VISITATION AT FORT HORN
Behind the walls where heat lightning falls
On five-starred gnat-faced princess
The buffalo man shoots at tin cans
Turns and shouts, "Children, blow your bridges"
In death row halls where dust men stall
For time's an enemy and a friend
At night, jackals crawl from the cracks in the walls
Salvation is never spoken
Morning sickness breaks the garrison gates
The cavalry cries for treason
The soldier strokes his pony and goes to shine the captain's sword
In this young boy's eyes lie reason
But then the sergeant burst in, says
"Captain, I caught a prisoner, Captain. A prisoner, what ho?"
The Captain looks up and says, "Let her go"
"But Captain, she commands the lightships that patrol the sea around the rainbow tips
Whose bagpipes wail unbroken
She haunts the night and the dawn and the light
On her sounds and words, your cavalry's choking"
The captain says, "Have no fear, boys, for what you hear
Because danger can't be spoken"
The war wind crackles and I hear the rustle of shackles
From the stockade door bursts Merlin
His eyes red and swollen like they've been pushed into the sun
His robe's aflame and burning
He jumps a horse, tries to get away, but gets caught in his irons
Tangled in his irons, and he falls to the ground, his neck was broken
His spirit rises high into the western sky
The magician lies an empty token
The sergeant walks over and kicks his body and says
"Captain, he's dead, uh, I think he's dead, uh, what should we do with him?"
The captain says, "Hang him
For those live moments on this earth are well spent
And I can see his body sure well bent
It's his magic that must be broken"
And now night cradles low
The penniless weed plays raw filth in the captain's corner
With anvils spread wide, the captain glides
Each blow to scare her, not hurt her
She spits with truth at the captain's boots
But he holds his rage suspended
The sergeant comes stinking of soldiers' gin
And cries, "Captain, the storm, she blows unending"
Oh, and the lightning cracked
And the sky was hacked by dagger rain, it was torn
And the yard was charged into a raging sea
And the captain ran crazily
For the first time in his life, in the captain's heart fear was born
So the captain storms out on the stoop
Panic strikes, sees Merlin's hung body stretched by the neck
Silhouetted on his door
The sergeant screams, "Captain, look high, look to the sky
Some whirling, swirling emission"
The captain falls to his knees, crying silent pleas
Because he knows, he knows
And he thinks to himself,
Page last updated: 03 May 2013
VISITATION AT FORT HORN is a song written by Bruce Springsteen who recorded it
in studio in mid-1972 (see the "London Publishing Demos" section below). The song, which has been
performed live around that period, has not been officially released. The above lyrics are
transcribed from the only known studio version of VISITATION AT FORT HORN.
Composition and Recording
There is no indication to when VISITATION AT FORT HORN was written. There is
only one studio version of the song in circulation among collectors, featuring Springsteen solo on
vocals and acoustic guitar. This studio take (from which the above lyrics are transcribed) was
recorded during the recording sessions for the Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. album at
914 Sound Studios in Blauvelt, NY, likely in June 1972. The Jun-Jul 1972 sessions at 914 Sound
Studios were produced by Mike Appel and Jim Cretecos, and Louis Lahav took the role of recording
engineer. According to Sony's database of Springsteen recording sessions, VISITATION AT FORT HORN
was cut on 27 Jun 1972, which means that the circulating studio version is probably from that 27
Jun 1972 session.
Consideration for Release
In early August 1972, the Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. album track
selection was decided upon, featuring 10 tracks, including
ARABIAN NIGHTS, and VISITATION AT FORT HORN. A copy of the
pre-release acetate of Springsteen's first album (with the original 10 tracks) is currently in the
possession of biographer Dave Marsh.
It seemed the album was finalized, but when then CBS president Clive Davis
listened to the tracks he commented that he felt the album lacked a potential hit single.
Springsteen composed two more commercial-sounding songs,
BLINDED BY THE LIGHT and
SPIRIT IN THE NIGHT, which bumped three solo
recordings: JAZZ MUSICIAN,
ARABIAN NIGHTS, and VISITATION AT FORT HORN.
