Born To Run. It’s almost a Bruce Springsteen cliché. It was inevitable that it would be the title of his autobiography. So many of his other songs must feel the injustice of perpetual rejection.
Yet, it is more than the breakthrough song, catchiest title or ever present encore. A few years ago I used the Born To Run, as well as my favourite song from the album, Thunder Road, as a centre piece when Fitzroy, my Church, did The Gospel According To... Bruce Springsteen.
On such evenings we take the songs of iconic musicians and perform them live with spiritual commentary, drawing out the meaning of the songs. When we focused on Bruce Springsteen’s catalogue there were some mighty performances by Fitzroy’s Musical Collective plus quality guest spots from Mark Houston on an acoustic Born To Run and Gentry Morris on Mary Don’t You Weep.
In my commentary I leaned heavily on writings I have done on Springsteen down the years BUT what became the crux of the evening was Springsteen’s introduction to an acoustic version of Born To Run that is available on The Complete Video Anthology 1978/2000.
I had set the evening up as a journey of Springsteen’s faith in an almost Prodigal Son story. We had set off with songs of alienation and escape. The Radiator Blues Band had just done a rocked out version of Thunder Road with its “this town’s for losers and we’re busting out of here to win.”
This alienation’s need to leave somewhere and find something better made great rock 'n roll and some great albums BUT... did they win? Fifteen years after Thunder Road, Springsteen brought a new twist to Born To Run. His introduction went like this: -
“it’s changed a lot over the years...when I wrote it I was 24 years old... the questions I am asking in this song... it seems I have been trying to find the answers to ever since... when I wrote the song I was writing about a guy and a girl who were on the run and would keep on running... and that was a nice romantic idea...but I realised that after I’d put all those people in all those cars I was going to have to figure out some place for em to go... and I realised that in the end individual freedom when it’s not connected to some sort of community ends up feeling pretty meaningless... so I guess that guy and that girl were out there looking for connection... and I guess that’s what I am doing here tonight... this is a song about two people trying to find their way home... this song has kept me good company on my search and I hope its kept you good company on yours..."
"Needing a place"... "freedom without connection is meaningless"... "songs as companions on the way home"... wow! Springsteen eventually found his home. In the 90’s he married, had children and made a literal home.
He also started to find himself drifting, or being pulled, back to the home of Christian faith; his Catholic upbringing. He even, after a sojourn in California, came literally back home to New Jersey.
The songs that followed Born To Run in our evening all pointed to this need. That individual freedom is meaningless without connection is powerful wisdom and deeply spiritual.
When Dave Thompson sang Death To My Hometown it was revealed as a cathartic song of lament for a community ripped asunder.
Caroline Orr led the “congregation” in the prayer that is My City Of Ruins, a commitment to rebuilding community. Caroline’s closing If I Should Fall Behind rose above it’s romantic meaning to become another commitment to connection and giving to another. It says I cannot make it alone and when I struggle I need you to be there for me.
In between The Spring Teens gave a vibrant version of Rocky Ground, Robbie McIlwaine’s guitar sparkling and sparking Sarah McNeill’s haunting vocal and Jonny Fitch’s edgy rap with Tom Trinder on the back beat; shepherds are being called to help the flock through to a “new day coming”.
This eschatological hope was cranked up in The Radiator Blues Band closer Land Of Hope and Dreams with a lovely Gospel style blending into People Get Ready from Burnett, Orr and McKinlay!
Springsteen’s songs are nowadays full of this life of connection and community. Forty years ago he was a young man seeking freedom. Since then he has matured and caught on to the limited satisfaction of freedom roads. The Prodigal needed to come home to a land of hope and dreams!