Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Songs about New Jersey? Sure!

Bruce Springsteen: Born to Run

Okay this one is a particularly big one. The whole album is about being trapped in your dead end town or city and desperately trying to escape anyway you can however briefly or futile, the whole thing leads like a stunning rock opera, its heroes being desperate teenagers turning rock stars and villains in the shit hole they hate to call home, grab a car, a car is freedom. ‘Thunder road’ sums up the need to drive so you can escape, snatching a few brief hours of mad delusion with some girl and forgetting you’re a part of the world. ‘I got this guitar and I learnt how to make it talk and my cars out back if you’re ready to take that long walk, from your front porch to my front seat, the doors open but the ride ain’t free’ there’s a petrol fuelled tension between them, it’s juvenile and youthful and hopeful but at the same time clawing and snatching knowing that time is running out.

‘Tenth Avenue Freeze Out’ rides through the city on the back of a scooter with a nice upbeat feel and sustained piano throughout. It loosely tells the story of the forming of the band (Bruce Springsteen’s band was named the E-Street band) and is a particularly nice tune, when Bruce mentions Big Man he is referring to the saxophone player Clarence Clemons who sadly passed away this June, he was loved throughout the industry and the name Big Man comes from his incredible stature (giggity) you’ll hear more of him later on in the album.

‘NIght’ is literally about the night, working all day for a crap boss doing a job you hate but pushing through to the darkness of the night where you can sense freedom, you get in the car and grab the girl and go! Its the feeling you can get as your muscles ignite with the highway burning out the night.

‘Backstreets’ is a cool song, it kicks of with a beautiful piano and organ intro played by Roy Bittan, it sets up the song for the lyrical content and the beauty of the story. It’s the story of our young male protagonist and his love Terry and how they met and survived ‘trying in vain to breathe the fire we were born in’. Terry eventually leaves our protagonist and we hear his anger and pain as he screams out at his lost love and the man she left him for. The lyrics are stunning and are classic Springsteen at his poetic narrative best. So here they are:

One soft infested summer me and Terry became friends 
Trying in vain to breathe the fire we was born in 
Catching rides to the outskirts tying faith between our teeth 
Sleeping in that old abandoned beach house getting wasted in the heat 
And hiding on the backstreets, hiding on the backstreets 
With a love so hard and filled with defeat 
Running for our lives at night on them backstreets 

Slow dancing in the dark on the beach at Stockton's Wing 
Where desperate lovers park we sat with the last of the Duke Street Kings 
Huddled in our cars waiting for the bells that ring 
In the deep heart of the night we cut loose from everything 
to go running on the backstreets, running on the backstreets 
Terry, we swore we'd live forever, taking on them backstreets together. 

Endless juke joints and Valentino drag 
where dancers scraped the tears up off the streets dressed down in rags 
Running into the darkness, some hurt bad, some really dying 
At night sometimes it seemed you could hear the whole damn city crying 
Blame it on the lies that killed us, blame it on the truth that ran us down 
You can blame it all on me Terry, it don't matter to me now 
When the breakdown hit at midnight there was nothing left to say
But I hated him and I hated you when you went away 

Laying here in the dark you're like an angel on my chest 
Just another tramp of hearts crying tears of faithlessness 
Remember all the movies, Terry, we'd go see 
Trying to learn how to walk like heroes we thought we had to be 
And after all this time to find we're just like all the rest 
Stranded in the park and forced to confess 
To hiding on the backstreets, hiding on the backstreets 
We swore forever friends on the backstreets until the end. 
Hiding on the backstreets, hiding on the backstreets.

Imagine being born to run, the day you were born you were going to spend the rest of your life running. Running from the cops, running away from home, from your job, your city and trying desperately to escape to run to somewhere better but always, always running. That’s what ‘Born to Run’ is about, it’s written beautifully in the form of a love letter to a girl named ‘Wendy’. It is one of the most uplifting and depressing songs of all time and the best thing to do, in my opinion, is give you the lyrics.

