Everything dies baby that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
I once had the cassette of Born in the U.S.A. and I gave it away to James. By the time I gave it away I had grown to hate Glory Days and My Hometown so much that I couldn’t stand playing the album at all. Then – and this is perfect – I wanted it back. I missed it. But when something is gone: it’s gone.
When Springsteen released Streets of Philadelphia I forgave him for being thrashed by commercial radio in the mid-80s.
At night I could hear the blood in my veins,
It was just as black and whispering as the rain,
On the streets of Philadelphia.
His ability to empathise with the outsider in society and the outsider in himself often make his lyrics very moving and lyrical. Later I saw him performing Ghost of Tom Joad on an American Late Night show of some kind. I assume they booked him because he’s The Boss, but it was just him and a guitar singing about solidarity among the lost, and the victims of society.
I guess what I missed when I gave up on the album Born in the U.S.A. (and what Reagan missed too; Reagan’s team who wanted to use the title track for their political campaign) is how disenfranchised and low the songs are. The title track is an indictment not a celebration.
The first Springsteen song I heard was Dancing in the Dark. I still love it. I don’t think I noticed until I was in my late twenties that it is a song about being depressed.
When I was 13 the lines I liked the most were,
Man I ain’t getting nowhere
I’m just living in a dump like this
There’s something happening somewhere
Baby I just know that there is
You can’t start a fire sitting ’round crying over a broken heart
You can’t start a fire worrying about your little world falling apart
I was the kind of teenager who thought he lived in a dump and that there was something happening somewhere. Of course I was actually living in the lap of luxury. There’s no pleasing some people.
A lot of these songs sound chipper. You can hand-clap and boogie your way through I’m Goin’ Down without noticing the title and the chorus, or the poisoned relationship it describes. Cover Me sounds catchy and fun. Working on the Highway.
Of all the album tracks Downbound Train is probably the song I like most after Dancing in the Dark. I respond to its final verses and the desperate urge for there not to be a hole inside you created by the absence of someone. There was a hole in me from almost the start and I’ve tried filling it with all kinds of things but mostly songs and wine. And Downbound Train leads right into I’m On Fire. Which people say is about lust, but I’d say is about the torment of unfulfilled desire. You never get what you want in a Springsteen song because you never get what you want if you’re someone like him.
The album before Born in the U.S.A. was Nebraska.
They declared me unfit to live said into that great void my soul’d be hurled
They wanted to know why I did what I did
Well sir I guess there’s just a meanness in this world.
Into that great void my soul’d be hurled.
Many souls be hurled. State Trooper. Or the narrator visiting the house of his father now owned by someone else:
My father’s house shines hard and bright
It stands like a beacon calling me in the night
Calling and calling so cold and alone
Shining ‘cross this dark highway where our sins lie unatoned
Or the album closer,
Seen a man standin’ over a dead dog lyin’ by the highway in a ditch
He’s lookin’ down kinda puzzled pokin’ that dog with a stick
Got his car door flung open he’s standin’ out on Highway 31
Like if he stood there long enough that dog’d get up and run
It struck me kinda funny, seemed kinda funny sir to me
Still at the end of every hard earned day people find some reason to believe
Well, Lord? What’s the reason? Can you tell me about the hole inside, about the way the past seems to glow more in the shadows of the night? Or how the sun shines bright on the sinner and the sinned against both? As long as there has been the idea of God there has been someone sitting in the night watching the stars seeking an explanation for loss.
People like Job who was the lucky winner in God’s bet with Satan, and when he finally asked for an explanation for being brought so low was told this by his maker:
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Book Of Job
There’s no meaning to the rain, but it sure sounds pretty falling on the trees and the earth of a morning.