"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Saturday, March 21, 2009

dancing in the dark

i've said it before, and i'll continue to say it again: i love The Boss.

nothing encapsulates the complexity of being born in america in the 1980s like Springsteen and synthesizer, and i mean this in earnest. while the musical and cultural products of the '80s as a whole would seem to have tainted history's perception of the decade, what with the proliferation of horrible one-hit wonders and abusive overuse of the moog, The Boss remains the 80s' single greatest gift to American music. and what's more, he's the gift that keeps on giving (thank you!)

that's because there is a permanence to Springsteen's music that defied the limits of 1980s materialism and spectacle (the same values American Psycho critiques in this scene). while '80s hair bands and rock groups found short-lived success by cannibalizing tried and true guitar riffs and appealing to a brief moment's gaudy aesthetics and conventions, Springsteen wrote epic stories about human suffering and loneliness, about working night shifts in steel factories, driving thru abandoned city streets, love, desperation, the hunger and hope for a better life. in short, the american dream and the american way of life.

and though Springsteen's staunchly american aesthetic can be a deterrent to some (my boyfriend once described it as "jingoistic"), it is precisely the way in which he represents America that i find seductive. he sings of heroes doomed to Sysiphean fates, working low wage jobs and searching for escape. unlike the ass-kicking beer-swigging mythos of modern country music, Springsteen's music is complex, genuine, underscored with hardship and persistence. while the former are simulacra, Springsteen's America possesses a history of emotion and suffering. yet, there is a gloomy/gritty hopefulness – despite feeling so defeated, there remains release and splendor, in a midnight drive, in a passionate embrace, in that guitar, in that harmonica, in a dance in the dark.

this is an America i can identify with and feel proud of, one that struggles to overcome disillusionment, but struggles unflichingly.


to put it in other terms: i rediscovered the album Born in the USA this weekend, 2+ decades after its initial release. i was reluctant to listen to it, not knowing if the music would translate well over the expanse of time. i worried that the synthesizers would make me cringe. but this is perhaps a fitting example of the complexity i'm talking about, that the same music revisited not only revealed layers, but became more beautiful because of its history coupled with my experience. the synthesizers not only go unnoticed, but sound like organs. they're an artifact of the zeitgeist of the 80s, but not a distractor from the permanence of the music.

i used to listen to Bruce Springsteen in the car with my mom on the weekends. his music would come on the radio and i would sing along to words whose sentiments i didn't fully understand. back then, i only understood them as a widely experienced "happy" feeling, the same excitement as a surprise trip to get ice cream, or a snow day.

as a young girl growing up, watching the "Dancing in the Dark" video would make me so terribly happy that the only logical impulse was to dance uncontrollably in the living room of our suburban house, flailing arms and kicking my legs, pretending to snap, shaking my hair. to be honest, i still do that. Courteney Cox was a real-life hero as far as i was concerned, b/c she had the balls to get up on stage and dance with The Boss. i wanted to be her. i mean, who didn't?

but i feel even more elated watching this video today, myself now a grown woman, as i listen to the lyrics, which speak to me in ways i couldn't have understood them before:

I get up in the evening
and I ain't got nothing to say
I come home in the morning
I go to bed feeling the same way
I ain't nothing but tired
Man I'm just tired and bored with myself
Hey there baby, I could use just a little help


Message keeps getting clearer
radio's on and I'm moving 'round the place
I check my look in the mirror
I wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face
Man I ain't getting nowhere
I'm just living in a dump like this
There's something happening somewhere
baby I just know that there is


You sit around getting older
there's a joke here somewhere and it's on me
I'll shake this world off my shoulders
come on baby this laugh's on me

Stay on the streets of this town
and they'll be carving you up alright
They say you gotta stay hungry
hey baby I'm just about starving tonight
I'm dying for some action
I'm sick of sitting 'round here trying to write this book
I need a love reaction
come on now baby gimme just one look

You can't start a fire sitting 'round crying over a broken heart
This gun's for hire
Even if we're just dancing in the dark
You can't start a fire worrying about your little world falling apart
This gun's for hire
Even if we're just dancing in the dark
there's a restlessness i can identify with here, as i sit in my apartment in LA, wondering how i got so caught up with my job, feeling old, wondering where the excitement went in my life. i'm tired of sitting around getting older, trying to write this book, i'm tired of having nothing to say, and worrying about my little world falling apart. i ain't nothing but tired, i'm just tired and bored with myself. i'm dying for some action, i want to dance, i want a little spark.

and this is why i love Bruce Springsteen. there is endurance in his music that never fails to make me happy. i listen to his music now and understand, completely, why every man, woman and child growing up in america for the last few decades has been absolutely seduced by his dream of america.


to help make my case:
"I'm On Fire" [mp3]
"Thunder Road" [mp3 - how can you not fall in love with that harmonica solo?]
"Thunder Road (Live in 1999)" [mp3]

+ a fellow blogger's analysis of Springsteen's music and a comparison to the Stones.

+ Bruce Springsteen's website, with lyrics and audio clips.

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