Bruce Springsteen is a fountain of knowledge when it comes to rock ‘n’ roll and, according to The Boss himself, there’s one lyric that he believes distils its very essence in just a smattering of words.
The line in question comes courtesy of The Rolling Stones, who inspired Springsteen as a child, and he spent endless nights dreaming about one day joining the band. After selling his pool table to fund his first electric guitar, Springsteen knew from that day on there was nothing else he wanted to do with his life apart from mimicking Keith Richards.
“That night I went home, pulled out the second Rolling Stones album, put it on and taught myself Keith Richards’s simple but great guitar solo to ‘It’s All Over Now’ — It took me all night, but by midnight I had a reasonable facsimile of it down,” the singer recounted.
This would be a common occurrence in the Springsteen residence for the next few years. “I fell asleep at night with dreams of rock ‘n’ roll glory in my head,” he once remembered. “Here’s how one would go: The Stones have a gig at Asbury Park’s Convention Hall but Mick Jagger gets sick. It’s a show they’ve got to make, they need a replacement, but who can replace Mick?
“Suddenly, a young hero rises, a local kid,” continued Springsteen. “Right out of the audience. He can ‘front’: he’s got the voice, the look, the moves, no acne, and he plays a hell of a guitar. The band clicks, Keith is smiling, and suddenly, the Stones aren’t in such a rush to get Mick out of his sickbed. How does it end? Always the same…. the crowd goes wild.”
For Springsteen, The Rolling Stones embody rock ‘n’ roll and their political anthem, ‘Street Fighting Man’, which resonated profoundly with him as a kid in Asbury Park with a fire in his belly to replicate his heroes. The powerful track was a response to the student riots of 1968 that broke out in the wake of the Vietnam war. Cities across Europe showed their solidarity with their contemporaries in America in showing resistance to the avoidable conflict.
Jagger was among the 25,000 who took part in a demonstration at London’s Grosvenor Square, inspiring him to pen the defiant song.
Speaking about his love of ‘Street Fighting Man’ to writer David Marsh, Springsteen said: “That one line, ‘What can a poor boy do but sing in a rock and roll band?’ is one of the greatest rock and roll lines of all time. It has that edge-of-the-cliff thing when you hit it. And it’s funny; it’s got humour to it.”
The Beggars Banquet track was a mainstay of his sets on his world tour in the mid-’80s, and his version is electrifying. Additionally, Bruce is fortunate enough to have lived out his childhood dream on numerous occasions when he’s jumped on-stage with The Rolling Stones and exchanged licks with Keef.
Watch Springsteen & The Stones perform ‘Tumbling Dice’ below.