I can still remember the moment Born to Run blew me away. It was the summer of 2004, and it was the night before the first day of my junior year of high school. I was busy studying for a history test that would be given not just the first day, but the second, as well. We had been tasked with buying the textbook at the end of the previous year and reading the first 232 pages of it over the summer, and we were to be tested on the first half of the reading on day one and the second half on day two. History is actually something I’m really into, as I’m sure you have guessed, particularly American history, which is what this was, but I had a reasonably anxious about the prospect of reading so much over the summer and taking a college level course in general. My brother had taken the course five years earlier, and he warned me the reading was going to be “very dry.” He couldn’t have been more right.
Why the asshole/assholes who wrote that textbook (mercifully, I have forgotten its title — which is saying something, since I pretty much remember everything) had to take something that’s actually very interesting and present it in the most boring and mundane manner possible is beyond my means of comprehension. If you’re going to write a textbook, wouldn’t you want it to be interesting? I had spent June and July playing almost fifty games of baseball for my local American Legion team, which is like high school baseball, but more competitive. So needless to say, I didn’t get much reading done until August. August of 2004 is kind of a blank spot for me, since I just sat around reading that damn textbook, not knowing how this test was going to turn out.
Just getting through all of the pages was one thing. Going back over it and studying it was another, particularly since I had no clue as to what the test questions were going to be like. I asked my brother, but I don’t recall him being of much help (it had been five years since he had taken the thing, after all), but he said it was hard, which scared the hell out of me, since he was this big shot Stanford student at the time. Fast-forward to the night before the first day of school, and I’m sitting in my parents’ living room. Papers of notes are spread out everywhere. I’m flipping through the textbook, getting ink on my hands from all the underlining I have done far too recently. I decide to put Born to Run in my CD player, since I’m not that familiar with it and listening to music helps me calm myself.
I had become a huge fan of Born in the U.S.A. earlier in the summer, but Born to Run didn’t click right away for some reason. When I listened to Born to Run that night, however, I don’t think I got any studying done. Not during those 39 minutes. I particularly remember being absolutely stunned by “Jungleland,” which has to be one of the greatest album closers ever. Clarence Clemons‘ — may he rest in peace — sax solo just towers over the rest of the music in this really majestic way, like its being blasted from a mountaintop or something. In the years since, the song on Born to Run that has come to mean the most to me is “Meeting Across the River,” which is nothing more than Bruce at the piano, a gentle upright bass and a trumpet in the distance, cutting through the fog. There’s so much power in that song, and in all of these songs, really.
Born to Run is all about going places, about leaving your hometown and making something of yourself, which meant something very personal to Bruce, since his first two albums flopped. I don’t know if this is true for everybody, but the start of every school year always forced me to reflect on things. About where my life was heading, about what I wanted to do with myself, about how this year was somehow going to be different. And as I sat there listening to Born to Run, a work of mad genius, while trying to absorb an ungodly amount of information, I suddenly forgot about all that. Somehow I knew things were going to be OK. I actually don’t even remember how I did on that test, though I do remember it was pretty damn hard. To be honest, my only vivid memory of the whole experience is learning to love Bruce Springsteen, and that’s fine by me.