Boss Songs Part I: Springsteen Vignettes

Image Credit: Frank Stefanko
Image Credit: Frank Stefanko

Song – “Cover Me”
Album – Born in the U.S.A.

There’s nothing amazing about this song; it’s just a simple and somewhat cheesy 80s-style rock song with a good guitar solo that gets me every time. When I was eight years old I used to listen to this song in the back den of my house while playing pool. When Bruce sings “This whole world is out there just trying to score / I’ve seen enough I don’t want to see any more,” you understand we all need some kind of savior, and many people are finding it in the false things of this world. Despite my age and innocence, this song made me feel down and out, just an eight-year-old kid hard pressed for a break in this insane world. Check out Juliana Hatfield’s acoustic cover of this here.

Song – “I’m On Fire”
Album – Born in the U.S.A.

“I’m On Fire” is a song of brevity and desire. If it were any longer it would be ruined. As it is you have to replay it several times to get your fill. To me it’s about those certain moments when your passion takes over and nothing else concerns you. It’s a passion that makes it worth living, but also soul-destroying if you can’t act on it. If you’ve ever lusted after someone, you’ll know Bruce got this song just right. Emily Dickinson claimed she knew when she read poetry because it felt like the top of her head was taken off. That’s what this song is like—it just hits you heavy like a shot to the gut.

Song – “I’m Going Down”
Album – Born in the U.S.A.

If you’ve ever been in love with someone who fell out of love with you, this is your song. There are two lyrics I especially like: “We get dressed up and we go out, baby, for the night / We come home early burning, burning in some fire fight.” Sometimes you naively think one wonderful evening on the town will solve all your problems, but somewhere in the night it all goes wrong and ends in a drunken argument. Then the guy realizes she now gets just as much joy from hating you as she used to in loving you. I think that’s what the Boss is getting at when he sings the last lines in the final verse: “You used to love to drive me wild / But lately girl you get your kicks from just driving me down.” That’s a realization you never want to experience, but it happens all the time.

Song – “Lost in the Flood”
Album – Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. & Live From New York

This is the first Springsteen song to drive me into a conscious attempt to learn its lyrics. To this day I’ll recite it in my head if I find myself stuck in a waiting room with nothing to read. Even though the song consists of three stories in three verses with no unifying chorus, Springsteen still brings it together like it’s an anthem of lost causes. On the album version David Sancious ensures the organ wails like an omen of death, but even so I suggest the live version with its blistering guitar solo and soft concluding piano play. Danny Federici’s work on the keys is tremendous and you can tell the Boss is trying to channel a younger version of himself, the self he was when he wrote the song years before. I’ve never owned a muscle car, but this song makes me wish I did, even though I’d probably kill myself driving it. The demise of Jimmy The Saint is perfect: “Well the blaze and noise boy, he’s gunnin’ that bitch loaded to blastin’ point / He rides head first into a hurricane and disappears into a point / And there’s nothin’ left but some blood where the body fell / That is, nothin’ left that you could sell / just junk all across the horizon, a real highwayman’s farewell.” It reminds me of the final race scene in American Graffiti, but far more tragic. Many of Bruce’s characters go out in a final blaze of glory that seems simultaneously beautiful and desperate. It’s a thought that gets captured perfectly when the “somebody” in the final verse sings, “Hey man, did you see that? / His body hit the street with such a beautiful thud.” It’s a verse loaded with a motley coterie of misfits who marvel at the spectacle of death, tragically unaware that their own demise, “the beautiful thud,” is right around the corner. Undoubtedly, one of Springsteen’s darkest songs, it’s utterly absent of the sliver of hope that survives many of his other songs.

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