This gut-wrenching rendition from Toronto during the 1984 Born in the U.S.A. tour begins with a two minute intro heavy on ambient piano and wailing before leading into the familiar opening notes. Just one look at Bruce’s ripped jean jacket and you know he means business. From the defiant guitar solo to the sweat soaked bandana, the energy is palpable.
“When the breakdown hit at midnight
There was nothing left to say but I hated him and I hated you when you went away”
While I’m partial to the so-close-you-can-feel-it description of “getting wasted in the heat,” I can’t stray from this raw admission of hatred made all the more painful by the disappointment with which it is laced.
Demos and lyric drafts have shown that early versions of “Backstreets” explicitly cast the character of Terry as a female. But I prefer to stick to the song text which leaves the gender ambiguous. Perhaps because Bruce’s career is full of heterosexual love gone sour, “Backstreets” feels all the more exceptional when read as a tragic tale of love between two men – regardless of whether it’s a homosexual or platonic love.
I often think of “Backstreets” as the ultimate summer song. It effortlessly evokes both the initial optimism and inevitable disappointment that define every summer season in our teenage years. As one of the few Born to Run songs that doesn’t feature heavily in Bruce’s recent concert rotations, “Backstreets” packs a powerful punch when you are fortunate enough to hear it. It’s easy to overlook but hard to forget.