In the day we sweat it out in the streets of a runaway american dream
At night we ride through mansions of glory in suicide machines
Sprung from cages out on highway 9,
Chrome wheeled, fuel injected and stepping out over the line
Baby this town rips the bones from your back
Its a death trap, it's a suicide rap
We gotta get out while were young
`cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run

Wendy let me in I wanna be your friend
I want to guard your dreams and visions
Just wrap your legs round these velvet rims
And strap your hands across my engines
Together we could break this trap
Well run till we drop, baby well never go back
Will you walk with me out on the wire
`cause baby I’m just a scared and lonely rider
But I gotta find out how it feels
I want to know if love is wild, girl I want to know if love is real

Beyond the palace hemi-powered drones
Scream down the boulevard
The girls comb their hair in rearview mirrors
And the boys try to look so hard
The amusement park rises bold and stark
Kids are huddled on the beach in a mist
I wanna die with you wendy on the streets tonight
In an everlasting kiss

The highways jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive
Everybody's out on the run tonight but there's no place left to hide
Together wendy well live with the sadness
Ill love you with all the madness in my soul
Someday girl I don't know when were gonna get to that place
Where we really want to go and we’ll walk in the sun
But till then tramps like us baby we were born to run.

The track is deliberately epic sounding and was Bruce’s last ditch attempt to make it big so he wrote the song big, his planned worked spectacularly. Quite amusingly when Bruce Springsteen plays this live he doesn't usually sing, there’s not much point as everyone in attendance sings it as loud as they can whether he likes it or not. Luckily he doesn't mind.

‘She’s the one’ is about the classic rock standard, an incredibly beautiful woman with a heart of ice. Our protagonist knows she lies but all he wants to do is believe her and so on and so on... it’s classic rock and roll and takes influences from Bo Diddley and Buddy Holly. The album is set in New Jersey, (yes ‘Jersey Shore’ territory, but please for the love of God don’t think of it like that but as the shit-hole it clearly is in this album) but there is a point where the protagonist crosses over to New York city which is described in the last epic track ‘Jungle Land’. 

The bridge between the two, both literally and metaphorically is the song ‘Meeting Across The River’, the song has a delicious film noir style to it and tells the story through the eyes of a petty criminal on a last ditch attempt to get it right. The lyrics are sympathetic to the criminal and his friend eddie who our hero needs to help him make the crossing and to do what needs to be done. All we know is he’s got to meet with a man on the other side. He asks Eddie for a few bucks and a ride, he is desperate and this is made all the worse by how his girlfriend is thinking of leaving because he sold her radio, he thinks if he can make this work he can save himself and his relationship, he drags himself deeper into this hole he has made for himself. The song doesn't give much away about why he has to meet this man, but it seems that if he messes it up the consequences will be very serious, the song has a foreboding quality suggesting that they are perhaps not likely to succeed or indeed survive. It’s a great, great song and paints a beautiful picture with enough space left for the listener to fill in the details.

If ‘Born to run’ was epic then ‘Jungle Land’ is explosive. The song sums up the entirety of the album, the initial desperate optimism and hopefulness ultimately ending in despair and defeat. It’s a story of love set against the backdrop of gang violence and the death of ‘the rat’. They are my favourite lyrics on the album, particularly the last two stanzas, which rank in my favourite lyrics of all time.

Beneath the city two hearts beat,
Soul engines running through a night so tender,
In a bedroom locked, in whispers of soft refusal and then surrender.
In the tunnels uptown
The Rat’s own dream guns him down 
As shots echo down them hallways in the night,
No one watches when the ambulance pulls away
Or as the girl shuts out the bedroom light.

Outside the streets on fire in a real death waltz
Between what’s flesh and what's fantasy 
And the poets down here don't write nothing at all, 
They just stand back and let it all be,
And in the quick of the night they reach for their moment
And try to make an honest stand,
But they wind up wounded, not even dead,
Tonight in Jungleland.

I could happily analyse these lyrics for you, or even the whole song or the album and I would probably write about five to six thousand words on the subject. But that would be no fun, well it would be for me but it would be very dull and tedious for you and besides it is much better to find the beauty in them yourself (so gay). Needless to say it’s an amazing album and my favourite narrative album of all time. I rinsed the hell out of it for about three months when I was eighteen and still know all the words to a few of the songs. Incidentally ‘Born to Run’ is one of the best karaoke songs to sing when you’re pissed. 

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