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Bruce Springsteen – Born To Run (Part One) & Greetings From Asbury Park N. J.

October 8, 2016

I am about a third of the way through Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography Born To Run. That inspired me to pull out the first Springsteen album I ever bought: 1973’s Greetings From Asbury Park N.J.  I am at the part of the book right after he released this album which happened to be his debut.


I remember how disappointed I was when I bought this album in the fall of 1978. Darkness On The Edge Of Town had blown up that previous summer. I did not need to buy that – it was all over the radio. I had just seen Bruce live at the St. Paul Civic Center and I had seen the light. So I went out to buy a Springsteen album. I was not going to buy a hit record like Born To Run or Darkness. So I bought his debut because it had the original “Blinded By The Light” and “Spirit In The Night” which had been big hits for Manfred Mann’ Earth Band. Those two songs had been the highlights of the Springsteen live show I had seen.

I brought it home and dropped the needle. Holy Shit!  This was not what I had seen live. This was weird singer songwriter stuff – more on the Tom Waits end of the singer songwriter spectrum vs. the James Taylor end. It took me a few years, but I eventually figured out what a masterpiece Greetings is. He would quickly depart from this sound for something more rock. But for a moment in time Springsteen was Elvis Costello (before there was such a thing), a New Jersey Van Morrison and an east coast punk Dylan.

I came to this album after Springsteen was a star. I was excavating. It was fun to skip back in time. You could hear the genius, but you knew (if you were honest with yourself) you wouldn’t have gotten it when he was a nobody. Hats off to anyone (not from Jersey who had seen him live) who got this album when it first came out. I barely got it after he was a star.

The album was ambitious on every front: epic lyrics, eccentric vocals and rich complex arrangements. When I first heard it, I hated it. But as I have stated in another post, when you are 19-year-old college student you don’t blow $5 bucks on an album and not listen to it. I listened to it and after about 100 spins over a few years it finally hooked me. But it was only after I had become more of a Springsteen fan and post Elvis Costello and Graham Parker that this LP really made sense.

It has been about 5 years since I listened to this album. It sounds more punk than I remember. At the same time it sounds more jazzy too. The vocals are amazing.  They are not more elementary or primitive – they are more sophisticated than what was to come. The LP doesn’t foreshadow Springsteen’s later greatness.  Instead it is something else – a genius trying to find his voice.  I have grown to love this phase, but he would never have become a star if he had not edited himself down – both lyrically and vocally. This is some wild shit.  Springsteen confesses in his autobiography:

“I never wrote completely in that style again.  Once the record was released, I heard the Dylan comparisons, so I steered away from it.  But the lyrics and spirit of Greetings came from an unself-conscious place.  Your early songs emerge from a moment when you’re writing with no sure prospect of ever being heard.  Up until then, it’s been you and your music.  That only happens once.

The last. song on the album, “It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City,” foreshadows the Springsteen that would emerge on Born To Run. But overall this is like a different artist than the one who was to come. It is pretty special to have this artifact of a rock genius.

I have come to love Greetings From Asbury Park N.J – sometimes it takes forty years to figure out the truth.

So far I am really enjoying the autobiography. Springsteen is honest and self-aware.  You realize he is no fluke – he had a vision and reached out and grabbed it.  One of the most fascinating things is that Springsteen understood that although he was a competent rocker, he need to be a songwriter.  He derailed a successful bar band career to double down on his songwriting.

The story is generally linear, but with this wonderfully poetic insights – the best part of the book is that there are passages where his language is lyrical.

Springsteen has released a song anthology as a companion to the book.  Check out Chapter and Verse.  I hope to be back after the next third of the book and what ever Springsteen LP is inspiring me at that point.

  1. Tangled Up In Music permalink

    Great essay man. I’m a Springsteen fan, but I’ve never heard his debut. Now I’m thinking I should give it a chance.

  2. Nice write-up. I confess I didn’t buy his debut but I did buy the follow-up, “The Wild, The Innocent, etc.” Those early albums were my intro to Bruce and while I’ve seen him a number of times, almost never heard him do much from those albums. I recently saw him play on “The River” tour and fully expected to hear that album. Imagine my surprise when he came out and played much of albums 1 and 2. Totally floored, no idea why he did that. Maybe two songs from “The River.” What with ridiculous VIP ticket prices these days, I’ve been thinking of winding down my big concert outings and sticking with small clubs. If that was my last big concert, I can say I went out on a high note.

    • Thanks for commenting. I saw The River tour in Minnesota and he played the whole thing and did a second set of greatest hits.

      • This was the very last show on the tour, Foxborough, just south of Boston. I bought the show off of his web site. Sounds great.

  3. When I first heard Springsteen he only had two albums. I came to this one after ‘The Innocent’. So I came at it from a different angle than your experience. I absolutely ate it up. Since then i’ve read all sorts of stuff on the record from Bruce himself to others. All I was going on at the time was I wanted more of this guys music after I discovered him.. Your Morrison tag resonated back then. The thing i like about your takes is it’s your experience with the record. that comes out loud and clear and it’s refreshing. I did a take on ‘Greetings’ and tried to cast myself back to the time. i have a few copies. The original with the fold out postcard. I love that album. great piece Axl

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