. A formula which, by the way, Bruce would go on to easily tear down on his next album — only to have it rebuilt from scratch for the next one — and tear it down again — and build it up — and tear it down — and then we lost count, and it wasn't so fun anymore anyway.


  1. "all that matters is the crescendo"
    Whenever a rock artist tries a crescendo I immediately think of Child in Time.

    "there has hardly been any «working class poet» in the pop music business (certainly not in 1975) "
    Sure enough at the other side of the Atlantic another working class outfit was becoming big. Not in the USA, mind you, but in Europe On the Level did better than Born to Run. And Status Quo was definitely working class: simple music, simple lyrics and without any pretention. It's this combination that bugs me the wrong way: it's totally OK with me to be a working class hero (all my grandparents were working class), but Springsteen is so pretentious that this claim loses all credibility in my eyes.
    Now I'm hardly qualified to judge lyrics, but I greatly prefer the straightforward

    "But if you never start to think at all
    You'd never be aware
    And never understand the meaning
    Of the love we shared"

    to the equally straightforward

    "It's a death trap, it's a suicide rap
    We gotta get out while we're young
    `Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run"

    See, I have lived in a working class neighbourhood for several years. Those people didn't want to run and certainly weren't born to do so. They wanted a safe and stable life.
    Springsteen may be sincere, he still lacks credibility. But yeah, that might be my European bias. But given the fact that Born to Run didn't chart as high as On the Level I was not the only Dutchie who thought so.

    "nothing resembles a mighty sledgehammer as much as a good old Fender Telecaster"
    Guess what? Francis Rossi, whose father sold ice cream, also plays it.

    1. "Whenever a rock artist tries a crescendo I immediately think of Child in Time."

      Is there ever anything that doesn't make you think of Deep Purple? :P

    2. "Those people didn't want to run and certainly weren't born to do so. They wanted a safe and stable life."
      And that point is where I also de-train the Boss Springsteen Workingman's Express. Everything is boiled down to racing and cycling metaphors. Which indeed, many blue-collar folk (not sure the Dutch equivalent to that idiom) do watch racing and ride bikes, but not to escape hell and die in a fireball of glory, but to escape and just be themselves.

  2. Who else just skimmed all the way down like me just to see if Mr. Starostin gave this a thumbs down?

    1. Well, we already knew from the preceding two reviews that it wasn't going to be a thumbs up, and that's what matters. I'm relieved - so many good critics go soft with age.

  3. Not as condemning as your original review -- your feelings seem more mixed now. Well, mine are not. I guess I better get some extra fire insurance on my house, I suppose -- because I may be the only person in America who HATES this album. I have NEVER been able to get into it, even 40 years on. All my original reasons for hating it musically still apply -- it's sloppily played, sloppily produced (did it really take over a year to record??!) and, most importantly, sloppliy SUNG! A few songs on his previous two overcome those flaws, but almost nothing does here.

    I used to think, well, the songwriting is good, so maybe another performer (even Bruce's "future self", live) could make something of them. Yet, as I get older, I find the lyrics even more obnoxious. People who think this is "real" rock and roll hate prog rock for being pretentious. Yet, this guy took the sentiments behind The Beach Boys' "I Get Around" and turned it into an entire ethos for overlong "epics" like "Jungleland" and "Thunder Road". (and "Racing in the Street" on the next album). I really couldn't --and still can't -- relate to these characters and their escapist, pointless lives.

    On top of this, Bruce "celebrates" them with so much pumped up, phony machismo and bravado that it makes the album just about unbearable. With one exception -- "She's the One", which departs from the overall theme. This is his first real classic. The tension builds up until it finally explodes, perfectly capturing the feeling of sexual desperation and obsession - -the one place where the bombast is totally justified.

    It took me a LONG time to appreciate Bruce because of all of this -- and if I hadn't been convinced to see him live 3 years later (where "She's the One" was THE highlight), I might never have. Now, I actually own a lot of Springsteen's albums and enjoy them, in big part because he finally developed a disciplined, more mature songwriting, singing and record-making craft. But this remains an irritant to me still, and always turn any of it off when it comes on (except, of course for "She's the One".)...

