Bruce Springsteen’s New Jersey songs, including ‘Sandy,’ ‘Rosalita,’ others: Gimme Five

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That Bruce Springsteen is from New Jersey is so well known as to have risen to the level of hagiography.

Born in Long Beach, his first home was in the Freehold Borough, where he attended high school while his father struggled for work. He was moved to become a musician after watching the Beatles on Sullivan, playing early gigs at a trailer park on Route 34 in New Jersey and, later, at the Elks Lodge.

Early recordings were made in the Brick Township. With the founding of Steel Mill, which featured several future E Street Band members, Springsteen then began making significant appearances outside of his home state. Things quickly began to pick up steam.

By 1972, Springsteen had auditioned for Columbia Records. By 1973, he had released his debut album. But, even there, he famously stuck close to his roots — naming the album Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.

In time, the E Street Band would become just as closely associated with the Garden State as he was. They both are now members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Springsteen also met his wife Patti Scialfa at the Stone Pony, a Jersey bar, and they have spent most of the married life raising children in New Jersey. They own a horse farm in perfectly named Colts Neck.

Along the way, Springsteen’s career has been driven by songs dealing with personal themes, of loss and redemption or struggle and triumph. Through it all, New Jersey — and perhaps it comes as no surprise — has remained a spectral presence, if not a featured character in the proceedings.

Here are five of our favorite songs in which Springsteen’s home state plays a key role, with commentary by our favorite Springteen-ologist, Mark Saleski …

“WRECKING BALL,” (WRECKING BALL, 2012): Yeah sure, it was written for the whole Giants Stadium thing, but “Wrecking Ball” can certainly be seen in the broader context: that the passage of time is something we can’t do a whole lot about, so we might as well make the most out of it … and not let our anger destroy us.

Songs like this — which at first seem very simple — serve as a reminder that even life’s smallest details can be important, and that we won’t be around forever. So how about a little celebration?

“4TH OF JULY, ASBURY PARK [SANDY],” (THE WILD, THE INNOCENT AND THE E STREET SHUFFLE, 1973): Much of Springsteen’s early work was populated with large casts of characters and places, skillfully woven into the narrative. Heck, sometimes the people and places were the narrative. But even though Bruce has admitted to putting together those songs with thesaurus in hand, the stories all managed to take shape — the reach toward adulthood of “Growin’ Up,” the delicious bad behavior of “Spirit In The Night.”

This is one of the attributes of Springsteen’s genius: to take a seemingly diffuse set of details and use to them form a singular image. In the case of “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy),” we have a pensive look back at what used to be, taken through a series of anecdotes connected by place and time. It’s a love letter both to Sandy and to a part of life that’s in the rear view mirror.

“OPEN ALL NIGHT,” (NEBRASKA, 1982): Unlike most of the rest of Nebraska, here there is no ominous subtext, no angst, no life about to be split apart. Instead, it’s just a guy rocketing down the highway toward his girl, fighting off the threat of speed traps and the weirdness of the Jersey nightscape, all of it set to an insistent guitar shuffle.

And as simple as the tune may be, Bruce went ahead and dropped in some nice details to paint a few more pictures. The image of Wanda sittin’ on his lap, the fried chicken, and the Texaco road map — that one scene is my favorite. It’s a moment of pure pleasure that seems all too rare these days.

“BORN TO RUN,” (BORN TO RUN, 1975): You could make an argument that words have been maxed out for “Born To Run,” that everything has been said and there’s nothing new to be gleaned. Yeah well, people have notoriously small imaginations too, so we’ll just have to ignore that.

In concert, I’ve heard Bruce play this song more than any other, most obviously because he plays it every night. There are some folks out there who say that he should drop it from the set list. I complete disagree, for several reasons.

Firstly, I really hate the idea of somebody attending their first E Street show and not hearing it. Sorry, that just seems wrong. Perhaps more important, this is one of those Springsteen tracks that is more than a song. It’s the history of E Street, the lives of every single person in the room, the history of rock music. It’s all of that and more.

When they launch into it, it doesn’t feel to me like they’re playing a song. No, it feels like “Born To Run” has entered the room. Or maybe it was already there waiting to assert itself.

“ROSALITA [COME OUT TONIGHT],” (THE WILD, THE INNOCENT AND THE E STREET SHUFFLE, 1973): Remember, Bruce wasn’t there for business in the above video. He was only there for fun. Apparently, there were a lot of takers in the Phoenix crowd that night.

“… “that dissolves into a circular piano figure that …” leads into the rolling guitar riff that opens “Rosalita,” my favorite Springsteen song. Well, unless you ask me on the day that my favorite Bruce song is “Thunder Road.” Really, I can never decide.

A rambling rave-up during which Bruce wants to convince Rosie’s parents that maybe he’s not so bad after all, it’s one part Romeo and Juliet, one part romance, and a thousand parts crazed enthusiasm. Before “Thunder Road” came on my radar, “Rosalita” was the song that just had to be played before all important events: before leaving for vacation, before leaving for work on a Friday, before cracking open that first cold one on a Saturday night. Heck, it was even played it right before my wedding.

Back when “Rosie” was a staple of nearly every E Street show, they played it with an intensity that approached the unhinged. And speaking of unhinged, the first Bruce show I went to (back on July 30, 1981) featured Bruce busting out a late-set “Rosalita” followed by a surprise appearance of Southside Johnny for “I Don’t Want To Go Home.” I almost lost my mind.

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at [email protected]
Mark Saleski
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