Prairie expanses stretch like film through everything and everyone, the Indian, however, does not budge, he remains seated in a heightened meditative state, to his growing amazement, he watches everything parade by on the Treadmill of the West, as a harmonica plays up, seeping into the very bone marrow, melancholy, insistent, an acoustic guitar follows suit, the Voice of the Valley opens up, intones, invokes Everyman, lives lived, the living, tough times, the Wheel of Fortune, the man and the woman on the river bank concealed in the valley, the refuge of innocence on the riverside, they play with fire before anything is ignited, Beauty and the Beast, she feeds off his courage, his Badlands, whilst all was new in the world and, at the same time, all had happened, flowing on like every fleeting moment, with the river as a warning, as a way forward, just as the river in Tarkovsky’s film, elongated like rivers, full of helmets, lost coins and God’s plenty from distant times that know so much more about us than we do about these times, as the river flows beneath us reflecting our movements, our dreams and delusions, it sings from its own depths, from its world within the World, sounding like loss although with the beat of courage, glittering with understanding as I become You and You become Us, with an ear to the ground and a finger in the flow, we feel the bite of the cold and the pressure of the wind as the saxophone blows life into us that stretches through us, the river washes through the strata, through cracks along the floor, the water rises alongside the house wall towards the bed, up your back as it chills and warms you all at once, it feels good because it hurts, we see so much farther when we are within its grip, we dwell that much more on what we can’t express with words, it, however, continues and we forget or we stop up and remember when the kids were born, the World’s First Smile, as the darkness saps our courage and longings set in, making a nuisance of themselves, others take the lead and move forward from our midst, urged on by the voice and the pressure of the words from the sound of the tone of the band from the song of the river, about the myth of the river that survives itself, breaks over all of its banks continuously in stories of itself, as well as, in the Myth of Myths of American literature, a national myth caught in mid-flight, freeze-framed in a break, on the bridge spanning doubt and defiance, seared in place in Robert Franks’ photographs, the river, however, slides round behind him, it drags right through us, picture after picture, the flowing changeability of life itself, life from moment to moment, the pictures disappear just as the river flows through movies and music and paintings and literature, this, the river that should never be crossed in a cowboy movie because that would mean the prompt arrival of the Indians, the river is dangerous because its current is strong as Hell, it claims its victims and, if there is anyone who has the words for the river as well as those within all of us, it has to be Thomas Wolfe, who, page after page, issues forth torrential streams of words, impression upon impression upon impression, in and out of time and the river with the spirits of mankind in nets of magic, to make his life prevail through his creation, to wreak the vision of his life, there flows the Hudson River, with the hunger of the Hudson, Wolfe was able to paint his way with words to capture the insatiable desire of young people on the page, Eugene Gant’s literal hunger for knowledge, his thirst for Europe, the yearning for all that one has to experience before knowing what exactly it is that one should strive for which is why one can’t explain it or put it in words because it comes from a place beyond the reach of my words, it comes from that hole where words themselves originate, the black hole, definitely not here, and, not like this, because we ourselves are the very place of our own activity, as Meister Eckhart says, but, no matter, since it is right here and now that my words catch the moment like a camera, or, see beneath layer after layer after layer, so far down, so remotely and distantly ravaging that other conditions take over, investing my present with a different atmosphere, other moods, this, however, is not just an expectation, left behind like a panicking set of traffic lights blazing away in splendid isolation somewhere deep inside, it isn’t just some expectation that was never fulfilled, but, it is expectation as hope, a driving force behind all that which you are not in touch with directly, a lost tremor that was redeemed, released and raised up into an entirely new everyday light, released by the encounter with the American Voice, the icon in person, the image incarnate who himself burned through in Brøndby, the concert runs along its own course as a composite confirmation of what it means to be alive here where the river whirls and growls with bonds that bind as the band crashes out of the garage with a sixties’ sound, created in the studio in a single