Springsteen’s monologue in Lou Reed’s Street Hassle

When I was 16, I listened to Street Hassle obsessively.  On headphones of course because certain lines would have been very embarrassing if my siblings had heard them.  I was transported from my humdrum life as a sheltered upper class shy teen in Puerto Rico to the gritty New York world of transsexuals, drugs, and tenement apartments.  But maybe more profoundly, I started to appreciate more a certain kind of nostalgic sadness for something that was “slipping away” (my own childhood, was it?).  I never really liked Springsteen’s brief monologue late in the song, though there was a certain thrill to knowing that these underground artists like Lou Reed and Patti Smith were so respected by mainstream pop artists like Springsteen that there was collaboration.

Anyway, here is a nice summary of the facts (as per the Internet…) on the monologue:

Bruce Springsteen makes a guest appearance on this song, with a brief rap during the “Slipaway” section (from 9:02 to 9:39, lyrics above in bold). He is not credited for his performance in the liner notes to Street Hassle, possibly due to his ongoing legal battles with former manager Mike Appel at the time. In an interview published in Rolling Stone magazine issue #551 (04 May 1989), journalist David Fricke asked Lou Reed how did Springsteen come to recite those lines on STREET HASSLE. Reed explained, “Because if I’d done them, they’d have come out funny. And when he did it, it sounded real. He was at the same studio, the Record Plant. It wasn’t making it with me doing it. So the engineer said, ‘Why don’t you ask Bruce to do it? He could really do that.’ So we asked Bruce to do it, and he rewrote it a little.” STREET HASSLE, or at least Springsteen’s part of the song, was recorded in October 1977 at The Record Plant in New York City, NY, when Springsteen was at the New York studio recording his Darkness On The Edge Of Town album. In the last line of the rap, Springsteen states “tramps like us, baby we were born to pay”, an altered quotation from his own song BORN TO RUN. As Reed explained to Fricke, it was him who wrote that part. “It had been written with him in mind, but he wasn’t there. I was just playing off the title.”


About mkevane

Economist at Santa Clara University and Director of Friends of African Village Libraries.
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