Bruce Springsteen graces the cover of Time, August 6, 2002.
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
Don’t run back inside, darling, you know just what I’m here for
So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore
Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night
You ain’t a beauty but, hey, you’re all right
Oh, and that’s all right with me
- Bruce Springsteen, “Thunder Road”
I hope I die before I get old...
- The Who, “My Generation”
It was springtime of 1973 when I first heard of the Bard of Asbury Park, a young man yclept Bruce Springsteen who had just released his first album - entitled, appropriately enough, Greetings from Asbury Park - that January.
Greetings was no commercial success; not by any means. While a few critics praised his folky, poetic lyrics - going so far as to compare him with Bob Dylan in a few instances - most dismissed him. But for me, that first album was a revelation. From the exuberant wordplay of “Blinded by the Light” to the Van Morrison-like “Spirit in the Night,” from the bitterness of “Lost in the Flood” to the urban grit of “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City,” there was something fresh and powerful in every song.
His second album, The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle, had more of an R&B flavor, but the basic ingredients - teen angst and urban life counting heavily among them - were still there, and the music was, in some respects, even more powerful. Critics, by and large, liked this sophomore effort, but it still managed to flop.
Born to Run, Springsteen’s third album, was no flop. With the push of rock critic-turned manager Jon Landau (“I saw rock and roll future, and its name is Bruce Springsteen”) favorable advance word-of-mouth, and extra impetus from a five-day gig at New York’s Bottom Line, Born to Run was released in August 1975 and became an immediate success.
To many people, Born to Run is Springsteen’s finest work. And maybe it is. To me, it lacks the gritty charm of his first two albums, and it feels just a bit overproduced. But there’s no denying the power and emotion of several songs, including “Born to Run” and “Thunder Road.” I confess to having been in the habit of coming home from work every day and cueing up “Thunder Road” on the turntable, which I would then play at wall-cracking volume. Strangely, not one of my neighbors (I was living in an apartment in Houston at the time) ever complained.
With the release and huge popularity of Born to Run, Springsteen became a media darling. Both Time and Newsweek featured him on their covers on October 27, 1975; critics and fans alike gushed praise.
If you had ever seen a Springsteen show, you would have had some idea of what made him a standout rock performer. I saw him perform twice at the Houston Music Hall, once in November 1974 and again in September 1975 (the latter a part of the Born to Run tour), and unto this very day I don’t think I have ever seen another performer with his sheer energy. All of that energy went directly into the music, too; none of that stupid-ass pyrotechnic stuff. Pure rock-and-roll of the first water.
I still listen to ol’ Bruce every so often, but it’s mostly his older stuff. 1984’s Born in the USA, one of the most popular albums of all time, struck me as being overblown and bitter. The teen angst of his earlier work had been replaced by a world-weariness that seemed to suck the joy out of the songs. Which, of course, was the point.
But as a measure of just how much time has passed since I first became acquainted with Springsteen’s music, I will note, with some degree of Rueful Amusement, that Bruce Springsteen is, this week, once again a Cover Boy. But it’s not Time, Newsweek, or Rolling Stone this time.
Bruce Springsteen, AARP’s latest Cover Boy. (No, this is not a Photoshop.)
Yes, indeedy - the AARP magazine! You see this show up on the newsstand or in your mailbox, and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore. Sign of the times, I suppose.
Now, for extra credit: What should be more depressing - Springsteen appearing on the cover of the AARP magazine, or the fact that I have a subscription to same?
Update: Yet another demonstration that we live in a small world abounding in Strange Coincidence. This morning (8/14) I was breakfasting with our usual Minyan Gang when one of the boys whips out his iPhone, upon which is stored Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions album... which, by pure coincidence, happened to be in my car’s CD player at that very moment. But that’s not noteworthy. What is noteworthy is that this fellow’s cousin Larry was the drummer in the Seeger Sessions band. How bout dat?