Maybe Bruce Springsteen Was Born to Run Home

springsteen netflix

Springsteen on Broadway (courtesy of Netflix)

Religion News Service is running my piece on Catholicism and “home” in “Springsteen on Broadway.” Needless to say, I had fun with this one.

Here is a taste:

Yet, as Springsteen knows all too well, escaping a Catholic past in the Irish and Italian enclaves of working-class New Jersey is not easy. “You know what they say about Catholics … there’s no getting out … (the priests and nuns) did their work hard and they did it well.”

Springsteen understands that the past often has its way with us — shaping us, haunting us, defining us, motivating us and empowering us. Like a priest conducting Mass, he asks the audience to receive the Lord’s Prayer as a “benediction” — perhaps a final blessing from a music legend who was never quite able to outrun the sound of the church bells.

Maybe this is what it means, as he wrote famously in “Born to Run,” to “get to that place where we really want to go” where we can “walk in the sun.” Maybe Bruce Springsteen was born to run home.

Over the years, Springsteen has become the darling of progressive politicians. He campaigned for John Kerry in 2004, Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and (briefly) for Hillary Clinton in 2016. But when he tells his story on Broadway, he transports us back to a day when progressive ideals and the relentless quest for the American dream were not separated from tradition, roots, place, a longing for home, and Christian faith.

Read the entire piece here.

Born to Run: The Picture Book

You can put this book on the shelf next to Springsteen’s Outlaw Pete.

Here is a description from Backstreets:

A picture book for all ages, inspired by the music of Bruce Springsteen. Written by Wendy Parnell and illustrated by Matt Hall. Signed by the author especially for Backstreets

Johnny 99 has been caught racing in the street — again. Now he’s in trouble with his dad — again. Wanting to assert his independence and in hopes of finding adventure, Johnny 99 leaves his hometown to travel across the country. He returns home a changed car.

Familiarity with Bruce Springsteen’s music is not a requirement for the enjoyment of this book; its themes of independence, adventure, redemption, love and family are largely universal. But for those who are Springsteen fans, there are easter eggs galore, with 99 references to his work — including with dad Frankie, a ’57 Chevy, and mom Rosalita, a pink Cadillac, who live with Johnny on Flamingo Lane.

Learn more here.

Joe Posnanski on the 40th Anniversary of "Born to Run"

One final post on the 40th anniversary of Springsteen’s “Born to Run.”  This one comes from sportswriter and Springsteen aficionado Joe Posnaski.

Here is a taste of his post:

Every time I see Bruce in concert, I wait for Born to Run. I’ve heard him do it so many times now that I know every move, every pause, every note. I know that on ‘Baby we were born to run,” he now goes a little higher on “Baby” and emphases “Born” a little more. I know that he will keep the music going for a long time before counting down into “The highway’s jammed …”  I know how he will lift his arm, and how the fans will lift their arms, and how I will lift my arm. It is all as familiar as Thanksgiving dinner.
Born to Run was a dangerous song when I first heard it. Dangerous in the emotions it inspired. Dangerous in the innuendo of Wendy strapping her hands across his engines. Dangerous in the way it made me long for something more, something crazy. I can’t tell you that I became a writer because of “Born to Run,” but I can tell you I would listen to Born to Run again and again in those moments I sought courage. How many times have I heard it in my lifetime? Ten thousand? Twenty-five thousand? Some days, when I was trying to write those first stories, I would listen to it on a loop, 20 or 30 times it must have played.
The song doesn’t sound dangerous now. It sounds like an old friend. I wait for it at every Bruce concert and I look to see if Bruce — now in his 60s, no longer a tramp, no longer seeking Wendy, no longer — can bring it one more time. He always does. I wonder sometimes his inspiration. I suppose it’s partly showmanship and it’s partly his love of the stage. But to play that same song, night after night, town after town, 40 years and counting, I suspect he hears something still that keeps him running, keeps him dreaming, keeps him howling.
And that’s what I hear in Born to Run now. The kid I was, against odds and everyone’s better judgment, did try to become a writer. I know how scared he was. I know how defeated he felt. I remember how sure he was that he would fail miserably and horribly. I can see him — see myself — in that little apartment bedroom, listening to Born to Run, hunching over a spiral notebook and writing page after page of awful poetry and gimmicky short stories and pointless sports columns. Sometimes, I run across one of those old notebooks, and I cringe as I read the words but I’m also proud of that kid. He didn’t know. He was a scared and lonely rider.
I listen to Bruce sing that song now, and we’re all older, and he gets to that part, my favorite part:
“Someday girl, I don’t know when
“We’re gonna get to that place where we really wanna go
And we’ll walk in the sun.”
“I love that part,” I tell my own daughter, Elizabeth, who is 14. She shrugs. That’s the beauty of rock and roll. She will have her own song.

