WEDNESDAY WRITING TIP:Bruce Springsteen, Noir Crime Writer

Posted: March 10, 2010 in Wednesday's Writing Tip
Tags: , , ,

Note the Elvis Pin...

It was the part of town where when you hit a red light you don’t stop.

Johnny 99

The screen door slams. Mary’s dress waves.

Thunder Road

Screen door hangin’ off its hinges kept bangin’ me awake all night.

Ain’t nobody can give anybody what they really need anyway

Dry Lightning

They say you gotta stay hungry. Well, I’m just about starving tonight.

Dancing in the Dark

You end up like a dog that’s been kicked too much.

Born in the USA

It’s a town full of losers. I’m pulling out of here to win.

All the redemption I can offer is beneath this dirty hood. Thunder Road                                                                                                                                   Sweatin’ out on the street of this runaway American dream…

Born to Run

Great writing doesn’t come over the course of 100,000 word manuscript, it comes word by word and phrase by phrase. To me, when he’s at his best, no one is better than Bruce Springsteen.

I’m not a huge fan of his last 15 or 20 years but through the late eighties his phrasing, economy of words and expression resonated with me.

Take his use of “Screen door.” What does a screen door conjur? Usually, a low income house and a working class culture. If it bangs off the wall it tells us it’s old, wasn’t installed properly or it’s worn out. A screen door banging sets a total scene economically.

How about “All the redemption I can offer is beneath this dirty hood”? “Redemption” and “hood” don’t seem to go together which makes it perfect. For an 18 year-old high school graduate, the promise of something more comes on four wheels. And “Pulling out of here to win” is something you have the opportunity to do.

“It was the part of town where when you hit a red light you don’t stop.” Do you need anything else to describe that setting? I don’t. I picture an intersection in my home town. The corner one block up from Henry Johnson and Clinton appears in my mind every time.

In the nineties Springsteen wrote “It’s a funny world when you find yourself pretending and you’re a rich in a poor man’s shirt” in the song “Better Days.” And maybe for me this is where he stopped connecting with me. The lyrics became more psuedo-spiritual to me and the causes overblown. The “Rising” album which was supposed to heal all of us after the WTC tragedy fell flat with me.

I wanted to be back on the porch, in the car or at that troubled intersection. The day to day nuances of life connect like good noir fiction. The other stuff is probably great for those who relate to it. It’s just isn’t me.

In the meantime, I’m gonna try to stay hungry while I sweat out on the street of my own American dream.

  1. tybes says:

    we’ve discussed this over a few beers in our time, and I’m not saying that his later albums were as good as his early stuff (especially the most recent one, which may have been his worst) but the man had to grow up, just like us-different priorities. But he did write some amazing lyrics back in the day. I totally agree with your take on the vivid scenes he paints or painted with words! Every time I listen to his early stuff, the images his songs conjured up cannot be matched anywhere. And you’re right, the later albums weren’t as discriptive as the early ones. Oh, well, my mind doesn’t work as well now that I’m middle aged.

  2. D.B. Dean says:

    Struggle and harship create depth and pain. Real Feelings…with success comes luxury and a life that is lived with bubble wrap around it. No matter how hard a star tries to remain “every man” few suceed. They lose the dirt, the nitty grit, the realness that appealed in the begining because they arent living it anymore. You dont feel for the farmer because you played farm aid and maybe spent a day or two on his farm. Its day in and day out, can see to cant see, living the life that makes it real. Otherwise its just an abstract concept you cant fully grasp or perhaps dimly remember as your lifestyle caccoons you to the average joes life

    One could imagine child birth – but until you go throw it you cant full grasp it or help others deal with it.

    You can imagine what a left hook to the jaw feels like – but gitting hit makes your description so much more real.

    Success can rob a person of the passion to BE sucessful…rob them of their drive…of their realness

    • tjs9261 says:

      Marvin Hagler once said that’s it’s tough to get up for road work when you slept in silk pajamas…

      • D. B. Dean says:

        so is the wednesday writing tip – dont buy silk pajamas?

        or – dont forget your roots?

        write what you know and keep it simple – leave the existential abstract thought for college students smokin weed in college dorms?

        I just think you wanted to put The Boss’s photo with The Kings Pin up on your site…honestly

  3. Christine says:

    I got to see him for the first time last November here in Nashville. They performed the Born to Run in its entirety. He and the E Street Band sounded phenomenal!

    Great post, Tom! Thanks!

  4. Kim Mitchell says:

    “Hey little girl, is your daddy home? Did he go and leave you all alone?” Shivers. I always thought those lyrics sounded rather sinister. But more in a David Lynch way. The Boss truly is a master of evoking so much with so little.

  5. tjs9261 says:

    Ah, yes…and remember the video? Bruce working on the high class lady’s T-Bird…”I could even bring it out to ya, if you wanted…”

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