Is there a song, a single song, that you can point to and say: “That song changed my life.”?
My answer would be: yes. The song? “Spirit In The Night” by Bruce Springsteen.
Like several songs, I can remember the first time I heard it. The year was 1973. It was in the evening and I was sitting alone in my parent’s station wagon in the parking lot of St. Michael’s church, waiting to pick up my then-girlfriend after choir practice. I had the radio tuned to WBCN-FM out of Boston and this song came on that was both unlike anything I’d ever heard and still somehow familiar. I heard the opening sax riff over drums, bass, keyboards and electric guitar. Then the scratchy male vocals: “Crazy Janey and her mission man were back in the alley tradin’ hands.” Whoa, what’s this? I was immediately drawn in and followed the story (a rock song that told a story!) of this group of friends and their trip up to Greasy Lake, armed with “a bottle of rose” and the dust that Wild Billy shook out of his coon-skin cap. There was the chorus with the call: “and they dance like spirits in the night” and the response: “all night” that I joined in on instantaneously. After the characters “said good-bye to gypsy angel row” and the last chorus ended, I turned up the volume a bit more and leaned in, hoping the DJ would say who I’d been listening to. He did: “That was Bruce Springsteen from his brand new album Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.”
The next day, I went shopping.
That album led to more than a dozen others: vinyl LPs (including the “live” box set), cassette tapes and CDs. I learned how to play and sing “Spirit In The Night” and it was one of the most popular songs in my repertoire when I started playing summer weekend nights at a little bar down on A Street in Hampton Beach, N.H. That call-and-response chorus got ’em every time. Two of his albums are on my short list of all-time favorites: The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle and We Shall Overcome: the Seeger Sessions.
I’ve been to see Bruce and the E Street Band in concert four times (a paltry number compared to many of his fans) and all in Boston: twice at the Music Hall (now the Wang Center), once at the old Boston Garden and a few summers ago at Fenway Park. The first time my ticket cost $6.50. The Fenway show was a birthday present from my amazing wife – also a Bruce fan – and all she would tell me was that it was the only time in her life that she’d bought something and paid more than full price.
I’ve started playing “Spirit In The Night” again, giving it a folky, fingerpicked setting that, I think, works really well. As I get caught up in the song, I feel a sense of coming full circle, returning home to the spot where I started a long, fantastic journey.
“How do you calculate the influence of a song in your life? We have songs that carry enormous meaning for us, songs we want played at our weddings or at our funerals, songs that every time we hear them, every single time, we pause, we remember, we smile, we sing, we ignite. And maybe even more that that. Maybe we have music that has changed or saved our lives.”
Louis P. Masur, from: Runaway Dream: Born To Run and Bruce Springsteen’s American Vision. 2009
How about you? What’s your song?