Words by Reilly Cardillo
“Tramps like us… baby, we were born to run.”
This is the title line from Bruce Springsteen’s most iconic and arguably best song. Within these three minutes, Springsteen chronicles the small town trap: the prisons in which our working class is occasionally at odds with. He also sings of desire, he sings of escape and exile, gracefully exalting and condemning his roots simultaneously. Of course, this anthem did not just “spring” up from the ground, polished and full. This song, and this album, really, represents a crossroads that Springsteen found himself facing.
Born into a working-class Irish-Italian family, riddled with a history of mental illness and structured by Catholic guilt, Springsteen grew up in Freehold, New Jersey. His parents, Doug and Adele, did the best they could while combatting Doug’s drinking problem and bipolar disorder. In his autobiography, Springsteen recounts many tension-filled encounters with his father. You can hear the echoes of their discordant relationship in Springsteen’s extensive body of work, most obviously on tracks like “Adam Raised a Cain” from Darkness on the Edge of Town and “Independence Day” from The River. On the latter, Springsteen croons: “Cause the darkness of this house has got the best of us, there’s a darkness in this town that’s got us too… They ain’t gonna do to me what I watched them do to you.”
This is a theme that Springsteen’s music draws from again and again: the new disconnect between the generations, youth’s persistence to escape the mistakes of their parents, and the ultimate realization that you cannot outrun what has been planted inside you.
Springsteen shot out of Freehold the day of his graduation, skipping the ceremony to wander around New York City, which became his refuge and eventually, the site of his discovery at Columbia Records by Mike Appel and through Appel, record executive John Hammond in 1973.
After many years of musical evolution, dive-bar gigs, and two ultimately unsuccessful trips to the West Coast (the acid-drenched hippies just didn’t really jive with Springsteen’s fire), our artist found himself with a record deal and released two albums to critical acclaim, but not enough public interest. Columbia went out on a limb by even allowing Bruce to record his third album, a project propelled by “Born to Run,” the eponymous track. But it was a wise risk.
Born to Run sent Bruce Springsteen into the stratosphere. Suddenly, the question was no longer “is he going to release another album?” but “when is he releasing his next album?” And he has remained at that status ever since.
Springsteen continued to crank out honest, thoughtful work, releasing Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978), The River (1980), Nebraska (1982), and then Born in the U.S.A. in 1984. Born in the U.S.A. was his most commercially successful album, and Bruce’s athletic, charming, yet brooding, appearance served to promote him from simply a rock star to a rockstar-celebrity. He married actress Julianne Phillips in 1985 and promptly filed for divorce in 1988. He then took up with bandmate Patti Scialfa, whom he married in 1991. The pair has two children: Jessica and Sam. Springsteen’s music from that period reflects his inner turmoil while wrestling with his attraction to Patti while trying to attend to his husbandly duties to Julianne. His album, Tunnel of Love (1987) features a song called “Brilliant Disguise” in which he not-so-subtlety laments the state of his marriage as he sings, “We stood at the alter, the gypsy swore our future was bright, but come the wee wee hours, well maybe baby, the gypsy lied.”
His later albums touch on subjects from the Great Depression in the Ghost of Tom Joad (1995), to the events of 9/11 on The Rising (2002), and the recent recession on Wrecking Ball (2012). No matter what height his fame reaches, however, Springsteen always remains accessible and relatable, truly a champion of the people. Springsteen’s success and longevity can be attributed to this connection. This relationship is best understood in his own words: “I believe that the life of a rock and roll band will last as long as you look down into the audience and can see yourself, and your audience looks up at you and can see themselves and as long as those reflections are human, realistic ones.”