Bruce Springsteen Ken Emerson - Essay

Ken Emerson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Greetings from Asbury Park, Bruce Springsteen's uproarious debut album, sounded like "Subterranean Homesick Blues" played at 78, a typical five-minute track bursting with more words than this review. Most of it didn't make much sense, but that was the point. Springsteen was rhyming and wailing for the sheer fun of it…. The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle takes itself more seriously. The songs are longer, more ambitious and more romantic; and yet, wonderfully, they lose little of Greetings' rollicking rush. Having released two fine albums in less than a year, Springsteen is obviously a considerable new talent.

Like Greetings, the new album is about the streets of New York and the tacky Jersey Shore, but the lyrics are no longer merely zany cut-ups. They're striking amalgams of romance and gritty realism: "And the boys from the casino dance with their shirts open like Latin lovers on the shore, / Chasin' all those silly New York virgins by the score." The loveliness of the first line, the punk savvy of the second, and the humor of the ensemble add up to Springsteen's characteristic ambivalence and a complex appeal reminiscent of the Shangri-Las. In the midst of a raucous celebration of desire, "Rosalita," he can suddenly turn around and sing, "Some day we'll look back on this and think we all seem funny." (p. 49)

"Incident on 57th Street" [is] the album's most stunning track, a virtual mini-opera about Johnny, a "romantic young boy" torn between Jane and the bright knives out on the street. Springsteen never resolves the conflict (if he ever does his music will probably become less interesting). Instead he milks it for all it's worth…. (p. 50)

Ken Emerson, "Springsteen Goes Gritty & Serious," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1974; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 153, January 31, 1974, pp. 49-50.