The night is dark but the sidewalk's bright
Lined with the light of the living
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10th Avenue and 43rd Street
“Tenth Avenue Freeze-out” had become a staple track for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, despite its lackluster showing on the charts when it debuted as a single in 1976. Yet, among Springsteen fans, it is cited as one of the most interesting and complex bits of storytelling that The Boss has offered up. Appearing on the breakthrough album Born to Run
, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out” has created a great deal of speculation and discussion amongs listeners. Most have read the song as a loose retelling of the meeting and subsequent formation of the members of the E Street Band in the mid '70's. Yet, Springsteen, when asked to define what a “Tenth Avenue freeze-out” might be, has said that he has “no idea what it means. But it's important.”
The most common reading of the song place is the location associated with it at Tenth Avenue in the Hell's Kitchen area of Manhattan. Although Springsteen and many members that formed his backing band hail from New Jersey, many formative years were spent in the big apple, and Tenth Avenue is a well worn thoroughfare that was once known as a path through the seedy and downtrodden areas of Manhattan's west side; this, of course, before the area was gentrified in more recent years. This locale seems to suit the dark situation described in parts of the song, despite its upbeat sound, that includes lines such as “I'm running on the bad side / And I got my back to the wall.”
Hell's Kitchen Park
Hell's Kitchen was once known as a rough and tumble area, and Tenth Avenue was at its heart. The area, which to this day provides a great deal of the infrastructure to the ritzy areas of Manhattan, drew many of the poor and working class that aimed to stabilize this infrastructure and find employment. The area was soon associated with working class Irish and Italian Americans, whose conflicts were immortalized in tales such as West Side Story
. This area is loosely boxed in by Chelsea, the Upper West Side, and the Hudson River. It is difficult to determine the precise origin of the name “Hell's Kitchen,” but one New York historian said the name was given to the area early on because it was “the lowest and filthiest [neighborhood] in the city.”
This description of Tenth Avenue in Manhattan is probably more aligned with the experiences described in Springsteen's song, yet since the early '90s the area has seen tremendous change, and many noted a sharp increase in housing prices there. Many actors and aspiring musicians make their home in this area due to its proximity to cultural epicenters such as the Broadway theaters.
This pace and change is mirrored in the song as the closing chorus sees the tune ending on a more triumphant note, perhaps foretelling the future success of Springsteen and the E Street Band. “From the coastline to the city / All the little pretties raise their hands / I'm gonna sit back right easy and laugh."
~ Maggie Grimason
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out Songfacts
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