day, the sound of the band all at once, dynamic as a concert, the ties that bind sweep all of the pins away in a single strike, Weinberg drums hard and fast in such a way that all know that is how tight the drumming should be, that is how the music erupts with that Beat resonance from the sixties’ straight from the record press, the sound of eighteen months’ effort because The Boss never lets up, he wants to get right up close and personal, he ruthlessly craves the asphalt and the sidewalks and the cars and the bikes and the American Dream from ever fresh angles with his nerves completely raw, he wants New York City right there in sound, he wants his audience now and now and now, right now, the bonds still bind to the past, they bind listener to listener because that is the will of the river, it has gotten hold of us and drags us through the mud, through my own mistakes, so afraid of being somebody else’s fool, but, I AM on the side of the losers, outsiders and the crack fiends, I meet the world in the mirror of dissimulation, the ties tugging away all the while, they can stretch, they cannot be severed, so, why not commit totally, why not feel the pain inside and do whatever substance that has to be done because Sherry has to be satisfied, because it’s time to party, but WHY does your mother always have to get between us, there just isn’t room for her, why does she have to talk herself into the harbor every damn time, why, girl, why can’t we be just the two of us now, if it isn’t a film within a film, lived out as a song, a song as life, life stuck in a cage, it is, however, Jackson Cage, life in the Cinema of Everyday Life with pedal to the metal straight at disillusion, Death from moment to moment, it goes through walls, scratches itself free of its own shadow, it is arbitrariness revealed in shots, exposed in stills, on small strips of footage, where every day ends in wasted motion, just crossed swords on the killing floor, social realism on a silver salver, the Big City’s life cut right back to the motions of a barren treadmill for two existences, no contact, just him dreaming, the woman seen through the man’s eyes, Darling, there are nights where I dream of a better world, but I wake up so downhearted, Girl, I see you feeling so tired and confused, I wonder what it’s worth to me or you, it’s the absence of language, you’re reminded every night that you’ve been judged and handed life, it is grey on grey but she is his film, no matter where, no matter how far out she goes, stripped and isolated she gets, she mirrors him, he mirrors her, with aspects that he is incapable and unwilling to see, let alone reach out to, there is scene upon scene in composed photographs so simple that you sense them and can’t help seeing them roll as scenes of the Big City movie anywhere, like the scenery in another man’s play, and, what are the odds of the Big City hearts beating in synchrony, when he is the narrator while she says nothing, again and again, it is the woman seen through the eyes of the man, woman as the possibility for living although never solely that, because he speaks through what he sees, directly to anyone, any other human being, and, he will do anything to avoid being alone, as there is no peace to be had all on your lonesome, one on one with convention, no-one to see you from those angles you never would yourself, and, so we return to the woman as the way to that part of you that you can never be alone with, this applies equally to Dad who waits by the light of a single lit gas ring on the stove, waiting for his son, in mute silence, he sits there, bereft of hope, bereft of glances and his son fears what he sees, everything turns into monologue, from offspring to progenitor as one protracted prayer for forgiveness for all that there was no language for, that which could not be discussed, the judgement although gently delivered, lands hard, there was just no way this house could hold the two of us, I guess that we were too much of the same kind, it is now time to part company, it’s time to get out of Dodge, run over them dusty plains, boys, as fast as you can, but who escapes the river once it has gotten hold of you, who can twist themselves away from desire when it is eating you up, and you walk out on your wife and kids like a river in full spate not knowing where to go, with bars serving as your pretext to drop everything, a hounded, lonesome cowboy crying his heart out to his friend in a bar room, utterly at sea, lost on the oil rig of life, just think, what would have happened to `Hungry Heart´ if The Ramones had got hold of it, pushed it over the edge, landing it on its ass at some agricultural fair in Podunk, yes, we have Landau to thank for the Boss getting a hit with this, a hit that was far more somber and dystopian in terms of text than in its musicality with its happy-go-lucky beats whilst we, men as well as women, can only cheer as we are sent on our way with a song that appeals to the punk in each and every one of us, at one with life on the street as the first and last benchmark of