Happy Born To Run 40th Anniversary Day!

Born-to-RunForty years ago today, Bruce Springsteen‘s third album, Born To Run, was released, an epic masterpiece born of desperation.

As a piece out today at The Week recounts, Columbia Records had given Bruce one last chance to make it, and the intensity of what was at stake for him can be viscerally felt in the opening lines of the first song recorded for the album, the eventual title track:

In the day we sweat it out in the streets of a runaway American dream
At night we ride through mansions of glory in suicide machines
Sprung from cages out on highway 9
Chrome-wheeled, fuel-injected and steppin’ out over the line
Baby this town rips the bones from your back
It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap
We gotta get out while we’re young
`Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run

I could go on and on about my love for Springsteen and Born To Run in particular, but, the thing is, I’ve already done so, in June 2011, on the occasion of the sad loss of E-Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons.

And so, here’s that post in it’s entirety:


When I learned on Saturday of the passing of Clarence “Big Man” Clemons, the great saxophonist with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, I was filled with deep sadness.

As I wrote in November 2010:

You can’t grow up in New Jersey, like I did, when I did, and not have a strong connection to Bruce Springsteen. Oh, you might not be the biggest fan, you might even hate the guy and his music, but he’s a New Jersey icon, the airwaves were saturated with him, and in the summer before I entered high school, Carol Miller, a DJ at WPLJ in New York City, waged a campaign to make Springsteen’s Born To Run the official state song of New Jersey.

Born To Run was one of the very first albums I ever owned, and I can, without doubt or second guessing, credit that record for having inspired in me a deep passion for music, to the point where music became as important to me as food, water, even air. Springsteen’s songs were my window on the real world outside my fake suburban wasteland of a hometown; a world full of terrible and beautiful things, scary things, adventurous things, romantic things, tragic things.

And Clarence, well, his tenor sax was like the icing on the cake of one of the greatest bands in Rock & Roll history. Guitar-centric groups were a dime a dozen, but the E Street Band had its own direct connection to John Coltrane and Dexter Gordon and Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins; Clarence evoked the deep New York City Jazz and Rhythm & Blues traditions.

And you know, the warmth of the friendship between Bruce and The Big Man — a friendship made mythic by the wonderfully embellished stories of their meeting, stories that Bruce would tell with drama and humor during concerts — modeled for me interracial harmony without ever framing it as such, as it should be, as if it is the most natural thing in the world for a white man and a black man to be close.

When another longtime E Street Band member, keyboardist Danny Federici, died three years ago, it was sad, and it took a while to accept that Springsteen had to replace him and carry on.

And yet it is nearly impossible to imagine an E Street Band without Clarence.

Whether Bruce will keep the band together, reinvent it, or form an all-new band remains to be seen. In the meantime, it feels like the only fitting way to end this post is with Springsteen’s touching public statement on the loss of his friend, and a video of a song that contains Clarence’s most notable solo, a nearly 3-minute, achingly beautiful melody in the operatic closer to Born To Run: Jungleland.

Clarence lived a wonderful life. He carried within him a love of people that made them love him. He created a wondrous and extended family. He loved the saxophone, loved our fans and gave everything he had every night he stepped on stage. His loss is immeasurable and we are honored and thankful to have known him and had the opportunity to stand beside him for nearly forty years. He was my great friend, my partner and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band.

Video Fridays: The Honeymooners

honeymoonersOne of my fondest memories from growing up in New Jersey was the post-primetime lineup of reruns on Channel 11, WPIX TV from New York City.

It was epic.

Now, I wasn’t always able to watch the whole lineup every night, and I don’t think I’d have had much of a life if I had. I had a very small black & white TV in my bedroom, and despite my best efforts to keep the volume down, to sit dangerously close to the screen, and to cover myself and the TV with a blanket, I was regularly busted by the parental units, forced to shut it down and go to sleep. But, this lineup was the same for many years, and so the episodes kept cycling through, meaning I was able to see a LOT of them numerous times anyway.

There are a number of things that I loved about that lineup of shows, and I could go on and on about it, but it seems redundant, given a piece I found at ClassicFlix.com by Rick Brooks, professing his Love Affair With WPIX, and saying many of the things I would say myself.

Just a sample:

We would look forward to seeing a series not just because it was so good, but because we knew it held up to multiple viewings. Look at The Honeymooners, which ran weeknights continuously for over 30 years on the station. That staying power is staggering, particularly when you consider that, though eventually it added the “Lost Episodes” to the mix, channel 11 was running the same “Classic 39” episodes from that one legendary season (1955-56). I will say it again: 39 episodes ran continuously for decades, and fans loved them.

It would be impossible for me to pick one of these shows as my favorite, but I’d rather honor one of them at a time with a Video Fridays installment, and since I just shared Rick Brooks’ info on The Honeymooners, let’s start there.

For me, The Honeymooners was very special. It was the only TV show of that vintage that was actually still on the air, as far as I could tell, and it served as a time capsule to a bygone era. From the clothing to the furniture, the vernacular of the day to the acting styles, I found it utterly charming.

The biggest strengths of the show were three of the main actors and the writing.

Jackie Gleason, as bus driver Ralph Kramden, could be an insufferable loudmouth, by today’s standards verbally abusive to his wife, and yet when his hairbrained schemes crashed and burned, as they always did, Gleason somehow, almost magically, induced pathos.

Audrey Meadows, as Ralph’s wife, Alice, unlike other women leads of the time and beyond, didn’t hide her struggles with sexism behind an always cheerful veneer. You could see in her expression a weariness as she went about her domestic duties, and she could go toe-to-toe with Ralph in a way you’d rarely see a wife stand up to her husband on TV.

Art Carney, as friend and upstairs neighbor, Ed Norton, well, let’s just say, with his brilliant physical comedy prowess, specifically his grand, clown-like entrances into the Kramden apartment, there would absolutely be NO Kramer from Seinfeld without Art Carney’s Ed Norton. (Interestingly, nothing I could find online gives credit to Art Carney as a direct inspiration for Kramer, and that REALLY bugs me!)

As for the writing, the episodes are masterpieces, with consistently great story arcs, a wonderful mix of comedy and the aforementioned pathos, and it was one of the most quotable shows ever made. My friends and I could nearly recite entire episodes from memory, the jokes were so good.

Like I said, I could go on and on, and I guess I did!

To wrap up and get on with this week’s video selection, I chose an episode that seemed perfect for the occasion, a TV show about watching TV, containing one of my all-time favorite lines, “Official space helmet on, Captain Video!!!”

Happy Weekend, everyone!