Bruce Springsteen Paul Williams - Essay

Paul Williams

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Springsteen and the E Street Band] are doing for the seventies what Liverpool's Beatles did to the sixties: bringing rock and roll music back from the edge of oblivion, making it the leader again. (p. 74)

[The] music he makes and the adolescent world he evokes somehow belong to the '50's and the '60's and the present all at once, which may explain why Springsteen's popularity cuts across age barriers. He offers a totally mature, conscious adolescent energy (and humor, and sexuality) which appeals to the eternal rock 'n' roller in all of us. (pp. 74-5)

Bruce Springsteen the lyricist is a storyteller with a great comic gift and a unique sensibility: what he's into is life on the fringes of urban civilization, under the flashing Exxon sign, as lived by people like Big Balls Billy, and the Magic Rat…. Who else writes stuff like this these days? He's got the frustrated romanticism of a generation (or two) down pat, and he even unfrustrates it, to boot. He sees the humor and beauty of our Situation. (p. 79)

And he's got a terrific ear for how lyrics and melodies and arrangements work together. A whiz of a songwriter. But what may be most endearing about Bruce, to a generation that's listened to too many records, is that he's so conscious of what has gone before musically, and makes full use of it in creating his own musical language. Take the line in "Rosalita" … where he says, "I want to be your man." This is very funny anyway, coming after a couple of five-dollar words like "liberate" and "confiscate." But what really gives it its special charm is the careful enunciation of each word, "I-want-to-be."…

Anyway, Springsteen's post-industrial eternal adolescent … New York/New Jersey urban seaside world is as crawling with life as [William Faulkner's] Yoknapatawpha County. And it's a hopeful world, the cosmic garbage can with a silver lining; as Bruce and Clarence sing at the end of the new version of "New York City Serenade," "Baby we can steal away, baby we can slip away—Who's gonna miss us?" (p. 80)

Paul Williams, "Springsteen Magazine Story," in his Right to Pass and Other True Stories (copyright © 1977 by Paul Williams; reprinted here by permission of the author), Berkley Publishing Corporation, 1977, pp. 73-84.