Tramps like us (and we like tramps)

Born to Run is one of the great rock songs.

Speaking about the song in later years Bruce Springsteen said that he wanted to make it a combination of Elvis, Dylan and Spector.

And he succeeded.

The song is awash with raw energy and beat poet caricatures driving into a wall of sound.

Bruce has written better songs in his time, but I’m not sure he’s made better records.

But to even speak of words like “better” when it comes to music can be fatuous. Reducing it to the sterility of a balance sheet.

So let’s not say there’s a “better” version of Born to Run out there. Let’s just say there’s a different one.

Frankie Goes To Hollywood were a Liverpudlian band formed in a world where Thatcher’s Britain was intent on punishing those it disliked and distrusted. Their “enemies of the people”.

Frankie were huge at the time, but are now a footnote in the history of popular music (Although maybe it’s the footnotes that define popular music more than anything else?)

And they covered Born to Run.

Their version opens with a spoken exchange based around the Thatcherite ritual of the bored young man heading to the local “dole” office to sign for unemployment benefit and being met with the banal tyranny of equally bored bureaucracy.

“I’m sorry I’ve left me card at home”

“Well you’re late as well, that’s three times on the run. If you’re late again the supervisor said we’ve gotta put you on daily signing”

Then singer Holly Johnson declares a defiant “Ha!” and the song begins.

“In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream
At night we ride through the mansions of glory in suicide machines
Sprung from cages out on highway nine……”

And it sounds ridiculous in this context.

Johnson may as well be speaking in tongues so far removed are the words from his everyday life.

Producer Trevor Horn throws everything at the recording, but never achieves either the Spector Wall of Sound or the confidence and bombast of the Springsteen version (There’s a different argument to be made about how such bombast made Springsteen’s other “Born” song so misunderstood by many. I mean, if you’re going to use a song as a singalong anthem for packed stadiums while having the Stars and Stripes draped large behind you it seems somewhat churlish to complain that people are missing the “irony” of the lyrics).

But back to Born to Run.

We only have to listen to Bruce’s version to know that he’s going to get the girl, get the car and get the future he’s dreaming of.

Holly Johnson doesn’t want the girl, can’t conceive of the car and knows he has no future.

Springsteen is driving toward the sun because that’s where he rightfully belongs. Johnson is flying too close to the sun because it’s the only way of forgetting who he is for one brief moment of time.

Bruce is bound for glory, Holly is bound to lose.

So let’s not speak of which version is better. Let’s just say that one version of the song is a celebration of escape and the other is a failed attempt to manifest a world where the word “escape” has meaning.

So where do the Whitecaps come in all of this?

Was it actually Bob Lenarduzzi playing saxophone on the original recording?

Sadly no.

But it seems some of us are destined to follow the “Bruce” teams of this world. The Real Madrids, the Manchester Uniteds and the Seattle Sounders. And some of us are destined to follow the “Frankie” teams.

The teams that live in an imperfect world. Who fail more often than they succeed and who, even when they do succeed, do so in an ephemeral way.

They are not dynasties destined to rule for years, but rebels who storm the castle for one night before being banished to the hills once again.

The footnotes in the history of sport (But footnotes who help to define us).

So, when the Whitecaps return, all we can really ask from them is that when they do fail, they fail bravely and gloriously. Dreaming of what can never be.

Just like Frankie did.


One thought on “Tramps like us (and we like tramps)”

  1. Didn’t expect it to go into that ending. Very true and very well written. Actually, got me a bit teary-eyed, even though I have no common bond with that experience or feeling, only to be an American who feels for those who have….AND, to feel STILL, that the Frankie version of Born To Run, suits my taste and the whole album is a MASTERPIECE!! When it came out, everyone in my family, including my parents, absolutely loved that album and we all like different kinds of music. That album still gets me fired up, FRANKIE’S RAD!!


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