Thursday, April 2, 2015

Racing in the Street

Writing for The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (that's the title and, yes, the "new" is a misnomer, given that it was published back in 2004), the redoubtable Rob Sheffield wrote of the Born to Run album, "Springsteen got the E Street Band together to stomp all over some jaw-droppingly great songs, ascending into a Zen realm of pure carness and girlness." Which is, of course, accurate, but could also be used to sum up both the song "Racing in the Street" and why so many music fans who don't care for Bruce Springsteen don't care for Bruce Springsteen.

The carness part is pretty much self-evident—all it requires is the most half-hearted of casual listens:

I got a sixty-nine Chevy with a 396
Fuelie heads and a Hurst on the floor
She's waiting tonight down in the parking lot
Outside the Seven-Eleven store
Me and my partner Sonny built her straight out of scratch
And he rides with me from town to town
We only run for the money got no strings attached
We shut 'em up and then we shut 'em down 
Tonight, tonight the strip's just right
I wanna blow 'em off in my first heat
Summer's here and the time is right
For goin' racin' in the street
We take all the action we can meet
And we cover all the northeast state
When the strip shuts down we run 'em in the street
From the fire roads to the interstate
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 
Tonight, tonight the strip's just right
I wanna blow 'em all out of their seats
Calling out around the world, we're going racin' in the street
Having established that bounty of carness, the girlness only enters for the final verses:
I met her on the strip three years ago
In a Camaro with this dude from L.A.
I blew that Camaro off my back and drove that little girl away
I mean. How perfect an intersection of ultimate carness and girlness is that? (Correct answer: so very.) It's so macho, so manly, so...hold on. What's this?
But now 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"
Well, that's not quite expected. The singer's got the baddest car and thanks to it, he won the hottest girl—over some dude from L.A. no less! Surely they're going to live happily ever after, no? I mean...she is clear about just how vital an awesome ride is, no?
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
Apparently not. Apparently even the finest of cars isn't enough to bring happiness—apparently even such a car isn't fast enough to be able to stay in front of all your troubles.
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
It's a dark twist that in this ultimate macho car song—its most serious contender for the cup, "Don't Worry, Baby," telegraphs its concerns from the very first—the guy proves his manliness by besting the other male in a competition, thus winning him the love of female in a rather caveman manner. The noble knight has rescued the damsel in distress...only he hasn't, not really, not even close. For all his he-man virility, he's utterly powerless to actually help her. All he can do is stop driving his car in a straight line as fast as he can and instead turn towards the sea, where the two of them will attempt to solve all their getting wet.
Tonight tonight the highway's bright
Out of our way mister you best keep
'Cause summer's here and the time is right
For goin' racin' in the street
Of course, in the end, this isn't the ultimate car song, because from the very first notes, in one of Springsteen's trademark juxtapositions—a trait that flies right over the heads of non-Springsteen fans—the music makes clear that this particular story is unlikely to have a happy ending, in a textbook example of dramatic irony, whether the singer knows it yet or not. The long, slow, heartbreakingly lovely fadeout only serves to confirm what we've suspected from the start, and what music fans who only think of Springsteen as an overly-earnest caricature are incapable of hearing.

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