Guest poem submitted by Mark Penney:
(Poem #1853) Thunder Road
The screen door slams Mary's dress waves Like a vision she dances across the porch As the radio plays Roy Orbison singing for the lonely Hey, that's me, and I want you only Don't turn me home again Cause 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're not a beauty, but hey, you're all right Oh, and that's all right with me. You can hide 'neath the 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 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 Baby, what else can we do now Except roll down the window And let the wind blow back your hair The night's busting open These two lanes will take us anywhere We've 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 Oh, come take my hand We're riding out tonight to case the promised land Oh, Thunder Road, oh, Thunder Road Lying out there like a killer in the sun I know it's late, but we can make it if we run Oh, Thunder Road, Sit tight, take hold, Thunder Road. 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 the 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 will 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 burnt-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 can hear their engines roaring on But when you get to the porch they're gone On the wind, so Mary climb in, It's a town full of losers And I'm pulling out of here to win.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: some, but by no means all, song lyrics work when you look at them independently as poems. This is one of the ones that does, in a very big way. True, Springsteen's "story songs" are often too wordy, but he has a real talent for indelible images. And this song is fairly overflowing with them. In my opinion, the ragged length of the lines (some of them actually have too many syllables to fit the music!) and the irregular rhythm and rhyme actually add something in this case -- a certain restless drive, that underpins what we think of the main character. (Listening to this song, you keep feeling like it's going to settle into a regular ballad structure, with abab rhymes and so on, but it never quite does. For example, the "Thunder Road" part in the middle looks like it's going to be a chorus, but ... nope, it never comes back. The whole thing almost feels improvised, a sort of rush of disconnected thoughts.) On the surface, it's just a testosterone-laden teenaged boy, trying to go on a ride with, and maybe sleep with, a girl. But Springsteen's approach to the main character is interestingly divided -- simultaneously identifying with this kid, but also keeping some objective distance. (Look at that virtuosic last verse for evidence: what kid, trying to impress a girl, would be thinking all those things at once? It all of a sudden turns so bitter and cynical -- "They haunt this dusty beach road / In the skeleton frames of burnt-out Chevrolets" -- it's clear we're looking at the kid not only through his own eyes, but through the author's as well.) But my god, the images. The first four lines are incredible. And the third verse. And the last one. It's one of those songs that you learn the words to, because the words themselves are so delicious. Lastly, you've got to say that the song is a little one-sided. I'd love to hear Mary's side of things. Maybe it'd start something like this: A car horn honks I look to see who's there It's that Bruce again in his '63 Chevy And his unkempt hair "Dom-do-de-wah" sings Roy, "Only the lonely," and this boy. What can I do to make him Leave me alone and go away again? Mark