This is surprising to me, given "Out on this highway, counting white lines" in "American Beauty" -- must be intended as a double meaning.
THIS SONG IS GREAT AND THIS IS A GREAT THREAD WOW
"GYPSY BIKER" IS SO GOOD. Let me tell you -- it took some time for me to come around on it, somehow. I guess there is something.... loose?? about it, musically, compared to a "Girls in Their Summer Clothes" or, well, most of the rest of the album, that made me just kind of gloss over it. BUT IT HAS BEEN SEVERAL YEARS NOW SINCE I HAVE SEEN THE ERROR OF MY FORMER WAYS AND REALIZED THAT "GYPSY BIKER" IS IN FACT A MASTERPIECE
MAGIC IS AN EXCELLENT ALBUM - IT IS MY #5 BRUCE ALBUM OF ALL TIME, which probably makes it like my #6 album in general, AND I HAVE FLIRTED, EVEN, WITH PUTTING IT AT #4 (because I don't really know how to flirt with me, so I instead spend my time on things such as this), THE POINT BEING, 'TIS AMONG NOT JUST THE BETTER ONES, BUT, INDEED, THE BEST ONES.
And on that glorious album I have found that "Gypsy Biker" is perhaps my third- or fourth-favorite song???? Which is really favorable considering how great the album is!! "Devil's Arcade" is my #1 -- it's my second-favorite song ever written, POSSIBLY my FAVORITE(!!), and so certainly my favorite here -- and I think I'd also pprproroooobably have to put "GIIIIIIRLS in Their Summer Clothes" above "Gypsy Biker" maybe.... and like... possssibly "You'll Be Comin' Down"? Possibly? But tbh I think even those are wrong and "Gypsy Biker" might honestly be my #2 cut on the album.
IT IS JUST SO GOOD.
IT IS SUCH A PERFECT PROTEST SONG.
I mean -- like -- okay. When I think of Magic, as a whole... and let me tell you, I think of Magic often. It may be the Springsteen album I revisit the most frequently. I love Magic. If I didn't need to work in order to gain money (curse you, capitalism!) or, like.... eat... like -- if I could just upload my consciousness into media, and exist within that media indefinitely -- I would very, very likely spend a LOT of time simply existing in the album Magic. I love it. It is so great. I think about this album often. Okay? But, when I think about it as a whole -- this song, these lyrics - these are the lyrics I think of. THIS song is PURE, absolute Magic. (I didn't mean that as a play on words. I just meant, like, the album. This one embodies the spirit of the album.)
I mean -- well, okay, first things first, just go listen to it. LISTEN TO IT. Because I could sit here picking lyrics or you could go back and LISTEN to them delivered in context, because they're all great -- but -- if you were going to try to hook someone on Magic, lyrically... suppose you could play them no audio, but you were to convince them this album was great, and could choose only a couple of lines with which to do it. Okay? There are -- like -- Magic is full of great lyrics. There are so, so, SO many lyrics you can pick from this album that embody it perfectly. (Some of which are on found in "Lonesome Day" rather than anywhere on Magic!) But -- a LOT of them -- are here. Like, if you were going to pick one lyric, can you honestly look me in the eyes (metaphorically since we don't live together [also I don't like eye contact]) and tell me you
"The favored march up over the hill
In some fool's parade
Shouting 'Victory for the righteous!'
But there ain't much here but graves"
(note: one could read it as "fool's" or "fools'" - I'm not sure which one it's MEANT to be, properly - and it actually changes the line quite a bit, and I think I tend to hear it as "fools'" - but, it's great either way.) Anyways. Ambiguity aside.
Like... god. I've heard it so many times -- I, I mean checking my last.fm, I've heard this song 150 times. (It'll be 151 before too long!) So -- like -- you know -- when these songs, when they're so familiar, sometimes you gotta... like... in some review of "Born to Run" (the song), maybe Jim Beviglia's book, he said that to really appreciate it, you have to remove yourself from the insular context of Bruuuuuce-dom and go back, listen to the song as if you've never heard it before, and just let the lyrics hit you as if you're hearing them for the first time again. Really try to put yourself in that mindset and engage with the beauty of them for what they are. And that's - that's a great idea.
