Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Ties That Bind by Bruce Springsteen

It starts with an alarm. Four forceful guitar chords push you out of the door to confront what you've been trying to ignore.
The River’s opening song “The Ties That Bind,” is not a gentle invitation like “Thunder Road,” which opened Born To Run. It’s an urgent, questioning and immediate song that lays out the central theme of Springsteen’s epic The River.

Springsteen’s opening songs for his albums often lay out central themes that frame the entire work. For Wrecking Ball, “We Take Care Of Own,” asks the two defining questions of the album as well as the questions of the presidential election: Who are our own and what does it mean to take care of these people?

“The Ties That Bind,” and The River struggles with different questions. What are the connections between us and how do we they limit and free us to help us through the struggles in our lives? If you think about the songs I’ve already written about from The River they all wrestle with this idea. “Drive All Night,” is about a man struggling with the ties that he feels with a love that has left him.  “Wreck On The Highway,” is about the feeling of love that connects a man to his love in the face of tragedy.  “Fade Away,” deals with the feeling that a bond is being a lost. “The River” describes a feeling of responsibility and commitment in the face of struggle  and “Sherry Darling,” is about a guy who is annoyed at the relationship his girlfriend has with his mother.  (Now I'm not sure how all those songs about cars fits in with this theme, I'll look into that later).

To introduce this theme, “The Ties That Bind” portrays a conversation in which Bruce tries to convince a girl to stop ignoring the reality of her life. In the first verse, he acknowledges that she has been hurt and that she wants to get away. She is angry and resentful and is “walking blind,” to the ties that bind.

In the second verse, he continues, telling her that her “cheap romance,” is meaningless. She thinks that “walkin’ tough,” is a sign of strength, but the true challenge is facing up to her responsibilities.

In the bridge, Bruce argues that he would rather “feel the hurt inside” than feel “the emptiness your heart must hide.” The last verse continues this idea as Bruce says that he would be with her and “stand in time.”

"The Ties That Bind," faces this tough conversation with a joyful and energetic rock groove.  It's more garage band than "epic wall of sound."  It's harkens back to a simpler type of rock song but with themes far more complex and challenging than most songs that share its structure and style.

"The River" is the title track of the album and is a powerful examination of the ties of love and responsibility between two people.  "The Ties That Bind," brings us into this idea and asks us to question how we face our own reality and begin thinking about what are the ties that bind that we ignore but can never truly escape.

Bruce is right.  It is better to feel the pain in life with someone else than to run away from one's responsibilities alone.  It's a harder path but it draws us together to the people that we love.  This is worth the hardship.

The ties that bind sometimes get in our way, sometimes they feel like a burden.  Sometimes in life we pull away from these ties and at other times we let them draw us closer to others.  It's a constant struggle but like these bonds, this struggle defines who we are and the choices we make every day.  

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