There is such a strange feeling to be writing this, listening intently to the remastered version of Bruce Springsteen's breakthrough 1975 recording Born to Run, as if it hadn't happened at all but was happening in this moment. To look back at pop history as something of an oracle through the glass on its reverse side is always tricky. There was a lot at stake in rock & roll in those days. David Bowie was about to move into his next incarnation after the death of Ziggy Stardust and into his Berlin period; Queen was moving away from hard rock and into its own identity as well; Roxy Music was about to crack it; the J. Geils Band was shattering houses everywhere with its brand of roots blues and barroom rock; T. Rex was almost absent on American shores, and Kiss had stepped in mightily and faultily to cash in on it all. Meanwhile, the Faces were history, and the New York Dolls were disintegrating; Aerosmith were fighting each other, Led Zep were the power and glory of hard rock; Iggy was lost to addiction; Marvin Gaye and Motown were turning into something else, as was the Philly soul sound, mutating into the next phase of funk, and eventually disco. P-Funk were tearing it up musically and on the road, but not to many white audiences; Marvin Gaye was working on I Want You; Leroy Hutson was releasing the best albums of his career but to little notice of rock audiences; Miles was in retirement, and only Grover Washington was carrying the soul-jazz banner into the future with Mister Magic and Feels So Good. The Rolling Stones were doing their thing, but they were the Rolling Stones. And then the dread Yes and Jethro Tull and Emerson, Lake & Palmer were ruining rock for another five years. The time was right for something to happen, and happen it did. Springsteen and his E Street Band, armed with a slew of session players, came ambling out of the New Jersey shadows, having no idea what they were doing with a brand of guttersnipe, gritty rock infused with soul, R&B, garage band aesthetics, and a stage show that challenged even Mott the Hoople's, to conquer the world whether they wanted to or not.
In its present incarnation, finally remastered to full satisfaction of fans in the post-LP era, Born to Run sounds as startling, dynamic, and desperate as it did in 1975. The songs roar once more with all the drama of the young, where everything is at stake. Back porches, ramshackle motorcycles, the hidden intimacy of back streets, the violent danger of street gangs vying for turf, and the story of their life and death struggles told and retold with apocryphal detail from a group of observers to those who would retell and embellish them. There's the boredom of summer days and working nine to five just to break out into who knows what, and that desire -- the one that covers everything -- the one that knows that just beyond the confines of front yards and downtowns lies America, and some dream that would materialize if only one had the courage to run toward it. Springsteen's voice is full, raging, howling, crooning, and above all simply full of the magic of his own words as given life by a band who knows nothing except for putting it all on the line. In its present incarnation Born to Run once again proves its place among the greatest rock & roll albums ever recorded. This is it -- life, death, love, betrayal, and the dynamics of big-screen portrayals of the mysteries of everyday -- ordinary life boiled down to an explosive essence that carries within it everything rock & roll ever promised.
The bonus DVDs are something to behold as well. The Hammersmith Odeon concert from the tour that's included here has a set list to die for. It's adrenaline-filled and fear-drenched. These guys were scared and it fueled the gig. There's everything to prove, and the E Street Band had the quavering guts and naïveté to pull it off. These guys play their asses off; it's as if tomorrow they'll die so what the hell -- and given that the bile Brit music tabloids had the proven potential for, it was entirely possible, as Springsteen explains in his liner notes. The track list is simply incredible, from the cuts to the album at hand to those coming from Greetings from Asbury Park -- "Lost in the Flood," "Hard to Be a Saint in the City," "For You," -- to those from The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle -- "Fourth of July Asbury Park (Sandy)," "Kitty's Back," "Rosalita." And as if this weren't enough, there is the classic "Detroit Medley" and "Quarter to Three." This is a mind-blowing gig, filmed for preservation and forgotten about, until it was recently resurrected from Springsteen's own archives and mixed for this presentation by Bob Clearmountain.
As if all this weren't enough, there is another disc , Wings for Wheels, a kind of hodgepodge documentary on the making of the album with rare film footage from between 1973 and '75, concert footage, and the intimacy of the studio as this band struggled to keep their deal with the label -- they were on the verge of being booted into eternal obscurity as has-beens who couldn't deliver the big one. The fascination as Springsteen edits and works with Jon Landau to build the crazy, roaring Wall of Sound that became the single "Born to Run" is almost harrowing to watch -- not just as history, bus as a gamble that paid off. This is as close to a fan's dream come true as it's going to get. But more than that, the package is the one that proves the reason for Springsteen's longevity. His faith and doubt, his willingness to go the distance, and his belief in the music itself as the conveyor of something bigger than himself to get the poetry across is awe-inspiring. Presented in this way, Born to Run is enough to make one accept that rock & roll is a force to be reckoned with rather than something to market cars, beer, and lingerie; it contains the mythic power of the ages, and dare it be said the proof that God himself can speak through a sleazy looking, beat, flesh and blood batch of street urchins using the ordinary as a means of speaking of the power, vulnerability, romance, and redemption of everyday life as something to be celebrated, struggled through, and cherished. ~ Thom Jurek