Appel is thus correct in saying that the Springsteen whom people are wild about now is a different Springsteen from the word-fixated, electrified folkie people thought they heard on Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. But although he has no doubt improved in the past 18 months, he's been good for so long that there have to be more reasons to explain his delayed national recognition.
Some say that Columbia faltered in its support, backing off the second album after the disappointing response to the first. But there can be no doubt that the company is solidly behind Born to Run. Columbia bought 1000 of the 4000 seats for the Bottom Line dates--not only to proselytize the press, record dealers and radio personnel, but also to fire up its own employees for a maximum effort.
There has also been criticism of Appel, who can be arrogant, aggressive and belligerent, and of Springsteen himself, who takes a decisive role in managing his own career. Springsteen's insistence on doing two-hour-plus sets and his reluctance to defuse Springsteen his impact in gigantic indoor arenas have meant that the time-honored methods of building a career through touring have been closed to him. He did a tour with Chicago a couple of years ago but hated it.
"The best part about the tour was the other band," he recalled. "But we had the problems of any opening act playing in 20,000-seat halls. They just won't listen to you. They can't hear, for one thing. They don't know how to listen, for another. Some groups just go out and plow through it. But I can't do it that way. And it showed--we played 13 or 14 gigs in them big halls and we sold no records. We didn't start sellin' records until we started playin' smaller places. It's a slow process. But I was always certain. I was just sure about what I was doin'."
Springsteen avidly defends Appel. "I think Mike is the greatest, number one. There never was a situation when he was guiding my career. I don't go out there to do half. Mike understands this. He ended up takin' the heat for a lot of decisions I made.
"I did other things. I painted houses. If you want your house green, I paint it green. But when I walk out onstage, I do what I want to do."
The real problem in his career so far has been the discrepancy between his live performances and his albums. And his own painful awareness of that threatened the momentum of his career for the past year. In early 1974 he toured wherever he could get dates, building up pockets of rabid followers. But from June 1974 to July 1975 he was hung up in the studio, struggling to come up with the album that everybody expected. His protracted work on that album not only interrupted his performing but left Columbia without a product to push. And careers are built on records; Springsteen, who shares with all great rock & rollers an almost cosmic ambition, knew that full well. "Bruce is determined before he dies to make the greatest rock & roll record ever made," was the way Landau put it.
Born to Run began with the title track. It was recorded last summer in Blauvelt, N.Y., site of the first two albums. Meant as Springsteen's bid for a commercial hit single, it took three-and-a-half months to finish and was four-and-a-half minutes long. Then things came to a standstill, however much Springsteen optimists like to talk about his "learning his way around a studio." From October until April, time was wasted unproductively in the studio or sitting about, working up the energy to try again.
The former producer-of the MC5 and Livingston Taylor, Landau resigned as recordings editor of Rolling Stone to co-produce the album. He moved the proceedings to the Record Plant here and got things underway again.
"We needed an outside perspective," Springsteen willingly admitted. "Things had fallen down internally. He got things on their feet again. He was able to point out reasons why we weren't progressing. Nobody knew why; we were completely in the dark. Jon was a super-important figure. He came up with the idea, 'Let's make a rock & roll record.' His whole thing was to help me do things my way, but to make it easier."
Even so, things hardly sailed smoothly. Work was held up by rethinkings and outright indecision: Springsteen can explore all his options from performance to performance, but records are fixed forever, and you have to choose among options. As the summer went on, committed performance dates threatened to interrupt the sessions, and the final mixing was not finished until just before the Bottom Line dates.
"I was rehearsing the band in one studio, singing 'She's the One' in another and mixing 'Jungleland' in the third," Springsteen recalled the day before the Bottom Line stand began, sprawled on a blanket on the beach at Long Branch, New Jersey, where he's lived for the past year. "It was off the wall. I'm never gonna do that again." He made the key production decisions and chose a rich, Spectorian mix, full of overdubs and echo.
"When I had just made it, I hated it," he recalled. "I just couldn't listen to it. I went nuts or somethin'. It scared me off a little bit, maybe. I was puttin' down things I hadn't put down before; that's such a personal thing. You wonder how far, how much. I almost didn't put it out. But that was one of the few times I figured there must be something the matter with me, since everybody also said we should release it. I like it now.
"The experience of making a record was like a total wipeout. It was a devastating thing, the hardest thing I ever did."
Springsteen began his most ambitious tour yet on September 6th. It is scheduled to last most of the rest of the year with nearly all the dates in halls seating between 2500 and 3500. After that, there is talk of a European swing in January and considerations of how best to play large halls. "It's a problem," said Appel. "You can't stay in Avery Fisher Hall [which seats 2836] for 14 days. We're thinking of trying to block off part of a hall like Madison Square Garden, both acoustically and visually, so it would seat about 10,000."
And after that comes the awaited live album, Appel said. "We want it to be a two-and-a-half- to three-hour album, just like a concert. It will be two or three records--maybe a series of single records but probably one big set. When? It all depends. . . ."
What it all depends on, of course, is how well Born to Run is ultimately received. But by this time it seems just a matter of the degree of its success. Nobody this good, is the reasoning, can miss. The worries now are for the future.
Is Springsteen ready for fame? Can he handle the demands of rock stardom after a decade of hustling on the South Jersey shore? Will his writing, so closely tied to street life, still flourish with success?
"It's difficult," Springsteen mused on the beach. "It gets harder as it goes along. I guess it's because you got to fight your way through more and more of the bullshit. You have to go a little farther than you went the last time. Go a little deeper down into yourself. That's hard to do, because you gotta face emotions and stuff. I don't know--it's a bit scary."
Springsteen as superstar would find it hard to live the kind of life he's led up to now. It's been confining, but it's made him what he is. Even now, he finds it hard to live relaxedly in Long Branch. More friends than he ever knew he had invade his little green house a half block from the one that has his yellow Chevy with the brown flames on the hood parked out front. When he hangs out in clubs or walks down the beach hand in hand with his girlfriend, Karen Darvin, all sorts of people who look pretty much like himself stop and talk. It's a world he's raised to universality in his songs, but it's real, and one hopes he can function outside of it. Springsteen himself professes a streetpunk confidence that ultimately makes you believe. "I don't know how important the settings are in the first place. It's the idea behind the settings. It could be New Jersey, it could be California, it could be Alaska. The images are like the coloring, not necessarily the picture. I can float anywhere--uptown, downtown, anywhere. I want to do everything. I want to see everything, I want to go everywhere. I know what kind of situation it is. Inside, I got everything straight."
This story appeared in the October 9th, 1975 issue of Rolling Stone.
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