  4. I feel I've got to speak up for Springsteen here because I think this review totally misses the point. You can't judge an album like Born to Run according to conventional criteria like whether the songs have classical melodies or arrangements, whether they're tightly produced or arranged etc. It's ambitions are far greater than that - and it deserves to be judged on the basis of those ambitions, because otherwise you're not meeting it on its terms.

    Springsteen wasn't interested in just producing hit after hit. He's said as much in interviews. I saw one recently where he said that he actually wanted to be "great". Don't deride him for it. That's what every artist wants to be, whether they admit it or not, because otherwise they'd do something respectable and become a professional, with guaranteed status, money and security.

    What Born to Run and every succeeding album was about was essentially trying to create a romanticised mythology about working class folk - people who are routinely dismissed as "low status" or "losers". Of course it's always going to be overblown, exaggerated, grandiose - all those things you criticise in the review. As I said, he was perfectly capable of writing chart hit after chart hit - as he proved in Born in the USA. But he didn't want to be the Beatles (acknowledging their creativity and diversity later in their careers).

    Did he succeed? No. But no artist with those kind of ambitions ever fully does. He certainly tried. And I disagree that he tore down his ambitions with every alternate album. There's a clear thread going through I think most of his albums (tho' I only know about half of them). He may not have succeeded but he took a lot of people along for the journey and produced a lot of great music and interesting songs along the way. Even Bob Dylan didn't succeed. I guess his ambitions were loftier and more intellectual. like all artists he was trying to make sense of life and the world but he was using metaphor, literature and religion to do it. The Boss was earthier, certainly interested in metaphors but more concerned with everyday emotion and experience.

    The other thing he did with this album - successfully - was to create a real identity for himself that sustained him throughout his career, that gained him a lot of loyalty from his fans.

    When you look at the music scene today, you don't see much ambition of the kind Springsteen had, although that may just be the mainstream. It's cheap, commercialised and tacky. Everyone just wants to write hits and aims for the short attention span of modern listeners. The truth is the scene is crying out for something overblown and ambitious and exaggerated. The closest I can think of today is Muse but they're not fit to shine Springsteen's shoes as songwriters or artists.

    So ultimately I think Born to Run deserves to be viewed if not as a classic then as a milestone in the career of a great artist and one that set the tone for what was to come. It was where he found his voice as an artist. And you know what - you can criticise it all you want but at least he HAD one.

    1. Yes but is the actual music any good?

    2. Of course it's good. You try creating a band and sounding that good. It's damn hard - I know. I like the tunes. They're not the catchiest songs but they're not really meant to be. When it tries to be - She's the One - I think it falls a little flat.

      What I find interesting about his style is that on a lot of the songs - Born to Run is a good example - it sounds like they're about to fall apart at any moment but somehow they don't. There's an element of what later came to be known as "indie" rock - loose playing and singing (that isn't actually loose at all in the right hands, it's very deliberate). Try singing that song and hitting all the notes perfectly in time - it doesn't really work. But when you loosen it up, slur the words a bit, play with the rhythm, it comes together. It sounds like he's had a few beers and he really is on the verge of running off somewhere, maybe to do a bank job. There's another song i like of his - Tunnel of Love - that has more of that feel.
      Course, it's not in Tom Waits territory but it sounds way more interesting when it does that. He really tried to inhabit the characters he sings about.

    3. I never liked his voice, so...

    4. " I saw one recently where he said that he actually wanted to be "great". Don't deride him for it."
      I don't deride him for it, but I do think he fails. Springsteen is neither great nor a voice for the working class.

    5. Call it personal politics or a difference of philosophy, but I find artists like Dylan or Lennon more interesting because they aren't as obviously ambitious as Springsteen. Lennon and Dylan wrote for themselves, and ultimately didn't care all that much about pleasing the fans -- you don't make "Saved" or "Two Virgins" if you're goal is to connect spiritually with the masses. As a fan of theirs you were left to see if you related to what they were sayig and what they were like, or at the very least appreciate their honesty. I'm sure they wanted people to like their songs, but they weren't doing cartwheels for people's approval. Springsteen's mission statement, by your own admission, was to make a mythology of the common man -- to be the voice of the working class. He didn't always wear rose glasses when it came to this task, but I don't think he was ever willing to say "There are some miserable fvcks who wish they had more but don't have the heart to get out of their own private Hellhole." Springsteen could never pen "But you're still fvcking peasants as far as I can see" -- his characters had to be romanticized and always have hope at the end. Maybe I just don't like happy endings, but I think Lennon's happy moments felt more genuine because they were surrounded by grief, not anthem after anthem of a similar uplifting nature.

