Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.

Bruce Springsteen

Columbia Records, 1972

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


In the beginning, there was Bruce, and it was good. Not as good as it would get, mind you -- but, good.

The king of the Jersey shore street rats started out with more talent than vision, more enthusiasm than discipline. His roadhouse-rocking, stadium-touring, cause-embracing days were still far in the future; when this album came out he was just a skinny kid with an infectious grin and enough nervous energy to fill notebook after notebook with his rambling, often epic street poetry. The resulting debut is packed full of moments -- some good, some great and some awkwardly overreaching. He would learn from them all.

Greetings explodes with artistic ambition, the young songwriter's stories tumbling out in a nervous avalanche of characters, images and scenes. He writes about what he knew at the time -- street scenes that superimposed a kind of West Side Story urban drama on the decaying Jersey scene he grew up in. The density of the resulting wordplay is both the most remarkable element and the biggest barrier here -- you've got to wonder how he got through some of these songs live without a teleprompter!my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Several tunes here -- particularly the exuberant minor-key anthems "Blinded By The Light" and "Spirit In The Night" -- reflect Springsteen's infusion of driving rhythm and blues stylings with the vision of charismatic figures as diverse as Elvis and Woody Guthrie. This was a young man who longed to speak to and for an audience, at first just to excite them, then later also to inspire them.

The autobiographical "Growin' Up" is memorable both for the astuteness of the observations Springsteen -- only 22 at the time -- brings to looking back on his teenage years, and for sparkling lines like "And I swear I found the key to the universe in the engine of an old parked car." Its blood brother is the equally enthusiastic "Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?", a rumbling, tumbling travelogue full of jam-packed lines like: "Wizard imps and sweat sock pimps, interstellar mongrel nymphs / Rex said that lady left him limp. Love's like that (it is)."

The proceedings turn suddenly serious with "Mary Queen Of Arkansas," which hints at Nebraska, The Ghost of Tom Joad and related later work in the Guthriesue desperation of its narrative, set to raw acoustic strums and harmonica. The edgier, intense "Lost In The Flood" introduces Springsteen's flair for narrative drama, which would be refined in later songs like "Jungleland" and "Racing In The Streets."

Springsteen -- never the world's smoothest vocalist -- is at his most unschooled here, still learning how to harness the limited range and rough edges of his voice to advantage, and the arrangements have a giddy sloppiness that ultimately wears out its welcome (this was the infancy of the unit that would become the renowned E Street Band, not yet named such, but represented here by long-time members Clarence Clemons and Garry Tallent, as well as short-timers David Sancious and Vini Lopez).

That said, there are some great songs hiding in the weeds of the jumbled vision and overheated wordplay that characterize this album. The exhilaration of a raw young talent grasping for greatness surges through these tunes, and the undercurrent of longing for purpose found in them would in time personify the arc of his artistic career. It was good, and great would come along soon enough.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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