Studio version

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, "A magician"

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. One studio version of the song is in circulation among collectors. It's a studio take likely recorded around Jul-Aug 1972 at 914 Sound Studios in Blauvelt, NY. It features Springsteen solo on vocals and acoustic guitar. The Jul-Aug 1972 sessions at 914 Sound Studios were produced by Mike Appel and Jim Cretecos, and Louis Lahav took the role of recording engineer. The above lyrics transcribed from that circulating studio version of VISITATION AT FORT HORN. According to Sony's database of Springsteen recording sessions, VISITATION AT FORT HORN was cut on 27 Jun 1972 at 914 Sound Studios. 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 JAZZ MUSICIAN, 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.

VISITATION AT FORT HORN (written as "Visitation") appears on a Springsteen handwritten song list that was put up for auction in December 2013 on This is most probably a list of songs that Springsteen was considering taking into the studio at the very early stages of the Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. recording sessions (July 1972).

[Click thumbnail to enlarge/reduce scan]

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 feature 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, SOUTHERN SUN, HENRY BOY, IF I WAS THE PRIEST, VIBES MAN, SONG FOR ORPHANS, SHE'S LEAVING, THE SONG, 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, MARIE, and VISITATION AT FORT HORN.

Unofficial Releases

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.

Bruce Springsteen -- The Early Years [album cover art] Bruce Springsteen -- Unearthed [first issue, album cover art] Bruce Springsteen -- Before The Fame [first and second USA issues, album cover art]

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.

Bootleg Releases

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).

Bruce Springsteen -- The Early Years Volume One (Bagel Boys Records) [bootleg cover art]

Live History

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 heard'."

[Click here to display/hide detailed known Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. Tour performances list]


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 - 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 Nebraska website.