I’ve been thinking about starting a series called “Blogging the Boss” where I listen to every Springsteen album and write about it. Should I do that? Anyway, here’s something I wrote about Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ.
It’s almost fascinating how lively Bruce Springsteen’s first album is. The record doesn’t open with a declarative statement as Born in the U.S.A. does. Nor does it open with a cinematic scene that almost feels like a novel adaptation that the author had the perfect amount of control on as is Born to Run (“Thunder Road”). Still Greetings from Asbury Park is cinematic in its own way, especially at its open. “Blinded by the Light” may as well set the tone for arriving at the boardwalk1 (or carnival or backyard birthday party or barbecue) about five minutes after its gotten dark out. The opener is practically in medias res for a slice-of-life from someone who was about to become America’s favorite guitar-slinging storyteller.
It’s completely unsurprising that “greasy lake” from “Spirit in the Night” would go on to inspire T.C. Boyle, because The Boss is so incredibly rich in his language. I can only imagine hearing “Mary Queen of Arkansas” in the 1970s or even prior to reading Springsteen’s autobiography, because it seems like all the people that would’ve known of the singer was that he was from Jersey. “Mary Queen of Arkansas2” captures a very specific moment in someone’s life, where they’re equally content in their knowledge of the town they’re stuck in and yearning to get out. The idea of Mary pulling out of her town and hitting the road would later be the premise for one of The Boss’ most famous songs. Without the knowledge that the E Street band were equally popular in random pockets of the south as they were in the Garden State, it would’ve shown much more of Springsteen’s literary prowess. Of course, his ability as an outsider to convey a very real feeling is still admirable.
Despite many of the celebratory tracks being the standouts, Springsteen’s hard-luck dramas would set the tone for why his music has been so well-preserved throughout the decades, with flashes of the types of true-crime dramas that would speak to generations through albums like The River and Nebraska. There are shades of those albums in Asbury Park’s closing song “It’s Hard To Be A Saint in the City” and the hyper dramatic “Lost in the Flood.”
“Lost in the Flood” is perhaps the best encapsulation of Springsteen’s storytelling throughout Asbury Park. Throughout the five minute epic, a Vietnam soldier sees streets once familiar devolved to gang territory battles, wondering what the hell happened. Even though the song’s protagonist is left alive at the end of the piano ballad, there’s a sense of emptiness, left questioning what does any of this matter? Why are people even bothering fighting about this shit?
While classic Springsteen-isms are present on Asbury Park, setting a tone for future albums that would capture a teenage/young adult romanticism that would follow on some of The Boss’ most beloved albums, the debut album feels like a continuation of a scene that you missed the beginning of. It’s like tuning into a movie and missing the cold open. It makes plenty of sense, and it gets you excited for what’s to come.
- I only say boardwalk in this scenario, because it’s most likely what Springsteen encountered the most during his youth in the Garden State.
- Even though Mary is a pretty common name, it makes it more enjoyable to imagine her as the same character from “Thunder Road.” I don’t know if Springsteen has spoken about his extended universe, but there are clear through-lines.