Born to Run is quintessential Bruce Springsteen. And the Boss still thanks Steven Van Zandt for tweaking the song to brilliance.
It was all about a minor chord that Van Zandt insisted he heard the first time he listened to Bruce Springsteen perform the song. The two greats got together earlier this week for a webcast. The occasion was to commemorate Van Zandt’s memoir Unrequited Infatuations: Odyssey of a Rock and Roll Consigliere (A Cautionary Tale).
But of course, the conversation revolved around music. And Born to Run should start and end any conversation with Bruce Springsteen. It’s the Boss’s anthem, his first mainstream hit. Springsteen took the conversation back to 1975, when Van Zandt joined the E Street Band. They were working on Born to Run.
“I have to throw this in, because this is probably — and Steve has done many great things in service for the E Street Band and my work — but this may be the single most important thing he has ever done,” Bruce Springsteen said. “We are making Born to Run. He comes in the studio. He sits down. I play it for him, and he goes, ‘Man I love that riff. The way you go to the minor.’”
Springsteen said he asked Van Zandt “what minor?” And that Van Zandt raved that it sounded like something produced by Roy Orbison or the Beatles. Springsteen thought he was “bending the note up.” But Van Zandt heard it in minor. In the song, the minor chord stayed.
Springsteen wrote Born to Run in 1974 back home in Long Branch, N.J.
In an earlier interview, Bruce Springsteen said: “One day I was playing my guitar on the edge of the bed, working on some song ideas, and the words ‘born to run’ came to me,” he recalled. “At first I thought it was the name of a movie or something I’d seen on a car spinning around the circuit. I liked the phrase because it suggested a cinematic drama that I thought would work with the music that I’d been hearing in my head.”
In his liner notes for Springsteen’s Greatest Hits album, he described Born to Run as “My shot at the title. A 24 yr. old kid aimin’ at ‘The greatest rock ‘n roll record ever.'”
He plays the song at just about every concert. And in a 2009 interview, Bruce Springsteen said he never grows tired of performing it.
“If the evening has gone well, I experience renewal rather than repetition at the moment I sing it,” Springsteen said. “This music has not been heard at this moment, in this place, to these faces. That’s why we go out there.”
So countdown 1-2-3-4: “The highways jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive. Everybody’s out on the run tonight, but there’s no place left to hide. Together, Wendy, we can live with the sadness, I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul.
“Oh, someday girl, I don’t know when, We’re gonna get to that place where we really want to go. And we’ll walk in the sun. But till then, tramps like us, baby, we were born to run.”