      But this would all be fine if the music was good, and it really isn't -- "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" is my favorite too, because it still has the laid-back vibe of the previous album, and an engaging melody to boot. But "Thunder Road", "Born to Run", "Jungleland"? They have some nice moments, but overall they're slabs that I have to slog through ahen I listen. I'll take Yes' most-meandering moments over one of these any day because at least I can dig the atmosphere the band create, and appreciate the playing even if it never congeals into something really memorable.

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    8. "The truth is the scene is crying out for something overblown and ambitious and exaggerated. The closest I can think of today is Muse but they're not fit to shine Springsteen's shoes as songwriters or artists."

      I see Muse as being a different sort of overblown - at their best, glitz, playfulness and chops, matter more than message or myth building. The chronicle of the gradual tightening of the conceptual elements in Muse albums from "The Resistance" onward is also the chronicle of their gradual descent into self-parody. (I say that as a resigned fan.)

    9. Arcade Fire are probably the best example of the pathos you're describing; arguably beating the Boss himself. At least until now. If Duplode is a resigned Muse fan, I'm a resigned Arcade Fire fan. With each subsequent album Arcade Fire produces, I slowly see their heads move further up their collective behinds as they move away from the pathos that made Funeral great.

      Since their latest album, Reflektor, they've turned into this pretentious art rock outfit that dispensed with the power of the live band in favour of atmospheric mush with a reliance on electronics, singing about the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice instead of the pains of growing up.

      Still, it was on Funeral that Arcade Fire took the power of the multi-piece band and social conscious patterned by Springsteen, added some Old World touches with the Baroque instruments and Berlin-era Bowie influence, and made a masterpiece.

  5. I take on board some of these comments but you've got to ask yourself how subjective you're being. Of course it's "your" taste but you write as though you've got the definitive insight into the guy. The fact is, countless working class people - and rich people too - around the world are captivated by Springsteen. Does he speak for them? They think so. That doesn't mean it's not contrived and overblown. I've already said it is.

    Just saying that Springsteen was interested in doing more than just writing hits. Of course millions before and after have championed the working class - plenty better than him. But he happened to be an excellent musician, a damn good songwriter and craftsman as well (even the review acknowledges this).

    Also, this idea of "writing for yourself" is flawed. Do you really think Dylan wasn't desperate for fame and success? At least as much as Springsteen, I'd say. This "contrarian" image was just a persona and in many ways a standard intellectual persona (you can always tell an intellectual by how often they disagree with things). John Lennon? You kidding? He was the most commercial songwriter in history. Even his solo stuff was populist, even though by now he wanted to actually say something as opposed to writing hits for the sake of it with the Beatles. The concept of writing for yourself isn't just unrealistic, it's deeply narcissistic. If you are creating art SOLELY to please yourself, then it's meaningless because it's not meant to be honest or have any universal truth. Like it or not, we do what we do to connect even if first we have to find our own motivation and voice (otherwise we will never connect as individuals).

    So back to Springsteen. Very talented musician? Check. Excellent songwriter? Check. Sought to make a statement and to make his music bigger than just the output of a technician (or more than just paint on a canvas)? Check. Successful in meeting that ambition? Occasionally though mostly not. But guess what? Bob Dylan didn't change the world either. Course he inspired a lot of musicians - but not as many as the Boss I'd say. And I'd add that apart from brilliance or even occasionally genius, you'd struggle to say what Dylan actually stood for. Not so with Springsteen.

