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Tenth Avenue Freeze-out


Bruce Springsteen

Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

This tells the story of the E Street Band coming together. On Springsteen's first album in 1973, he didn't use a lot of backup musicians, but on his next one The E Street band was crucial to the sound. Later on, Springsteen released the albums Nebraska and The Ghost Of Tom Joad without the band, but they didn't sell nearly as well as the ones they played on.
Tenth Avenue runs through E Street in Belmar, New Jersey. The band got their name from the street, which is where they used to rehearse. Springsteen, however, has said that he has no idea what a "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" is.
The "Big Man" in the third verse is Clarence Clemons. Springsteen met him when Clemons came into a club in Asbury Park, N.J., where Bruce was playing. It was a stormy night, and the door flew off the hinges when Clemons opened it. Springsteen would talk about how he "Literally blew the door off the place."
In Clemons' autobiography Big Man: Real Life and Tall Tales, he explained: "It was one of those nor'easters - cold, raining, lightning and thunder. Now, this is God's honest truth. I open the door to the club and a gust of wind blew the door right out of my hand and down the street. So here I am, a big black guy, in Asbury Park, with lightning flashing behind me. I said to Bruce, 'I want to sit in.' He says, 'Sure, anything you want.'" Clemons was working as a social worker at the time and playing in a Jersey Shore bar band when he got his big break with Bruce.
At many of their early shows, this was the first song in the set.
Springsteen used this to introduce the band on the 1999 E Street Band Reunion tour. He would explain what each member brought to the group (Roy Bittan - Foundation, Little Steven - Soul, etc.), ending with Clemons. Some nights the band members did short solos as they were introduced.
"Bad Scooter" in the opening line, "Teardrops on the city Bad Scooter searching for his groove" is Springsteen. Note the initials are the same.
While touring with "the other band" during his 1992/93 tour promoting the Human Touch and Lucky Town albums, Springsteen sometimes brought out Clarence "Big Man" Clemons to play his usual sax part in this song. When introduced, the crowd always gave the big man a huge ovation. (thanks, Kyle - Belleville, Canada)
After imploring the audience to put down the guacamole dip and chicken fingers (we were actually eating chicken wings, but anyway...) Springsteen played this as the first song of his performance at halftime of the 2009 Super Bowl between the Cardinals and Steelers.
Bruce Springsteen
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Comments (5):

First of all, Springsteen doesn't only sing about NJ.
Try this:
There is a famous Tenth Avenue. In Manhattan. Hell's Kitchen to be exact. Back in the 70s Bruce and his bandmates played a lot of shows in small clubs (i.e. CBGBs) in the West Village which abuts Hell's Kitchen. This is decades before gentrification, so really mean streets. Think the Warriors movie without the goofy costumes.

You're a performer, with your friends, walking around Manhattan after a gig, drunk on a rainy night (tear drops on the city), maybe looking to hook up. Maybe you go take a piss or duck into a store and you look around and your friends are scattered. You might get jumped, you're on tenth avenue in Hell's Kitchen. You're lost, you're all alone and you can't find your way home.

A radio blares from a tenement window gives some comfort but then you turn a corner and it gets really quiet. Things just got much worse.

What you could use in the future is a big sax-playing black man in the band, so if you're out again, you have some real back up. But you won't forget the night you were frozen out(couldn't get off of) tenth street.
- Arin, San Francisco, CA
I'm kind of glad to learn that Bruce had no particular meaning behind the term "10th Avenue Freeze Out". From when I first heard it at age 9 to when I was a freshman in college and one of my roommates worshipped Springsteen, I always thought I was hearing him say "Red Devil in the Free Zone". I guess that could qualify as a mondegreen, in the "'Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy" vein.
- S.D., Denver, CO
This IS amongst Bruce's early stuff though...
- Kyle, Belleville, Canada
the keyboards are almost overpowering in the beginning, like bruce's early stuff....
- Scott, chicago, IL
"10th Avenue" actually refers to 10th Ave in Belmar, NJ.
- Bob, Trenton, NJ
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