genuineness, presence, authentic living, now, let’s just tarry awhile, because it is possible to fall in love with anything if pleasure gets a boost to its underlying urge, Ooh, ooh, I got a crush on you, the Woman’s Woman becomes the ideal and then some, kicking Venus De Milo right out into the cold, Sheena of the Jungle offers herself, the very incarnation of the reason to live, I need a quick shock, Doc, knock me off my feet, but why is it “look but don’t touch” whenever you see and meet that which one desires right here, right now, and you confuse it with a movie that rolls up, becoming all that there is, in that you are grabbed and taken back to another time where you are promptly touched by a woman as she rolls her baby carriage by you, it is her that you want to do something for, right now, impelled by your own mature inner glow and the stirring longing to commit, escape from one’s self, meet the significant other, be present with full responsibility and diaper washing and dummy and the whole shooting match because you are here now, in another time, when nothing is the same, with the years that have fallen away, the traces of weight lost and regained, bones, the myriad lesser and greater betrayals, the aching frame, that darned lethargy, the jaded dwelling upon detail in a new age where everything changes and the river flows on through deeper and deeper down, and, emerges in song, is borne forward in pain, that is the most wondrous thing about it, it is never entirely gone, it does hide but can be reached just by calling, just as a space can be conquered with song, a song you sing yourself, a song written by Bruce that he sings on behalf of his brother-in-law and my sister as it is the river, river run, no, the river runs, into the river, we dive, sure, it’s the same and always another song, from Hank Williams to Bruce, it is forever impossible to meet up there on the darkest suburban road within ourselves because you are ever the stranger when you arrive as the river flows through all and everyone, whether you like Bruce or not, it is the river of love, the river of sorrow, the river of tears whether you listen or talk or shut up, the river is the Song of Songs, the Voice of Now, the Hither of Darkness, the Thither of the Night, the Death of Innocence, it is the end of mere life without Dad, it is the beginning of your own, space matters now, the day and the direction, it is the depth where the song can never be played or sung or felt for the first time; that first time when the bells of Ordrup High School rang out the day just ahead of the weekend when Bruce was to play Brøndby, it was go,go,go, home on Stefansen’s creaking busses, back to Vangede, to the record player, back to the river and partying with friends with bags full of beers and long playing records, since we were to get out of the river with new things to say about the same tracks, new things to argue about, we were naïve, full of steely resolve and obsessed, the one more insistent than the next, and lamps were to be broken over the next few days as we donned the river as a jacket for all to shelter and shake in, a brooding backdrop of sound that kicked all duties ahead of it over t he prairie, tensed with expectation, tensed like longbows as we were going to the concert, fired up with a passion we couldn’t even spell out, wound up in texts and songs that did not match the man, although I, ever so intuitively, thought that it all panned out when I saw Bruce live the first time that the River was performed on stage that time at New York’s Madison Square Garden at a No Nukes gig and didn’t realize why, as he was suddenly standing there, on a live screen, he had glistening tears in the corners of his eyes, there were flashes of tears and passion for life reaching us from the stage as he stood there in his suit jacket, so focused with his fist clenched, determined as someone clinging on for dear life onto something, or, fighting for someone on behalf of us all, something or someone he’d lost in a struggle on our behalf, or, something he just knew was insuperable but still took up the struggle against it, he couldn’t let it go as he clenched the microphone because he had something to tell the world, it was only much later that I understood what had caused him to cry, and no, that does not diminish the occasion, or make it any the less poignant, I think of that very same first moment every time I hear the river; it’s all about the little sister, the relationship between her and the brother-in-law who lost his job, and, since there was no other work going, he lost it all along with his self-respect and life became a swansong for two strugglers, they slaved away for the husband’s sake, and, there they are, having landed heavily on the river bank even though they stayed together, and it’s his film we’re seeing, who cares, Bruce caught them there, wings clipped and a hundred years apart with him affecting to remember nothing and her claiming not to care, he is full of remorse, but, they’re together because they never broke up, they turned loss