As I mentioned in my last post, cars and rock and roll go hand in hand. There are lots of songs that reference cars and the various things they represent (see: the entire ZZ Top discography), and Bruce Springsteen definitely has his share. Of all his songs, I generally consider “Racing in the Street” from the Darkness on the Edge of Town album my favorite. I often sing it as a lullaby to my oldest daughter when I’m rocking her to sleep at night, both because it’s more spoken than sung (and therefore suitable for my tone-deaf singing voice) and because it’s one of the few songs I can sing completely from memory.
I was listening to Darkness the other day and realized that the album has a distinct car-guy flavor to it. To start, “Something in the Night” opens with this verse, picking up on the fleeting sense of freedom that driving can bring:
Well I’m riding down Kingsley,
figuring I’ll get a drink
Then I turn the radio up loud,
so I don’t have to think,
I take her to the floor,
looking for a moment when the world seems right
And I tear into the guts,
of something in the night.
“Something” is followed by “Candy’s Room,” a fast-paced rocker with a driving drumbeat that opens into its chorus like a car speeding through a tunnel and breaking into the brightly-lit night on the other side. “Racing in the Street,” the album’s centerpiece, comes next and is a melancholy tale of love gone wrong set against the backdrop of drag racing. I’ve known enough guys like the song’s protagonist, guys who spend their workdays waiting to bolt on a new set of headers or wheels, who spend their nights in the garage chasing a long-gone dream of permanent youth behind the wrench and the wheel while their families grow up and apart from them. Tellingly, the listener is left to wonder if the racer and his wife ever make it to the sea and wash their sins away, as the song ends ambiguously with a gorgeous, heartbreaking organ solo.
The remaining songs contain references to “Rattlesnake Speedway,” “…driv(ing) that dusty road from Monroe to Angeline,” and “…racing out at the Trestles.” The overarching theme of the album is this question: what happens when your dreams come true and they aren’t what you wanted? When the tramps from Born to Run grow up and never make it out of town, what becomes of them? It turns out, aside from the temporary feeling of power that comes from mashing the gas pedal, they get stuck in the same rut they spent their youth rebelling against.
The Boss must be a car guy, and nobody does a better job of capturing what the car means to people who don’t have much else to look forward to.