Bruce Springsteen Susan Hill - Essay

Susan Hill

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"Born To Run" isn't merely a nerveless fusion of the best pop tenor sax since Junior Walker, passionately penetrating lead, and some of rock's greatest anthems; it defines what sometimes makes rock magnificent. It wasn't just that it came on like a hurricane after the posturings of some and the quietism of others (Bruce whines, but he whines loud). Nor simply that it was proud ("At night we ride in mansions of glory"), sentimental ("Roy Orbison sings for the lonely/Hey, that's me and I want you only"), romantic ("My car's outside if you're ready to take that long walk"), and dangerous (27 "Backstreets" in a row).

It had something to do with the perfect theft of the best of Van Morrison, Spector, Dylan and Motown, more to do with the exact sympathy of lyrics, bursting melodrama and musicianship, and something else unique: Brando with an axe, the machismo and vulnerability of Dean without the aloof cool, the whole American wheels/escape/road fantasy.

It's a grandly majestic and poetic album, ambitious and risky (a lesser talent would often have seemed overblown or preposterous). But it's hard and shiny, too, and has proved both influential (viz the Boomtown Rats) and inimitable. A near-faultless moment, perhaps, and gone. In 1978 "Darkness On The Edge Of Town" had a lovely, wounded grace, but the ecstatic explosiveness was absent….

Things that go straight to the heart are often hard to understand or define. Roll down the windows and let the wind blow back your hair.

Susan Hill, "Ten Albums that Shaped a Decade: 'Born to Run'," in Melody Maker (© IPC Business Press Ltd.), November 10, 1979, p. 36.