to guess who wrote these lyrics:
Indians in the summer
with a teenage diplomat.
In the dumps with the mumps
as the adolescent pumps his
way into his hat.
obviously informed by Dylan (the diplomat if nothing
else is a giveaway) but it's way to clumsy (the
double rhyme on "m" results in a thick
cluster of consonance which is almost a tongue twister).
Beck is certainly a possibility as is Patti Smith,
Lou Reed, or David Byrne. Even Grateful Dead
lyricist Robert Hunter couldn't be entirely ruled
out. But these lyrics, of course, begin the famous
first verse of Bruce Springsteen's "Blinded
by the Light" which opens up his not-so-famous
debut album Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ (Columbia,
story of how Springsteen wound up recording Greetings
From Asbury Park, NJ is a rock 'n' roll
fable mixed with pure chutzpah. After years bumming
around the Jersey bar scene playing in bands with
names like Child and Steel Mill, his manager took
Springsteen to New York to audition for John Hammond.
Hammond, whose discoveries include Bob Dylan, Aretha
Franklin, Billie Holiday, and Benny Goodman, was
perhaps the most legendary talent scout in popular
music. Springsteen sang a few songs for Hammond
and a contract was instantly signed with Columbia
Records. A few weeks later Springsteen, still in
his early 20s, was in the studio recording and producing
(along with his manager) Greetings From Asbury
mistakenly thought of Springsteen as a folk singer
and it was left to Springsteen to find musicians
to play on the record. He created a band which mixed
fellow veterans of the New York club scene like
Vini "Mad Dog" Lopez with some future
members of the E Street Band like Clarence Clemons
and even included a top-flight jazz musician in
Richard Davis who backed Van Morrison and Jimmy
Witherspoon and had made music history with his
brilliant playing on Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch.
Despite the caliber of the musicians, Springsteen
had never produced a record before. Therefore—particularly
on compact disc—the sound of Greetings
From Asbury Park, NJ is muted and slight. As
a result, commercial radio paid almost no attention
to the record, and Springsteen wasn't even able
to mount a full national tour to support it.
too, have consistently given harsh assessments to
Springsteen's debut. The Rolling Stone Record
Guide says, "Way to wordy and sabotaged
by thin production..." and the Music Hound
guide is even worse listing Greetings From Asbury
Park, NJ as an album to avoid and noting,
"Columbia thought it had a troubadour, not
a rocker, and this set sounds more stiff and mannered
each passing year." Not surprisingly, the album
sold poorly and quickly faded from memory.
these views are unfair—and without intending
it—are too influenced by the Springsteen of
Born to Run. For despite its flaws,
Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ is
a passionate, ambitious and moving work. It is the
only Bruce Springsteen album, which can fairly be
described as joyful. It is a brilliant young man's
tumultuous explosion. It makes its subject out of
high school hijinks and a South Jersey community,
which are interpreted through a pastiche of surreal
lyrics. Greetings also includes three
great songs ("Blinded By the Light," "Growin'
Up" and "Spirit in the Night) and two
pretty good ones ("Does This Bus Stop at 82nd
Street" and "It's Hard to Be a Saint in
over the years, despite the neglect that the album
faced, a cottage industry has developed of other
artists recording its songs. Manfred Mann's Earth
Band had a huge hit with their radio-friendly, thickly
produced version of "Blinded By the Light"
and followed it up with a take on "For You"
which while less commercially successful was just
as hideous. Perhaps the most intriguing interpreter
of these early Springsteen songs has been David
Bowie. Bowie recorded "Growin' Up" and
"It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City"
around the time of his Pin-Up sessions
and though he wisely chose to release neither of
them at the time, both songs reveal elements of
Springsteen that are otherwise hard to imagine.
Springsteen's "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the
City" is a know-it-all euphoric boy who wants
to taste it all, but in Bowie's hands a jaded gay
prostitute emerges: "I felt his hot breath
on my neck/ as a I dove into the heat/ It's so hard
to be a Saint when/ You're just a boy out on the
street." Who would have thought that Bruce
Springsteen, the hero of the Reagan Democrats, would
write a "Sister Ray"? Bowie's version
of "Growin' Up" is less successful. While
in principle lines like "I was a cosmic kid
in full costume dress," are perfect for the
Thin White Duke, in practice Bowie has never been
able to project the earnest attitude the song requires.
Most Springsteen fans recoil at Bowie's interpretations—Springsteen
fans have rarely cottoned to covers. However, it
remains a supreme tribute that these, to be blunt,
verbose and complicated songs have exerted such
an appeal to fellow songwriters.
second chance arrived unexpectedly the year after
Columbia released Greetings From Asbury Park,
NJ. Critic Jon Landau saw Springsteen
play. On stage with the E Street Band Springsteen
put on performances that were so charismatic that
church gospel seems the only adequate metaphor.
That evening he sat up and wrote "I saw Rock
and Roll's future and its name is Bruce Springsteen."
The following year Springsteen appeared on the covers
of Newsweek and Time
in the same week.
the past 25 years since the release of Greetings
From Asbury Park, NJ Springsteen has
gone through a variety of transformations: the great
striver of Born to Run, the stadium
rocker of Born in the USA, a moody
relationship auteur on Tunnel of Love
and even a side trip into the stark Americana of
Nebraska. Each of these records ranks
among rock's great achievements created at a time
when greatness had seemed already fully mapped out
by Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles and Bob Dylan.
At a time when all that even the most talented could
do was find a niche to explore like Frank Zappa
or Lou Reed, Springsteen managed to chisel his face
onto rock's Mount Rushmore.