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Handwritten genesis of Springsteen's 'Born to Run' to hit auction block

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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sotheby's New York expects handwritten lyrics to fetch $70,000 to $100,000 at auction
  • The sheet of notebook paper features 30 lines and notations scrawled in blue ink
  • Many original lyrics didn't make the cut, but manuscript contains "nearly perfected" chorus
  • Springsteen's "Born to Run" is today considered one of the greatest songs of all time

By Eliott C. McLaughlin

He didn't die with Wendy on the streets, but Bruce Springsteen's career needed some life.

It was early 1974, and Springsteen had enjoyed critical acclaim but little commercial success with two albums the previous year, "Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J." and "The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle."

He wasn't the rock icon he'd soon become. He needed a hit.

So the 26-year-old sat down at his Long Branch, New Jersey, home on 7½ West End Court -- the same house where he would also write "Thunder Road" and "Backstreets" -- and he began scribbling lyrics on a sheet of ruled paper from a spiral notebook.

"This town'll rip the (out your) bones from your back / it's a suicide trap (rap) (it's a trap to catch the young) your dead unless / you get out (we got to) while your young so (come on! / with) take my hand cause tramps / like us baby we were born to run."

On December 5, almost 40 years later, the handwritten genesis of one of The Boss' biggest hits -- and one of rock 'n' roll's most well-known songs -- will be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Sotheby's New York expects the manuscript, which features 30 lines and marginal notations scrawled in blue ink, to fetch between $70,000 and $100,000.

"Born to Run" reached only No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100, but it aged incredibly well, earning the No. 21 spot on Rolling Stone magazine's list of all-time greatest songs and being named among the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 songs that shaped the genre.

Springsteen explained the song's birth in a statement from Sotheby's.

"One day I was playing my guitar on the edge of the bed, working on some song ideas, and the words 'born to run' came to me. At first I thought it was the name of a movie or something I'd seen on a car spinning around the circuit. I liked the phrase because it suggested a cinematic drama that I thought would work with the music that I'd been hearing in my head."

An AllMusic review described the tune as a "celebration of the rock & roll spirit, capturing the music's youthful abandon, delirious passion and extraordinary promise with cinematic exhilaration."

"A blue-collar fairy tale evoking Phil Spector in its romanticized grandeur and Bob Dylan in its street-corner poetic grit, critic Greil Marcus once described it as 'a '57 Chevy running on melted-down Crystals records,'" the review states.

"'Born to Run' is teen melodrama in excelsis, overblown and histrionic in ways Spector never imagined; it smacks of the kind of palpable, life-or-death desperation which threads its way through everything from 'Romeo and Juliet' to 'Rebel Without a Cause,' where every action, every thought and every word bears the complete weight of the world."

The 1975 track became Springsteen's first worldwide release, and while Sotheby's says many of the original lyrics never made it to the recording booth, the chorus was "nearly perfected" in the handwritten manuscript.

"Ultimately, the song took six months to finalize and clocks in at four and a half minutes long. Springsteen aimed for musical perfection and Spector-level grandeur which he undoubtedly achieved," a Sotheby's news release says.

The manuscript, which was once part of record producer Mike Appel's personal collection, will be on public view beginning Saturday, according to Sotheby's. Appel is credited with discovering Springsteen, and he produced The Boss' first three albums.
   
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