You’ll be hearing the name of Greenwich Village folk scene godfather Dave Van Ronk in the coming days, what with the Coen brothers upcoming Inside Llewyn Davis, a fictionalized take on Van Ronk’s life based on his 2005 posthumous memoir (with Elijah Wald), The Mayor of MacDougal Street. And while Van Ronk’s is a name well-known to students of the 60’s folk revival, he never achieved the fame of protégés like Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell. But there was another singer/songwriter and future superstar breezing through Van Ronk’s Village scene. I’m talking about Bruce Springsteen who, before he became an arena rock staple, opened solo for Van Ronk on acoustic guitar at Max’s Kansas City in 1972.
In the video above, watch Springsteen play “Growin’ Up,” a song that appeared the next year on his debut album Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ. The album version of the song is the kind of rousing, anthemic fist-pumper Springsteen’s known for, but above, he strips it down to its essentials, and reveals that, like most everything he’s written, it’s a lyrical tour-de-force (which is probably why Bowie recorded a version). The 23-year-old Springsteen also shows us that, band or no band, he was always a phenomenal performer. “Growin’ Up” is still a part of Springsteen’s set, no less anthemic, although the song takes on a much more nostalgic air now that Springsteen is sixty-four. Below, watch a longer version of the clip, including MC Sam Hood’s introduction and Bruce’s opening tune, “Henry Boy.” If Van Ronk’s performance from that night made it on film, it hasn’t made it onto YouTube, but there are any number of his interpretations of old country blues online.
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Josh Jones is a writer, editor, and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him @jdmagness
This made my morning. Thanks, Josh.
Love Bruce, thanks for posting!
I saw Springsteen in December of 2012 as he swung through Southern California on his last tour. I’d seen him numerous times previously, though I was amazed at how, even in his 60’s, he is still able to play with energy, enthusiasm and the persona that has made him such a legend. Seeing these clips of him Springsteen performing so long ago, at the outset of what we now know is successful career, one can see the stage presence he exudes as a naturally talented live performer. With all of the backing musicians stripped away we can also observe not only Springsteen’s craftsmanship as a songwriter but also his skills as a guitar player.
I often find it interesting to revisit the work of artists, filmmakers and musicians in their youth as it is always so revealing.