    1. I'm sorry, but the last paragraph is so very wrong - he may be a good musician, but very talented? I Doubt it. Excelling in - as far as I've listened to his output (I wanna say crap, really) - rewriting bombastic tunes over and over and over again doesn't make anyone a good or even excellent songwriter. The third point checked by you is neglecting art in a very disturbing way, so what of it? I don't get it. He was very successful if his ambition was to sell his stuff and being heard, so I don't get your conclusion here either. But Dylan not changing the world? He still does. Just by living. And if you really think that Springsteen inspired more musicians than Dylan you are a lost case anyway, Your last sentence shows I'm right with that conclusion.
      The Boss? Please... Who ever came up with that deserves a kick in the nads (assuming it was a man, of course^^).

    2. Rewriting bombastic tunes? Where do I start? Born to Run v. Nebraska? Where's the rewrite? Where's the bombast in the latter? Oh but Nebraska was a one off. Wait a minute - half of his songs are stripped down and naked. Of course, that doesn't make them good, but don't knock him for a lack of variety. How about his post 9/11 albums where he developed his sound? As for art - an artist is not a technician. He/she isn't a plumber or a lab researcher. Their vision defines them, their technical ability is what enables them to reach the vision or not. Springsteen had lots of technical ability in musical terms - the review even accepts that. Maybe not a great lyricist but certainly very competent and occasionally excellent. His vision - he had one. If you don't like the mythologising working class life in the context of rock n' roll vibe then fine. That's your prerogative.

      I love Bob Dylan but I suspect if you asked him what he stood for, he'd struggle to answer you. Really, there's no pattern there other than the restless wandering of an intellectual (unless you call that an identity). A lot of great music and lyrics but no real pattern. He's worn so many hats it's hard to tell who he really is. Course, he's a better writer per se than Springsteen esp. if you like your words and metaphors deep, very clever and hard to figure out. But the two don't go hand in hand. Shakespeare was a better writer but you could see the patterns and themes that came up consistently ih his plays. He was popular too :)

    3. One last thing, if there's one thing you can praise Springsteen for as a lyricist - and artist - it's his storytelling. Nearly all his songs are stories, some longer or deeper than others. And that's as much part of how he tried to reach his vision as the music.

    4. Not related to the argument per se, but I believe the nickname "The Boss" had to do with the fact that pre-fame Springsteen was always in charge of the financial aspects of his band, separating money made from gigs himself, as if he was their boss rather than bandmate.

    5. Nebraska? Never listened to it and never will. I stopped listening (I mean, really listening) after 'The River', a big letdown after what I rate as his best album. Even here in Germany it was kinda impossible not to hear some of the BITU'-stuff and it was awesome to hear how bad that was. You are a fan and you will never change your pov, so this argument really leads nowhere.

    6. On the subject of Born in the USA, has anyone ever heard Cheech & Chong's rewrite of it, Born in East LA? Somehow, it works better in the parodic point of view.

    7. "Never listened to [one of the greatest albums ever] and never will", and then you proceed to criticise somebody for being close-minded. Bah.

  6. Just regarding Muse, you could call their greater focus on concepts a descent into self-parody. You can also call it proof of their limitations as artists. I'd say the latter.

  7. If these ^ are the comments Mr. Starostin's getting for this review, I can't *wait* to see what happens for Born To Run's review!

  8. Strip all these comments (and most of the review) of middle-class anxiety about differentiating oneself from the masses and I wonder what's left.

    1. I'd don't know if I'd put it that simply, but certainly it is quite interesting how often discussion regarding Springsteen (and not just here) end up around the question "does this or does this not accurately reflect what it means to be working-class?" or something thereabouts.
      And then there's always the people who say "I dunno know, who cares, the music sucks!", which I guess is probably more upfront at least.

      As for me personally, all my family has always been strictly working class, but being working class is not a singular experience. It can be a thousand different things, even in the same small nation (Sweden in my case) or even city.

      No I don't recognise exactly the yearnings and anxieties that Springsteen sing about here... but that doesn't mean that they aren't very real, over there across the Ocean, for some people.
      And well, yes I do recognise them... but mostly because they're such clichés. Of course I know people who've done much the same stupid shit as the protagonist does in "Meeting Across the River"... but people have done that shit, with the same desperate self-deluding since the invention of private property if not before. Am I supposed to be impressed?
      Well I'm not impressed with the story as such... or with the way the words are strung together... but I find the whole thing very stylish, if a little mannered, the piano is good, the sax, the singing. Sure it's a good song... but the feeling is it could have been written by any middle-class kid who's watched a few film noirs.
      Isn't that the problem a lot of people really have with Springsteen? That you don't really know if he's singing about real things, because it's all so stylized like it's written by some clever collegiate? Which seems like a nasty accusation to throw at one of our own boys?
      Maybe it's the deliberate attempt to be so "non-individual" that gives that feeling? Nothing with Springsteen's characters ever "jars" the wrong way, it all fits in perfectly with society's view of what working-class life ought to be, and what working-class individual in these specific areas ought to be like.
      Which of course is never true in reality, because nobody is a walking stereotype, but Springsteen's characters are. It's like he's not basing them off of real people, or if he does he eliminates everything except the lowest common denominator. Which gives it all this stylized, sterile, "phoney" feeling to some people.

      Any good writer could tell you that this is not good storytelling. In song, you might compare, first things off the top of my head:

      Van Morrison - Cleaning Windows
      Bob Dylan - Clothes Line Saga
      Leadbelly - Goodnight, Irene
      The House of the Rising Sun
      Midnight Special
      The Specials - Too Much, Too Young
      Skip James - Washington D.C. Hospital Center Blues
      June Tabor - Number Two Top Seam
      Johnny Cash - Folsom Prison Blues
      Otis Rush - Double Trouble
      Dolly Parton - Coat of Many Colors
      The Replacements - Swingin' Party
      Mose Allison - It Didn't Turn Out That Way
      Morphine - Top Floor, Bottom Buzzer

      Well I better stop now because I could go on forever.
      These are obviously some very different songs, but that have in common that they offer some sort of commentary/description of what life can be for a "common person" in the US or UK.

      They use very different storytelling techniques in doing this, but personally I feel that all of them are superior, storytelling-wise, to anything that Springsteen has produced.

    2. None of them feel so clichéd. All of them feel like they emanate from real lived experiences, that have a more than strictly personal relevance exactly because this general sort of thing, not this exact turn of events, but this general sort of thing, happens to a lot of individuals. Individuals, unique persons, experience similar fates and events, for reasons having to do with how society is constructed, but whether you are protesting against this society or not, the consequences are important only because they affect real live living unique individuals. In a song like "Swingin' Party" we are obviously witnessing some very personal torment - but it wouldn't be able to affect us if we didn't believe that a lot of other people suffered from similar things, for similar reasons. Otherwise it'd just be an alien freak whining.
      Springsteen never seems like an alien freak whining - on the contrary, he seems to little a freak. He narrows it all down to the sterotype, intentionally, like he's a poetic sociologist or something.

      Well I don't know I'm just rambling and not making any real point. I guess I just feel that Springsteen is way too verbose and way to pointed. Like George said straight-up, "mystery-free". That pretty much summed it up all there.
      Maybe someone could see something liberating, something brave in that. No bourgeois smokescreens, just plain naked truth! But I don't buy that.

      And the verbosity, the on-the-nose-ness of it all. You can't be both blunt and verbose at the same time, this is storytelling 101! Otis Rush sang "it's hard for me to keep decent clothes to wear" and that dood it, he didn't harp on it.

      I posted a short comment on Facebook. Since then I've listened a bit more, and I now feel that everywhere where the piano dominates I like. "Across the River", the quiet parts of "Jungleland" and "Thunder Road", and all of "Backstreets". Yes, "Backstreets" is a great song, only slightly lesser than "10th Avenue".

      "Born to Run" is only good in moments. That part from 3:00-3:20 is good.

      Rambling comment finally over. Ironic that I complained about verbosity?

    3. Too "stylised" and yet also too "straight-up" and "mystery-free"? Sorry I don't get your point but I think I know what you really mean.

      I think it's a mistake to compare Springsteen's individual songs and say that he doesn't get the working class as well as others do (put aside for now whether that was really his mission anyway). The point about him is that he created an artistic theme or identity that centred on ordinary people, or the dark side of the American dream, or common folk with bigger dreams than bank balances - depending on how you see it.