into opportunity which is how I remember that first encounter with the river, it was like being there oneself before life takes off, anticipating losses and sorrows to come while still being here, that point you have to reach before anything gets serious for real; I remember it as intensely as I remember my first encounter with Jacques Brel; it was on Swedish night television, I was ten years old, and, there he stood, alone in the dark, on my mother’s old television set, lit up by a column of intense limelight, from the spot above him, he talked about his friend that he had lost, he had just died, and, death shot out of Brel’s eyes as the ultimate sign of life, yes, he wanted to sing a song about life, he wanted to sing about Jef. Non, Jef, t’es pas tout seul, mais arrête de pleurer comme ca, devant tout le monde, this was his song for Jef and the melancholy poured out of every seam and buttonhole, straight through me as though I’d been wired up to the National Grid, I couldn’t find the off switch and I just lay there beneath my mother’s television staring back up at Brel, I scrambled up into a crouching position, then, I stood right up to attention as a soldier obeying an order and cried along to the refrain, through marrow and bone and blood vessels because that refrain hurt as much the river’s refrain made all the difference, what a voice Brel burned through with, he raised it all up as if he, all of a sudden, turned all crushing circumstance into redeeming clarity, melancholy into personal strength, loss into gain, with insight into our deepest recesses where Death presents itself each afternoon, where Death lives its own life, which is where Jacques did his utmost for his friend Jef just as thoroughly as Bruce worked to help his little sister, there, on the stage in New York City in nineteen seventy nine, and, has kept on doing so ever since, it was as if they, each from his own angle, took part in grieving, that they subsequently passed on along with each their feeling of pain at losing something they weren’t quite sure of what was, they sing and tell it like that, again and again, as though the pain, sorrow and despair all come from the same place within us, but that far too few of us have the words for and even fewer of us, the voice; no, it isn’t the elevation that does it, there is no cheap currying of favor in order to elicit an equally cheap echo from the audience, it is going it alone, carrying the world forward as the lost cause that it is, or, will become before we know it, knowing, all the while, full well that that is what makes us human, the degree and the depth of the loss, and, that it is the few who have it run all the way through them, out the other side to where the others are, with the single, solitary prayer of being received, met after being sent forth past the lips in song, and his little sister came to him and said “That’s my life! It is my life you’re singing about!” and the river runs on, there are few, however, who hang on and stand in and under the spotlight of pain, face-to-face with life that failed them, and yet lift it up, night after night from the Brøndby Arena to the End of the Universe, because this is what Bruce Springsteen does, this is what he is, a place to meet, a place to fill up one’s tank, a place to decompress in, a place to suffer all the way through in, a place to die and seek comfort in, a place to share all in one go in, there is a direct connection between then and now, listen to the singing cables in the river deep, listen to the unadorned elegiac complaint from him to me, from me to him, now that I’m asking the questions; is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse, what a lot we forget and even if it should show up, it is never as it was at the time of recollection, and, what happened to all that time, where did it all go to along with the love affair I lived through, but, I forget just how it was at the time, and then, scenes show up anyhow, crashing up through all the levels, scene after scene roars by, incidents and crises, garnished with smiles and illusions involving kids, yeah, two little girls, if memory serves and then there are the boxcars laden with deleted days, between them and me, me and them, and Springsteen ploughing on through all this shit, forcing me to retreat through nets of blockages, resistance and revenge fucks and oblivion, the deeply odd thing is that whatever is in there can’t be erased, can’t be denied to me, in fragments of yesterday, flying wreckage, a juddering blitz of concerts, it is never ending, lulls in concerts, solitary moments with a song, a voice, a man in the dark with a guitar and a prominent lower jaw facing a man, also in the dark, in his underpants with a prominent upper jaw, he has never fucking let me down which is more than can be said about girlfriends, sweethearts, friends, friends, what a joke, friends are usually of the fair weather variety, they slip away when the going gets rough, dissolve in a haze of drugs or sports, Oh, thanks for your kind endorsement of my C.V., it is now Point