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BORN TO RUN
TURNS 40

Born to Run turns 40 today, and for many of us old-timers, that is a very big deal. Karen Glauber is one of them. “I know the West Coast born-and-raised contingent might not care,” she says, “but for a girl raised in an industrial town in Pennsylvania (near Bethlehem Steel), this record was everything.”

For me, less than two years removed from my former home in New Jersey, hearing this record for the first timer in L.A. brought with it a palpable sense of community and closure. But it wasn’t till three months later that the magnificence of this record and the artists who created it was fully brought home. The occasion was Bruce and the E Street Band’s four-night stand at the Roxy. What follows is my review of opening night, Oct. 16, which appeared in Phonograph Record.


People who were clearly not accustomed to standing in line formed a reluctant column along Sunset Boulevard; hordes of photographers snapped at the famous faces as they chafed in their queue. It wasn't yet 8pm. Bruce Springsteen was scheduled to play his first Roxy set at nine. He'd be facing a houseful of music-industry and celebrity skeptics who were already ornery at having to wait instead of being waited on. The big question of the day had been: Will it play in L.A.? Now the question seemed more specific: Will this all but surly audience allow it to play?

In the traffic on Sunset a Mercedes backed into the VW behind it, then sped to freedom down the left-turn lane. The crowd cheered. Uh-oh. Be wary, Bruce, this ain't Philadelphia.

We had little difficulty, surprisingly enough, sliding into one of the front-center tables, and from that cozy vantage point, we checked out some of the pre-show entertainment: an unselfconsciously balding Jack Nicholson bobbing his head to Little Feat's “Dixie Chicken”; Peter Boyle and Robert de Niro huddling at the next table; Jackson Browne, Jim Messina and Wolfman Jack scuffling for empty seats; the young woman across from me complaining to her date, “It's hurting my neck to look at famous people...oh, do you want your cherry?” In the dim light, old lovers and old rivals spotted each other from across the room. The long tables were lined with tall tequila sunrises.

At about 9:45, finally, the lights went down and the curtain lifted to reveal the silhouette of a harp-playing Springsteen alone on stage. As he began to sing “Thunder Road”— joined now by Roy Bittan's piano—a spot lit him, revealing a small but lion-headed figure in levis rolled-at-the-cuff, motorcycle jacket, and button-down shirt. Perhaps realizing he was outnumbered, Springsteen kept his eyes closed through the song. Even so, he was magnetic: one of my tablemates who'd earlier said he didn't look like much in his photos suddenly stage-whispered, “Gee, he looks like Al Pacino in Serpico.” By God, she was right. And he sang in a rich, assured baritone, the very voice that has caused reviewers to invoke the name of Elvis. Even without his band, Springsteen was holding them off. It was gonna be a good battle.

As the crowd responded—more than politely—to the first number, the E Street bandsmen filed onstage, attired in three broad-brimmed hats, as many left-lobe earrings, a single tank-top (on the drummer, natch), and a half-dozen set jaws—theatre or not, these guys appeared to be tough customers. They pushed across “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out” while Springsteen turned his back on the crowd and made himself into a windmill before the drums. By “She's the One,” the fifth number, Springsteen and the band were in high gear, and the crowd was coming around. The boss was a hero-imp, larger than life but still—especially during “Spirit in the Night',” when he threw himself face-down on a front table and gobbled a French fry—totally accessible. During a roaring “Born to Run,” someone shouted in my ear, “He's like an actor playing himself.” Right again. If the crowd wasn't responding with the intensity this performance warranted, it was still largely won over by this powerful presence and his similarly powerful band.

Springsteen pulled off his jacket a half hour into the show. His shirt was cursorily tucked in in front, left loose in back. A six-inch thread hung from the rolled-up sleeve of his microphone hand—it was as if the thread were part of the plan. Through “Kitty's Back” and “Rosalita,” the E Streeters gathered momentum to a glorious peak while Springsteen—shout-singing, playing vibrato-filled guitar chords and solos, enticing the crowd with his smiles and grimaces—whirled among them. Will it play in L.A.? What a stupid question.

The crowd that Columbia bought decided it wanted an encore, and the band gave them a hushed “Sandy” with a modified final verse…

Sandy, the angels have lost their desire for us Can't figure out...spoke to 'em just last night--said they won't set themselves on fire for us anymore But every summer, when the weather gets hot, they ride their crazy road down from heaven On their Harleys they come and go You see 'em dressed like stars in the little seashore bars and parked with their babies out on the Kokomo...

…and followed that with a passionate “Dee-troit Medley,” courtesy of Mitch Ryder: “Devil With a Blue Dress On” into “Good Golly Miss Molly” into “C.C. Rider” into “Ginny Ginny Ginny” (or is it “Jenny Jenny Jenny”?). Then back to the Sunset Marquis to rest up for the real audiences the next three nights. If this wasn't the Student Prince in Asbury or the Osprey in Manasquan or Dudley's in Orange, it was still an impressive and invigorating performance that turned stiffs and sourpusses into fans. Still, a few stiffs and sourpusses remained.

The next evening's show before a charged, zealous audience (made up mostly of people who'd awakened before dawn a couple of weeks earlier in order to get a good spot in the ticket line) made opening night seem tame. Thanks to a live radio broadcast, it was captured for posterity by L.A.-area tape recordists and bootleggers (myself among the former group). Great sound and a sensible mix should make this one of the most high-quality bootlegs ever put on sale. Highlights: a solemn, moving performance of “Goin' Back” in tribute to Roger McGuinn and to Springsteen's favorite L.A. band, the Byrds; and a majestic, magnificent rendering of “Backstreets” in a league with the version of “Like a Rolling Stone” from the Dylan-Band ’66 Albert Hall bootleg. Am I glad to have a copy.

From a balcony vantage point, the Saturday night crowd took on a distinct character: the front section consisted almost entirely of young, exhilarated males whose hero worship of Springsteen approached—and sometimes went over the line right into—adoration. In the reserved tables farther back, the people were more mixed, gender-wise, and slightly cooler—”Maybe that's why they call them 'reserved',” someone opined.

Springsteen was Saturday-night spiffy in jeans, earth shoes, black pullover sweater, and navy blue suspenders (I gotta get a pair). The rest of the band still looked street-tough grungy, but they played throughout the evening with outright splendor. What a band—even without the boss they'd be one of the best in the business; with him they're practically unrivalled (Will it play in L.A?!). A magically balanced coupling of the roughneck and the refined, of the cocky and the charming, of gutter-raunch and purple majesty, they're right there with Springsteen at every turn, in every sense. In an instant, they can recreate summer of ’68 on the Jersey Shore, or 1935 on 125th Street, or they can drop the bottom out and suddenly you're alone in a bedroom with a lover or in an alley with a shadow. On a good night, as this one certainly was, Springsteen and the band invest everything they play—the classic rockers (“Backstreets,” “Born to Run,” “She's the One”), the rangy, hook-laden performance pieces (“Kitty's Back,” “Rosalita”), the panoramas (“Jungleland,” “Sandy”), and the old songs (“When You Walk in the Room,” “Carol,” “Pretty Flamingo”)—with the resonance and illumination of greatness. No kidding, when they all came in on the opening of “Backstreets,” I thought we'd hit nine on the Richter scale and it was really all over. But (unless you're compulsive, or a chronicler, or both) you don't think of words like “resonance” or “majesty” while it's happening in front of you—you think, “Man, this is fun, and I'm really happy, and I don't ever want it to end.” Or, as a promo man and Springsteen fanatic has said to me on several occasions, “It's my life.” I know what you mean. It plays in LA.

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