      To really understand and appreciate Springsteen, you have to look at what came before. To that point, for all the incredible explosion of creativity musically, the releasing of shackles and the "anything goes" spirit that was unleashed in the 1960s, aided by technology that allowed for performances to mass audiences without having to get together a 100 piece symphony orchestra in an enormous echo chamber, lyrically speaking the overwhelming majority of songs had consisted of shallow sentimentality, whimsical nonsense, second rate poetry, or art-school inspired posturing.

      What Springsteen - and a few others of his time - did that had never been done before (with one exception which I'll come to) is to make rock/pop RELEVANT. Suddenly, here was an artist who wasn't just occasionally writing about but actually devoted himself to writing about real people and real everyday experience, to capture what people's lives were really like (putting aside artistic license and the need to exaggerate, romanticise etc so he didn't bore people with stories of average shmucks).

      People went to his concerts and heard songs about THEM. Just as they could go to a Tom Waits concert and hear songs about real folk - in his case the downbeats and desperados that he chose to depict in song. Or an English audience could listen to the Jam and hear a man giving voice to the intense working class resentment of the upper classes in England in a way no-one had before (unfortunately, only fora short time, as Weller became seduced by the pretentiousness of others around him and ended up almost wrecking his career).

      For me, the likes of Springsteen and Waits are the real successors to the blues musicians of the middle part of the century. Because just as the blues guys were documenting real life in song - wrestling music and to a large degree art away from those who saw it as pure escapism and (by its nature) best suited to well-educated, technically trained hands to perform - Springsteen (especially) was doing exactly the same thing, except that the people he was writing about came from different backgrounds and had different experiences. For me, this accounts for the almost fanatical loyalty of his fans (of which I am one, although I haven't listened much to his music for some 20 years, since school days). By contrast, the Eric Claptons and Rolling Stones of this world took the FORM of blues but not the substance, and popularised it for a mass (white) audience.

      Jumping ahead a little, this is why it was absolutely no surprise that after 9/11 it was Bruce Springsteen - not Bob Dylan or any number of supposedly better lyricists - who wrote the best and most coveted album chronicling the experiences and trauma surrounding that event. It was essentially what he had been doing his whole career.

    4. "What Springsteen - and a few others of his time - did that had never been done before (with one exception which I'll come to) is to make rock/pop RELEVANT."

      Guys, don't pick on Traveller... he's just a slightly delusional Springsteen fan. There weren't rock/pop songs that had relevant points on social status before him? Springsteen himself would admit to even stealing, let alone borrowing, his whole schtick from the Animals' hits (written by Brill Building writers like Mann/Weil and Atkins/D'Errico, mind you). Some quotes from the Boss himself on the subject:

      "For some, the Animals were just another one the really good beat groups that came of the Sixties," Bruce Springsteen said at his 2012 keynote speech at South By Southwest. "But to me, the Animals were a revelation. The first records with full blown class consciousness that I had ever heard." The passionate vocals and organ-heavy sound of the Animals was a huge influence on Springsteen as a young songwriter and he fully admits he stole the chords of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" for "Badlands." Bizarrely, Animals frontman Eric Burdon never met Springsteen until he joined the E Street Band at a gig a couple of years ago. For you bootleg nuts, check out Springsteen's cover of "It's My Life" from his 1976 tour. It's one of the great live moments of his career.

      He said of "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" (written by two New York songwriters, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil): "That's every song I've ever written... That's 'Born to Run,' 'Born in the U.S.A.,' everything I've done for the past 40 years including all the new ones. That struck me so deep. It was the first time I felt I heard something come across the radio that mirrored my home life, my childhood." Saying that his album Darkness on the Edge of Town was "filled with Animals," Springsteen played the opening riffs to "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" and his own "Badlands" back to back, then said, "Listen up, youngsters! This is how successful theft is accomplished!"[19]

    5. Of course he had his influences. Every artist does. The point is that Springsteen's entire vision and focus was on documenting real lives in song. Plenty had written songs (good and bad) doing that before. And of course every song references reality to some extent. The fundamental purpose of most songs that had gone before (excluding the Blues music I referred to, although you could argue the same for e.g. folk or country, although I maintain that only in exceptional cases) was however entertainment and above all escapism - if it even had a purpose beyond just commercialism and relying on the lowest common denominator. The Animals didn't set out to build a career based on "class consciousness" and if they did, they didn't get very far with it.

