When you’re older, there are few benefits, but one of the few is insight. There are just a handful of moments that change the trajectory of your life. Sadly, you don’t know it at the time, but it becomes obvious with the perspective of age. One of those moments occurred for me 41 years ago this week when I heard “tramps like us, baby we were born to run” for the first time.
Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run album was released on August 25th, 1975. As a freshman at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, I have no doubt that I heard the album within 24 hours of its release. Even before the release of his most iconic album, all my Jersey guy and Jersey girl friends were already completely dedicated fans of the Boss.
We ordered a keg (drinking age in New Jersey was 18 in 1975) and a half-dozen pizzas and listened to “Born” over and over until we had every lyric memorized. There were only 8 songs on the album, but of the 8, seven would later be on my list of the top 100 rock classics. Roy Orbison singing for the lonely on Thunder Road, Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, Night, Backstreets, Born to Run, She’s the One and Jungleland. How many albums have you heard that put seven songs on your personal top 100?
Born to Run catapulted the Jersey shore rock legend to national acclaim and fame. “Coast to coast, baby, and I don’t just mean Jersey.” It was time for everyone to roll down their window and let the wind blow back your hair. On October 27th, Springsteen appeared on the cover of both Time Magazine and Newsweek- an unprecedented and never repeated accomplishment for a non-politician. Both articles quoted music writer Jon Landau who had famously opined, “I’ve seen rock and roll’s future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.”
By late November, my friend and Student Programming Director, Tim Price had booked Springsteen and the E-Street Band to play Walsh Gym on campus and got Diane and I third row seats. Tim told me later that the contract demanded a whole roasted and stuffed turkey for Clarence Clemons’ dressing room.
The Born to Run tour was the first to feature two new members of the E-Street Band. Pianist Roy Bittan had replaced David Sancious and “Mighty” Max Wienberg had replaced Vinny “Mad Dog” Lopez. Max Wienberg must have been particularly excited. Before answering a newspaper ad for a drummer, Max had been taking courses at Seton Hall. The rest of the band included Springsteen’s childhood friend “Miami” Steve Van Zant, bassist Garry Tallent, organist Danny Federici and the Big Man Clarence Clemons who “joined the band” in 10th Avenue Freeze Out and got a big kiss from Bruce for his efforts.
There was magic in the night. The Walsh Gym concert was vintage Springsteen with six encores that didn’t stop until the Boss had played Santa Claus is Coming to Town and we had no more fluid in our lighters and no more energy to dance in our seats. For me, the highlight of the concert was probably the 4th encore which was Jungleland. Roy Bittan plays a great piano riff, Springsteen sings in agony and if the Big Man’s sax solo doesn’t bring a tear to your eye then there might be something wrong with the size of your heart.
The Jungleland clip is a great one from 1978. It’s black and white and grainy, but it captures the intensity and power of those late 70’s small venue Springsteen performances.
Proving Jon Landau’s prediction correct, Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band are still running hard 41 years later. This past Thursday on August 25th, 2016, the forty-first anniversary of the Born to Run release, Springsteen performed his longest U.S. concert ever at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. Always known for his endless energy and marathon concerts, Springsteen’s MetLife concert clocked in at 4 hours with 33 songs, a marital engagement and fireworks.
The couple who became engaged on stage during the finale of Jersey Girl weren’t even born when Diane and I saw the E-Street Band play at Walsh Gym 41 years ago. However, I know they felt the same way that we did 41 years earlier and still do today. It will be one of the days that changes the trajectory of their life as well.
Next week Bruce and the Band will play in Philly. The hope is that he’ll break his all-time international record of 4 hours and 6 minutes set in Finland in 2012. Bobby Weir, one of my Seton Hall Pirate friends from 1975 and Becky and Steve Nida, new friends from 2016, will both be there. Diane and I both wish we could be there too.
As always, if you ever get a chance to see a Springsteen concert don’t miss it. It’s been said many times. There are two types of rock and roll fans. Those that love Bruce Springsteen and those who’ve never seen him perform live.