I am an admittedly late convert to anything having to do with Springsteen, and I am still far from a hardcore fan, but I do deeply appreciate a well-written lyric and this man practically drowns in well-written lyrics that just make me ache. I had kind of dismissed him from a dim memory growing up from the Dancing in the Dark video (you know, that one with Courteney Cox) and just left it at that.
UNTIL I really listened to this amazing, amazing live version of Born to Run that I accidentally downloaded on iTunes when I meant to get something else. It’s stripped down with a haunting harmonica and words sung like he feels every ounce of the sadness and the madness. Man alive, I understood what my friend meant when he said it was a song with funeral playability. Something about the lyrics and the way they capture the passion and the hot-bloodedness of being young and feeling the fire & desperation in your veins.
Born To Run - Bruce Springsteen
(off Chimes of Freedom)
If you’ve written Springsteen off in the past, please listen to this. Eyes closed is best. And the lyrics? Ridiculously evocative, especially the way he sings them here.
“Wendy let me in I wanna be your friend
I want to guard your dreams and visions
Just wrap your legs ’round these velvet rims
strap your hands across my engines.”
“The amusement park rises bold and stark
Kids are huddled on the beach in the mist
I wanna die with you Wendy on the streets tonight
In an everlasting kiss.”
or how ’bout,
“Together we could live with the sadness
I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul.”
Nick Hornby says exactly what I want to say when I listen to certain gorgeous Springsteen songs that just focus on the incredible imagery and songwriting and the sense of a shot at redemption. From Hornby’s excellent Songbook (required reading):
“â€¦Sometimes, very occasionally, songs and books and films and pictures express who you are, perfectly. And they don’t do this in words or images, necessarily; the connection is a lot less direct and more complicated than that. . . . Some time in the early to mid-eighties, I came across another version of [Thunder Road], a bootleg studio recording of Springsteen alone with an acoustic guitar (it’s on War And Roses, the Born To Run outtakes bootleg); he reimagines ‘Thunder Road’ as a haunting, exhausted hymn to the past, to lost love and missed opportunities and self-delusion and bad luck and failure . . . In fact, when I try to hear that last line of the song in my head, it’s the acoustic version that comes first. It’s slow, and mournful, and utterly convincing: an artist who can persuade you of the truth of what he is singing with either version is an artist who is capable of an awful lot.
. . . One of the great things about the song as it appears on Born To Run is that those first few bars, on wheezy harmonica and achingly pretty piano, actually sound like they refer to something that has already happened before the beginning of the record, something momentous and sad but not destructive of all hope; as ‘Thunder Road’ is the first track on side one of Born To Run, the album begins, in effect, with its own closing credits. In performance at the end of the seventies, during the Darkness on the Edge of Town tour, Springsteen maximized this effect by segueing into ‘Thunder Road’ out of one of his bleakest, most desperate songs, ‘Racing In The Street’, and the harmonica that marks the transformation of one song into the other feels like a sudden and glorious hint of spring after a long, withering winter. On the bootlegs of those seventies shows, ‘Thunder Road’ can finally provide the salvation that its position on Born To Run denied it.
Maybe the reason ‘Thunder Road’ has sustained for me is that, despite its energy and volume and fast cars and hair, it somehow manages to sound elegiac, and the older I get the more I can hear that. When it comes down to it, I suppose that I too believe that life is momentous and sad but not destructive of all hope, and maybe that makes me a self-dramatizing depressive, or maybe it makes me a happy idiot, but either way ‘Thunder Road’ knows how I feel and who I am, and that, in the end, is one of the consolations of art.”
Anyway, so the impetus for this long and rambling post came from a reader from the lovely campus of Stanford University (the less well-known ugly stepsister to the illustrious Santa Clara University just down the road) who asked me if I had any other good Springsteen covers to post (following the Stars one and the Pete Yorn one).
Why yes, yes I do.
You’re Missing – Cowboy Junkies
From their really good 2005 album Early 21st Century Blues out on Zoe Records. This is a collection of reinvented covers from original artists like John Lennon, U2, Springsteen, and George Harrison. I very much like their reinterpretations, with the evocative strings and lazy vocals, which still pack a sadness-drenched punch.
No Surrender – Pearl Jam
Live at the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City 9/30/05
Okay, one of my favorite covers EVER. It is incrediby pure and urgent and wavering — fantastic. Listen to the crowd start in with the “Bruuuuuuuuce” as soon as Vedder says he wants to play something “appropriate for our location this evening.”
Atlantic City – Pearl Jam
Live at the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City 10/1/05
The Promised Land – Pearl Jam with Sleater-Kinney
Live in Philly 10/3/05
Thunder Road – Tortoise and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy
From the 2006 album The Brave and The Bold. I don’t understand the naming of the musicians here, but I liked this cover a lot more than I thought I would. The intro is a bit jarring, but the meat of it is grooving and bluesy.
In closing, if there is a nicer mental image than these lyrics (that open Thunder Road), I am not sure what it is:
“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 . . .”