Friday, June 17, 2011

June 17: Bruce Springsteen, "Born To Run"

Artist: Bruce Springsteen
Song: "Born To Run"
Album: Born To Run
Year: 1975

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Though they represent what may be the smallest group in music, there are an elite few performers whose influence stretches so far beyond just music that in many ways, they themselves have become institutions of society.  While they may have achieved this status through a number of different ways, their place in history is firmly cemented, and one can easily see how their presence has shaped many elements of the world in which we live.  In almost every case, the musician in question takes a long time to rise to mainstream notoriety, and then after some period, they fade away and become a true legend.  Then of course, there is Bruce Springsteen.  For more than three decades, Springsteen has managed to keep his status and relevancy with each new generation, and yet the sound and tone of his music has remained largely the same.  This in itself is a testament to the brilliant and unique talent that lives inside Bruce Springsteen, and even his name alone brings to mind a certain attitude and image.  During his long career, Springsteen has managed to fully explore almost every facet of his distinctive brand of "American rock," and this has left a large number of amazing songs, many of which have become institutions onto themselves.  With this in mind, one can argue a handful of songs as his best, and yet it is hard to deny that Bruce Springsteen struck the perfect balance on many levels within his iconic 1975 single, "Born To Run."

Perhaps moreso than any other song in history, the wall of sound with which the listener is hit in the opening moments of "Born To Run" is absolutely breathtaking.   Combining a number of different instruments, the song instantly gains an amazing sense of grandeur, and the main riff that persists throughout "Born To Run" remains one of the most instantly recognizable in all of music history.  This unforgettable musical moment is led by the guitar from Springsteen himself, and it is truly amazing to experience just how much emotion he is able to bring forth through the guitar.  Yet unlike a number of his other songs, it is the way that organist David Sancious and the glockenspiel from Danny Federci overtake the track that makes "Born To Run" such a unique musical gem.  There has rarely been as perfect a fusion of sound as is created by this combination, and it gives the song a certain sense of lightness and almost vulnerability.  However, the song also retains a powerful groove, courtesy of bassist Garry Talent, and his contribution becomes most obvious during the songs' second verse, where the almost sparse musical presentation again highlights the fantastic musical balances at play.  This is complimented by both saxophonist Clarence Clemons, as well as drummer Ernest Carter, and the fact that both of these sounds emphasize different aspects of the song proves the true genius behind the music on "Born To Run."  It is this superb musical arrangement, combined with the wide range of emotions that are conveyed within the music that makes "Born To Run" rise so far above almost every other song in music history.

However, "Born To Run" also proves the unique brilliance that is the vocal work of Bruce Springsteen, as both in the way he sings as well as the words he is singing, he truly knows no peers.  As legend has it, the song was his "last ditch effort" to find commercial success, and the pain and frustration is quite clear within his vocals.  Seamlessly switching between the deep, almost downtrodden sound of the verses to the glorious, unrestrained singing he brings to the bridge and chorus sections, even after more than thirty years, his performance here remains just as captivating and exciting.  It is in this juxtaposition of sound and emotion where the true essence of Bruce Springsteen lives, and as Joe Strummer once said of him, "...he'll never day down and be conquered by his problems..."  This determined, uplifting presence never gets old or loses its impact, and it is surely much of the reason that "Born To Run" retains just a heavy presence to this day.  Springsteen also managed to craft one of his finest lyrics on "Born To Run," and it can be applied to almost every situation of adversity that one might encounter.  While it is largely composed as a love letter to the now mythical "Wendy," the lyrics hold nothing back on the various ways in which one can be trapped by their surroundings.  In many ways presenting the "working mans'" side of the "American Dream," there are few lyrics from any point in history that are as brutally honest and moving as when Springsteen sings, " this town rips the bones from your back, 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..."

It is almost an understatement to say that "Born To Run" has become a part of culture, as it is still so present in the media, sporting events, and still on the radio, that many forget the fact that the song is more that three decades old.  This in itself proves just how timeless a lyric and musical performance lives within the song, and it is much the reason that one can easily argue "Born To Run" as one of the two or three greatest songs ever recorded.  Embodying the struggle of the "working class" better than any other song in history, the image that Bruce Springsteen presents on "Born To Run" is the image that he himself retains to this day, and it is this proximity between the man and his lyrics that has enabled him to gain such a massive, dedicated fanbase.  Yet "Born To Run" also represents a transitional period for Springsteen's band, as both Carter and Sancious would be replaced during the recording sessions, with "Born To Run" standing as the sole contribution on the album from both of these musicians.  Furthermore, after the song firmly cemented him as both a critical and commercial success, "Born To Run" has been performed at nearly every one of his live performances since.  In fact, it has become a tradition that the house lights are turned on, with the audience singing along, and this in itself proves just how moving and personal the song has become for so many people across the planet.  While he is now a true institution onto himself, having released some of the greatest songs in music history, there is perhaps no better a definition of everything that makes Bruce Springsteen such an icon than what one can experience on his timeless 1975 single, "Born To Run."

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