How do you calculate the influence of a song in your life?

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?

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3 Responses to How do you calculate the influence of a song in your life?

  1. Tom Savage says:

    Knowing you as a songwriter for over 40 years, I fully appreciate the influence of “Spirits In The Nignt”, and of Bruce’s songbook as a whole, on your life. Bruce turned rock ‘n roll on its collective ear with an exciting new sound, but one that was easy for multiple generations to identify with immediately. Of course, it was you who introduced Bruce to me, and for that I am grateful. I believe I saw Bruce with you at the Music Hall, in ’75, when he was on the “Born To Run” tour, though my memories of that time, and of that year in particular, are rather faded. I will say that the show has forever been on my short list of best shows ever seen.

    As far as a single song influencing my life…whew…. I would have to say Led Zeppelin’s version of “I Can’t Quit You Baby” is the song that “did it” for me, for it not only intorduced me to the influence of Willie Dixon’s writing on rock ‘n roll, it kindled my passion for the blues, which has been the major musical genre in the soundtrack of my life. Even today, when I hear Robert Plante’s vocal intro, a huge rush of adrenaline hits my brain and I’m just gone…. The blues has sustained me, through every high and low in my life. It’s an old friend who has never let me know. As Al Kooper once said, “The blues is like pajamas to me. I play ’em and I feel real comfortable…”

  2. Kathe Klem says:

    Really interesting to read your choice and perspective. I have so many that have influenced me….will have to think on this and get back to you.

  3. charlie krause says:

    one song to change a life……….Whipping Post ,Allman Brothers, Boston Music Hall,1973…..I was a folkie playing acoustic guitar and blowin in the wind along with Peter,Paul, and Mary and other classic folk singers. I was offered a free ticket to go see this band i had never heard of.Imagine, 4 hours of driving to see live music. I couldn’t understand it but i went. 4th row right in front of Duane Allman on tour for their new album…. still considered one of the best jam albums in history, Live at the Fillmore 1972 !
    At the end of the first song i was on my feet hooting and hollering and when whipping post came along i was simply speechless. After the concert we drove back to Connecticut and when i got to my dorm room i took all my folk music books and threw them out the window. The next day i went out and bought the album and for three days I lay in bed in the dorm with my headphones on and whipping post on repeat as loud as i could take it. For the next three years i put that album on every night to go to sleep to. I never saw Duane again as he died in an accident that next year but i was forever changed. I needed electric jam music to sustain me so i took the advice of a friend and went to see these guys that jammed all night long and I became, now,then and forever, a dead head. I saw the Grateful Dead about 225 times over a period of 20 years. I toured the east coast 12 times to see all the shows in the tour. I bought a van so i could travel in style and became a tie die junkie making t shirts to sell and trade. I consumed all there was to consume before Gerry died. Now i sit in my home studio jamming to the dead at 1000 watts between the pa and amp I play through. i could never get enough but has so many concerts for free to download that i try to find a new one each week and put it on the pa in my barn, tune up the old Paul Reed Smith, and jam till the cows come home. What a long strange trip it has been.
    And by the way, i will never forget Erik nearly passed out, laying on four wooden chairs in front of a juke box in the Exeter Community Center listening to Led Zepplin at full volume. That must have had some effect on you good buddy.

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