If you’re reading this on the day it’s posted, then while you’re reading it, I am off fulfilling my lifelong dream of seeing Bruce Springsteen live. For those who are Springsteen fans but haven’t made it to a concert, or for those who aren’t and are wondering why I’m such a fan, here are five of my favourite Springsteen songs.
1. Independence Day
One relationship that Bruce often explores in his songs (I assume based on personal experience?) is the often thorny relationship between fathers and sons. I don’t think he ever did it better than in this song:
2. Cautious Man
I mentioned in my last post that this is my favourite song from the (I think underrated) Tunnel of Love album. It’s just this really raw honest song about a guy who wants to be a good husband and be faithful but finds it difficult. A guy who is, as the protagonists in Springsteen songs often are, Everyman.
3. The River
This is a favourite for a lot of Springsteen fans, and it’s one of my favourite songs by anyone, ever. The tune is so haunting and the lyrics are just as haunting — the story of someone who’s still relatively young but has already become disillusioned with life, realized his dreams are not going to come true. I find it heartwrenching, and the line, “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true or is something worse?” lingers in my mind a long time, whenever I listen to this.
4. Atlantic City
This song is enshrined forever in my mind as the song with the most ridiculous opening line ever. “Well they blew up the chicken man in Philly last night, and they blew up his house too.” Really? Who is this Chicken Man, and why would you blow up someone with such a ridiculous yet harmless-sounding name? And then the song goes from this needlessly arcane opening into yet another story of drifters and losers and a guy who’s desperate to make enough money to pay his bills and impress his girl, so he makes some dumb decisions. And it contains another of those lines that I can’t get out of my head: “Everything dies baby that’s a fact, but maybe everything that dies someday comes back.” Those are probably my two favourite lines from any song, ever.
5. Reason to Believe
This is the song that made me into a rabid Bruce Springsteen fan. I’ve mentioned before that I admire the spiritual depth to some of his songs, which is not at all like the often (not always) too-easy spirituality of some artists who record on Christian labels — Bruce writes about real people with real struggles and because faith is a part of a lot of real people’s lives, it’s a part of a lot of his songs. When I first started listening to Springsteen I was just discovering the phenomenon of mainstream artists who talked about faith and God in their lyrics, and this song will always be the classic of that type of songwriting for me. In fact, I have the lyrics to two of the verses written in the back of my Bible.
It’s also significant in posting this clip that I think this is a good example of how songs belong as much to their listeners as to the songwriters (just like books belong to readers). In the concert clip below, Bruce introduces this song and says that it’s a song about the price people pay for blind faith. I don’t think it’s about that at all. There’s certainly some of that in there — like the blind faith of the woman who wastes her life waiting for a man who never comes back — but there’s also a strong statement about the power of faith, how in our hardest times we somehow find the faith — in God, in each other, in life itself — that keeps us going when we could just lie down and die. We don’t. There’s a reason to believe. And whatever songs Bruce sings at the concert in Moncton I’ll be happy, but if he sings “Reason to Believe,” well, my cup will run over.