Years ago, when I read Dave Marsh’s biographies of Springsteen, one of my favorite parts was Bruce talking about bringing himself out a solitary period in his life, the Nebraska era, and coming down from the mountain, back to the people, pursuing pop music and crowds again.
So, in finally reading Bruce’s autobiography, Born to Run, I find great pleasure in the entire book being a proverbial coming down from the mountain. It’s a steady unpacking of what makes him himself, what makes the person behind the music succeed or fail, at both music and at life. The honesty about family and solitary moments is what drives the book to success. Music gets some description, but only some, as an inspiration or an outcome. But the music is not the person. You are not your job; your job is not responsible for your happiness; and so on.
For instance, his take on the Nebraska period, being up on the figurative mountain and wondering how to get down. He and a friend are driving across the country, and they stop in a Texas town.
In the blue light of dusk, there is a river. By the river, there is a fair. At the fair, there is music, a small stage, filled by a local band playing for their neighbors on a balmy night. I watch men and women lazily dancing in each other’s arms, and I scan the crowd for the pretty local girls. I’m anonymous and then… I’m gone. From nowhere, a despair overcomes me; I feel an envy of these men and women and their late-summer ritual, the small pleasures that bind them and this town together. Now, for all I know, these folks may hate this one-dog dump and each other’s guts and be screwing one another’s husbands and wives like rabbits. Why wouldn’t they? But right now, all I can think of is that I want to be amongst them, of them, and I know I can’t. I can only watch. That’s what I do. I watch… and I record. I do not engage, and if and when I do, my terms are so stringent, they suck the lifeblood and possibility out of any good thing, any real thing, I might have. It’s here, in this little river town, that my life as an observer, an actor staying cautiously and safely out of the emotional fray, away from the consequences, the normal messiness of living and loving, reveals its cost to me.
For what it’s worth, here’s a recording made (most likely) in following months, a song that never made a proper album. The last verses, ones as the music is dying down, always hit me hard. Turns out they were coming from someplace hard?
“Now it’s gettin’ late before we head back to town / We let the fortune wheel spin around / Come on mister, tell me what’s waitin’ out there / On my way out I steal a kiss in the dark / Hope I can remember where our car’s parked / Baby at the county fair.
“Now off down the highway there’s the last stream of cars / We sit a while in my front yard / With the radio playin’ soft and low / I pull Carol close to my heart / And I lean back and stare up at the stars / Oh I wish never had to let this moment go.”