Born to revise

March 5, 2012

I don’t know why Bruce Springsteen keeps popping up on my blog (here and here and here and here), but he’s on my mind again. In particular, I keep coming back to a fantastic Slate article by Louis Masur on how Springsteen labored endlessly over the song “Born To Run.”

It took him six months during the spring and summer of 1974 to record the title track [of the album Born To Run]. [Guitarist Steve] Van Zandt now laughs at the thought of it. “Anytime you spend six months on a song, there’s something not exactly going right,” he says. “A song should take about three hours.” But Bruce was working with classic-rock motifs and images, searching for the right balance musically and lyrically. Born To Run marked a change in Springsteen’s writing style. Whereas previously it seemed as if he had a rhyming dictionary open beside him, now his lyrics became simultaneously more compact and explosive. What mattered to him was to sound spontaneous, not to be spontaneous. “Spontaneity,” he said, in 1981, “is not made by fastness. Elvis, I believe, did like 30 takes of ‘Hound Dog,’ and you put that thing on,” and it just explodes.

That’s what the writing process is like for me as well: a whole lot of fumbling around in search of a version that sounds crisp, forceful, and honest.

I don’t have many “Born To Run”-esque examples in my portfolio, but “Sing A Song Of Mom” is one composition that comes to mind. I remember struggling with the tune for an entire afternoon, then thinking, “What if I made it sound more like ‘Brown-Eyed Girl’?” And I tried that, and it worked, and I was on my way to a breezy song that sounded as though it had been written in half an hour. Perfect.

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