Category Archives: My Music Classics

My Music Classics – Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run (album)

If Bert and Cookie Monster are doing a parody, you know it’s an absolute classic. (image credit: muppet.wikia.com)

“In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream.  At night we ride through the mansions of glory and suicide machines.  Sprung from cages on Highway 9, chrome wheeled, fuel injected and steppin’ out over the line.” – Born To Run

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Born in the cracked asphalt of North Jersey’s urban suburbia, music was something inherited.  My steady diet of Garth Brooks, Vince Gill and Randy Jackson wasn’t a choice.  That’s what played on the stereo of my mom’s Mercury Zephyr as we clunked down Route 80 towards the Poconos.

In the waning glow of the Jersey 80’s, you couldn’t blast down the Parkway or spend a night in Hoboken without hearing the Garden State triumvirate:  Sinatra, Bon Jovi and Springsteen.  As a cranky teenager, Jovi always sounded cheesy to my angst ridden ears but Springsteen brought a special brand of bile to my throat.  To a kid in love with mid nineties grunge, his was the music of the enemy.  Both my mom and dad loved the Boss and every time they blasted Born In The USA on the home hi-fi, I cringed.  This was too Jersey.  Too usual.  In the mid-nineties, all I wanted to do was rebel against the old standards with the Nine Inch Nails my parents couldn’t understand.  Bruce Springsteen was out of the question.

Until fifteen years later, I gave it a listen.

When I popped the album into my computer to give it my first honest spin, I was already familiar with the commercial loveliness of Born to USA.  Once and for all, I needed to know if Springsteen was still my musical nemesis.  Based on reputation, I set it up right.  Turned off the lights, lit some candles and cranked it up on my more than decent apartment system.

The record opens with the tinkling piano, mournful harmonica and plaintive wanting of Thunder Road.  Springsteen’s raspy voice cries to Mary, “Don’t’ run back inside, you know what I’m here for.  So you’re scared and you’re thinking we’re not that young anymore.”  I was shocked.  This wasn’t the go-go bravado of Surrender or I’m On Fire’s sexual smolder. This was pent up aggression, the voice of someone trapped by a place they love.  Begging to be free but scared of the outcome.  It became clear this wasn’t the Bruce of my youth’s perception.  This is why my parents loved him.

From the breezy bop of Tenth Avenue Freeze Out to the wrong side of town danger of Backstreets to the pure bombast of the title track, Born To Run isn’t just a collection of great songs.  It’s a throaty tribute to the endless possibilities presented by miles of blacktop and a glove box full of mix tapes.  Dangerous, passionate and emotionally bare, the album is the work of someone desperate to succeed past his upbringing.  Shout and be heard amongst the din of his rock and roll contemporaries.

As the album’s bookend began to play, I saw the teenage me in my mind’s eye.  Bruce wasn’t my Jersey enemy.  He was my emotional equal.  In the record’s final track, I saw exactly who that smarmy brat really was: a young kid full of un-displaced energy begging for a chance to flee, terrified by the consequences of freedom.  Jungleland’s soaring saxophone finally connected two long separated fragments of my psyche.  Born to Run’s Bruce Springsteen wasn’t just a local hero.  He’s was wordsmith, a working class Jersey boy who created an album dedicated to guiding kids like me through the emotional tumult of being trapped, kicking and screaming until they broke through to daylight.  A forty minute piece of perfect that took me 32 years to finally discover.

Not a moment too soon.


My Music Classics – Away With The Birds by Niall Connolly

Listen to Diana Jones’ lovely version of the song here, buy the real deal here and while you’re at it, buy his latest album Sound here.

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Darling when your worries are piling and the rent is overdue.  When all we own is battered and worn that once was bright and new.  I’m still away with the birds.  I’m still wired to the moon.  And I’m still in love, I’m still in love, I’m still in love with you”

Niall Connolly playing to a sold out Rockwood Music Hall at the record release party for her latest album, Sound

Niall Connolly playing to a sold out Rockwood Music Hall at the record release party for his latest album, Sound.

New York City in the winter of 2010 was a Wild West of limitless opportunity and stifling terror.  Every night was an explosion of fascinating, exciting and unnerving possibilities.  For every reason I had to move there, there were two votes against.  Self-doubt was my roommate that winter and his uncomfortable residence in my small one bedroom made for a tough winter.  Not enough space for the both of us, but three months in, he refused to hit the bricks.

The day he started to pack was a chilly Tuesday night in February.  Aiden texted me with a grand weeknight scheme: head to Kenny Castaways for a ten o’clock open mic and then nip ‘round the corner to the Red Lion.  A local folk musician by the name of Niall Connolly was playing a one AM gig and according to Aiden he was a must listen.

The offer was enticing. Those days, I was a newborn rambler, a wanna-be Kerouac with an unlimited ride Metrocard.  Three months into my New York residence and I wanted nothing more than to suck down giant gulps of my newfound liberation.  Hanging with brother Aiden felt like a natural branching out of my internal rambler, even if that meant becoming a late night / early morning drifter who threw responsibility to the Bleecker Street breeze.  There was magic in those wee hours and I wanted all of it.

The Lion was mostly empty that night.  A smattering of West Village drunkards leaned against the dark wood bar tops while a couple necked in a corner booth.  Small stage with red walls and a tired drum kit in the back right corner.  The advantage of hanging with Aiden was his uncanny ability to make you feel like family and that night was no exception.  Bouncers greeted us with a smile, the barkeep was quick with the liquor and the joint felt like home. That’s also the night I met Niall Connolly.

He was scruff and scrawny, a pleasant fellow with a quick wit and firm handshake.  He sat on a small stool to the front of the stage, a music stand of albums for sale at his right.  $10 for a CD, $15 for two.  Niall played a sweet and somber set that night.  The cab and night truck traffic provided a murmuring backdrop to the sad folk streaming from Niall’s guitar.  Whenever somebody shouted a request for Danny Boy, Niall politely declined.  When a half tanked waif in a tiny white dress offered him a twenty to play American Pie, he replied, “Sorry, dear. Can’t do that for you.”

Growing up in the cover heavy bars of northern New Jersey, I realized why New York had to be my home.  Real artists playing genuine music.  Beautiful moments shared with dear friends.   The recklessness of enjoying it all on a school night.  And the song that hit me hardest was Away With The Birds.

Simple songs telling simple stories often reap the deepest emotional rewards.  Rather than tell you how to feel, the simple chords of Away With The Birds set the stage for your heart’s interpretation.  Whether you’re pinning love lost or celebrating who you have, Niall’s final song on his under-appreciated Brother, The Fight Is Fixed, allows you to sink into the sweetness.  The song is a quickie, a hair under two minutes, but in that space I had found a musical home in the chaotic carousel that’s New York City.

When I tiptoed into my new one bedroom after the show, I looked around the apartment.  Boxes, still packed, sat in the corner against the arm of my tiny loveseat.  Light from a York Avenue beer hall glowed soft through my naked windows as those lovely lyrics played in my head.  Despite the daunting rent, the well-worn clothing and Self Doubt’s unwavering tenancy, I needed to be wired to the moon, coursing through an ocean of unknown.  Way up high with only my instincts to guide me.  Sometimes it’s best to be away with the birds.