And so, trying to do that here... Jesus, those lyrics, they're like a fucking slogan to me. They DEFINE this album for me (as do so some other slogans found therein.) But like... going back, and looking at them...
"The favored march up over the hill
In some fools parade
Shouting 'Victory for the righteous!'
...But there ain't much here but graves"
....isn't that.... is that not wh--guys, I have chills--is that not what you want every single fucking line in every anti-war protest song you've ever HEARD to be??? God. It smacks me. It absolutely smacks me. It's just -- it flows perfectly, setting up... Jesus, guys, the fucking favored. I'll come back to that. But it flows perfectly, setting up this image of grand, feel-good nationalism, yet with an edge that makes it clear it's criticizing it from outside, not taking part... yet still existing kind of within that atmosphere, on the surface... yet then, it just SMACKS you with "There ain't much here but graves."
There is no victory.
There are righteous.
There ain't much, but graves.
Completely fucking undercuts -- I mean, Jesus, talk about some fucking juxtaposition -- completely undercuts it and just SMACKS you with desolation, loss, and grief.
And -- I mean -- the favored. I love it. It just -- that one word, how on Earth is Bruce's word choice so fucking great, that ONE world tells you everything. That there's people in power handing out preferential treatment, people receiving it and thus spreading the message... and therefore... unfavored, on the outs... and now, I just thought of a different line, and it makes me want to cry.
I mean -- like -- okay. Okay. If you want to talk about the best lyrics to open any Springsteen song... I'm not saying these ARE the best, but I'll sure as shit say they're up there:
"The speculators made their money
On the blood you shed..."
"The speculators made their money on the blood you shed."
I mean -- I could go on - PLEASE, someone, can we go through this line by FUCKing line? Please. But like, I mean I'm not even analyzing here, I'm just euphoric over how goddamn great the song IS. It's just -- every fucking line feels so economic, yet so heartfelt, just packs such a perfect amount of visceral, biting PUNCH. I don't know, I'm so fucking in love with the poetry on this song, you guys.
Musically I mean the main thing I will say is THE HARMONICA.
This is a very, very, very good song. And I know I'm not making a lot of POINTS here, I'm just saying at you how good the song is over and over, since, frankly, I'm too tired for logical analysis, but I'm very here for just "This song is so GOODDDDDDD" which this one IS. These LYRICS, dude, holy shit.
Taking a deep breath and HALF-trying to collect myself, there's one salient point I WILL make about this song. It's one I only realized for the first time recently, within the past couple weeks. It's the type of thing that legit makes Magic approach my all-time top 4 Springsteen albums. It makes this song--which, as you can tell, I already LOVED -- takes it, and makes it SO much better than it already was.
Listen to this.
"Sister Mary sits with your colors
Brother Johnny's drunk and gone..."
"We pulled your cycle up back the garage, and polished up the chrome
Our gypsy biker's comin' home..."
If you look at, in between the political statements, some of the IMAGERY of this song.... doesn't this... doesn't this kind of sound like a Greetings song?
To me... it honestly does. "Sister Mary." "Brother Johnny, drunk" - as the nuns run bald through Vatican halls, or as the sister breaks down in the chapel after everyone's gone... These are total 1973 Springsteen characters. The imagery of the titular "gypsy biker" -- that doesn't sound like a Magic story to me. That doesn't sound like a Rising story, or even as far back as a Born in the USA or Darkness on the Edge of Town story. To me, it sounds straight up like something out of "The Angel". A ton of the imagery here fits with "The Angel", "Lost in the Flood", "Incident on 57th Street"... more than almost ANY other song he'd done since then. There's, you know, there's a very specific type of songwriting Bruce does, a certain type of storytelling with certain "sorts" of character names, that's reaaaally confined to those first two albums, and that he doesn't play around with much at ALL after that. I feel like the songs off the two '73 albums have a very distinct personality to them and their wording that you simply don't get anywhere else in the canon... until, I would argue, this song. Tell me the "Gypsy Biker", hanging out in the past with a now-mourning "Brother Johnny, drunk and gone", tell me a grieving "Sister Mary", and polishing up the chrome -- tell me those don't sound like 1973 characters.
