I didn’t know if I would ever get to the big dog. I’ve been a Bruce fan since 1982, started seeing him in concert the first of 5 times in 2003. Like Rolling Stone I’ve always found myself being more forgiving of The Boss then i probably should be, since we are both from New Jersey, after all.
But, with the cover/original hybrid of High Hopes arriving this week, I thought, let’s jump in.
Bruce Springsteen – Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. – 1973
I’ve heard that Springsteen wrote much of the tunes on the fly. Rewriting on the bus and so forth. There’s so much legend and apocrypha surrounding the Boss it’s hard to know what’s true and what’s not. But, see, even though he’s a “man of the people”, Bruce has been heavily marketed and branded from the beginning. His savvy on how to sell the Bruce Brand is remarkable. One of the reasons its so incredible is that he’s managed to control his image, his sound, how he is perceived and heard without ever leading on that he is doing just that. In every way that he’s been able to play the media/public game arena Queen was not. They always came across as corporate. Bruce seemed real.
The jangle guitar/bunch of dudes singing on a doorstoop street poet chaos of “Blinded by the Light” sets the stage. Once you hear it, it’s impossible to enjoy Manfred Mann’s cover, with it’s over the top prog rocky-ness.
It’s been written about for decades, but Springsteen’s “New Dylan” mantle affects the album in a retrospective way. Turns it into a curio of sorts. Bruce would never wordsmith like this again. And some songs, like “Lost in the Flood” and “Mary, Queen of Arkansas” (shine boy for your acid brat? Yuck) suffer from it, where “Blinded”, “Spirits in the Night” and “For You” (My personal favorite Springsteen song) all benefit. Weirdly, one of the best songs on the record, “Does this bus stop at 82nd st?” just feels half done. It doesn’t end. It expires. Like he was writing it ON that bus uptown, and got to his stop and just stopped writing words. And yet, it works.
One of the things to love about records was that each side was a little show. We all know how Side 2 of Born to Run ends. The deepest cuts are inside the album. Sometimes the best are the ones closest to the center of the spinner.
Side 1 ends with the first attempt at an epic, “Lost in the Flood.” The elements are there. The cars. The characters. It was the time of Mean Streets and street poets and Baretta. If Lost in the Flood feels like the streets of the lower east side it’s supposed to. On the other hand, following it with The Angel is interesting. As a Side 2 opener it’s terrible. The only salvation is knowing that the one two punch of “For You” and “Spirit in the Night” are next. Played in sequence, the angel could be an extension of the story of “LitF”. The latter a macro look and the former a closeup of the story’s main character. It works, even though the song is relatively weak and pedestrian.
Greetings is a disjointed album. Because the songs show up in concert often it doesn’t sound dated but it’s of its time. Vini Lopez’s drumming is a treat every single time. He won’t last with the band but the short time he was there he made an indelible mark.
ASide: Blinded by the Light, Lost in the Flood, For You, Spirit in the Night
BlindSide: Does this Bus Stop at 82nd St? It’s Hard to be a Saint in the City
DownSide: Mary Queen of Arkansas, The Angel