*The New York Times* Review of *Born to Run*

In honor of the 40th anniversary of “Born to Run” I want to call your attention to John Rockwell’s review of the album from the August 29, 1975 issue of the The New York Times.

Here are some of the best lines from the review:

  • “Bruce Springsteen’s third album ‘Born to Run’ should be in the record stores about now, and it should be all he needs to push him over the top.”
  • “The range is as wide as either of the earlier albums, from poignancy to street-strutting cockiness to punk poetry to quasi-Broadway to surging rock anthems…but all of it is solidly rock ‘n’ roll”
  • “Mr. Springsteen’s gifts are so powerful and so diverse that it’s difficult to even to try to describe them in a short space.”
  • “And Mr. Springsteen’s themes perfectly summarize the rock experience, full of cars and love, street macho and desperate aspiration.”
  • “The only nagging question is how this new record is going to sound out in the heartland, where people may have never heard of Bruce Springsteen, or, worse, may think of him as some over-hyped Easterner.”
Happy birthday, “Born to Run”

The Difference Between Bruce Springsteen and James Taylor

Joshua Zeitz has a great piece at The Atlantic commemorating the fortieth anniversary of Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run.  I love when historians write about Bruce Springsteen.  Zeitz situates Born to Run in both the Springsteen biography and the cultural and economic developments of the 1970s.

Here is Zeitz on the difference between the singer-songwriter crowd of the 1970s (James Taylor, Carole King, etc…) and the songs of working class rockers like the Boss:

To appreciate Bruce Springsteen’s social and political bent, it’s helpful to compare Born to Run to the competition. As popular as that album was, for millions of Americans who came of age in the 1970s, it was James Taylor, the six-foot-three, long-haired son of a wealthy North Carolina doctor, who supplied the decade’s soundtrack. With his sad eyes and brooding stare, Taylor captured the melancholy disposition of a country still reeling from the sixties

Released in 1970, his second album, Sweet Baby James—the one that made him famous—sold 1.6 million copies in just one year. Like his fellow singer-songwriters of the seventies, a talented and varied group that included Carol King, Joni Mitchell, Jim Croce, and John Denver, Taylor was interested in the mysteries of the self. “What all of them seem to want most,” Time noted, “is an intimate mixture of lyricism and personal expression—the often exquisitely melodic reflections of a private ‘I'” 

Over the years, Taylor would give generously of his time and talent, appearing on stage to support liberal causes and political candidates. But social and economic concerns rarely seeped into his seventies-era compositions. There was too much personal ground to cover. Time noted that “like so many other troubled, dislocated young Americans, Taylor may at first seem self-indulgent in his woe. What he has endured and sings about, with much restraint and dignity, are mainly ‘head’ problems, those pains that a lavish quota of middle-class advantages—plenty of money, a loving family, good schools, health, charm, and talent—do not seem to prevent.” What was true of Taylor was also true of the era’s most successful singer-songwriters—from Carol King and Joni Mitchell, to Billy Joel and Jim Croce.

Critics of this new genre of songs about the self (known also as “I-rock”) risked glorifying earlier generations of musicians. Indeed, there was nothing especially political about the better part of the American songbook that predated the ‘70s. Those who longed for a more meaningful past would have strained to find deeper meaning in the bubblegum pop of the early and mid-‘60s. Even Bob Dylan eschewed most political themes after 1963, at least on the surface. But there was a distinction between the singer-songwriters and rock balladeers like Bruce Springsteen. Singer-songwriters represented the inward turn that we most popularly associate with the ‘70s—a very real phenomenon with authentic cultural resonance. By contrast, Springsteen embodied the lost ‘70s—the tense, political, working-class rejection of America’s limitations.