“Mama always told me not look into the eyes of the sun. But Mama, that’s where the fun is.”
Indeed it is, Bruce, indeed it is.
Today’s album takes us to the garden state, to a place on the Jersey Shore that meant so much to the Boss before he became the Boss, and to the place after which Bruce’s first album of his now legendary career was named. Today we get the pleasure of listening to Bruce Springsteen’s debut record Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.
As grand as it is personal, as clear and rooted as it is out there and original, as raw as it is excellent, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. may not be the Boss’s best work, but damn does it leave and impression. This album could have easily been included in last month’s theme “Great Debuts”, which is really saying something considering how excellent all of those records are, but I’ve had this theme planned for a minute and it felt necessary to save this one for the road trip. Anybody who knows much about Springsteen knows that a number of his albums could have made this month’s list and I came pretty close to including Nebraska instead of this one, I just felt that Bruce’s debut is so raw, fun, and diverse, and after listening to Nebraska once in preparation for this week, I need to give that one some time before I go in again. I’ll be clear here, Nebraska is the greater artistic achievement, but Asbury Park is easier to listen to.
Springsteen’s 1973 debut effort keeps me coming back because of how fresh it manages to stay. Some songs are more upbeat, some are slow and somber. Some rock and energize you, others put you in a more emotional state. Without having a mastery of the medium of music yet, Bruce was still able to exhibit a mastery of mood through the collection of pseudo-autobiographical songs which make up the album’s 37 minute runtime. On the spectrum of entertainment vs art, this album leans more on the side of art. Not really a record that yo can just put on in the background and enjoy, this is a piece of music that it is necessary to engage with to get what Springsteen presented to us. Part of the beauty of it is that Springsteen does that wonderful thing where the lyrics feel just non-specific enough that the listener is able to make what they take from it their own. The clearest example of this on the album comes in the opening track “Blinded by the Light” which feels Dylan-esque and vaguely reminiscent of certain Beatles songs like “Come Together” in its loose, poetic lyrical structure. “Growin’ Up” and “Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?” have clearer narratives and meanings, but manage to avoid too many specifics, leaving the listener to make of it what they will.
When it comes to picking out what makes this album so special, it may be a cop out, but it has to be Bruce himself. As good as the instrumentals are, those lyrics and that voice make this music art. I’ll get more specific and say that Bruce Springsteen’s vocal performance, while not exactly great by American Idol standards, is perfectly what it needs to be for this record to work. As I stated earlier, the mastery of mood is more important than anything musical on this album, and Bruce Springsteen uses his voice to phenomenal effect on every song on this album. Bravo Bruce, and thanks for making this one easy on me.
Well, in order to keep myself from rambling, I have to cut the blog there, folks. Bruce Springsteen is a sensational artist that more people in my generation should explore some more, in my humble opinion. There are few better places to start than the Boss’s very first album. I really like this record, I think it is a very good record, and hopefully you will feel similarly.
Benny the Jet, taking the bus to 82nd street, and heading out west for tomorrow’s album.