The one, the only, “The Boss,” the father of all New Jerseyans: Bruce Springsteen. This legend is known for his record-breaking concerts, working-class authenticity and poetic lyricism. His music has told stories with cultural resonance that still holds up more than four decades later.
Young Bruce and The E Street Band did not have immediate success. Signed to Columbia Records for a three record deal, the first two albums were commercial flops, and Springsteen knew he had to give his last album everything he had. And that’s when he wrote the celebrated, “Born to Run.” A love letter from the protagonist, to Wendy the woman he’s fawning over, about running away from their adolescence. But he’s not looking to settle down and start a family, this character is ready to light a match to his past singing, “Just wrap your legs around these velvet rims/ and strap your hands across my engines...We’ll run until we drop, baby we’ll never go back.” Although Bruce has never stated this track was an autobiographical story, it seems that it could have roots in his home life. In an interview Springsteen recalls living with his sister and her husband, “They’re living the lives of my parents in a certain kind of way. They got kids; they’re working hard. These are people, you can see something in their eyes ... I asked my sister, ‘What do you do for fun?’ ‘I don’t have any fun,’ she says. She wasn’t kidding.” Growing up seeing this traditional life-style, seemingly had an effect on Bruce. Turning his wings into wheels in his lyric, “Sprung from cages out on Highway 9,” a highway passing through his hometown of Freehold NJ.
This track encapsulated cinematic lyrics with an intoxicating arrangement that took six months to write and another six months to record. Within the first seconds of listening, you can hear the Phil Spector influenced Wall of Sound present, along with the trebley chugging of Springsteen’s telecaster emulating an engine. But the most breathtaking aspect of this track, beside the rocking rasp of Bruce’s vocals, is the sax solo by the big man himself, Clarence Clemons. In most rock tracks, a guitar solo is expected, but Springsteen and the E Street Band defy expectations by inserting a minute long saxophone solo, truly setting this track and the band apart from the rest of the rockers.
I was lucky enough to be able to sit down with someone who was present during the “Born to Run” emergence. Steve Janelli was a Long Branch regular when he first heard of budding star, Bruce Springsteen.
“I hated Bruce Springsteen when I first heard him.” he explained to me.
And that seemed to be the general consensus of Springsteen prior to ‘75. But what changed Janelli was when he watched him perform.
“We were hanging out down the shore one night in this barn (early ‘70s). There were some heavy hitters there, and they’d all just go up and jam on the stage. And Springsteen got up there singing “Born to Run.” I loved it, and at that moment I knew this song was going to be a huge hit.”
This moment catapulted Janelli into being a Springsteen fan. Bruce Springsteen is an unparalleled story-teller, no doubt. Bruce is always being influenced by and writing on what’s around him, “his music is truly a product of the time” said Janelli. But beyond that, he’s a performer. The way he can place concert-goers into a trance is incomparable.
After the Born to Run album was released, and putting himself in the right circle, Janelli was asked to join Bruce and the band as a roadie for their six-night run at the Monmouth Arts Center, Red Bank, NJ in ‘76. That endeavor landed him another nine months to hangout and tour with Springsteen and the E Street Band. This song changed the lives of Steve, Bruce, and an infinite number of fans.
LONG STORY SHORT: We’re all running from something, whether that’s Freehold NJ or your own past. This song is timeless, and will remain that way for generations to come.