Perhaps, on the purely musical side, it is not destined to enter the Olympus of Bruce Springsteen‘s most beautiful songs, but the second song on the Born To Run album, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, is undoubtedly one of the most significant songs for what it means for Bruce and his band. And certainly, it’s one of the best in terms of live performance. The reason for its relevance? Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out is like when someone introduces you to a friend. With this song Springsteen formally introduced his band to everybody. The first album, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., had been played by an embryonic E Street Band. The second album, The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle, had seen a broadening of the band and a greatly increased musical effort. In Born To Run the definitive shape of the E Street Band basically played and Springsteen wanted to dedicate a musical introduction to it. With a great co-star: Clarence Clemons.
WHERE THE E STREET BAND ORIGINATED
It all starts with the title: Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out. Freeze-out means to be excluded, to be cut out. An almost indecipherable title. Springsteen himself did not explain its hidden meaning, but it seems that, as a guy from the province trying to achieve success, he wanted to say to the world: “Here we are, we come from a loser avenue from a little coastal town, but we’ll bust this world in half.” That Springsteen refers to his band is certain: the name of the street is very symbolic for him. It is known that the band took its final name at the intersection of Tenth Avenue and E Street in Belmar, N,J, a town very close to Asbury Park, where David Sancious, former pianist and organist of the first band, lived at the time.
BAD SCOOTER AND BIG MAN
If it is true, as it is true, that one of the two protagonists of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Bad Scooter, is Springsteen himself (the initials, B.S., are not casual), then Bruce adopted a very interesting scheme: he let to a third narrator to tell the story of what he experienced in the first person. That boy, Bad Scooter, gets by in the slums and tries to survive, alone and with his back against the wall. The turning point comes when he meets Big Man (in his case no other nicknames are needed). Springsteen has often told how he met Clarence Clemons. A bar door opened and then closed, slammed by the wind, behind a huge man holding a saxophone that he made look like a children’s toy.
THE TURNING POINT: CLARENCE JOINS THE BAND
So, as Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out says at the beginning of its famous last verse, “When the change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band, from the coastline to the city, all the little pretties raise their hands“. Here’s the turning point: from that moment Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band will build a significant part of rock history. The little Italian-Irish kid had met the African-American giant, the guitar had met the sax, rock was merging with soul and rhythm & blues. John Hammond‘s initial vision of Springsteen as the New Dylan was finally fading. From that moment Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band would not only have busted that city in half, but also hundreds of cities and town in the rest of America first and all around the world then. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out is about that rock promise and curiously it tells about it before that big leap takes place. In fact, when Springsteen wrote and recorded Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out for Born To Run, the idea of exploding into the rock firmament like a great star was still just a dream. But, evidently, the arrival of Clarence Clemons had made him feel that he was at the dawn of something important. And so it really was.
THE SOUL RETURNS TO THE ORIGINS
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out is an easy-going soul-rock song, in which emerge an essential piano-based score, played by the newcomer Roy Bittan, a fun guitar riff played by Springsteen himself and the brushstrokes of sax and a horn section that hark back to late 1950s and early 1960s soul. The horn section is managed by the revived Steven Van Zandt. Not yet entered on a permanent basis in the E Street Band, the future Little Steven, already very close to Springsteen, entered the credits of the Born To Run album only for his work on the horn section in Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out and for his vocals in Thunder Road. At the rhythm section, along with Garry Tallent, there is now Mighty Max Weinberg. Then came the live performances: that easy little soul rock song morphed into the legendary, long rock version, supported by the powerful horn section of the faithful Miami Horns. The execution of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out became over time one of the most celebratory moments of Springsteen‘s concerts. Especially from the Reunion Tour onwards, Bruce began to introduce the band throughout this song as “the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, house-rocking, earth-quaking, booty-shaking, Viagra-taking, love-making – legendary E Street Band!” Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out has thus become one of the most iconic songs of an artist’s union to his band.
THE MONUMENT IN BELMAR, N.J.
Closely connected to the song Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out and the name of the E Street Band there is a real monument, which many Springsteen‘s fans have visited and many others know well thanks to the remarkable literature on the New Jersey rocker. In fact, at that Belmar intersection they planted a stele indicating the name of the two streets that form it: E Street and Tenth Avenue. A few meters from the stele they then placed a large-scale sculpture of Springsteen‘s Fender Telecaster, light wood color with black pickguard. That place – needless to say – has now become a must-see for every visit to New Jersey along the Springsteen sites by his fans.
Read Also: The E Street Shuffle, 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)
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