Saturday, October 20, 2007

Thunder Road

I find myself endlessly drawn in by Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road". Maybe it's the melody, the slow build, or the simplicity of the narrative, but it grabbed me a while back, and hasn't let go since.

Springsteen is often overlooked lyrically due to perhaps the big sound that the E-street band builds, or perhaps because of his top 40 hits. Mention him to the average joe, and you'll get "Dancing in the Dark", "Hungry Heart" or (most likely) "Born in the U.S.A.". There's an entire article to be written on the incredible number of people who completely misunderstand that song. It's more than a little ironic that Springsteen thought of as Jingoistic, or blindly patriotic when the entire point of his "anthem" was the rejection and plight of Vietnam veterans by their own country. Add in the final verse about the "shadow of the penitentiary" the "gas fires of the refinery" and how the narrator has "nowhere to run, ain't go nowhere to go", and one begins to wonder whether those people have ever actually listened to the words. I suppose it's like a lot of songs: You can still find people who think the Kinks' "Lola" is about a woman. Though really, it fits the model of America in the 21st century: In your face about how right it is, while blissfully ignorant about how wrong it is.

"Thunder Road" is on the opposite side of the hope spectrum from "Born in the U.S.A". It speaks of possibilities, and hope. It stirs up the idea of escaping on the open road, toward the hope of something better. It also hits you on a visceral level, trying to level with you and tell you what it thinks of you, while still holding open the door and accepting you.

The opening of the song is a simple, plaintive harmonica solo, backed with a simple melody on the piano. (it's not until a minute or so into the song that we get any other instrumentation.
"The screen door slams, Mary's dress waves.
Like a vision she dances across the porch while the radio plays.
Roy Orbison is singing for the lonely, hey that's me and I want you only
Don't turn me home again, I just can't face myself alone again."

With just a few lines, Springsteen paints a vivid picture of Americana, of a boy and a girl, of love and solitude. As the song continues, the narrator tries to convince Mary to join him, to get away from it all, to leave the town behind and hit the open road. He offers a shot at redemption and salvation. There are no guarantees, but he offers her hope.

The song continues to build, and one item of interest is that there is no standard "chorus" as such. The song's title is mentioned in only a few lines, right in succession. It ends with an extended instrumental, saxophone blaring away. It began softly and quietly, but ends in a energetic celebration.

No conclusions as to why, but this one still rates in my top ten of all time.

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