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Revisiting Bruce’s Barbaric Yawp, via Louis CK

This righteous, eloquent and not uncomplicated rant by National Treasure Louis CK has, rightly, been getting a lot of buzz this week.

I’m actually working on a separate piece discussing some of the notions Louis CK (who, in case you weren’t already aware, is a GENIUS) addresses, so stay tuned. The issue of smartphones (in particular) and technology (in general) is one thing, but CK’s diversion into an appreciation of “Jungleland” warrants more mention. Fortunately I already did my homework here.

For now, this provides an excellent opportunity to revisit –and celebrate– what might be the best moment from The Boss on the best song from his best album.

The original piece, entitled “The Boss, The Big Man and the Best Rock Song of the ’70s” can be found in its entirety HERE.

Here is where I celebrate The Big Man:

3.54 – 6.13. That is the second it begins and the second it ends: the sax solo that follows what is possibly Springsteen’s finest (and certainly most blistering) guitar solo. We’re talking about “Jungleland”, needless to say. It is a perfect song, closing an album that also begins with a perfect song (“Thunder Road”).

Here is the song.

Here is my take.

And there it is: after a couple of tentative years as an apprentice, this is when Bruce became The Boss, and regardless of how you feel about everything that followed, the work here sufficiently secures his status for all time.

Which brings us back to the Big Man. His contributions (as a presence on stage as much as a player on the songs) going forward were always well-received, but it’s debatable whether he ever blew again like he does on Born To Run. And on the album’s centerpiece, possibly Springsteen’s finest –and most important– moment, Clemons does his finest work. “Jungleland” employs the epic, almost operatic (“Man there’s an opera out on the Turnpike”) strategy Springsteen developed on the first two albums (think “Lost In The Flood”, “Spirit in the Night”, “Incident on 57th Street” and “New York City Serenade”), but this is at a whole other level. From the languid, strings and piano introduction to the gradual build-up (“As secret debts are paid/Contacts made, they vanish unseen), to the aforementioned guitar solo (3.00 – 3.27), the tension, at once joyous and foreboding, builds and then, instead of crashing, it crests. Enter Clemons. 3.54 – 6.13: the solo. It is extended, totally in charge and almost indescribably affecting. He wails, establishes a groove and then (right around the 5.43 mark) goes to that other place. Finally, just as the strings and piano take over, that last gasp, like a light going out or a life being saved. It is his moment, and in addition to being the best thing he ever did, it ranks as one of the best things anyone has done in a rock song.

All of this sets up the denouement: while the lyrics (some of Springsteen’s very best) and the majestic piano cascades, courtesy of Roy Bittan, finish what they started, it’s up to the singer to sell this cautionary tale (“In the tunnels uptown/The Rat’s own dream guns him down) turned climactic cry of endurance. And sell it he does. The song could end after the final lines (including the immortal couplet “Man the poets down here don’t write nothing at all/They just stand back and let it all be”), and it would be a tour de force. But as the piano and strings begin to dance in what seems an obvious outro, Springsteen becomes a rock deity. 8.45 – 9.22: those 37 seconds, a wordless cycle of soulful screams, articulate everything Springsteen had spent three complete albums building up to; in that final cry we hear anguish, anger and above all, resolve. There is no fear, not anymore. He has arrived and after this song, there is no chance he could be ignored and even less chance anyone could ever take away his crown.

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When I started Sean’s book, I read a section and said to myself, ‘I’m going to email Sean to tell him how amazing that sentence is.’ Then as I read a little further I thought, ‘No, I’m going to email Sean to tell him what an amazing depth of knowledge and perception he’s giving us.’ And then, yes, you got it, on the very next page he wrote something that made me think, ‘His Mom is looking down on Sean with unending love for what he just wrote. This is one amazing book!

– May 27, 2015

Donald R. Gallehr, Director Emeritus, Northern Virginia Writing Project