Bruce Springsteen's 'Born to Run' Turns 40 - August 2015
‘Born to Run’ is by far my favorite Bruce Springsteen record. It easily finds a spot in my all time top ten. Objectively, this makes no sense. Exactly 40 years after the album’s release, I get to the bottom of what draws me – a punk rock kid from Lekkerkerk, Holland – to the almost pulp novel-ish tales of New Jersey boardwalks, fast cars, and sweaty rock ‘n’ roll clubs.
I know all about the romantic vision of music crossing borders and uniting people and all this hippie mumbo jumbo, but let’s get real. I was born in a very middle class, homogeneous environment in countryside Holland. What could I possibly have in common with the greasers hanging ‘round in Ashbury Park pool halls? With the alcoholic factory workers trying to do right by their families? With a young man crossing the Hudson trying to make a low level drug deal? For fucks sake – when I heard the record for the first time I don’t think I had ever even been to the States.
Even more so, most people here saw The Boss as an almost Reagan-esque figure of perceived American superiority. This was mostly because of ‘Born in the USA’, and that misconception can be disapproved easily by reading the decidedly critical lyrics, but even the Gipper himself had some problems with that. While growing older my narrow minded, angry teenage points of view softened, and thankfully I warmed up to a vast and beautiful history of American rock, country and folk music.
Obviously, living in the Western world, I was well aware of American society and how it’s portrayed in music and film. But ‘Born to Run’s language is so specific, it creates a vision and atmosphere that is more like a Hubert Selby JR novel than a modern rock album. The E Street Band’s big, raw, energetic sound obviously resonated, but why the deeper connection? It all sounded wildly intriguing and captivating, but how could I possibly relate? How could anyone not born in seventies America?
In 2000 my band toured the US for the first time. (Before you get any wild romantic ideas of big crowds and screaming fans – we usually played for an average of 20 people, some stray dogs and a bored bartender. We drove around in a yellow school bus without seats. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it. I am extremely happy and grateful I even had the opportunity, but we weren’t Mötley Crüe.)
Our first US show was in the town that gave its name to Springsteen’s first record – Ashbury Park, New Jersey. The venue was a bowling alley that also put up the occasional concert. Our stage was on lane 6 and 7. The other lanes were occupied by people who were entirely disinterested in a bunch of skinny Dutch guys making noise and yelling into microphones. The Ashbury Lanes were close to the ocean, surrounded by Mexican restaurants, unfinished construction sites, and campaign posters for the Presidential elections that would eventually put George W in the White House. Weirdly enough, it looked nothing like the drive in movie picture ‘Born to Run’ painted, but, after soaking in the environment, the record's spirit was palpable.
Even though I’ve dismissed romanticizing something as trivial as touring and ‘life on the road’ , the experience was exactly why I relate to the album. Standing outside a run down bowling alley, looking at a grey sky meeting a grey ocean surrounded by grey buildings in various stages of decay, it was the idea of a deeper meaning and reality to mundane surroundings that hit me at the time. I was standing in a place 4000 miles away from where I grew up, and through a record written 25 years earlier I could see the hopes and dreams, as well as the disappointments, of a man my age at that time. And in the end, they were not that much different than mine. When Bruce (when I get excited about my love for Springsteen, he magically turns into ‘Bruce’) sings, “Except roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair. Well, the night's busting open, these two lanes will take us anywhere,” it doesn’t necessarily relate to me directly – I, for one, do not even have a driver’s license – but the realization that there is something beyond where you are from is universal.
The idea of whatever was beyond the Jersey Turnpike for Springsteen, can be anything for anybody. For me it was different things: from deciding to go play in a band instead of finishing school to leaving Holland to move to Berlin seven years ago. As corny as it may sound, the whole record is about bad choices and circumstances that keep you down. Mostly, however, it is about dreaming beyond your immediate surroundings, which is exactly what “Born to Run” let me do. And judging by the popularity of this epic record 40 years later, I was not the only one.
With many thanks to Jennifer Hofmann.
Originally published on Man Got Style