"The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves… like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays… Roy Orbison singing for the lonely, hey that’s me and I want you only. Don’t turn me home again, I just can’t face myself alone again."
Those are the first lines of Thunder Road which is the first song on Bruce Springsteen’sBorn To Run. I would argue that Born to Run is the best American rock and roll album of all time. As Tom Sinclair writes in Entertainment Weekly,
This scruffy, post-Dylan hipster from Freehold, N.J., had become a new kind of rock & roll alchemist, capable of transforming a genre of songs that had been largely concerned with girls, cars, and the search for kicks into one that encompassed stirring, almost religious epics about the Girl, the Car, and the Quest for Redemption.
And for many teenagers who discovered the album, Springsteen spoke of wanting more than the life that we saw in front of us. When he sang the lyrics of Born to Run, "Baby 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" he spoke to all of us who couldn’t, at age 17, see how the life we saw the adults around us living could contain us.
One of the marks of a great piece of art, in my opinion, is that it changes over time. When I was young, it was "Thunder Road" and "Born to Run" that spoke most powerfully to me. Now, "Jungleland" echoes. But even the songs themselves are different. Yes, they still speak of the Girl and the Car… but now, the Redemption probably echoes even more. Now, the longing for something larger is still there, but it’s wistful. It’s less about youth and more about the longing we all have to find something larger than ourselves.
And I remember, after college, when one of my friends saw the slowed down acoustic tour that Springsteen did… when he played that song as an elegy to a lost youth… and she came home and in tears talked about how she still needed that song… still needed to believe that the road was there, even as she had started her career in the corporate world — the road that he spoke of was still necessary.
And what sometimes gets lost is what an amazing piece of music the album is. The E Street Band was one of the great garage rock bands of all time, and on that album, they just click. From the piano riff on Thunder Road to Clarence Clemons’ famous sax solo on Jungle Road, it’s just a fantastic piece of music as well.
And it’s one of those albums where every song is a good one, and several are great… and what makes it special are that three songs are transcendant. "Born to Run," "Jungleland" and "Thunder Road" all can make a claim for Top Ten All-Time status.
And now, in honor of the 30th Anniversary, they’ve released a three disc DVD set. It’s got the album, a live concert from London 1975 and a documentary about the making of Born to Run that the reviewers say is pretty good. And yes, it’s on my holiday list. But the beautiful thing is that even if it’s not all that great, it doesn’t matter.
We still have the album. And that’s enough.