‘I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.’
Amusingly, one of the most famous lines in the history of rock criticism — a line written about Bruce Springsteen by Jon Landau, who would become Bruce Springsteen’s manager — is misquoted on Bruce Springsteen’s website.
“I have seen the future of rock and roll, and its name is Bruce Springsteen,” is how it reads on brucespringsteen.net, and that’s totally different. As Dave Marsh wrote in Born to Run: The Bruce Springsteen Story: “Landau’s original is almost Dickensian, with its spoofing allusion to the spiritual resurrection of Scrooge, but the other versions made it seem as though Landau were attempting to write advertising copy.”
Quoted or misquoted, take your pick. Either way it became ad copy (see image, left), and important ad copy. Ad copy that helped refuel the energy for Springsteen back at Columbia Records, and gave Bruce himself a needed jolt of confidence–even if it was the start of a hype cycle that would prove exhaustively maddening.
I read Landau’s piece over and over while I was working on Springsteen: Album by Album (out Oct. 7, feel free to pre-order). After each read, I’d click over to iTunes and dial up “Thunder Road,” the invitation to that long summer’s night, as Springsteen has called it, that opens Born to Run.
“It’s four in the morning and raining,” Landau wrote. “I’m 27 today, feeling old, listening to my records, and remembering that things were different a decade ago.”
“So you’re scared and you’re thinking
That maybe we ain’t that young anymore,” Springsteen sang.
“As I left college in 1969 and went into record production I started exhausting my seemingly insatiable appetite,” Landau wrote. “I felt no less intensely than before about certain artists; I just felt that way about fewer of them. I not only became more discriminating but more indifferent.”
“You can hide ‘neath your covers
And study your pain
Make crosses from your lovers
Throw roses in the rain
Waste your summer praying in vain
For a savior to rise from these streets,” Springsteen sang.
“And on a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was hearing music for the very first time,” Landau wrote.
“We’re pulling out of here to win,” Springsteen sang.
Back and forth, line ’em up, “Thunder Road” playing almost like a response to Landau’s piece. I’d never noticed that until some 2 a.m. months ago, while in the depths of trying to get the chapter on the record right. Method writing is dumb, and finally I just let loose, took a little from Landau, and a lot from Springsteen. Gave in to that soaring sense of hope that fills the speakers at the end of “Thunder Road.” It’s the sound of promise.
That hope, that sense of unlimited opportunity, that energy is what Born to Run is built on. My vote for best Springsteen record goes to Darkness on the Edge of Town, because I’m old enough to have had my ass kicked a few times. I know that promise gets broken. But that’s another essay.
Born to Run is Springsteen’s most important album, because backed into a corner, he dug in and won. The battle at least. The war would still take some time. When he had to, he made damn near the perfect record. In a lot of ways, it’s where the story begins. The first two were warmups. Born to Run played for keeps, and 39 years on there’s still magic in that night.