      When hip-hop first came along, it was also grounded in a similar purpose - different people, VERY different experience - but the same attempt to be relevant to real people, not the over-sexualised, one-dimensional cardboard cutouts that most songs referenced. That was pretty much its mission statement, before the whole genre itself got swallowed into the mainstream and became the money train it is today.

      And I'm not a Springsteen fanatic at all - I haven't listened much to him in 20 years. I don't relate to his songs in the way I did when I was a teenager, when I would play the River on repeat and found connection with the lonely drifters he wrote about in some of the darker songs on the album. You don't have to like Springsteen at all in fact to appreciate the guy's impact and importance to rock and pop.

    6. Rereading what I wrote, it's a bit more mean-spirited than I intended. I respect Springsteen, admire his work; heck, I'm not even entirely on George's side when it comes to this album. However, there's something that struck me as odd when you said that he inspired more artists than Bob Dylan.

  9. The other thing that unites Springsteen and the Blues players - and not by coincidence - is that they were all brilliant musicians and in the former case, able to surround himself with even better ones. This was vital because the public still viewed pop music as a means of escape, of "feeling good". Nobody really wanted anything too "real". Intellectual maybe but not too much so as to remind them of the troubles they faced when they got up in the morning. This was another reason why the characters had to be carefully selected or juiced up. You can't very well write songs about someone who's out of work and watches TV all day drinking a six pack.
    Make no mistake about the man's ability. 40 years of good songs is not evidence of having once been on a hot streak or getting lucky. He was a master craftsman. What grabs me listening to Born to Run (the album) again is just how well produced and arranged it is compared to so many rock albums of that era.

    Which brings me to the point about his lyrics or the quality of his writing. Of course, if you embark on being a storyteller, on chronicling people's lives, on creating a narrative within a 4 minute song (or even a 7 minute song), there are serious limitations there - ones you don't have if, like David Bowie for example, songwriting is basically an exercise in being as "creative" as possible and to hell with meaning or certainly making any kind of statement. On the whole, I think Springsteen has proven himself a very good, and sometimes excellent writer. The stories add up. No his characters aren't freaks but he's not Tom Waits. He's not interested in freaks. And if you don't see the mystery in a song like Backstreets, you're just not listening.

    I suspect that in a 100 years time, it will be Springsteen's work, not Dylan's work that will command more attention. There's depth and meaning there. He wasn't just trying to be clever. If you listen to his first album - Blinded By the Light for example - you hear a man who was trying to copy Bob Dylan's style (he was once called the new Dylan) - and to my ears its' far inferior to what he did on this album and later in his career. Its really just pretentious mumbo-jumbo. At best, if he followed that path, he would have been a poor man's Dylan and quickly run out of things to say just as Dylan kept running out of things to say and had to constantly reinvent himself (I wish he's set his stall on being a protest singer and stuck to it- his later work would have been much better for it in my opinion).

    1. "[...] there are serious limitations there - ones you don't have if, like David Bowie for example, songwriting is basically an exercise in being as "creative" as possible and to hell with meaning or certainly making any kind of statement [...] I wish [Dylan] set his stall on being a protest singer and stuck to it- his later work would have been much better for it in my opinion"

      You say that people here should ask how "subjective" they are being, and yet all you are doing instead is using a different yardstick.

    2. Well there's a balance. Every critique has to be objective and allow room for subjectivity is. You have to recognise the qualities of something if they're there, while at the same time reserving your right to say "but I don't like it" or "it's not for me". When a critique is completely dismissive, ignoring many obvious qualities, then it's not valid as criticism. It turns into a rant.

    3. Yet you yourself said that George takes note of his abilities as a craftsman, so obviously it's not completely dismissive. Heck, the penultimate sentence is nothing more than the contrast between the LP's qualities and flaws: "Let's just say this: Born To Run is sort of a fascinating record, torn between genius and mediocrity, richness and cheapness, rampant imagination and clichéd formula." If anyone is being only subjective, it's you fella.

    4. This is silly. I didn't say the review itself wasn't trying to be objective. I just didn't agree with it. And my comments on Springsteen were not all positive.