The song Born To Run is considered one of Bruce Springsteen‘s absolute masterpieces. The title track of the legendary 1975 album is often featured at the top of the charts compiled by music critics around the world. One for all, the Rolling Stone magazine set Born To Run at the 19th place among the 500 most important songs in the history of rock. But there were also those (CQ magazine specifically) who placed it in the first place. Its success among the public and critics has several reasons. The strictly musical one first. Born To Run is a song with complex structure and arrangements. And then its lyrics: it is not only an intense message of love for a girl and hope for a better life, but also represented a breath of fresh air for the dying rock in the Seventies. The epic halo on the song is supported by two other aspects: it is the highlight of an album that made music history and has always been central in Springsteen’s legendary live performances, to the point of being the most played song ever by Bruce in concert.
The importance of an adjective
In the first verse of Born To Run there is an adjective that totally changes the meaning of the song and the fundamental message it carries. The American dream, for so many years lived as the aspiration of a nation to promise well-being for all its sons, is seen as runaway, that is, ephemeral, elusive. Springsteen could have fooled his American fans with an epic message praising a glorious American dream, for example. Instead he presents it as an utopia. And an utopia is illusory, unreal, chimeric. A dream pursued in vain over suicide machines by young boys who are on their last chance power drive. A painting that refers to James Dean‘s Rebel Without A Cause, but overcomes it with a new awareness. That race is no longer an end in itself, but a passage to achieve something.
Towards the sun
What is Springsteen‘s new hero looking for, beyond that limit where the protagonist of Rebel Without A Cause and some of the previous Bruce‘s characters stopped? What news brings the boy of Born To Run, compared to the failures of Jimmy the Saint in Lost In The Flood or Spanish Johnny in Incident On 57th Street? The difference is in his goal. No more lost kids that challenge a hurricane or jump from a racing car near a ravine. No longer those kids that gives up to the call of the underworld in Manhattan alleys. The new goal, indeed, is to get away from those losers to an idea of a promised land, as in Thunder Road, and towards the sun, as just in Born To Run.
An intense message of love
The social theme, linked to the fallacy of the American dream, and the individual theme, connected to the realization of a young man’s goals, must not make us forget that Born To Run is first of all a great love song. The narrator promises Wendy a crazy love and a better life. In Born To Run, however, unlike Thunder Road, the idea of escaping is not explicit. The protagonist asks Wendy to run and risk, to walk on the wire. What matters most is not the goal, which remains undefined (“someday, girl, I don’t know when, we’re gonna get to that place we really wanna go”), but the path. And the path is identified, more than with the road, with the feeling itself. When in the second fundamental verse the boy urges the girl to put her hands on his engine, this is obviously a metaphor. He does not want to experiment with her the power of his car but, as he declares at the end of the verse, wants to find out what true love is, the wildest love. In any case, in the search for true love, the protagonist asks her to walk with him on the wire, that means to risk something important, so high is the goal. While in Thunder Road the escape from a town of losers is central and Mary is just the traveling companion, in Born To Run love is the real thing and Wendy is the girl whose the guy is madly in love with.
THE SEARCH FOR FOR MUSICAL BEAUTY
The legend of Born To Run is not only linked to what it has represented for Bruce Springsteen and the history of rock, but also to its extraordinary musical beauty. It is the result of a search for original melodies and harmonies in which the immediate attraction caused by the listening coexists with the complexity of its instrumental arrangements. Born To Run is actually a very complex song, in which the easiest element we can listen is the main motif of the introduction, which is then taken up in the closures of each verse. In the rest of the song there is a very particular elaboration. Its structure itself is atypical. The main body consists of three verses without a real chorus, while after the second verse comes the first variation on the sax solo. Then we are stunned by a bridge (from “Beyond the palace…“), followed by a second instrumental part, ending with the sonic chaos that leads to the last verse. At the end a triumphal final is built on the chords of the introduction. All this doesn’t happen in a ten-minute rock suite, like for example in Jungleland, but is enclosed in about 4 and a half minutes of adrenaline. An amazing result!
Peculiar chords and arrangements
Another element of great aesthetics in Born To Run are the chords, in particular those in the central part of each verse. Those chords (for example in the first verse from “Sprung from cages…“) are atypical chords, suspended on which individual musicians chase each other without ever overlapping. Even the chord on the ninth note on which Springsteen shouts his woah in the center of each verse is as beautiful as it is fundamental. Any other plain chord would have changed the song. Another remarkable thing in Born To Run are the scores. Guitars, organ and piano are intertwined in an incessant and virtuoso work. The same rhythmic score of Ernest “Boom” Carter before and Max Weinberg then stands out for the alternation between the classical rock ballad and a syncopated rhythm that is proposed both in the verses and in the bridge. The saxophone by Clarence Clemons, finally, isn’t only the protagonist of an amazing solo, among the best ones of his career, but also a precious presence throughout the song.
The only song with the old musicians
The original version of Born To Run was paradoxically not played by the E Street Band in its final line-up, but in the hybrid one that went in the recording studio in those moments of change in 1974. In the original version David Sancious was still present, while on drums, once fired Vini Lopez, Ernest Boom Carter played, a jazz drummer and percussionist. Thus, while the other songs on the album were recorded by the new line-up with Max Weinberg and Roy Bittan, Born To Run remained in the early take version. The live version par excellence, however, accompanied by a sensational video clip that mixes images of the live concerts of the Born In The USA Tour, was recorded on August 19, 1985 at the glorious Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. A version that stands out for sound power and lavish arrangements. The rhythmic tempo is more contained than the original and therefore more solemn. Later in the Tunnel Of Love Express Tour Bruce played Born To Run in an acoustic version, only guitar and harmonica, which in hindsight seemed to represent the end of the cycle that had carried Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band throughout the first part of a long and legendary career.
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