Last night I was working with one of my favourite bartenders, Abby- a vision in hi-sheen leggings and heels - who keeps me going through the red-eye shifts with her encouraging grins and impassioned requests ("I fucking love Foreigner!"). She has a large autograph-style tattoo on her forearm that reads You Can't Start A Fire Without A Spark. Needless to say, she is an absolute Springsteen die-hard.
To be honest, I barely noticed The Boss until recently. Yeah, there's this earnest bloke who has forged an entire career out of sweating profusely in a lumberjack shirt. Yep, his song 'Born In The U.S.A.' was misunderstood the world over. Yeah, he made a rekkid called 'Nebraska' but who gives a shit? I couldn't even be frigged to shamble past the Pyramid stage during his fourteen-hour set at Glastonbury.
But then I remembered 'Hungry Heart'. I don't know why I know that track so well. Originally released in 1980, it was re-issued in '95, which must have been one of those I-have-absolutely-nothing-in-my-life-apart-from-the-Top-40 years. It's got a Motown-style tom/snare/tom intro fill that I adore (an almost identical one can be heard at the beginning of Charles and Eddie's 'Would I Lie To You?') and is as predictable as pie from thereon in. Make no mistake, we all know every turn 'Hungry Heart' is going to take before Bruce even gets behind behind the wheel. But fuck, fuck, FUCK, it's good. From that virile howl in the opening moments (YEAAH!) to the horribly optimistic jump to E flat for the organ solo, this song says: why let a ransacked heart stop you punching the doggone air?
The first time I played it out at the aforementioned bar something strange happened. There was an audible whoop of recognition from the crowd and then people started getting up on tables. Seriously. The whole night moved up a gear. I could hear the joyous sound of punters singing over the system. A middle-aged man pushed his way through the mêlée, sweating as though in tribute to The Boss himself, and bawled, "I haven't heard this record out for twenty years, love! Right, guess how many times I've seen him play? Guess. No. Guess. Guess! Thirty-bleedin'-two. Thirty two times, I've seen him, yeah." * Then Abby shimmied over with a brimming pint to exacerbate my bafflement and told me the song was originally written for The Ramones in '79.
A later glance at Wikipedia revealed this was indeed the case. Apparently, Jon Landau, Springsteen's manager, put paid to the collaboration back then - he was still sore about 'Because The Night' going to Patti Smith. John Lennon was said to be a fan of the song, commenting on the day of his death (allegedly) that it reminded him of 'Just Like (Startin'Over)'.
A last tune of mine for a while now, 'Hungry Heart' has taken on the quality of a melancholy TV theme. Time at the bar, credits rolling, the end. It's often ringing in my ears as I fight for a taxi, or wait, impatiently, for sleep. I got bossed in the end.
Funny ol' game.
*For film buffs, this incident was oddly reminiscent of Fred Willard's 'bench press' scene in 'Best In Show'.