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Review New York City Serenade, Bruce Springsteen

Aggiornato il 9 Ott, 2023 | Words and Music |

During some of the last tours Bruce Springsteen has played a lot of the old songs, especially when he decided to reproduce his older albums in full live performances in the exact sequence of their tracklists. The song that perhaps mostly benefited from this revival was New York City Serenade, the last track of The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle, born from the fusion of two previous tracks (New York Song and Vibes Man) . For Springsteen‘s supporters of every age New York City Serenade has entered the ranks of the most precious jewels. But its value goes beyond the purely emotional aspect. Written by a young man in his early twenties and played by young musicians coming from the street and certainly not from elite academies, New York City Serenade is a wonderful fresco from the slums of the American metropolis and is considered among the greatest expressions of Bruce Springsteen‘s suburban rock.


There is so much in New York City Serenade. Something coming from Bob Dylan can be found, as often in Springsteen‘s first two albums, but Bruce replaced the rough sarcasm of the man from Duluth, Minnesota with an exciting romantic vein. The love story that takes place in Manhattan slums, like in a film, is accompanied by a soundtrack played not only by Springsteen and the E Street Band, but also by the characters who attend Billy and Diamonds Jackie’s tormented love. While they move their steps, uncertain but full of romanticism, Springsteen populates the alleys of the metropolis with a series of characters who on occasion act as street musicians and rock this desperate love affair with a serenade.


Like Kitty’s Back, Incident On 57th Street and Jungleland, New York City Serenade tells about a boy and a girl who are looking for love and a future through the alleys and the vapors of the darkest and most submerged city. You can feel sympathy for young Billy, who tries to put himself above the mass of easy and sad guys to offer Jackie a better life. And you can fall in love with Diamond Jackie, a prostitute from the alleys who, despite her high heels and her profession, is described as “so intact”. A purity that remains in her soul, inside a contaminated body. You have to fight every day in those spots and you can’t let your guard down. Billy reminds it to Jackie in two essential lines: “It’s midnight in Manhattan, this is no time to get cute, it’s a mad dog’s promenade. So walk tall, or baby, don’t walk at all.” There is that sense of predestination that often assails people who live that stray life. Jackie, in fact, refuses Billy’s invitation to dare in the search for something better and does not take the train he indicates to look for a redemption. Addicted to her condition, Jackie tries the best she can get in her little world.


In the final part of New York City Serenade Bruce Springsteen worked with fantasy and with figures of speech, as he often did in the first albums. Music and the underworld merge into one large suburban fresco. The jazz player and the vibraphonist get busy out of passion and out of necessity, but we are not in the rich avenues. We are in the bad alleys and music is improvised even by beating the lids of the rubbish bins with a stick. Meanwhile, a handsome dandy dressed in a silk suit accompanies the misfortunes of Billy and Jackie with a song. He is not a kid out of an academy, nor a Broadway actor, but a drug dealer. We could also metaphorically read the drug dealer’s song as the supply of drug itself to young protagonists. Springsteen sings, referring to Billy: “listen to your junk man“. So it’s likely that Billy is using drugs.


While the first album, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., is a songwriting work in which the band seems to perform its role mostrly as a musical support, in The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle Bruce Springsteen realizes that he has a band with great musicians and wants to show what his early E Street Band is capable of. His singing (excellent, almost theatrical) and lyrics blend more organically with the accompanying music. New York City Serenade follows this logic. Every musicians, freer to express themselves, put all their musical creativity at the service of the song and the story it carries. The result is a piece of music with sumptuous arrangements. David Sancious, a young jazz pianist, not only paints beautiful brushstrokes of pure art throughout the song, but also performs an astonishing piano introduction, halfway between classical music, jazz and blues. An abundant minute that becomes one of the best piano inserts in rock history. And we can wonder what courage Springsteen himself had in wanting that introduction at the beginning of an already long song, just when CBS was giving him one of the last chances to break through. But New York City Serenade is also something else: a string section accompanies the sweet and sad serenade. Springsteen writes for himself an acoustic guitar part that is anything but trivial. Just as non-trivial is the rhythmic base performed by great Garry Tallent, a really talented bass-player, and Mad Dog Lopez, who improvises on the congas. Finally, Clarence Clemons‘ sax seems to play a countermelody to Springsteen‘s song, almost a second line of singing.

A quarter century of silence

Like many songs on the first two albums, Bruce Springsteen forgot about New York City Serenade for almost a quarter century. He played it often until 1975, then only played it from 1999 onwards. Memorable was the live version at the Circo Massimo in Rome in 2016, accompanied by the strings of the Orchestra Sinfonietta of Rome. However, to the general surprise, Springsteen had already gratified the Roman public with New York City Serenade in 2013 at the Capannelle racetrack. Very special dedications to Italy which, being Bruce of Italian origins, also feels a little like his own.


Read Also: The E Street Shuffle, 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)


Next Review: 16 October 2023 – Born To Run (album)


Dario Migliorini


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