March 17, 2006

All the redemption I can offer girl is beneath this dirty hood

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):

“…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.”

Thunder Road - Bruce Springsteen
(acoustic, off War and Roses)

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.

Mansion On A Hill – David Gray
Live from 4/14/2001. Enough said about David Gray – except I love him. But you knew that.

Thunder Road – Matt Nathanson
Live at the Fillmore 11/7/02. The always fabulous-in-concert Mr. Nathanson has a live album coming out April 4th: Live at The Point. But this song isn’t on it.

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 . . .”

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  • Heather,
    I can relate to you on this… I may only be 24 years old (ironically Bruce’s age when Born to Run was released), but I consider myself to be a legit Springsteen fan. I always would say that I was a fan of his before I got into his music, but I really should have said that I was a fan of the “Born in the USA” album…. just like you… Since Devils and Dust was released (and seeing him on the latest tour), I have made an effort to purchase all of his old CD’s, and listen to the greatest songwriter I’ve ever seen or heard. In my opinion, Born to Run is the greatest rock and roll album of all time…. that was Bruce’s goal with that album too wasn’t it? He now has me hook, line, and sink.

    Doug — March 17, 2006 @ 10:03 am

  • One time rock critic, and soon to be Springsteen’s producer, Jon Landau, said in 1974, “I saw my rock and roll past flash before my eyes. I saw something else: I saw rock and roll’s future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.”

    With so much great rock and roll music in the world, past, present and future, maybe Landau exaggerated a bit. But, to anyone who has seen Springsteen perform, it is obvious he puts his heart and soul right up front. It’s no lie. We need art that doesn’t lie.

    Sam — March 17, 2006 @ 2:17 pm

  • bruce is in jesus christ’s top 10 of all time. below david, but above neutral milk hotel. thanks for the mp3 covers.

    wwjblog — March 17, 2006 @ 3:19 pm

  • Heather . . . that’s a great post.

    Jennings — March 18, 2006 @ 7:11 am

  • Great post. Thought you might get a kick out of this version of “Thunder Road” that Bruce did with Melissa Etheridge during her Unplugged performance.

    J — March 18, 2006 @ 10:18 am

  • yeah I grew up with born in the usa bruce, liked it but didn’t think much of it. going back though I’ve been able to appreciate him more and more.

    one of my favorites is the use of my city of ruins in jersey girl.

    thanks so much for the born to run. man that’s an incredible version.

    speaking of covers did you hear the uncut magazine album of bruce covers from 2003? really good stuff on it. they did 2 different and I only got one but it’s got stuff like marah, badly drawn boy, townes van zandt, mendoza line, etc.

    Mike — March 18, 2006 @ 11:30 am

  • thanks so much for posting these and other good stuff. love it. springsteen covers, YES please.

    Angela — March 18, 2006 @ 4:36 pm

  • Hi
    I really loved your blog, and as for this Springsteen post i was very happy to see someone who feels the same way about his music. Yes, i am not a huge fan, but when it comes to lyrics and passioned performances no one can beat this guy…
    The “Born To Run” live stuff you posted is highly-priced material, very good…
    I am from brazil and i also have a music blog, if you want to check out… it’s completely in portuguese but…


    El Beatle Mexicano — March 18, 2006 @ 11:53 pm

  • forgot to give you a link to my blog:

    El Beatle Mexicano — March 18, 2006 @ 11:54 pm

  • One of the best shows I ever saw was Bruce and the E-Street Band at the Cleveland Coliseum. He kept playing even after the lights came on. That always stuck with me as the gold-standard of performances.

    mjrc — March 20, 2006 @ 9:25 am

  • The Boss makes me weep. My earliest music memories are of 8 track Born in the USA in the car – I danced with my dad to My Hometown at my wedding. Thanks for the Springsteen covers.

    Anonymous — March 21, 2006 @ 9:32 am

  • Only a New Jersey native can truly understand the brilliance of Bruce. He is worshipped like a God in the Garden State.

    Oh, by the way, I share his birthday–September 23.

    Also born on that date: John Coltrane, Ray Charles, and Ani DiFranco.


    Dan — March 22, 2006 @ 8:57 am

  • Dan,
    I know – listen to that Pearl Jam cover of No Surrender. I was amazed at how quickly everyone starts chanting “Bruuuuuce” as soon as Vedder even IMPLIES one of his songs. That would never happen on the West Coast. When Stars played Hungry Heart (featured on my blog a few weeks ago) in Boulder, CO, all the kids were sort of indifferent (even though I was STOKED).

    I share a birthday with Bill Clinton and John Stamos (Uncle Jesse on Full House).

    Eh, can’t win ‘em all. :)

    heather — March 22, 2006 @ 9:06 am

  • Hornby expresses things I cannot with his essay on this, Bruce’s ‘Chrissie version’ of Thunder Road.

    If you haven’t heard it, just do it. Life is too short. And then bug Heather to hook you up with Springsteen’s live version of “I Want You” from Feb. 1975. :)

    Thanks for posting the track and the essay, Heather!

    Matt — September 12, 2006 @ 11:24 am

  • Heather, I know I am being a pest. But if it pleases you, would you please repost the acoustic Thunder Road from War and Roses?

    All I can tell you is that this song breaks my heart like nothing else in the world. In college, a hundred years ago, I was dating Lisa. Pretty, wild, and still sweeter than blueberry pie. She used to sing along with this song like she KNEW that he was singing about her. I can’t hear this song without seeing her shout “roll down the windows and let the wind blow back your hair.” She was a beauty and she was alright.

    And since Matt mentioned it I will bug you to hook everybody up with Springsteen’s live version of “I Want You” from Feb. 1975. :)

    Dan — September 28, 2006 @ 1:15 pm

  • Dan, not a pest. Sorry it took me so long! The link for that song is live again, and it is a fantastic one.

    heather — October 5, 2006 @ 7:50 pm

  • WOW – that is great! I love when Bruce reinterprets his own songs. How come his own covers are always better than anyone elses covers?

    Heather, you’re the best. Thanks.

    Dan — October 6, 2006 @ 1:34 pm

  • Heather, I think you’re my new best friend. Bookmarking you for future reference. Thanks for pointing me in the direction of some great music this morning, from old friends and new favorites.

    Courtney — December 9, 2006 @ 9:26 am

  • Heather,

    I’m sure you’ve heard Pete Yorn do the full cover of Dancing in the Dark. When you hear it played in a tempo that matches the mood of the lyrics, stripped of synth, you realize that it is actually an amazing song, and ranks right up there with some of the best of his canon.

    The same goes for his acoustic demo for Born in the USA recorded during the Nebraska sessions. The album Born in the USA with a few notable exceptions is just as dark lyrically as Nebraska, and I think that’s what makes it brilliant. That juxtaposition of desperation in the words against feelings of hope in the lyrics. It completely captured the spirit of the mid 80s.

    Zeek — March 20, 2007 @ 11:39 am

  • can you post any more tracks off of war and roses?
    i would love to hear them…

    SINEDDIE — April 14, 2007 @ 10:19 am

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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