Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Wreck On The Highway by Bruce Springsteen

“Wreck On The Highway,” the closing song on Springsteen’s epic The River album describes what it means to love somebody in a unique and unexpected way.  Much like the Barenaked Ladies’ beautiful “Tonight Is The Night I Fell Asleep At The Wheel” (which I discussed in this earlier post), “Wreck On The Highway,” a car crash become a catalyst for the expression of true love, without using the word “love.”

Both of these songs take the challenge of describing love, not through metaphors, or poetic devices, but rather through events that happen in life. This requires subtlety, carefully constructed lyrics and truly remarkable performances. “Wreck On The Highway,” blows this challenge out of the water.



“Wreck On The Highway,” has very simple lyrics. Springsteen who is known for amazing poetic imagery lets the music set the mood and speaks not as a poet, but rather as a simple man.

The protagonist comes across a wreck. There’s a man, lying on the side of the road who asks for help. An ambulance comes and takes the man away. As the main character drives away from the wreck, he imagines a girlfriend or a young wife receiving the news that her loved one died.

At this point in the song our protagonist imagines what this tragedy means to people who may have loved this man in the wreck. This isn’t something people thick about when they are teenagers or even when they are early adults. Immaturity narrows our focus on ourselves so we don’t think about how things effect others. One of the things that draws us out of this bubble is having someone in our lives that we truly care about.

To love someone, to truly be in a meaningful relationship is to understand that one’s actions resonate with people who love you. This man has reached this point. It is this imagination that leads us to think that there is something deeper going on in this man.

The last verse is one of the most beautiful that Springsteen has ever written.
Sometimes I sit up in the darkness
And I watch my baby as she sleeps
Then I climb in bed and I hold her tight
I just lay there awake in the middle of the night
Thinking 'bout the wreck on the highway
What is he thinking when he watches her sleep? Does he fear a loosing her? Is he grateful for the time they have together? Is he concerned that one day he will cause her pain, or has he already made a mistake that caused her to be hurt that he regrets? We don’t know, Springsteen, doesn’t lay it out for us, so it forces us to wonder and project our own feelings on these lines.

It may seem strange to think of a tragedy when you hold someone you love, but think about it for a minute. Whenever something sad happens, whenever we feel pain, we long to be held by that one person in our lives that provides us with meaning and comfort, the one person who completes us.

Sadness and fear are like every other emotion. They are meant to be shared with people we love because when we go through these emotions with other people, they give these emotions meaning.

After the length of a double album, we expect a long outro to “Wreck On The Highway,” but it seems to end before before we get a chance to reflect on the lyrics. This is jarring but so is seeing a wreck on the highway. Thankfully, Springsteen adds a little bit more music after the pause to give us a little bit more time, like that the one more moment we wish we could have had with someone we've lost.

“Wreck On The Highway” challenges us to think about what it truly means to know love and share love with others. 

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