2021 Song Draft- Round 2 Pick 8: Mike and Paul’s Music Blog selects- ‘Incident On 57th Street’- Bruce Springsteen.
Bruce Springsteen – Incident on 57th Street
Ok so Music City Mike chose Born to Run as the inaugural song to kick off this draft, but surely there is room in the draft for another song from Bruce? Hearing no objections… here we go!
Being a huge Springsteen fan, I knew I was going to include him in my draft. I was in high school during the time of Darkness on the Edge of Town and The River, and I enjoyed those albums (along with Born To Run) alongside a lot of other rock music of the time. But it wasn’t until I saw Springsteen live in 1984 on the Born in the USA tour that a switch flipped and I was all in. As I watched Bruce put as much effort, commitment, drive and energy into the performance of a single song as I had seen other bands put in during an entire concert, I knew there was no going back. And that was one song of a multi-hour marathon concert!
With so many great songs and a number of favorites, the question of which song to pick for me was easy. Of all of Springsteen’s songs over the years, my favorite has always been Incident on 57th Street from his second album, The Wild, the Innocent, and the E St. Shuffle, from 1973.
The song starts side B of the album (do we remember B sides?) and was part of the so called Side B suite, together with Rosalita and New York City Serenade. On this album, Springsteen had started to write in a more grand cinematic style, taking the intense word play and richly described scenes of his first album, Greeting from Asbury Park, NJ, to the next level. The songs on Incident were like miniature 5-8 minute motion pictures. Springsteen would arguably reach the peak of this form on his next album, the breakthough Born to Run, and you can hear echoes of Incident on songs like Jungleland. In fact, in his memoir, Springsteen says that perhaps Jungleland is what happens to the characters in Incident after the song ends.
The song starts with David Sancious’s lovely piano intro, builds momentum with Bruce’s ringing guitar, and then the first line:
Spanish Johnny drove in from the underworld last night; With bruised arms and broken rhythm and a beat-up old Buick but dressed just like dynamite
And there youu are, transported into a modern day Romeo and Juliet story of Spanish Johnny and Puerto Rican Jane.
I’ve included the lyrics at the end of this post – even just reading them you can appreciate the scope and grandeur of this song.
For me the keyboard lines of Danny Federici when Johnny and Jane first meet never fail to give me goosbumps. The song progresses to its climax with a searing guitar solo from Springsteen, and then transitions again to Sancious’s solo piano, which leads directly into Rosalita, and another grand tale of love and obsession. While Rosalita would become much more famous as it became a concert staple, Incident was played much more sparingly.
In the draft’s Round 1, Pick 10, Diana of run-sew-read spoke eloquently of her frustration of not having seen her favorite Pearl Jam song Better Man performed live. I felt the same thing about Incident – having seen Bruce 20+ times, I knew the odds were long of ever hearing it since he just never really played the song much, esp. in the years post BUSA. But then, boom it happened – Philadelphia, Lincoln Financial Field, August 11, 2003, the Rising Tour, song 18 of a 27 song set. If you were there that night, and noticed a grown man balling his eyes out, that would have been me. 😊
Anyway, enough of me blabbing on – below is both the album cut and a live version I found of Bruce performing the song solo at the piano (I saw the full band version, but this version is amazing).
Spanish Johnny drove in from the underworld last night
With bruised arms and broken rhythm and a beat-up old Buick but dressed just like dynamite
He tried sellin’ his heart to the hard girls over on easy Street
But they said, Johnny, it falls apart so easy, and you know hearts these days are cheap
And the pimps swung their axes and said, Johnny, you’re a cheater
And the pimps swung their axes and said, Johnny, you’re a liar
And from out of the shadows came a young girl’s voice
Said, Johnny, don’t cry
Puerto Rican Jane, oh, won’t you tell me, what’s your name?
I want to drive you down to the other side of town
Where paradise ain’t so crowded and there’ll be action goin’ down on Shanty Lane tonight
All the golden-heeled fairies in a real bitch-fight
Pull thirty-eight’s and kiss their girls goodnightOh, goodnight, it’s alright, Jane
Now let them black boys in to light the soul flame
We may find it out on the street tonight, baby
Or we may walk until the daylight, maybeWell, like a cool Romeo he made his moves, oh, she looked so fine
Like a late Juliet, she knew she’d never be true but then, she really didn’t mind
Upstairs a band was playin’ and the singer was singin’ something about going home
She whispered, Spanish Johnny, you can leave me tonight, but just don’t leave me alone
And Johnny cried, Puerto Rican Jane, word is down, the cops have found the vein
Oh, them barefoot boys left their homes for the woods
Them little barefoot street boys, they said their homes ain’t no good
They left the corners, threw away all of their switchblade knives
And kissed each other goodbyeJohnny was sittin’ on the fire escape, watchin’ the kids playin’ down the street
He called down, hey little heroes, summer’s long, but I guess it ain’t very sweet around here anymore
Janey sleeps in sheets damp with sweat
Johnny sits up alone and watches her dream on, dream on
And the sister prays for lost souls, then breaks down in the chapel after everyone’s goneJane moves over to share her pillow but opens her eyes to see Johnny up and putting his clothes on
She says, those romantic young boys (those romantic young boys), all they ever want to do is fight
Those romantic young boys (those romantic young boys), they’re callin’ through the window
Hey, Spanish Johnny, you want to make a little easy money tonight?And Johnny whispered, goodnight, it’s all tight, Jane
I’ll meet you tomorrow night on lover’s lane
We may find it out on the street tonight, now, baby
Or we may walk until the daylight, maybe
Oh, goodnight, it’s alright, Jane
I’m gonna meet you tomorrow night on lover’s lane
Oh, we can find it out on the street tonight, baby
Or we may walk until the daylight, maybeAh, goodnight, it’s alright, Jane
I’ll meet you tomorrow night on lover’s lane
Oh, we may find it out on the street tonight, baby
Or we may have to walk until the daylight, maybe (goodnight it’s alright, Jane)