James Taylor yesterday, Springsteen today. I guess I'm writing about the artists who are participating in the Obama inaugural events!
Here's the thing about Bruce Springsteen. I wasn't that avid a fan. But the first time I heard Jungleland, I think I had an out of body experience, especially at the end with the primal scream. There may be other songs like it out there, but I can't think of one.
I haven't written about this before because it's been hard to imagine putting into words how this song affected - and still affects - me. Fortunately, I've just found an essay that Greil Marcus wrote for Rolling Stone at the time, about the Born to Run album in its entirety, that pretty much sums up my thoughts on the subject.
Marcus talks about how it's not necessary to know all of the lyrics of a song to understand what it's about. He's absolutely on the money when he says that, about this song or any other, for that matter. I am sure that for years I didn't know most of the lyrics of Jungleland and probably still don't (although I'm looking at them now in some liner notes from The Essential Bruce Springsteen).
But I am devastated every time I hear it, blown away by the futility in the story being told, the horror of a life force wasted and pretty much no one caring - a story that plays out every day in jungles of one kind or another all over the world. All of that is conveyed in the music alone, in Clarence Clemons' doleful sax solo, in Roy Bittan's heavenly piano, and in Bruce's utterly unbearable howl at the end. It's not unlike going to an opera that's performed in Italian and has no surtitles (or you just don't look at them), yet the emotions you have in response to what you're witnessing are exactly the ones you should be having.
Marcus notes that, at the same time, the Born to Run songs are "exhilarating." Why that should be the case is hard to fathom. Certainly this song has nothing but tragedy written all over it. But the musicianship on Jungleland is so astonishing that it quite simply is experienced as a small miracle. A phenomenal degree of care was taken in its creation (in The Words and Music of Bruce Springsteen by Rob Kirkpatrick, it's stated that Bruce spent the better part of a day with Clemons going over every note of the solo, for example.)
So we're getting blood, sweat and tears, not just in the story but in the backstory. It's a 9-1/2 minute opera and it is as close to perfection as anything in rock history gets.