Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Thunder Road

Bruce Springsteen understands the power of myth, and that some myths are archetypally American. And on a song called "Thunder Road" he taps in to one of the great ones -- the power of the open road, horsepower harnessed beneath a hood, Woody Guthrie riding the rails and Jack Kerouac roaming the countryside, James Dean and Marlon Brando in their leather jackets, barrelling down the highway. It is a myth fostered by Detroit and Madison Avenue, but more than that, it is a myth fashioned deep within human hearts. It is a myth that calls out to anyone who has ever been stuck in a dead-end town, working a dead-end job, who has ever experienced that insistent longing for something new, something different, something better. It's a big country, so get in the car and go. Get the hell out of Dodge.

And it is a myth that has been handled badly in countless rock 'n roll songs. But not on "Thunder Road." I love these lyrics, love the slow camera pan that opens the song, the way Springsteen sets the scene cinematically, focuses in on a young woman, or maybe a not-so-young woman, slow dancing to the radio. A young man in a car watches her. Maybe he is James Dean, but probably he is someone far more commonplace and prosaic. And the car is no hot rod; it is just a car, a beat-up Ford or a Chevy with a dirty hood. It is a scene out of normal, average American life. What is not normal is the way two lives come into sharp focus; all the mundane, commonplace moments funneling down to a white-hot point, here, now, interchangeable days and weeks building to this choice on which everything hinges: get in the car, or stay behind; stay on the porch and lead a dull, safe life, or climb in the front seat and risk it all for love.

Rock 'n roll lyrics can rarely stand on their own. Even some of Bob Dylan's best songs look shabby when reduced to print. You need the music to complete them, and Bruce Springsteen's lyrics are no different. So go find the song (it's the opening track on an obscure little album called Born to Run) and listen to it. Failing that, imagine a quiet piano and a voice, insistent and soulful, and imagine that the music builds and builds, layer upon layer, bass, drums, electric guitar entering in succession. Like the car and the open road that beckons, the song picks up speed as it rolls along. And when Springsteen sings those words about rolling down the window and letting the wind blow back your hair, the gas pedal is on the floor, the music is full throttle, and rock 'n roll has never sounded so glorious and so uplifting. It is the pefect marriage of words and sounds.

The screen door slams
Mary’s dress waves
Like a vision she dances across the porch
As the radio plays
Roy Orbison 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

Don’t run back inside
Darling you know just what I’m here for
So you’re scared and you’re thinking
That maybe we ain’t that young anymore
Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night
You ain’t a beauty, but hey you’re alright
Oh and that’s alright with me

You can hide `neath your covers
And study your pain
Make crosses from your lovers
Throw roses in the rain
Waste your summer praying in vain
For a savior to rise from these streets
Well now I’m no hero
That’s understood
All the redemption I can offer, girl
Is beneath this dirty hood
With a chance to make it good somehow
Hey what else can we do now?

Except roll down the window
And let the wind blow back your hair
Well the night’s busting open
These two lanes will take us anywhere
We got one last chance to make it real
To trade in these wings on some wheels
Climb in back
Heaven’s waiting down on the tracks

Oh-oh come take my hand
We're riding out tonight to case the promised land
Oh-oh Thunder Road, oh Thunder Road, oh Rhunder Road
Lying out there like a killer in the sun
Hey I know it’s late we can make it if we run
Oh Thunder Road, sit tight take hold
Thunder Road

Well I got this guitar
And I learned how to make it talk
And my car’s out back
If you’re ready to take that long walk
From your front porch to my front seat
The door’s open but the ride it ain’t free
And I know you’re lonely
For words that I ain’t spoken
But tonight we’ll be free
All the promises’ll be broken

There were ghosts in the eyes
Of all the boys you sent away
They haunt this dusty beach road
In the skeleton frames of burned out Chevrolets
They scream your name at night in the street
Your graduation gown lies in rags at their feet
And in the lonely cool before dawn
You hear their engines roaring on
But when you get to the porch they’re gone
On the wind, so Mary climb in
It’s a town full of losers
And I’m pulling out of here to win.
-- Bruce Springsteen, "Thunder Road"

1 comment:

OneWorld said...

Great post Andy, stumbled on your post while looking for the lyrics to Thunder Road and boy did I turn lucky. I just love this song especially for the lyrics and along with Brilliant disguise and born to run, I rate them as some of the boss' best songs ever. Might sound strange to you, but I am sitting in a faraway land - Bangalore, India cos a lot of his songs center around life in industrial parts of US, but trust me the lyrics have a power thats beyond the immediate. Also, not to take away anything from the music, the songs are so melodius (sounds crazy considering the rock genre, but its true, they are all melodious).