He's 59 and jumping off a piano
- in front of an estimated TV audience of one
billion. It's thought to be the most-watched Super
Bowl in history. Fireworks exploding into the
night sky. Bruce Springsteen is now at the microphone.
The opening bars of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out are
pumped out all over the globe.
Tenth Avenue what?
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out was the first song played
by Bruce Springsteen at his Super Bowl 2009 half-time
performance. Bruce's "twelve minute party"
playlist also featured the songs "Born to
Run", "Working on a Dream" and
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out was also the second song
on Springsteen's 1975 break-through album Born
But what is a Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out?
from the single sleeve
But what exactly is a Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out?
Why would Springsteen open one of the biggest
gigs of his career with it? And why should you
I didn't care. Maybe I still don't. I'm no big
Bruce Springsteen fan, but I caught his Superbowl
performance on YouTube and was impressed by the
spectacle and the performance. It was an entertaining
mass media event. Global stars are now rare, as
each country has developed its own pop niches.
Yet Bruce is a global star on stage in front
of a billion people, and he's chosen to sing about
a Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.
The tune nagged at me. Eventually I looked up
Bruce Springsteen has packaged himself for global
consumption. But look at his lyrics, as his millions
of fans know, and they're not as simplistic as
the image of the singer that was once projected
by the press. President Reagan, for example, may
have attempted to adopt the anthemic chorus of
"Born in the U.S.A" for his 1984 presidential
campaign, but the verses reveal that the song
is a bitter commentary on the treatment of Vietnam
veterans. What I'm trying to say is that if you're
not a Springsteen fan, maybe don't dismiss him
out of hand.
I am aware how ridiculous writing about
this is, but...
Before I go further, I also have to say that
I'm aware that pop music is pop music, it doesn't
require analysis. Literal interpretation of pop
music is even more foolish / ridiculous - but
I think this song is interesting and will bear
being poked at. I'm lost in music, caught in a
Bruce Springsteen's not telling
So what does Bruce Springsteen say a Tenth Avenue
Freeze-Out is? He says he doesn't know. Musicians
often say this - they don't want to spoil their
listeners interpretations. But recently, in his
Super Bowl blog, Springsteen wrote: "During
"Tenth Avenue" I tell the story of my
band…and other things "when the change
was made uptown"….".
Online, fans tend to agree with "The Boss".
They say it's a song about how Springsteen formed
his E Street Band in the mid 70s. But they say
they don't know what a Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Tenth Avenue? E Street meets 10th Avenue in Belmar,
New Jersey. Springsteen was born in Long Branch,
So now we know where the Tenth Avenue in the
song title is from - and it points towards the
song being about Springsteen's formative musical
Street meets 10th Avenue, Belmar
But what's a Freeze Out? Let's head to the dictionary.
Collins: Freeze Out, verb;
"To prevent (someone) from being involved
in an activity, conversation, etc., by being unfriendly
And in poker, a Freeze-Out is a "A table-stakes
cash game or tournament that continues until a
small number of players (usually only one) has
all the money."
And to me, a Freeze-Out sounds cool musician-speak.
Simple as that. And Wikipedia says: "Cool
has been used to describe a general state of well-being,
a transcendent, internal peace and serenity."
So we have three definitions. So far a Tenth
Avenue Freeze-Out is a) Being unfriendly to someone
in New Jersey. b) A type of poker game in New
Jersey and c) New Jersey serenity.
Sieve the lyrics
Now let's sieve the definitions through the song's
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out has three verses;
Tear drops on the city
Bad Scooter searching for his groove
Seem like the whole world walking pretty
And you can't find the room to move
Well everybody better move over, that's all
I'm running on the bad side
And I got my back to the wall
Tenth Avenue freeze-out, Tenth Avenue freeze-out
My attempt at analysis, first verse: Bad Scooter
is Bruce Springsteen. The first verse is establishing
tension - desire for something better. The dictionary
definition of Freeze-Out springs to mind: "To
prevent (someone) from being involved in an activity".
In other words, Bruce's surroundings are stopping
him taking his music to the public / being the
musician he wants to be. The music behind the
lyrics is "cool".
I'm stranded in the jungle
Taking all the heat they was giving
The night is dark but the sidewalk's bright
And lined with the light of the living
From a tenement window a transistor blasts
Turn around the corner things got real quiet real
She hit me with a Tenth Avenue freeze-out
Tenth Avenue freeze-out
And I'm all alone, I'm all alone
And kid you better get the picture
And I'm on my own, I'm on my own
And I can't go home
My attempt at analysis, second verse: Bruce states
his desire to be something better. But moves the
tension up a notch. Now it's not just his surroundings
that are preventing him from bettering himself,
there's also a woman preventing him from activity.
But he's started out on his journey and can't
return. The music is "cool".
When the change was made uptown
And the Big Man joined the band
From the coastline to the city
All the little pretties raise their hands
I'm gonna sit back right easy and laugh
When Scooter and the Big Man bust this city in
With a Tenth Avenue freeze-out, Tenth Avenue freeze-out
Tenth Avenue freeze-out...
My attempt at analysis, third verse: Tension
is resolved. The Born to Run album took many frustrating
months to make, changes included moving to a new
recording studio and replacing band members, so
that Bruce could achieve the sound he had in his
head. The Big Man is Clarence Clemons (saxophone),
an important member of the E Street Band. The
Freeze-Out seems to become more positive in this
verse. Is it a Freeze-Out in the poker sense?
Bruce can see that his future is bright, that
he's one of "a small number of players [that
will have] all the money." ? The music is
A Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out is...
So, in conclusion, A Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
is a phrase that attempts to encapsulate three
a) Rejection/dejection in the provinces.
b) Intention to better yourself.
c) The sound of a band that's playing tight and
"cool". The feeling of being part of
Thirty-five years on from its first performance,
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band still
perform Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out because it's multi-layered.
It's the story of how they broke out of New Jersey
and became one of the most famous bands in history,
compacted and distilled into a three minute pop
By CR for Extrageographic.
Do you agree?
your response to:
and we'll publish the best replies here.
Bruce's first UK festival performance
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band will
be headlining the Hard Rock Calling festival in
Hyde Park, London, UK, on Sunday 28 June 2009.
See Livenationexperience.co.uk for more information.