Making sense of The Boss' masterpiece, 40 years later

On Born to Run’s 40th Anniversary

August 26, 2015 / by / 0 Comment

As a 22-year-old person, no 40th anniversary means a damn thing to me (including this one, by the way). They just don’t register.

I’m not saying they can’t be nice. They can be. I’m sure your parents’ or your grandparents’ 40th was wonderful and made you believe in love and all that noise. I’m saying that we celebrate anniversaries as a way to measure growth and acknowledge staying power, because we remember who we were on this day X amount of years ago, so much has changed, and this thing has not. So if we’re marking the anniversary of an occurrence that happened almost one entire lifetime-of-me before my lifetime, you’re not going to get some intense emotional reaction out of me, regardless of my affection for the thing we’re commemorating. It’s not gonna bring me back because, for me, there was no back.

That being said, as you may have noticed, we here at National Ave are big fans of the Boss, so I figured I should say a few words.

What is cool about your favorite album being old enough to have a wife, a family, a mortgage, and the type of broken dreams that its creator would come to be known for singing about, is a weird understanding that as much as we would like to pretend that we aren’t, and as much as they would like to pretend that we aren’t, we are not that different from our parents’ generation. Sure, we have nice things like the Internet and Game of Thrones, and they had nice things like well-paying jobs right out of college, but we’re all the same in the end. Bruce was 24 when he wrote most of the album, as was his audience. The struggles and contradictions he articulated in 1975 continue to speak to subsequent generations of doe-eyed, perhaps-a-bit-over-dramatic-but-we-love-them-anyway early 20-somethings.

As an album, Born to Run, makes an argument for hope, that there is a land out there free from the simmering dread of everyday life, it is there for the taking if you are willing to look for it, to seek it out. This isn’t a particularly original theme. It’s the Holy Grail. It’s Camelot. It’s Valhalla, Nirvana, Heaven, the Fountain Youth, whatever you wanna call it. Humanity has been telling itself this story over and over again through out history, that “it,” whatever “it” is, life, can get better. It doesn’t have to be this way.

The rub, which Born to Run also acknowledges, is that search may crush you. And then what? What happens if you don’t get there? What happens to those who relied on you to take them there? Does just the struggle alone make it worth it? Or sometimes is it better to just stay home and not even try?

What I love so much about this album is how personal it feels. Listening to it, you get a sense that Bruce is working these questions out for himself and he hasn’t quite found the answer yet. His later work, his more “poet rock laureate” music, the songs that most people think of when they think of Bruce, “Born in the U.S.A.,” “The River,” “Streets of Philadelphia,” “My City of Ruins,” are far more self-assured and certain. He has something clear to say. While these, and many others in his catalogue like them, are certainly fantastic songs, they read far more as the work of a detached, objective storyteller than as somebody who is subjectively fighting these battles for himself.

Listen to “Thunder Road,” “Born to Run,” “Backstreets,” “Jungleland.” There are no easy answers here. They are songs built out of a storm of emotions raging inside of this guy that he’s doing his level best to articulate. Sometimes he does that through words, sometimes through wordless vocalizations (G.O.A.T. use of “Ohs,” IMHO), sometimes through epic Clarence Clemons saxophone solos. All to capture a feeling. Or rather a whole bunch of them.

I find it comforting that some dude from the ‘70s confronting these questions still resonates with millions of people of all ages, colors, and creeds, all this way down the road in 2015. It makes me feel that I am not (always) as absurd as I think I am for asking myself these questions on a daily basis. That’s pretty cool. That’s my takeaway from this 40th anniversary.