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Racing in the Street - Bruce Springsteen

Back in the 90's when we at Polar Promotions put on Guy Clark at the Union Chapel, half way through the concert fellow promoter Martin exclaimed to me: "he's not just a singer, he's a poet!" (see post . If, way back in the late seventies, we had put on a relatively unknown Bruce Springsteen (I know, I know, he wasn't relatively unknown, the Union Chapel wasn't a venue then etc etc but bear with me) Martin might have enthused "he's not just a singer, he's a short story writer!".

After the critical and financial success of the "Born to Run" album, the follow-up "Darkness on the Edge of Town" took three years to make. While the first LP created a new musical style within rock and roll, the second laid the cornerstone of what Springsteen's music was really about, defined who he was and what he stood for, socially, politically and musically. Looking back, it's clear that if there was a moment when his music crystallised into a clear vision, it was on the song "Racing in the Street", Side One, track four, the side's closer.

The song's narrator is succinctly defines himself in the first two lines, the working class guy obsessed by cars, presuming the listeners' shared knowledge and interest,

"I got a sixty-nine Chevy with a three-ninety-six

Fuelie heads and a Hurst on the floor...."

but there's no enthusiasm in the tones, there's just tiredness, resignation, defeat in his voice, and when we reach the chorus where there should be the elation and excitement of the forthcoming race, there's just an ineffable sadness, further emphasised by Springsteen's elegiac evocation of his character's youth with an ironic paraphrase of the Vandellas' Dancing in the Street"

"Tonight, tonight the strip's just right

I want to blow 'em off in my first heat

Summer's here and the time is right

For racin' in the street...."

and later:

"....calling out around the world, we're going racin' in the street...."

and again:

"....'cause summer's here and the time is right

For racin' in the street...."

The golden hope of the sixties, the exuberance of Motown, the hot rodding culture of the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean, the romance of Hollywood, have been crushed by the realities of small town America sliding into the recession of the late seventies.

Springsteen articulates it clearly when he sings

"Some guys they just give up living

And start dying little by little, piece by piece,

Some guys come home from work and wash up

And go racin' in the street...."

He finds hope and redemption in love even though

" there's wrinkles around my baby's eyes

And she cries herself to sleep at night.

When I come home the house is dark,

She sighs, "baby did you make it all right?"

She sits on the porch of her daddy's house

But all her pretty dreams are torn-

She stares off alone into the night

With the eyes of one who hates for just being born...."

but it's a hopeless hope, imbued with the beauty of a tragedy that isn't beautiful at all, and only is because of the small moments of defiance:

"....for all the shut down strangers and hot rod angels

Rumbling through this promised land

Tonight my baby and me, we're gonna ride to the sea

And wash these sins off our hands"

that may or may not take place. While we're wondering, the song finishes with two minutes (out of 6 minutes 52 seconds)

Roy Bittan's solemn piano is perfectly offset by Danny Federici's Hammond organ in a fatalistic finale. Soon the drums join in, a tambourine is bravely bashed, it may be no surrender, but it's a slow, sad defeat.


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