Blank, slowly shuffling along in the soul, Point Blank takes over for the God knows how manyeth time with Weinberg’s soft strokes on the edge of the drum, and now, perhaps the most personal account of the river quietly gets under way albeit with an insistence and enough Big City Romance to qualify as a truly Shakespearean drama for those who can pretty much do anything under the gaze of Death locking on to you from the eyes of the beloved young girl who drifts further and further away from your arms, and, the pictures from the club, you stood there and held me, then you started dancing slow, and as I pulled you tighter, I swore that I’d never let you go, the shadows, however, would claim you and the drugs kicked in and one fix was enough to catapult you out of this existence, nothing, however, comes to an end because the song never ends, maybe that’s why the Boss never talks about it and who it is about, this still obtains because he has said nothing, it is to be found as a track on a record, as a searing, changing soundtrack for everyone who has lost someone, but… don’t we all end up like those cars with their rear-ends in the air, on display for anyone happening to pass by the Cadillac Ranch at Ant’s Farm, Amarillo, Texas, driven to keep the party going with the pedal to the metal, keep on partying without a dime in your pocket, keep the Rock rocking with forward momentum and punch-lines and horns and good timing and endurance, and, who has ever been able to finish a song the way that Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band – kerrrrrrrrraaawruuuuaaannnnnnnnnnnng!!! – and start right off again, one-two-three and off we go, beyond the pillar and over the post because the boots of Rock have spoken again in the dust of the floor, I’m a rocker – every day! And the guitar goes crazy, let’s go and to Hell with those stupid little breaks in between songs at concerts, we’re here right now, man! Rock Us Alive! Yeah! MC5 is damn well right, you got five seconds, to find out your purpose here on this planet, you gotta find out whether you are gonna be the problem or whether you are gonna be the solution and the entire trainload of punks’ piss concentrate! Yes,, that was the plain spoken language that shaped Springsteen’s voice, it was his particular passion, the enthusiastic physical presence, the dynamic momentum that addressed itself to me long before the era of the band, it acted as irresistible bait and I was hooked from the very instant I heard the man’s voice, he spoke to me where I was, as well as where I’d never been, I didn’t have to dress up or impersonate someone else because he said, hey, you, you are my friend and took me with him – pow! – gone, completely and utterly clearly kicked out over the edge of school life, oven-ready for ballads with Phantom Federici’s spinetingling caresses with lambent tones, and, it is Fade Away, Steve’s favorite song, the time has come to stick by my guns, there is the fear of one’s self disappearing once everything has slipped through one’s fingers, a fear of staying behind like a house any passers-by can stare through, it is the cathartic moment of both songwriting and the song, the fear of disappearing in a stolen car and no-one coming to look for you, the fear of never being found, it’s Fade Away in a stolen car because it is the same struggle not to lose one’s grip, faith, and now, we have to change over, now that the car has become a horse and a woman in Bruce’s mind’s eye, because it is the life of the river, head-on rocking, come on, come, come on, little sugar, ramroddin’, no matter where, no matter where to, no matter what, just out of here, no words required, no words such as “the power of fascination” along with all those other fifty cent words that I was barely conscious of at the time, while we pushed the songs ahead of us as a doctrine we would accede to later because he was thirty-one at the time and on his way towards turning a few new leaves in life as he stood on the verge of entering adulthood where things get real, real fast; the quest to show where it hurts started in earnest, the price you pay, it feels good to feel it all over again in completely different ways to when I was seventeen with my feelings on my sleeve, without the forcefulness, if one can limit it to that factor alone emanating from him, so full of significance, so upsettingly clear that no-one had ever, ever, spoken to me in that fashion straight from the darkened regions of the soul, as in Drive All Night, where I am the man who shivers in the street of fallen angels where strangers call out, make advances and life is the Dance of Death through wind and rain and snow, and just before everything is engulfed in the Stygian Gloom and we all lose our will to live, we are knocked back to our senses, back on track, where life looks most like an accident on the freeway with you being left with the responsibility of informing the next-of-kin of the single fatality, that hurts but sounds cathartic and enriching on vinyl on days such as this when a certain calm has fallen