The first song I ever heard by Bruce Springsteen changed my life’s trajectory, though I didn’t know it at the time. I was in high school, listening to the fm station at a friend’s house and a story about Spanish Johnny and his Jane stopped me in my tracks, the haunting and soulful music combining with the most drenchingly romantic scenes of the streets took me to a place I never wanted to leave.
It’s been more than 40 years and I still want to visit and remember—but I don’t know if I’d be willing to live there now.
When Devils and Dust came out, I thought of it as an album of short stories. And I admired it more than I wanted to listen to it, though, as with all of Bruce’s music, the more I listened, the more I found to both admire and enjoy.
This new album is trying the souls of a number of hardcore Bruce fans that I know. But for any number of reasons, I am embracing it wholly, from its start, even though I know it’s not the old Bruce that thrilled me down to my toes. He’s older, I’m older, and while I don’t think it’s “easy listening” (despite Bruce’s new (and warmly lovely) crooning and non-rocking approach), it’s easy for me to listen to it. Easier than D&D, or some other albums (I’m looking at you, Seeger Sessions, but not just the Seeger Sessions.)
I appreciate that these are all songs WRITTEN BY BRUCE. I don’t usually get epiphanies when I listen to songs by other people, but I always get a few with Bruce’s lyrics.
Many reviews are out, so I decided I’d just address the album as the series of connected vignettes that it is:
Hitch Hikin starts off the journey—someone who allows the fates to direct him rather than commit to a more traditional life trajectory. It’s a theme that is repeated throughout the album—what happens when you don’t make a choice and take the actions to see it through on a long-term basis. Choosing velocity (“man, she sure can fly”) over settling.
The Wayfarer continues on that theme:
Some find peace here on the sweet streets, the sweet streets of home
Where kindness falls and your heart calls for a permanent place of your own
But not the wayfarer: he “drifts from town to town,” his “wheels are spinning round and round.”
Tuscon Train is a variation on the theme. Once the Hitch Hikin Wayfarer gave his heart, but the road beckoned and now he’s hoping to get his miracle back (yes, I’m skipping ahead). He’s hoping he can prove—to himself and her—that he can change.
Are the repeating sounds of the train coming a hopeful promise of relationship velocity or an indication that we can’t stop repeating our patterns, even if they are self-harming and negate hard-won wisdom?
Western Stars - the title track includea a metaphor that elicits mockery in the ranks (“A coyote with someone’s Chihuahua in its teeth” is akin to that dancing catfish in The Rising), but is our hitch-hiking wayfarer recognizing his needs and who he is and who he might have been, if he weren’t who he is today. This one clearly represents someone who is on the side closer to death than one who has youthful—or even middle aged—aspirations. What truly glitters at the end? Isn’t that a question many of us wrestle with today, those of us who have traveled with the quintessentially fiery and inspiring performer, Bruce Springsteen, for decades?
When we “cross the wire,’ which “old ways” characterize us, for better or for worse?
Sleepy Joe’s Cafe - Joe and Amy (like Bruce and Patti?) provide the wayfarers with a place to live, life, dance, and love. Which patron is the most free—or could it be the loving hosts that truly enjoy something richer, a different kind of freedom.
Drive Fast (The Stuntman) has gotten a lot of comparisons to The Wrestler, but this seems more initially accessible musically. The singer of this one also seems akin to the protagonist of Western Stars. He may well have been a stuntman for John Wayne, as well, only he was the chihuahua to the B movie’s actress’ coyote.
Maybe we’re all somebody’s chihuahua, chasin’ . . .
Chasin’ Wild Horses - Joe Roberts’ brother makes a reappearance, after Joe lets him escape over the state line. It doesn’t make geographical sense, but we’re talking eternal verities here.
Bro still dreams of Maria. She must have been quite a woman.
Wildness leads to homelessness . . . sometimes.
Sundown - This one’s quickly becoming a favorite. Hope for reconnection. Sometimes it’s all you can do, hope. And keep going.
You stop running, you keep going, and you hope for what you’ve (permanently or temporarily) lost. ISF
Somewhere North of Nashville - Hollywood isn’t the only city of broken dreams. Sometimes you want to be a rock and roll star (or EVERYTHING). What if you give up love for glory and get neither?
Stones - You can give up glory for love, and still get fucked. Bleakness prevails when you put your faith in the wrong person. Even if you stay with that person, the vessel is patched, but you can still see and feel the broken parts. And when they cut you, the blood is there, even when it dries.
There Goes My Miracle - But sometimes you are the wrong person. And you lose the most precious of gems. There are some nods to classic oldies on this album. Sleepy Joe’s Cafe and There Goes My Miracle evoke two Lieber/Stoller classics featured in Smokey Joe’s Cafe, the play: the play’s title and “There Goes My Baby.”
Hello Sunshine - Wherein our hitch hikin’ wayfarer finally realizes what is his alchemical gold and what is just some nasty nigredo. His mental health demands the healthiest choices for HIM.
The thing about this album of vignettes is strongly seen in terms of track order/pacing. The ending track is what Bruce wants to leave us with.
Moonlight Motel - Some dreams last. Perhaps they’re the worse for wear, but they’re real:
“It's better to have loved, yeah, it's better to have loved.” And they’re worth backtracking for.
Remember the spiel Bruce used to share in concert. His father wanted him to be a lawyer. Nah.
But his mom, his lodestar, wanted him to be an author.
Bruce wanted everything.
I think he pretty much got it in these last few years.