Born to Run (2016)

BOOK ONE

GROWIN’ UP

TWENTY-EIGHT

THE SATELLITE LOUNGE

Telling Vini it was over was rough. I think Mike Appel did it. The weekend Vini was let go we were booked at the Satellite Lounge in Fort Dix. It was a cool club catering to locals and the South Jersey military personnel stationed at the fort. I’d seen Sam and Dave put on some great shows there. It was owned and operated by one of our “friends.” We played a few clubs owned by the local boys and always had a great time. The problem was right now, we had no drummer and we would have to cancel. I told Mike and he called me back immediately and simply said, “We have to play.” There was a problem with the owner at the Satellite Lounge, so Mike had called some of our other “friends” at Uncle Al’s Erlton Lounge, a place we always did great and were treated like kings, to intercede on our behalf. That made matters much worse. Mike then gave me the short version of his conversation with the Satellite’s owner: “If you don’t play, we have your address and will break important digits. If you do play, we will love you.” I thought, “Who doesn’t want to be loved?” It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. So this is the story of how Ernest “Boom” Carter, a drummer I’d barely heard of and only briefly met, ended up playing in the band that weekend, and on the most significant recording the E Street Band ever made and only that recording. Boom was Davey’s childhood friend. On Davey’s call he came to Tinker’s factory; rehearsed the entire night ’til dawn, learning our full live set; drove to Fort Dix, where it was not uncustomary to begin a set at one or two a.m.; and played a great gig. Boom Carter, welcome to the E Street Band.

The Satellite’s impresario was as good as his word. We were loved! This was during the gas crisis, and on tour we’d spent hours rocking in the draft of eighteen-wheelers whizzing by inches from our Econoline van with our tank empty by the side of the road, gasless. We’d resorted to the illegality of the siphoning tube on a few occasions but tonight, as we packed up our gear, our beneficent “friend” escorted us into the parking lot and stood smiling at our side as the police pulled up, fueled our tanks to the brim and wished us well.

Boom turned out to be a great addition. He was a jazzier drummer than I might have initially chosen but once he integrated himself into the band he brought a swing with his rock that was really beautiful. The band was now three black guys and three white guys, and the mixture of musical influences was magic. Davey of course covered all the bases from rock to soul, but he had a deeply rooted jazz and gospel element in his playing that put him out in front of most rock keyboardists. With a mixture now of folk, rock, jazz and soul, we had everything we needed to go wherever we wanted. Career-wise, however, things were still very bleak.

The Future Is Written

We’d been playing a lot of colleges, then by chance we hit one where Irwin Siegelstein, the new head of Columbia Records, brought over from the TV division, had a son in attendance. We played a great show, but frustrated by our record company’s lack of promotion, I slammed Columbia in an interview with the college newspaper. Young Siegelstein had seen the show, read the newspaper and brought it home to his pop. Mr. Siegelstein, who to his credit did not pretend to know more about pop music than he did, listened to his son, and the next thing we knew, we got a call from Columbia Records with an invitation to dine with its new president. Mike, Mr. Siegelstein and I sat down to dinner and Mr. Siegelstein said, “How can we fix this?” He was a straight-up honest broker who realized we were of value to his company and wanted to set things right.

Something else very auspicious occurred around this time. A man in Boston had “seen the future of rock ’n’ roll,” and it was . . . me. We’d played the Harvard Square Theatre opening for Bonnie Raitt (God bless her, she was one of the few acts who’d let us open for her more than once in those days). The writer in attendance for the Real Paper, Jon Landau, flipped his critical lid and wrote one of the greatest lifesaving raves of all time.

It was a beautifully written music fan’s appreciation of the power and meaning of rock ’n’ roll, the sense of place and continuity it brings to our lives, the community it can’t help but strengthen and the loneliness it assuages. That night in Boston our band led with our hearts, and that’s what Jon did. The famous quote came in reference to Jon’s thoughts on the past, present and future of the music he loved, on the power it once held over him and on its ability to renew itself and exert that power in his life once more. As helpful and burdensome (in the long run, more helpful I would say) as the “quote heard round the world” was, it has always been taken somewhat out of context, its lovely subtleties lost . . . But who cares now! And if somebody had to be the future, why not me?

Light at the End of the Tunnel

After our dinner with Irwin and Mr. Landau’s “prophecy,” there were ads for The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle in the newspapers and in major music publications; they all shouted, “I have seen the future . . . ,” and there I was, looking good. What a difference a day makes. The record company was back in our corner and record sales picked up for my two albums as we continued to tour, wrecking the house night after night. I was due for a new record. My third and last contractually guaranteed album for Columbia. All our cards were down. The question was, beyond critics, and my small cult following, could I stir interest in that larger audience that lay at the end of the radio dial? Cult artists don’t last on Columbia Records. We miss this one, contract’s up and in all probability we’ll be sent back to the minors deep in the South Jersey pines. I had to make a record that was the embodiment of what I’d been slowly promising I could do. It had to be something epic and extraordinary, something that hadn’t quite been heard before. It had already been a long haul but that blood I’d sniffed on that sunny morning in my grandma’s backyard so many years ago was once again in the air. For my new album I’d written one song. Its title was “Born to Run.”