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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Comments (3)
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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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