over the scene, there is, however, a lot that has been omitted from this drama, many songs that weren’t included, didn’t take part in the drama or the celebration or the melancholy reverie of the river that, however, does talk back to us through the very form it brought upon itself, which is not the least remarkable aspect of this Working Class Hero, Numero Uno, he knows all about the stringent grip in the midst of plenty, the Art of Limitation, but age arrives in the guise of anxiety, just like a sudden cloudburst drenching everyone in sight, but he hangs in there and holds on for a little while longer, one, two, three, four, some hundreds of concerts yet to go where he gives it his all in order to do what it takes to release life from its own grip, but, come what may, he will always stand in a golden posture with his guitar to salute all those who went before: Elvis, The Who, The Animals, Eddie Cochran, Chuck Berry, Roy Orbison, Credence Clearwater Revival, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Hank Williams, Pete Seeger, The Clash, U2, Gary U.S. Bonds, Suicide, David Bowie and Prince, long may they be honored – and all the many others who, in each their own way, contributed to the making of who he is, everything, however, has its term, just as every concert bites itself in the tail, in the end is my beginning, as a gesture at eye-level with life itself and death too, as a prayer for salvation, in homage to the very flame of life, Bruce will always dart around on stage sporting a s h a b b y denim jacket as Mother would say, a word that came naturally from the mouths of her generation, the jacket is tattered, with lots of holes in it, just like that of a bully, a small gnome pushing seventy-one, who the Hell did he think he was, reaching out to me from the stage at Brøndby, at Roskilde, in Paris, at the Park, at Ullevi, as if he knew the empty rooms within me – within you, as though he had them within himself, with a starstruck vigour, as a matter of course, with intensity, exactly as if someone was addressing you directly for the very first time, and, you almost die of shock because it felt as if someone was grabbing you from within, behind one’s own feelings and could, immediately, point out what was awry with a given devotion with a degree of consideration not normally present in artists, a passion for overtime, a devotion so tough and unfeigned as falling in love with your underpants around your ankles again, as love in obligation to the deepest roots of Rock music, delivered with a level of attention that plays throughout the entire spectrum, we might pay for our tickets but what really costs is playing for so long every single time, it costs to keep the machine going, never merely idling, always alive, even if he is almost at Death’s door and is getting paid more than handsomely, everything comes at a price, including working for Bruce, but, no matter how hard he works out and stands to attention at the drop of a hat and has neither smoked or toked, all the diligence flies out of the window and into the river, darkness at one with the light, the day at one with the night, Nightfire, Nightfire, as the river fades away into the distance and emerges from a backyard, out of a kitchen window or an acoustic guitar on a cellphone in the sun, by this time, however, we know that Bruce has moved on, he’s gone solo again, so, it’s back to Country, to cowboys and Indians, as everyone bids the E – Streeters a fond farewell, Bruce’s memoirs are published, all the important stuff suitably condensed, the most ephemeral feelings, tales of everything he is indebted to, Born To Run, it all comes to a full circle and then some as Bruce can write from the innermost empty, uninhabited recesses within himself and forward into the disaster areas within us all, however, moods and anxious hopes are already whirring around somewhere in the memory that mixes into gratitude as we remember the lesson he took upon himself to learn in order to pass it on to us, some say forget the past, some say don’t look back, but, for every breath you take, you leave a track, we did take the consequence of that, while we were doing what we each had to do in our lives anyway, album after album, concert after concert after concert all over the world, loyally supported by the E-Street band of toughness, yes, those of us who listened from the very outset along with so many damned more who listened since, who went to concert after concert, putting themselves in ever deeper debt in order to keep feeling that soothing kick, will always hold the banner of Rock high for the mighty fallen, the Big Man, the Towering Inferno with a saxophone for a soul who blew right into our lives, Clarence Nicholas Clemons Jr. and the Phantom Danny, the architect of Sound, Daniel Paul “Danny” Federici on resonant organ who was there from the beginning in the late sixties’, you have left your indelible imprint on the River and so much more besides, but, Bruce, you make me feel like a real man.
By Neal Ashley Conrad Thing
Translation: Michael D.R. Murphy