“Madman drummers bummers and Indians in the summer with a teenage diplomat, in the dumps with the mumps as the adolescent pumps his way into his hat”. With this seemingly meaningless tongue twister of the song Blinded By The Light begins the discography and the lyrical production of one of the greatest and most prolific songwriters in rock history. Blinded By The Light is actually the first song from Bruce Springsteen‘s first album. It will also be the first single, but it will prove to be a flop in the charts. It’s not actually the first song Springsteen recorded with the embryonic E Street Band. Instead, the song was written and recorded in a hurry in late 1972, shortly before the release of Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.. Bruce was under pressure from CBS, that was convinced that none of the songs already recorded for the album had the potential of a radio hit. In addition to Blinded By The Light, Spirit In The Night also originated from that request.
THE CRYPTIC MEANING OF THE SONG
A dilemma often arises among musicians: write the lyrics or the music first? By Springsteen‘s own admission, Blinded By The Light was born anomalously. Bruce collected a series of verses with the help of a rhyme book, which he evidently abused in that occasion. In fact, the lyrics include not only rhymes between the verses, but also puns and paronomasies within the same verse. An example of this is just that second verse, in which the words dumps, mumps and pumps appear closely connected. But there are many other cases in the song in which this linguistic experiment is repeated.
AS IF WALKING DOWN THE STREET
Imagine being on the street and jotting down everything you see, but then reshuffle everything and try to give that photographic moment a different meaning, even without an immediate logic. Springsteen himself will reveal that many of the images painted in Blinded By The Light, albeit in a colorful and fictional way, have a reference to his youth years. Thus one of the mad and wandering drummers of the first verse can only be Vini Mad Dog Lopez, his drummer at the time; the Indians were Bruce’s youth baseball team. The mumps referred to in the second verse is a health trouble that really spread throughout the band during those years. The silicone sisters mentioned after the second chorus are the artificially oversized dancers of a striptease club in Asbury Park. The imagination of the young Springsteen and the faithful rhyming book did the rest. Regarding Blinded By The Light Bruce himself said: “It’s like when you walk down the street, my songs say exactly what you see, only it’s a distorted view.”
FUGITIVE IN THE NIGHT IN SEARCH OF THE SUN
The many protagonists of Blinded By The Light, this sort of street Babel, have one characteristic in common: their life takes place at night. That’s when they feel free to live and escape. To the point that, like vampires or like the devil himself (the deuce in the refrain), they are blinded by the light of day. But, as the final verses say, it’s just in the sunlight that you have fun, exactly where the young protagonist of Born To Run, two years later, plans to bring his Wendy. The boy from Blinded By The Light, destined to wander in the night like other characters in Springsteen’s songs, knows that in the sunlight he will be able to find the answer. But his wise mother admonishes him: if you look at the sun too closely and insistently, you risk blinding.
A FUNKY ROCK THAT RISES FROM THE MANHOLE
So Springsteen himself recognized that the songs on the first album, primarily Blinded By The Light, were conceived first as lyrics and then as music. A scheme that Bruce will abandon from the second album, starting to compose the music first. In Blinded By The Light Bruce pins many images and begins to develop a meter that fits into the quarter notes of a musical motif that seems appropriate to him. The result is a sort of funky rock that feels like a street party. Not the big avenues, but the dark alleys, the one where the music seems to come from the manholes, together with the steam from the sewers. Vini Lopez is really crazy on drums and even Garry Tallent lives, as will happen also and above all in The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle, a level of healthy madness that will be channeled on much more stable tracks in the following albums. The E Street Band is in its very first lineup. Springsteen plays the guitar funky-style with a right hand that travels at high speed, while his vocal cords vibrate even more whirling. The keyboards are just accompaining, for once, without exploiting the virtuosity of David Sancious. Blinded By The Light is also one of only two songs on Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. in which Clarence Clemons‘ sax appears (the other is Spirit in The Night). After all, Big Man had just joined the band and the other pieces of the album had already been recorded without him. From the second album, released the same year, the legendary saxophonist will become central.
If Springsteen‘s single was a commercial flop, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band cover reached number one in the United States of America four years later. A very different version from the original which, as it is said, Springsteen himself did not love at all. Many years later, in 2019, the film Blinded By The Light, directed by Gurinder Chadha, had a considerable box office success. It’s the story of a Pakistani boy who moved to England. Struck by Bruce and his music, he overcame isolation, also caused by the discrimination he suffered because of its provenance.
Next review – Monday, 19 June 2023 – Growin’ Up
READ ALSO: REVIEW GREETINGS FROM ASBURY PARK, N.J.
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