Springsteen was in favour of including VISITATION AT FORT HORN on Greetings
From Asbury Park, N.J. instead of
IT'S HARD TO BE A SAINT IN THE CITY, but Mike
Appel thought it was too folky an pushed for
IT'S HARD TO BE A SAINT IN THE CITY instead.
"'Saint in the City' was so great," he told Charles R. Cross in a 1990 interview published in
issue #34/35 (Fall 1990/Winter 1991) of
Backstreets magazine. "I had to
convince him of that one. I had to throw a fit to get him to go with that."
In his 2012 book E Street Shuffle: The Glory Days of Bruce Springsteen
& the E Street Band, Clinton Heylin also mentioned that VISITATION AT FORT HORN appeared
on every provisional track-listing for the debut album, but at the end made way for
BLINDED BY THE LIGHT and
SPIRIT IN THE NIGHT.
London Publishing Demos
1972 was a massive songwriting period for Bruce Springsteen. He wrote many
songs in 1972, prior to the January 1973 release of his debut album. According to
Brucebase, the vast majority of the
known recordings of these songs were made during a 3-4 month period, between May and August 1972,
though a few were recorded shortly beforehand and several weren't recorded until early 1973.
Virtually all of these features Springsteen completely solo, on either acoustic guitar or
keyboards. Springsteen's manager Mike Appel and his partner Jim Cretecos selected some of this
large pool of recordings in 1973 and 1974 and distributed them in Europe most notably to the
UK-based music publishing agency Intersong Music Ltd. Some recordings were distributed on tape,
others on acetates. Most of these acetates were manufactured at Media Sound in New York City, NY,
and Angel Sound in Bedford, MA. Springsteen did not record at either of these locations. Intersong
also pressed its own acetates for distribution within the industry. This audio gradually filtered
into collector circles in the late seventies, often under the misnomer the "London Publishing
Demos". According to Clinton Heylin 2012 book E Street Shuffle: The Glory Days of Bruce
Springsteen & the E Street Band, the track-listing of the so-called "London demo-tape" is
as follows: STREET QUEEN,
IF I WAS THE PRIEST,
SONG FOR ORPHANS,
ARABIAN NIGHTS, and
COWBOYS OF THE SEA. Heylin adds that four other
songs were also lodged with Intersong, including NO NEED.
The remaining three are probably TOKYO,
VISITATION AT FORT HORN.
The studio version of VISITATION AT FORT HORN was released on the briefly-legal
albums The Early Years (Early Records), Unearthed (Masquerade Music, first issue
only), and Before The Fame (Pony Express Records, first issue only). See
PRODIGAL SON for more details.
The track title is misspelled "Visitation at Fort Horne" on these releases. The
correct spelling is "Visitation at Fort Horn" according to Laurel Canyon records.
Before its release on the above albums, the studio version of VISITATION AT
FORT HORN has been circulating on some bootlegs, including The Early Years Volume One
(Bagel Boys Records).
Springsteen likely performed VISITATION AT FORT HORN during his short-lived
solo period in summer 1972.
VISITATION AT FORT HORN is known to have been performed at least once during
the Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. Tour; during Springsteen's 6-night stand (31 January
to 05 February 1973) at Max's Kansas City in New York City, NY – in a 1990 interview with Charles
R. Cross, Mike Appel recalled: "I remember the first time I heard 'Visitation at Fort Horn' I was
sitting in Max's Kansas City and Bruce decided to do it that night. He used Clarence, Vini and
Garry as these Sons of the Pioneers-type singers. I was with this guy from Epic [Records] and he
turned to me and said, 'I just don't believe this guy. This is the greatest thing I've ever
to display/hide detailed known Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. Tour performances list]
- Jan-Feb 1973 at Max's Kansas City, New York City, NY
As far as it's known, only one artist has recorded and released Bruce
Springsteen's VISITATION AT FORT HORN:
Fred Gorhau -- Before The Fame
Cassette tape - Pony Express Records (C-0949) - USA, 1995
This is a Bruce Springsteen tribute album, containing covers of 15 early songs.
Some of the above info about the studio recording and the live performances is
taken from Brucebase. Info and scan
for the Fred Gorhau cover album is taken from the