There was nothing to do. Serious amounts of nothing to do.
At night we drove our huge cars around our tiny town and we listened to music. Our drag route was small, only about three blocks long with a loop on each end, kind of like an old 110 film cartridge. You could never get up enough speed to invite the breeze in the open windows. It was a little like a parade: big, metal cars going slow, lots of waving.
Anyway, into this muggy little scenario came "Born to Run," and it was an escape, not so much in the sense of a relief from the heat, for truly to this day I can listen to the album in the middle of winter and feel the hot night air close around me. No, it gave me an escape from my rurality.
In the documentary "Wings for Wheels" about the making of the album, Springsteen said that it "...has that feeling of that endless, one summer night...it could all be taking place in the course of one evening in different locations...all these different stories on one long summer night."
What he left out was that the one long summer night was taking place in the city, New York City or any city, where there was a "barefoot girl sitting on the hood of a Dodge, drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain." That was enticing.
There was also the simple but deep realization that "these two lanes will take us anywhere." In my little town, any escape that didn't turn into corn fields in just a few blocks was welcome.
The sound of "Born to Run" is dense, lush and layered like the sounds of a deep summer night. In truth, summer nights are far removed from any notion of silence. In the Midwest, where I grew up, they are a cacophony of life and sound and so is this record.
Critics say it's overproduced, and I understand that. I don't always like albums with lots of layers. But this one seems a long poem of sound, thick like the humid night air. And if you listen with the right ears you can hear each component: crickets, frogs, cicadas; guitars, organs and glockenspiels.
But the lyrics are truly the genius of the album. The lyrics are a cinematic slice across experience, across stories of escape and deliverance and struggle. It is the most visual storytelling of any album I can recall.
From "Thunder Road":
The screen door slams
Mary's dress waves
Like a vision she dances across the porch
As the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely
Hey that's me and I want you only
Don't turn me home again
I just can't face myself alone again...
You can hide 'neath your covers
And study your pain
Make crosses from your lovers
Throw roses in the rain
Waste your summer praying in vain
For a savior to rise from these streets
And from "Backstreets":
One soft infested summer me and Terry became friends
Trying in vain to breathe the fire we was born in
Catching rides to the outskirts tying faith between our teeth
Sleeping in that old abandoned beach house getting wasted in the heat
And hiding on the backstreets, hiding on the backstreets
With a love so hard and filled with defeat
Running for our lives at night on them backstreets...
Slow dancing in the dark on the beach at Stockton's Wing
Where desperate lovers park we sat with the last of the Duke Street Kings
Huddled in our cars waiting for the bells that ring
In the deep heart of the night to set us loose from everything
to go running on the backstreets…
I have always regarded the classic "Jungleland" to be a ballet of a story. Tragic. Shakespearean. But with switchblades.
The midnight gang's assembled and picked a rendezvous for the night
They'll meet 'neath that giant Exxon sign that brings this fair city light
Man there's an opera out on the turnpike
There's a ballet being fought out in the alley
Until the local cops, cherry tops, rips this holy night
The street's alive as secret debts are paid
Contacts made, they vanished unseen
Flash guitars just like switch-blades hustling for the record machine
The hungry and the hunted explode into rock 'n' roll bands
That face off against each other out in the street down in Jungleland
There isn't room for me to say what I feel about this album in this piece, nor in a piece twice or thrice its length.
This is an artist at his zenith. This is a studied piece of art that nearly drove its creator mad with ambition and the zealous pursuit of the vision that one act, one album, one hot summer night full of possibility is all we need.
These two lanes will, truly, take us anywhere.