I just finished reading Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography. It resonated on so many levels: his East Coast Catholic school upbringing, blue collar family life among others. When I was in college I took an American Literature course that included a reading of The Grapes of Wrath.
Springsteen’s album, The Ghost of Tom Joad is the soundtrack to the novel. As powerful as Steinbeck’s writing is about the American experience during the dust bowl 1930’s, Springsteen’s modern take in songs like Sinaloa Cowboys and Across the Border bring it straight to present (late 90’s anyway) and draw the parallels to Mexican immigration of today. That album is one of his best. He writes quite a bit about his move to more social justice topics. I have a whole new respect for him as a writer.
Here are a few passages from the book that moved me.
Back east we usually experience the freedom that comes with a good snowstorm. No work, no school, the world shutting its big mouth for a while, the dirty streets covered over in virgin white, like all the missteps you’ve taken have been erased by nature. You can’t run; you can only sit. You open your door on a trackless world, your old path, your history, momentarily covered over by a landscape of forgiveness, a place where something new might happen.
In this life (and there is only one), you make your choices, you take your stand and you awaken from the youthful spell of “immortality” and its eternal present. You walk away from the nether land of adolescence. You name the things beyond your work that will give your life its context, meaning . . . and the clock starts. You walk, now, not just at your partner’s side, but alongside your own mortal self. You fight to hold on to your newfound blessings while confronting your nihilism, your destructive desire to leave it all in ruins.
In all psychological wars, it’s never over, there’s just this day, this time, and a hesitant belief in your own ability to change. It is not an arena where the unsure should go looking for absolutes and there are no permanent victories. It is about a living change, filled with the insecurities, the chaos, of our own personalities, and is always one step up, two steps back.
You simply can’t stop imagining other worlds, other loves, other places than the one you are comfortably settled in at any given moment, the one holding all your treasures. Those treasures can seem so easily made gray by the vast, open and barren spaces of the creative mind. Of course, there is but one life. Nobody likes that . . . but there’s just one. And we’re lucky to have it. God bless us and have mercy on us that we may have the understanding and the abilities to live it . . . and know that “possibility of everything” . . . is just “nothing” dressed up in a monkey suit . . . and I’d had the best monkey suit in town.
Those whose love we wanted but could not get, we emulate. It is dangerous but it makes us feel closer, gives us an illusion of the intimacy we never had. It stakes our claim upon that which was rightfully ours but denied.
The screen door slams, Mary’s dress swaysB. Springsteen, Thunder Road, 1975
Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely
Hey that’s me and I want you only
Don’t turn me home again
I just can’t face myself alone again
Don’t you run back inside, darling you know just what I’m here for
So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore
Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night
You ain’t a beauty, but hey you’re alright
And it’s alright with me