And with the strong, STRONG focus on the harmonica.... not that he stopped using it early on, but I feel like it's prominent here in a way you only get on some of the Greetings songs or outtakes from that era. So overall, I feel like, honestly, if you take this song... I don't think you have to tweak much about it at all for it to, at its core, feel riiiight at home next to "For You" and "Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?", as long as "Lost in the Flood" is still there somewhere next to it. Like, strip away the band work, and you can pretty much swap this song in for "Mary Queen of Arkansas" while leaving Greetings kind of unchanged.
And... that... is... ASTOUNDING??? I don't know, man -- I'm all for meta shit, and I'm all for continuity. And even aside from those individual particularities about me... like... I just feel like there is something so, so beautiful and EXCITING about that, that drives home the continuity of the whole thing, of Bruce's career, and of him himself as a human being. Like the idea that he sat down, THIRTY-FIVE YEARS later, and was like, "You know what? ...I'm gonna dial it way back, and I'm gonna write the E Street Band version of a Greetings song." -- not that I think that was his intention, but still, it's what came out... there's something so fucking beautiful and profound to that that imbues this song with thirty-five years of history and collective power even BEYOND that which was already there and, now that I think about it, yeah this is easily my #2 Magic song and possibly a top 20 Springsteen song of all time. I mean once you throw in that meta angle, it's... it's too perfect to resist. This song places Magic so much further in the Springsteen canon than it already belonged, by instilling in the album a direct lifeline to his very earliest material, to a degree that -- I don't know, maybe it's just me. Maybe polishing off the chrome with Sister Mary doesn't sound too much like a Greetings story to other people. But to me, it does, and that is fucking astounding. It takes a song I already adored and adds exponentially more power. Listen to this song as a Greetings-esque song on Magic and I think you will come away loving it even more on an entirely different level than you'd considered it before -- or at least that's what's happened to me, and it somehow elevates a flawless Springsteen track even higher.
And this makes Magic an even better album. To diverge slightly, I feel like the release of Western Stars has only made Magic even better retroactively than it already was: there's that whole 60s-country-pop-inspired tinge to some of Bruce's recent, big, melodic work -- in songs like "This Life", "Kingdom of Days", "Breakaway"... he experimented with it on the '09 and '10 releases, and then Western Stars as a whole basically embodied it. And I feel like the FIRST time you really get that is on a couple of the Magic tracks: "Your Own Worst Enemy", "I'll Work For Your Love", and "Girls in Their Summer Clothes". Those songs directly pave the way, IMO, for some of the Working on a Dream tracks and touch-ups of The Promise, which in turn are a stepping stone towards Western Stars. There's a whole ""type"" of Springsteen song in the newer years, a whole subset of his work, that I think REALLY starts on Magic, making it a very, VERY pivotal album for his development as an artist.
...And yet, in the midst of it all, you've also got this. This modern classic, this absolute shining gem that feels like a relic of a bygone era, a 1973 Springsteen track released in 2007. That is absolutely astounding.
This is a great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great GREATTTTTT Springsteen song, that I found bizarrely easy to overlook on my first passes through the album, but that has grown on me SO massively in the time since then to where I wonder how I ever missed it.
This is a fantastic one.
This is one of the best.
It is just so goddamn effective at being the evocative thing it is trying to be.
A high point of one of his greatest albums.
Thank you for giving me a reason to think about it tonight.
Time to go listen to it for time #151.