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Bruce Springsteen | A working manuscript for "Born to Run"

Lot Closed

April 18, 03:43 PM GMT


150,000 - 250,000 USD

Lot Details


Bruce Springsteen

"Born to Run" working manuscript, [Long Branch, New Jersey, 1974]


Autograph manuscript lyrics, 2 pages (216 x 280 mm) on a single sheet of ruled notepaper, comprising 26 lines written in blue ink and then black felt tip, being an early working draft of "Born to Run," with superscript and marginal notations. In fine condition.


The birth of an essential American anthem: an early version of "Born to Run" 


In early 1974, a 26 year-old Bruce Springsteen was barely getting by, living in a small house in West Long Branch, New Jersey working on his third album under the watchful eye of record executives. On the heels of the disappointing commercial performance of his first two albums, Greetings from Ashbury Park (1973) and The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle (1973), many in the music industry had written him off as a local phenomenon—a performer who had built a small following on the east coast, but who would never break through to the mainstream. In spite of the pressures building around him, it was here that Springsteen would craft his breakthrough album, Born to Run.


The writing process for the third record was grueling, but Springsteen had a particularly difficult time finding precisely the right lyrics for the pivotal first single. Reflecting on the record in later years, Springsteen remarked: “The music was composed very, very meticulously. So were the lyrics. The amount of time spent honing the lyrics was enormous.” In an attempt to capture a broader audience Springsteen began utilizing a more concise style that conveyed a sense of ubiquity, in opposition to the marathon songs about localized urban legendry of his first two records. Throughout this process, he sought inspiration by immersing himself in fifties and sixties rock and roll: Roy Orbison, Phil Spector, and Bob Dylan, to name a few. His aspirations were as grand as the musicians he sought inspiration from: “I wanted to craft a record that sounded like the last record on Earth, like the last record you might hear...the last one you’d ever NEED to hear. One glorious noise...then the apocalypse. From Elvis came the record’s physical thrust; Dylan, of course, threaded through the imagery and the idea of not just writing about SOMETHING but writing about EVERYTHING.” “Born to Run” began with a guitar riff, and grew into the cinematic song we know today over a tortured 6 month period of editing and reworking. 


The lead single first hit the airwaves in late 1974, when Springsteen’s manager Mike Appel released a rough cut of “Born to Run” to a small selection of disc jockey’s, which precipitated a wave of interest from young listeners and larger radio stations alike. In its early limited release, “Born to Run” initially found success in working-class cities like Philadelphia and Cleveland, where demand was so great DJs played it multiple times a day. Springsteen’s lyrical description of down-on-their-luck lovers struggling to reconcile their reality with over-the-top dreams resonated with working-class Americans in the context of the mid-1970s political climate, which was characterized by a pervasive sense of dislocation in the face of multiple economic and cultural shocks, including wide-spread unemployment and sky-high inflation.


"Born to Run" was the product of a complicated time in American history — the 1970s have often been thought of as an era characterized by complacency and narcissism, but it was also one that gave rise to meaningful social, cultural, and political changes. In the midst of these sweeping cultural changes and economic stagnation, an air of uncertainty pervaded. Springsteen wasn't one to shy away from the complexities of American life: "The country no longer felt like an innocent place ... Dread — the sense that things might not work out, that the moral high ground had been swept out from underneath us ... was in the air. This was the new lay of the land, and if I was going to have to put my characters out on that highway, I was going to have to put all these things in the car with them."


Although Springsteen is known to have an intensive drafting process, few manuscripts of “Born to Run” are available, with the present example being one that crucially includes a version of the chorus. Captured here, perhaps for the first time, is one of the most iconic of any Springsteen lyric, though in a very nascent version: “You can stay in this town kill you / deaf and dumb or you can ride (leave) with me if / you got the guts to come you ain’t too / young Tramps like us (me) baby we were born to / run. ” (lines 10 – 13). “Born to Run” would go on to become the most important song in the impressive Springsteen canon and a staple of his historically long live performances.


The majority of the lines are apparently unpublished and unrecorded, but Springsteen reworked many of them to produce what would become the recorded version. This constant revision is evident in his choice of “us’ over “me” as quoted above. The imagery and tone are constant from the present manuscript to the final song. Unmistakable is his of classic American signifiers of cars and highways. “I looked out across my hood and saw / the highway vanish into the mist / I’m heading to where the young gin angels / meet the scum boys in an everlasting kiss.” The preceding lines, though greatly changed can still be discerned in the final lyric “kids are huddled on the beach in a mist / I wanna die with you Wendy, on the streets tonight / in an everlasting kiss”.


Springsteen uses cars to convey power and escape throughout this version, with such lines “the motor roars like a benediction” and “let me show you the force of a fixed / gypsy 440 when you stomp it to the floor”.


Most significantly, this manuscript displays the writing process for one of America’s favorite rock songs and epitomizes its ideology: escapism, optimism, rebellion, the lure of the highway and a fast ride to take down it.


Though different, it is recognizably “Born to Run.”


The beginnings of the hit anthem that catapulted The Boss into the rock-and-roll stratosphere.



Bruce Springsteen. 'Born to Run.' Simon & Schuster: 2016; Peter Ames Carlin. 'Bruce.' Simon & Schuster: 2012; "Wings For Wheels: The Making of Born To Run" (Sony, 2005); Rolling Stone Collections Edition: Bruce. 19 December 2013



Collection of Mike Appel (Springsteen’s former manager and Born to Run producer) — private collector