Listen to Kitty’s Back and think of the E Street Band: a group of musicians born on the street, almost on the beach. A band that, in the line traced by its leader, has not based its musical proposal on virtuosity, despite the presence of excellent musicians, including Bruce Springsteen himself. A collective that has certainly entered the myth of rock, but in the guise of a small army of elite soldiers, ready to respond “Yes, sir!” to their undisputed captain. Yet there are songs, such as Kitty’s back, the third track on The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle, which testify to how much the E Street Band has the thickness of the highest level rock band. In this album, in particular, Bruce Springsteen seems to be able to reconcile the songwriting aim with the instrumental one. In some songs he evidently leaves the reins free to his musicians, which brings out their best. Kitty’s Back is perhaps the most striking example of this.
HEROINES OF THE SLUMS
Kitty’s Back is a soul rock with a rhythmic swing base and jazz cues, which so much recalls the New York background of the previous two decades, the 50s and 60s. Consequently, it can only tell a suburban love story, interrupted by the infidelity of two women, the Kitty of the title and a Sally, street heroines looking for an opportunity, and left suspended by the inconclusiveness of Catlong and Jack Knife. romantic men but hopelessly attracted by the call of the alleys. The story takes place around Greenwich Village and the legendary Bleecker Street. Catlong, the protagonist, has lost Kitty, who has gone off to hook up with a big shot in the underworld. Sally is also gone and Jack Knife cries for her abandonment.
THE BETRAYAL AND THE RETURN
Catlong and Jack Knife: men from the slums, whose romanticism, mixed with hope, does not allow them to disengage from the pain. “Oh, what can I do?” the desperate protagonist asks himself several times in his solitude. It’s the same question that arises when, one day, Kitty reappears in the neighborhood. Destiny was bad with her too and now she’s back in the alleys of lower New York (Greenwich Village is still today a city within a city, without skyscrapers but with the typical terraced houses with red bricks). He could easily take her back, because she’s sweet and sad. But now Catlong knows about her infidelity and feels distrust. In fact, he “shrugs his shoulders, sits back and sighs”, wondering once again: “Oh, what can I do?”
THE NEW YORK SLUMS OF THE GREAT ITALIAN-AMERICAN DIRECTORS
The tender story of loves and betrayals carried by Kitty’s Back fits into a cheap underworld setting, typical of the metropolitan alleys of the 70s, when New York was one of the most dangerous cities in the world. The warning that reaches Catlong from a fop of the underworld is significant: “you better learn to move fast when you’re young or you’re not long around“. Springsteen is very skilled in working on the contrasts of images. It seems to watch the scene of a Scorsese’s movie when Catlong, leaning on the garbage cans, is approached by a young dude. The contrast between a sewer rat like Catlong and the elegant dude who has made his way. The contrast between the darkness of the alleys, in which Catlong lives among the waste, and the high lights of the city, which make the criminal’s white suit shimmer. The contrast between Calong’s suffering romanticism and the rawness of the setting that surrounds him, including the “cold truth” that carries Kitty away from his love for a mere matter of interest.
SOUL, ROCK AND SWING IN A MUSICAL ORGY
Kitty’s Back is a soul-rock song with jazz references and a swing rhythmic base, conducted very well by Vini Lopez and Garry Tallent. The first is a rhythmic fury between drum rolls and breaks. The second in this piece (as well as in Incident On 57th Street and Rosalita) exploits the musical freedom that Springsteen grants him and scores what is undoubtedly some of his best performances in career. What is more surprising is that Springsteen wrote the song in the early 1970s and, together with the band, arranged and performed it when the members of the E Street Band, except Clarence Clemons, were in their early twenties. Kitty’s Back is one of the most brilliant examples of musical excellence in Springsteen‘s entire discography. Starting with the musical intro, a splendid guitar solo, romantic in its sharp suffering. Both in the intro and in the rest of the song, a screaming horn section acts as a great glue, which is accompanied by the awesome work of Clarence Clemons on sax. Big Man closes the song with a breathless solo (a state that affects us, but not him, given his lung capacity). Then there are Danny Federici and David Sancious, both on the organ. Phantom Danny has the task of embellishing the plot with his excellent work. Sancious has the task of knocking the listener down with a crazy solo in the middle of the song. A piece of skill that leaves you speechless. If, after a solo like that, Springsteen aficionados didn’t regret a musician of that stature, it’s only because he was replaced by Roy Bittan, another wizard of the black and ivory keys. As in the best jazz tradition, in the live versions Bruce leaves full freedom to his musicians to express themselves. Each of the soloists is able to indulge in improvised solos that bring the song to durations of even 15/20 minutes of pure musical orgy.
A curious title
The choice of the title is really curious. Springsteen himself told in a concert that he took inspiration from a poster hanging outside a strip club announcing the return to town of a famous stripper. Secondly, among the influences of the young Springsteen, although the two have never had opportunities for contact or collaboration, there is undoubtedly Van Morrison, who had previously published his famous Moondance a few years earlier. The two tracks belong to the same vein, but while Van The Man‘s seems more dreamlike and in a songwriting mood, Springsteen‘s is more based on the band’s overall performance, even if the lyrics are other than meaningless. The young New Jersey rocker wanted to show to the world that he led a band destined for the rock firmament. And then… this really happened.
Read Also: The E Street Shuffle, 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)
Next Review: 18 September 2023 – Wild Billy’s Circus Story
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