Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band Improvises and Plays, Completely Unrehearsed, Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell,” Live Onstage (2013)

Most musicians have little chance of achieving lasting wealth and fame. It’s a profession in which only a tiny percentage of people ever “make it”—at least according to the impossibly high standards of celebrity we tend to apply. So why do people stick with it, year after year, through health scares, financial crises, and all the other grown-up hardships that kill many a childhood dream?

We often morbidly focus on rock and roll casualties. Look, however, at the stars who do survive the business decade after decade. Though music may not stave off aging, it clearly has the power to preserve youthful enthusiasm long into what some still call retirement years. The examples are too numerous to list; we could hardly do better than to look at the late career of Bruce Springsteen.

Like many of his generation, Springsteen was turned on to rock and roll by seeing Elvis, then later the Beatles, on The Ed Sullivan Show. And like budding musicians still today, he received his first guitar at 16 as a gift from his mother. (He later wrote a song about it.) Over 50 years later, he’s still got the wide-eyed wonder of his sixteen-year-old self. Or at least he’s willing to take teenage risks, pulling out one song every night during a recent tour with the E Street Band “that we haven’t played since we were, I don’t know, sixteen, or maybe never.”

It takes a youthful degree of fearlessness—or recklessness—to stand on stage in front of thousands of fans and play a totally unrehearsed tune, especially one as wordy and finely-tuned as Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell.” We know Bruce and the band have chops, so watching them run through a few different keys before they dig in doesn’t produce too much anxiety. Nonetheless, their ability to throw themselves into the total unknown, just for fun, makes the performance seem like the kind of stunt most of us only attempt before we’re taught to settle into much more predictable grown-up routines.

How well do they pull off the Berry classic on the spot and unrehearsed? See for yourself, and then compare it to the eternally youthful man himself, who at 90 years of age will soon release his first new album in 38 years.

Related Content:

Bruce Springsteen Narrates Audiobook Version of His New Memoir (and How to Download It for Free)

Bruce Springsteen Lists 20 of His Favorite Books: The Books That Have Inspired the Songwriter & Now Memoirist

Bruce Springsteen Plays East Berlin in 1988: I’m Not Here For Any Government. I’ve Come to Play Rock

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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  • Brent says:

    Good story, but not true that the song was unrehearsed. Springsteen and the E Streeters have done that song in concert many times, before and sing (you can find video and audio on YouTube, for example). And Springsteen’s stage patter is highly rehearsed, so I’m even doubtful that the intro where he appears to be trying to figure out the song and get the band in sync wasn’t rehearsed.

  • AJ says:

    Correct. Not to mention the entire show was recorded for release on video, nobody just whips a song out of their rear end during a professionally recorded show, as that show from 2013 was.

    Here are two examples from 2009:

  • Terry says:

    Another point: when Bruce called for a capo (for non-musicians, it’s a type of clamp to raise the key of the guitar), the roadie brings the capo already attached to the third fret of a guitar, showing that the roadie knew in advance where Bruce needed it. Without hesitation Bruce starts the song in the key of G, which he had previously “rejected”. All theatre, all rehearsed. Still the best version I’ve heard and played over and over.

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