How do you read the end of The River? “Drive All Night” is an outward in its expression of emotion. Bruce is melodramatic and not subtle at all in that song. It’s incredibly repetitive with a rather simplistic and obvious expression of love. This is immediately followed by “Wreck On The Highway, which is a beautifully subtle and nuanced way to describe how much he cares about her through observing a tragedy. It’s the most jarring contrast in the album.I’ve been struggling with this question for the past two weeks as I tried to understand what Bruce was thinking. So I went through my “how to understand a Bruce Springsteen"-process.
Step 1: Listen to the song
Step 2: Listen to the song again
Step 3: Read the lyrics, analyze them
Step 4: Listen to the song again
Step 5: Google the song and read various people’s commentary on the song
Step 6: Sing the song, either a capella or with the recording
Step 7: Watch a live performance of the song.
Step 8: Go back to Step 1and try again.
It wasn’t until I got to Step 7 when this song started to make sense to me.
Bruce standing on a stage declaring his love in a darkened stadium in front of a sea of lights is a beautiful image. There is something so honest and so real. On the studio album, "Drive All Night," comes across as drawn out as Bruce's voice strains toward the end of the song. On stage Bruce comes across as one of the Bobby Hatfield singing "Unchained Melody."
“Drive All Night,” isn’t a look into the internal dialogue of a man’s deepest feelings like “Wreck On The Highway.” This is a love song, a persuasive letter, a desperate plea from a man to get back the girl he has lost. Something has happened that has torn them apart, and now she is in tears and he’s doing, and saying everything he can to get her back.
He’s a man telling his woman how much he love her.
The chorus seems a little trite. He’ll drive all night to get her shoes? But quickly this line go into wanting to sleep tonight in her arms. Sometimes things we do for the ones we love seem ridiculous but there’s something romantic about this moment. Sometimes it’s not the big grand gestures, sometimes it’s a small thing, almost an inside joke. The whole thing about the shoes echoes a memory, a crazy act he once did for her that he’s willing to do again. When you watch Bruce sing these lines live, you realize like the greats soul-singers of the past, he could be singing a page out of the phone book and it would still feel romantic.
The verses don’t seem that intricate until you see them on paper. With songs like “Thunder Road,” the speed of the text brings out the symbolism but with “Drive All Night” it's different. You still have great poetry but the slow tempo the lyrics are sung makes them seem more like something a regular man would say, not a poet.
The second verse brings in angels calling for strangers that she needs deal with. These are ghosts, regret and everything that keeps us from our dreams. It’s powerful that this man has the insight to her trauma and has the desire to help her work through this tough part of her life.
There's machines and there's fire waiting on the edge of townThe power of love is described with so much conviction that even if we don’t believe that his love can conquer her life’s issues, these words make us want to.
They're out there for hire but baby they can't hurt us now
Cause you've got . . . my love heart and soul.
I wrote in my post about “Wreck On The Highway,” that it ended abruptly. After listening to a double album, we need an epic Springsteen ending. We get that with “Drive All Night.” Bruce’s repetition, the way he builds towards the end of the song is the perfect way to reflect on all of the drama and the characters that we experienced throughout The River. Except for “Point Blank,” and “The River” this song is almost twice as along as every other song and is the longest song on the album.
“Drive All Night,” draws The River into a stunning and powerful climax. “Wreck On The Highway,” are the credits. It’s our time to pause and reflect. It’s our transition back into reality. It’s how we actually feel as opposed to the unattainable romanticism we long for from "Drive All Night."
Sometimes when people ask me what’s so great about Springsteen, I’m at a loss for words. There’s just so much he does so well. But the one thing more than anything else that makes him special is that when he sings, you believe him. I still don't believe him when on the studio version of "Drive All Night," but watching this live performance I'm taken to that place where music breaks the walls of logic into the depth of the human heart and I believe.
I believe Bruce and I believe in love.