This is an early live version of Bruce Springtseen’s “Born to Run”, taken from a show in February 1975 at the Main Point coffee shop in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. About 275 people were in attendance. The show was a benefit for the Main Point, and happened just before Springsteen the E Street Band were to head out on tour. It was also broadcast on radio that same evening. Though the two studio albums he’d released sold relatively poorly, Springsteen was a big concert draw on the East Coast and down into the Mid-Atlantic area. He had a large following in and around Philadelphia. The album Born to Run was being worked on but was still six months from release, and “Born to Run” wouldn’t come out as a single until August. Springsteen had turned 25 a few months before.
This show has been widely bootlegged for years, and this is an absolutely incredible performance. “Born to Run” is a complicated song, it has like 20 chord or something crazy, along with build-ups, break-downs, tempo changes. And the band doesn’t miss a single beat. It’s also interesting that the arrangement is so completely fleshed-out, considering that the song would be tinkered with in the studio for many months following. The Live at Hammersmith version of this song, recorded in November later this year and officially released in 2006, doesn’t come close to touching this one for energy and precision. This is as loose and flowing as drummer Max Weinberg ever sounded; Ernest “Boom” Carter played on the studio version of this track, and it sounds to me like Weinberg is trying to mimic his lines. By the later Hammersmith version, he’d settled into the approach he’d use going forward, which featured a bashed snare on 1 and 3. Here, his playing just rolls along with the song.
It’s fun to imagine what it might have been like to either be in the audience or listen to this broadcast when it aired that night on FM radio. I wonder if, in hearing this song for the first time, which surely many people did (though he’d been playing it in concert for a while), they thought “Wow, this is amazing and sounds like a classic” or if it didn’t sink all the way in the way new songs in concert sometimes don’t. But Springsteen knew he had something very special. He played the song third, a good slot for “Here’s a new one that we feel pretty good about.”
It should also be noted that at this point the future of Springsteen’s recording career was by no means assured. There were important people at Columbia who thought he wasn’t panning out as a recording artist. Springsteen himself was worried that he had been given an amazing opportunity and wasn’t making the most of it.
The romanticism of this song, man, it’s so over the top it’s almost hard to believe. “The amusement park rises bold and stark/ Kids are huddled on the beach in the mist/ I wanna die with you Wendy on the street tonight/ In an everlasting kiss.” Who thinks like that? Kids who’ve seen too many movies and read too many books and want to walk like the heroes they’ve seen in them. Which is, IMO, beautiful. You don’t have to spend your entire life in the real world. A wonderful thing about being young is blowing up the details of your life to absurd proportions. Romantic kids get a pass when it comes to self-importance. I encourage them to wallow in it.
When the DJ introduces the band at the start of this set, he says that Springsteen has two performances in the area in the the next two days and that’ll be it for Philly for a while as he and the band are heading out “to conquer America and the world.” He couldn’t know how right he was. This night, Springsteen was playing a relatively new, unreleased song for a few hundred people in a coffee shop. Eight months later, would be on the cover of Time and Newsweek during the same week.