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Even before Springsteen's first album was released in 1973, Appel was already on the move. He offered the NBC producer of the Super Bowl the services of his client to sing The Star-Spangled Banner. Informed that Andy Williams had already been recruited, with Blood, Sweat & Tears to perform during half time, he cried, "They're losers and you're a loser too. Some day I'm going to give you a call and remind you of this, then I'm going to make another call and you'll be out of a job." Says Hammond: "Appel is as offensive as any man I've ever met, but he's utterly selfless in his devotion to Bruce." Appel and Springsteen understood each other. They agreed that Bruce and the band should play second fiddle to nobody. After a quick but disastrous experience as an opening act for Chicago, Springsteen appeared only as a headline attraction. That meant fewer bookings. There was also little to be done about the narrowing future of Bruce's recording career. Regarded as a pet of banished Columbia Records President Clive Davis, Springsteen was ignored by the executives who took over from Davis. The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle was not so much distributed as dumped.
For two years Springsteen crisscrossed the country, enlarging his following with galvanic concerts. Early last year, playing a small bar called Charley's in Cambridge, Mass., he picked up an important new fan. Jon Landau, a Rolling Stone editor, had reviewed Bruce's second album favorably for a local paper, and Charley's put the notice in the window. Landau remembers arriving at the club and seeing Springsteen hugging himself in the cold and reading the review. A few weeks later, Landau wrote, "I saw the rock and roll future and its name is Springsteen."
Some loyalists at Columbia persuaded the company to cough up $50,000 to publicize the quote. Columbia's sudden recommitment caught Springsteen in a creative crisis. He and Appel had spent nine months in the studio and produced only one cut, Born to Run. The disparity between the wild reaction to his live performances and the more subdued, respectful reception of his records had to be cleared up. Landau soon signed on as co-producer of the new album and began to find out about some of the problems firsthand.
"Bruce works instinctively," Landau observes. "He is incredibly intense, and he concentrates deeply. Underneath his shyness is the strongest will I've ever encountered. If there's something he doesn't want to do, he won't." Springsteen would work most days from 3 p.m. to 6 a.m., and sometimes as long as 24 hours, without stopping. Only occasionally did things go quickly. For a smoky midnight song called Meeting Across the River, Springsteen just announced, "O.K., I hear a string bass, and I hear a trumpet," and, according to Landau, "that was it." Finally the album came together as real roadhouse rock, made proudly in that tradition. The sound is layered over with the kind of driving instrumental cushioning thai characterized the sides Phil Spector produced in the late '50s and '60s. The lyrics burst with nighthawk poetry.
The screen door slams
Mary's dress waves
Like a vision she dances across the porch
As the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely