Born to Run

On the crest of the wave for almost thirty years: Bruce Springsteen, “The Boss” of rock. Flight, friends, family, social commitment. Some cues for listening to his music, which is in constant evolution

By MARCO GIANI With Walter Muto

We are being urged on all sides, but especially by the writer of this article on Bruce Springsteen, to devote more space to music of all sorts, including so-called pop music, which interests the vast majority of young people, and not just them. Space is limited, and we cannot deal with everything, but we shall gladly publish analyses, comments, and articles concerning music, attempting to grasp and synthesize interesting aspects or interpretations

During his 1988 tour, Bruce Springsteen, before singing his most meaningful song, Born to Run, said, “When I wrote it I was 24 years old and was in my room in Long Branch, New Jersey. When I think about it, I am surprised to realize that I already knew very well what I wanted. The questions I ask myself in this song are the same ones for which I am still looking for an answer. When I wrote this song, I thought it spoke of a boy and a girl who wanted to run away without ever coming back. It was a very nice, romantic idea. But after putting all those people into all those cars, I realized that I had to find them someplace to go. In the end I realized that if individual freedom does not refer to a community, to some friends or the world around us, it ends up not making any sense.” First, a great desire for freedom, embodied in flight, and then the recognition of the importance of a community, friends, someone to love...

Great promise
Already in his successful album Born to Run (1975), along with a situation at the beginning certainly not very rosy, we find great hopes, or to use Springsteen’s words, great promises (“There is a great promise in life”), very hard to maintain. The protagonist of Backstreets, with his girlfriend Terry, tries to maintain it, but “Well after all this time to find we’re just like all the rest stranded in the park and forced to confess to hiding on the backstreets”–that is to say, forced to be content with less, not able to be fully satisfied. Moving on through the next album, Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978), marked for the most part by desperate scenarios, albeit with a glimmer of hope, we come to the double album The River (1980), where we find the various themes touched on in those years by the artist. The high point is undoubtedly the splendid title track. It is the paradox of a man who no longer has either hope or any way out, but who continues, mysteriously (in fact the protagonist continues to go to the river, the symbol of his life, despite the fact that by now it has dried up), and as though because of a structural need, to rebel against resignation and to keep asking for the longed-for Beauty glimpsed in his youth, with his beloved.

But by now the Big Race, initiated with Born to Run and with all the promises it brings with it, is about to end. His thirst becomes more urgent and there is nothing that can slake it. Thus, we come to Nebraska (1982), an acoustic masterpiece, a kick in the stomach. Within atmospheres sometimes dreamy, sometimes ghostly and violent, Bruce, armed only with his voice, guitar, and harmonica, reveals all his human frailty, without hiding behind either love or rock. In the song Open All Night, the plea, “hey ho rock 'n' roll deliver me from nowhere,” is addressed directly to rock, until that moment Bruce’s reason for living. But by this point not even rock can save him, he himself admits: “At a certain point you realize that it is not possible to live in that r ’n’ r dream you carry around inside you. If you do it, you betray our own premise and say things that make no sense. If you insist, you become one of those decadent asses who only talk about themselves. And it’s not worth it. It’s not dignified for a man to let himself get trapped like this. This does not mean diminishing the importance of the dream and of what it implies.” Born in the USA (1984) is the end of the Big Race. Bruce wails, “I’m ten years burning down the road nowhere to run ain’t got nowhere to go.”

The tunnel of love
When, then, it looks like nothing can save him, love comes, and not just a one-night stand. Bruce married, and a result is the album Tunnel of Love (1987). But while many of the songs are positive, the ghosts of Stolen Car start rising again: “At night I get down on my knees and pray our love will make that other man go away but he’ll never say goodbye two faces have I” (from Two Faces)–human frailty, doubt, and the seeds of infidelity. And here we have Springsteen burning all his bridges with the past, divorcing his wife and what by that point had become his family, the E Street Band (which had been with him for 17 years), and marrying Patti Scialfa, one of his back-up singers, with whom he had three children; out of all this came the two albums of 1992. This is a regenerated Bruce, who after so much talk wants real, concrete things; he wants to throw himself completely into reality, with all the risks this brings. Very concrete are the births of his children, which give rise to one of the rare songs in which he acknowledges the presence of God (see box).

Human, not ideological
The next album, The Ghost of Tom Joad, is almost completely devoted to social injustice in the United States, especially on the Mexican border, and here poverty is embodied in the characters of his songs. Despite the tragic situations narrated, this predicament (the social one) is emblematic for demonstrating that the profound humanity that characterizes Bruce prevails over an ideological view that looks for the global solution to the world’s problems, held by so many other artists; he identifies with simple men and their stories, their hopes and fears, and offstage, in practice, gives constant help to associations committed to social concerns and aid to the needy.

Emblematic, too, are the two new songs that appeared on his recent CD Live in NYC: in American Skin he looks again with a human gaze at an episode of racism, and Land of Hope and Dreams seems to be a kind of taking stock of the situation of the great promise. A gaze turned on reality but that does not forget the ideal, and that above all recognizes the importance of having a band, friends, a community in the search (still ongoing) for happiness.

“Thus, I think the two kids in the song were looking for friends. And tonight I am looking for the same thing. This song tells of two people who are looking for the way home. I dedicate it to all of you. It is a song that has kept me company in my search, and I hope it will keep you company in yours.”