Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The River by Bruce Springsteen

If “Thunder Road” is the dream, then “The River” is the reality.



All of the hope, the trust and the optimism of “Thunder Road,” is tested in “The River.” It asks the question, what keeps us going when our dreams seems more like distant memories than our destiny?

“The River,” is a stunningly beautiful and almost uncomfortably emotionally raw masterpiece. It starts with a harmonica just like “Thunder Road,” but instead of being a comforting invitation, it’s a mournful cry. Springsteen’s voice comes forth in a clear and pure way. The lack of melodrama and the straightforward way that he sings expresses a feeling of being distant that mirror the struggles of our protagonist.

The story is simple. He is raised in a town where there is not a lot of hope and not a lot of expectation that you will do anything beyond what “your daddy done.” Even with this environment, he would take Mary out of the valley into green field down to the river. You can almost imagine that drive as the ending of “Thunder Road,” feeling the glory of the open road.

Mary got pregnant, he got a union card, and they got married. There’s no romance in this wedding. There’s “no flowers, no wedding dress.” Even with all of the pressure of the baby, and the less than idea wedding they can still escape to the river.

Things get worse. He can’t find work. The “things that seemed so important,” just vanish. There’s depression in these words as what he used to love no longer holds our interests because reality is just too much. He copes by saying he doesn’t remember what used to mean so much to him, like his music, his friends, while Mary acts like she doesn’t care. They have surrendered to life. He has given up on his memories and Mary, acting like she doesn’t care, devalues everything they used to hold dear.

At this low point in the song, the music picks up momentum and he dives deep into a memory at the river. In these couple lines Springsteen’s romanticism is beautifully displayed “and pull her close just to feel each breath she’d take.” It’s at this point that we begin to understand what’s so special about the river.

This memory doesn’t bring comfort, it torments. Springsteen's voice rises in anguish and he sings "haunts me" expressing how painful it is to be reminded of how good things used to be.  His voice almost cracks as his voice descends  from that melodic peak.   It makes you understand why he would rather forget than live a life that’s only a shadow of what came before. A dream that is a lie is not as bad as a memory that you simply can’t forget.

The memory that haunts him draws him back to the river, but the river is dry. Everything is different. Like his life, the river has changed and will never be exactly the same again.

There’s something about this song in the music that expresses perseverance. Yes, he is haunted by his past but it’s still there. It exists and what once haunted him may one day bring hope.

Sometimes even when we've given up on our dream, our dreams haven't given up on us.

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