Oh, Thunder Road

About six or seven years ago, I was working construction with my father. It was probably summer time. We were renovating a 19th century mansion on the big hill overlooking my childhood town. It was not an easy job. There were nasty days full of the worst grease, grime and grit you can imagine. There were days where we felt like nothing was getting done and the job would never end. There were days when I wished I were anywhere else but there. And, of course, there were days that I’ll never forget—quality time with my pop learning his craft.

During that summer the University of Pennsylvania radio station was playing the 885 greatest songs of all time (as voted on by listeners) to go along with their call sign of 88.5 FM. We love this station and it never left the radio. We listened during our breaks, our work hours and turned it up to extremes whenever our favorites came on the air. During the few weeks it lasted, my Dad and I and the three other co-workers, whom I’ve known all my life and feel like family, would argue and speculate on what could possibly be called the greatest song from an indisputably great radio station.

We all knew that the Beatles, Zeppelin, Who, Stones, Dylan, Hendrix, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Clapton would be represented. It was always a pleasant surprise to hear each song with its subjectively ranked number, but when it got down to the top ten we had invested lots of time into those songs and were angry if it didn’t match our taste. Finally, number one came, and it was announced as: Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road”.

We were all shocked when “Like a Rolling Stone” came at number two, which is a classic to anyone’s flavor of music, but this was even more shocking. Bruce ‘The Boss’ Springsteen is an adopted son of Philly, a blue-collar, hard working, Jersey Shore, cheese steak on lunch break kinda guy. He sold out around 40 consecutive visits over 30 years to the Philadelphia area. I knew that may have influenced the listening public, but I just didn’t understand that choice for number 1–until now.

I have listened to more Bruce since being in Korea than in my whole life. After you’ve been working for a living for enough time, with enough bosses harassing you, failed relationships, tough life lessons, paying bills, unrequited loves and bad days to fill in the otherwise daily beauty of existence, you hear new things in tough, old songs. I believe his words and understand the feeling of wanting to get on the road without even knowing where it is you want to drive.

Thunder Road plays on my shuffling iPod and brings a smile every time.  It doesn’t have the nostalgic poignancy of “Glory Days” or the idyllic dreams of “Born to Run” or even the jingoistic pride of “Born in the U.S.A.”, but it has a rambling romance, self-confidence, and my favorite line “you ain’t a beauty but hey, you’re alright…” It deserves its place at number one. Put aside your VH1 and Top 40 accepted wisdom of what a number one song is, and you might agree that this one is poetry in motion.

The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves 
Like a vision she dances across the porch
As the radio plays,
 Roy Orbison’s singing for the lonely
Hey that’s me and I want you only
 don’t turn me home again 
I just can’t face myself alone again
 don’t run back inside 
Darling you know just what I’m here for,

So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore 
Show a little faith there’s magic in the night,
 you ain’t a beauty but hey you’re alright—oh and that’s alright with me 

You can hide ‘neath your covers and study your pain 
Make crosses from your lovers
 throw roses in the rain 
Waste your summer praying in vain
 for a savior to rise from these streets 
Well now I’m no hero
 that’s understood all the redemption I can offer girl 
Is beneath this dirty hood
 with a chance to make it good somehow 
Hey what else can we do now?
 except roll down the window 
And let the wind blow
 back your hair well the night’s busting open 
These two lanes will take us anywhere
 we got one last chance to make it real 
To trade in these wings on some wheels
 climb in back 
Heaven’s waiting on down the tracks
 come take my hand 
We’re riding out tonight to case the promised land
Thunder Road oh Thunder Road
Lying out there like a killer in the sun I know it’s late we can make it if we run
Oh Thunder Road sit tight take hold

Well I got this guitar and I learned how to make it talk 
And my car’s out back
 if you’re ready to take that long walk 
From your front porch to my front seat
 the door’s open but the ride it ain’t free 
And I know you’re lonely
 for words that I ain’t spoken 
But tonight we’ll be free
 all the promises’ll be broken 
There were ghosts in the eyes
 of all the boys you sent away 
They haunt this dusty beach road
 in the skeleton frames of burned out Chevrolets; they scream your name at night in the street 
Your graduation gown lies in rags at their feet
 and in the lonely cool before dawn you hear their engines roaring on but when you get to the porch they’re gone on the wind so Mary climb in 
It’s town full of losers
 and I’m pulling out of here to win