Reissue re-establishes Springsteen's "Born to Run" as a cornerstone

OnMilwaukee.com, 2005-11-16, by: Bill Zaferos
Three decades ago, a down-and-out Bruce Springsteen, his career at a dead-end after his first two critically acclaimed albums failed to sell, sat down and decided to create a blockbuster, hoping to create maybe the greatest rock and roll album ever made. The result was "Born to Run."

Thirty years later, it is more apparent than ever that he succeeded.

"Born to Run" is indeed the greatest rock and roll album ever made.

Forget "Sgt. Pepper" or "Who's Next" or "Blonde on Blonde" or any number of other landmark, but lesser, albums. It was "Born to Run" that saved a generation from the likes of disco and progressive rock and the cynicism of punk.

It was "Born to Run" that gave an entire generation meaning, a soundtrack to their lives. And still does.

It was desperately romantic. It was cinematic. It was epic. In other words, everything Springsteen set out to make it.

It had anger and frustration and confusion. Drama. Passion. Pathos. Noirish themes.

And it was big. Really big. As in big sound. Big ideas. Big aspirations for the "runaway American dream." Wall of Sound big.

OK, it was the definitive Baby Boomer album. But even today, Gens X and Y and Millennium should easily be able to appreciate its magnificent and, well, its bigness, if they give it a chance. It is the very definition of rock and roll, or what it should be.

The newly reissued three-disc "Born to Run" box set, a re-mastered "30th Anniversary Edition," only re-establishes the album's pre-eminence as a cornerstone of American music, a masterpiece unsurpassed by anything released in prior or ensuing years.

The re-released album itself, re-mastered with Springsteen's blessing and direction, is exactly the one many of us grew up with. There are no studio out-takes, no "bonus" tracks or alternative takes that so often provide filler for other re-issues. It's "Born to Run" as we remember it, complete with the notion that we will die with someone named Wendy in the street tonight in an ever-lasting kiss, and that we will wind up loving someone with all the madness in our soul.

Did we mention there was some romanticism here?

The re-master sounds a little crisper, a little deeper, but in the end sounds much like the same album we've come to know and love. The sound really isn't the issue, though. It's the music. And the lyrics.

To this day, who can't relate to the idea expressed in "Backstreets" that recalls that "after all those movies ... we'd go see, trying to learn to walk like the heroes we thought we had to be ... after all this time we'd find we're just like all the rest..."

A cup of shattered dreams, anyone?

In an accompanying one-disc documentary called "Wings for Wheels: The Making of Born to Run," which really is fascinating for Bruce fanatics only, Springsteen said the album "changed my life and the lives of my friends and my band mates." Not to mention millions of people who would eventually become "Bruceheads," people who played Springsteen songs at both weddings and funerals.

In the documentary, Springsteen says that the album "had that feeling of that endless summer night." Indeed, the re-issue bears him out, right down to the "barefoot girl sitting on the hood of a Dodge drinking warm beer in the summer rain."

It's poetry set to music. Really good, Motown meets James Brown meets Dylan meets Elvis meets Phil Spector music. There has been nothing like it before or since.

Fortunately, with the new re-master no one allowed Springsteen to play with the mix, as he might have been wont to do. From Clarence Clemons' sax solo ripping into a warm, muggy night on "Jungleland" to the glorious frenzy of "She's the One," the album is touched up, but largely untouched. And that's good. Why fool with something that has endured so well, that will continue to continue to serve as a model for rock and roll should be?

In the end, why pick up a three-disc set at about $35?

Well, in addition to the newly re-mastered "Born to Run," the Hammersmith Odeon London '75 disc is really exceptional, showing Springsteen before his show became spectacle, before people "Bruuuuuce"d between every song. The Hammersmith Odeon show puts a skinny kid on display who's learning his stagecraft, who hasn't learned to tell long stories between numbers, who's just there to put on a good show and play some incredible music.

And it's a great show. Just like the ones we've all become accustomed to after 30 years.

But if you're ever going to discover Springsteen, or celebrate what he's done, this re-issue is the place to start.

It's proof that if Springsteen isn't an American icon (and he is), "Born to Run" should be part of America's musical iconography.

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