Saturday, May 10, 2014

Bruce Springsteen - Growin' Up

“Greetings from Asbury Park N.J.” is a very significant album for a variety of reasons. This was Bruce Springsteen’s debut album and right out of the gate Springsteen announces his New Jersey heritage in the title, successfully establishing himself as an American and Jersey icon for the rest of his life. The early works of Springsteen were very different from songs like “Born in the USA” and “Born to Run,” which would make Springsteen famous, at the beginning the Boss was very influenced by Bob Dylan, and it shows as all his early tracks sound like he is trying to sound like Dylan. Also note worthy is the first track on “Greetings from Asbury Park N.J.” is “Blinded by the Light” which was covered by Manfred Mann whose version is considerably more famous. For those of you familiar with Manfred Mann’s cover of “Blinded by the Light” just imagine it being sung by Springsteen while he is trying to sound like Dylan that is exactly what the original version is like, because that is exactly what is going on.

Blinded By The Light (The Original Version)

Perhaps the best thing about “Greetings from Asbury Park N.J.” is that is simply a great folk rock album, and that’s kind of important to me. Like any first effort a lot of youthful passion is poured into every track, the young Springsteen had a lot to say and like any young person he was unfiltered and maybe even unfocused when finally given the chance to fully express himself through rock and roll. I love albums like “Greetings from Asbury Park N.J.” for that reason. Another thing I like about it is that David Bowie, my friend and yours, has covered at least two songs from this album, “Growin’ Up” and “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City.”

Young Srpingsteen.
“Growin’ Up” is predictably about growing up, but it is also about so much more. The lyrics are a constant barrage of metaphors. Springsteen sings about aging out of childhood into rebellious youth with lines like; “when they said, ‘sit down,’ I stood up.”

The entire second verse introduces some very powerful imagery about becoming a rock star, again capturing that adventurous and rebellious attitude of youth;

“The flag of piracy flew from my mast, my sails were set wing to wing.
I had a jukebox graduate for first mate, she couldn't sail but she sure could sing.
I pushed B-52 and bombed them with the blues with my gear set stubborn on standing.
I broke all the rules, strafed my old high school, never once gave thought to landing.
I hid in the clouded wrath of the crowd, but when they said, ‘come down,’ I threw up.
Ooh... growin' up.”

I love the second line of the second verse, the jukebox could sure sing. I always thought the last line “when they said, “come down,” I flew up,” but the lyric sheet evidently disagrees with me. I mean flying up makes sense, he sings about sailing away and bombing people and being in the “clouded wrath of the crowd,” but hey, what do I know.

Springsteen wowed he had and would “bomb” people with the blues, and stubbornly refused to return to his childhood. This could mean so many things, like he is rejecting a different path set before by his parents or other past expectations and instead is embracing the emotional and mystical beauty of music. If the metaphors are to be taken at all literally this implies he is embracing the impossible which is the very spirit of rock and roll.

The beginning of the third verse is a further extension of impossible rock adventure metaphors, but there is a certain flair within that reminds me a lot of David Bowie;

“I took month-long vacations in the stratosphere, and you know it's really hard to hold your breath.
I swear I lost everything I ever loved or feared, I was the cosmic kid in full costume dress.”

Man it’s really hard to hold your breath, hilarious.

In 1973 David Bowie was the
cosmic kid in full costume.
I first heard “Growin’ Up” as a cover song by David Bowie off of the thirty year anniversary release of 1974’s “Diamond Dogs.” The studio recording of Bowie performing “Gorwin’ Up” had been initially recorded back in 1974 but it was never properly released until a nineties compilation album and then later again on the anniversary release of “Diamond Dogs.” The song, epically the third verse, fits Bowie so well. In 1973 when “Growin’ Up” was written and released David Bowie was the cosmic kid in full costume dress, and he did command the night brigade, and he sort of took month long vacations in the stratosphere. Of course everything fantastic and psychedelic within the song “Growin’ Up” is easily relatable to Ziggy Stardust the character Bowie was portraying at that time.

David Bowie - Growin' Up

I once heard that Springsteen had written “Growin’ Up” for David Bowie, and that is was about him, and this made a lot of sense to me, but I cannot find any citation regarding the matter now, so it is entirely possible that I am misremembering something or was at one point misinformed, still this theory is reasonable, it would make sense if the song was written about Bowie. Nonetheless it is easy to project the song onto Bowie and it is even easier understand why Bowie would take an interest in this song and want to do a cover it. When Bowie dissolved the Spider from Mars he was in many ways growing up. Around the time “Diamond Dog” Bowie had rooted his feet to the ground and find a nice little place is stardom forever.

Any really good example of poetry allows itself to be imagined in a variety of similar but different ways. “Growin’ Up” can be taken as simply a song about growing up, but it is also a song about finding yourself, and believing in the person you find. “Growin’ Up” is about becoming a musician and experiencing the magical voyage of artistic discovery. We can also spin it as a song about Ziggy Stardust and/or David Bowie. Lastly I dare say anyone can project this song onto themselves, the very general message of self exploration and youthful adventure into uncertain adulthood is something we have all experienced.

Perhaps the most apt and important interpretation of “Growin’ Up” is that it is a song about Bruce Springsteen himself. Sure he is growing up, he can’t help it, but also he is coming into his own. The man Springsteen soon became after the release of “Greetings from Asbury Park N.J” was very much the adventurer described in this song. “Growin’ Up” is an introduction to Bruce Springsteen, the man, the musician and the Boss; and what a great introduction, a perfect song to be included on a debut album resulting in a perfect debut album.

Also, it is hard to be a saint in the city;

Bruce Springsteen - It's Hard To Be A Saint In The City

David Bowie - It's Hard To Be A Saint In The City

- King of Braves

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for sharing your insights! Sometimes I think about these sort of things from my childhood, and it's nice to see I'm not the only one :-)