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Still Born to Run

July 6, 2009

 

“Baby this town rips the bones from your back, It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap

,We gotta get out while we’re young, ‘Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run.”

Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen, 1975

 

I almost forgot the power of rock and roll. It had been so many years since I’d been to a rock concert that I couldn’t turn down a friend who, after his wife turned him down, invited me to see the Boss at the Palace.

 Before I married, I went to a lot of rock concerts. I remembered when my cousin Bob, my friend Scott, and I crossed the Detroit-Windsor Bridge at exactly 6:00am on the morning of July 17th, 1980 the night after a Who concert at CNE Stadium, Toronto. Unable to get a hotel room anywhere in the city and after giving up trying to catch some sleep in my compact Fiat Strada, I drove us home, staying awake on pure adrenalin and a large bag of salty peanuts. When we entered Detroit, I joked that we could take a turn off the bridge to the Detroit Ren Cen and visit the Republican Convention on its last day in Detroit. Maybe we’d see Ronald Reagan on the elevator.

            Going to a rock concert at fifty years of age is like my dad listening to Jumping Jack Flash in 1968. My dad was not a fan of the Stones before ’68 or after. But I was a Stones and a Springsteen fan then and haven’t stopped listening to Springsteen since my high school graduation.

Flash back 32 years to my senior year of high school when I graduated in June of 1975, five years before the Republican convention at the Joe Louis Arena. I knew I was going to college in Detroit but that’s all I knew, being an unsure 18-year-old with a summer job and plenty of time to burn while listening to records in my basement bedroom.

            I had heard about “Born to Run,” the new Bruce Springsteen album, after it was released on August 25, 1975. After I listened to the title song on FM radio, I bought the album and spent a lot of nights listening to its eight tracks, including “Thunder Road,” Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” “Night,” “Backstreets,” “Meeting Across the River,” “She’s the One,” and “Jungle Land.” I was a music junkie, imagining myself a rock star, strumming my guitar, screaming out lyrics to a thunderous audience. There was no “Guitar Hero” video game then but that didn’t stop me from learning the lyrics to most of Bruce’s songs, especially “Born to Run”:

            “In the day we sweat it out in the streets of a runaway American dream

            At night we ride through mansions of glory in suicide machines

            Sprung from cages out on highway 9,

            Chrome wheeled, fuel injected

            And steppin’ out over the line

            Baby this town rips the bones from your back

            It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap

            We gotta get out while we’re young

            ‘Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run.”

            “Born to Run” was the perfect teenager song, filled with rebellion, passion, speed, suicide, and escape, and made my heart beat faster than my middle-aged heart can handle today. When the legendary riff erupted in an encore at the Palace on November 5th, 2007, I acted like a high school kid again and couldn’t believe that I still remembered most of the words. Actually, for much of Bruce’s “Magic Tour” concert return to the Detroit area, I stood and swayed and sang and shouted and clapped. I didn’t feel all that much different from the 18-year-old high school graduate who first fell for the Boss.

            My mind flew back to the night of October 4th, 1975, when my buddies and I drove without tickets to the Palace in downtown Detroit to witness what Time and Newsweek both put on their covers 23 days later, the dawning of a rock and roll legend. We liked the album but we hadn’t been to concerts before and didn’t know what to expect. The rumor was that Bruce put on a great show, but to novices like us, what did that mean?

            We got our tickets and when the doors opened, we raced to the closest seats we could find. It was general admission only and the first to arrive were the luckiest. We stood up most of the night, not knowing songs like “Rosalita”, but knew that we had to be at one of the greatest concerts ever. The passion and intensity increased through the night until the four encores 3 ½ hours later, when we left, looking at each other like, “Do you believe what we just witnessed?”

            In the back lights of memory, I think this was the greatest concert night of my life, better than the 1980 Who concert, better even than 2007’s Bruce revival.

            The 2007 Bruce was a close second to the 1975 Bruce. The “Magic Tour” concert was about an hour less so the lights could rise faster and the baby-boomers could get out of the parking lot quickly to get home and go to bed. Much of the audience, many even older than me, had to get up early the next morning for work.

            But that didn’t stop Tony and I and the two middle-aged women to my right from standing up much of the night, dancing in our singular spots and singing out loud to the newest songs from his latest CD, Magic, all the way back to oldies like “The River”. The two women on my right introduced themselves to me as Pam and Jill from Grand Rapids, ironically the same names as two of my wife’s best friends. I wasn’t interested in my next-door neighbors as I was in my own world, listening to some of my favorite music. But that didn’t stop Jill from bumping into me when she danced and yelling into my right ear with her booze-tinged breath. I wanted to yell at her to mind her own business but she was drunk and I had little room to stand or breathe in the air’s overwhelming beer-breath.

            Bruce started with “Radio Nowhere” from his new album, Magic, and played a few more from the album, including “Livin’ in the Future,” a favorite of mine. He did a rare “Jackson Cage” from the 1980 album, The River, and favorites, “She’s the One,” and “Tunnel of Love.” A young boy had a handwritten note that said, “Ramrod please,” and Springsteen honored the request because the boy had “been rocking all night. My kid’s 16, he’d be asleep by now.” I was thrilled that the girls next door to me left for at least 30 minutes to get more beer but when Jill came back to her seat, she stood and fell into me and down to the ground. If it were a boxing match, I would have been happy with the knockout but a few fans and I pulled her from the ground. She thanked us by tilting to the side and throwing up as she made her way up the aisle’s stairs with her friend. I wondered how they were going to drive back to Grand Rapids and hoped that they’d sleep in their car until morning to spare unsuspecting drivers from these drunks. 

            When they were gone, I focused on the last songs of the night, including “Badlands,” the double encore of “Born to Run” and “Dancing in the Dark,” and the final song, “American Land,” in which the lyrics were displayed on the big screen above, while the audience sang along.

            Tony apologized for the unlucky seats but even with the drunk women, it was still a great concert and well worth attending. How many times in a middle-aged life, can you let your hair down and act like a kid? Of course, I have almost no hair left to let down but that didn’t stop me from acting like I did when I had my long-dark-brown-afro-haircut, circa 1975, like Michael Jackson.

            Springsteen, unlike Michael Jackson, hasn’t changed all that much in the last thirty-some years. He still rocks like he did when he was a kid; he still writes, sings, and plays great, uplifting music. He is still a high-energy performer who has aged but hardly looks his age. And I would argue that his newest albums are just about as good as his earliest.

            No matter how many years go by, Bruce makes us feel that we are still, weary legs and all, born to run.

 

 

 

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