Sig's Pick Six: "Depressing Springsteen Songs"

SigSixPickConceptI was talking to a friend the other day, and the topic of Bruce Springsteen came up. My friend proceeded to claim that Bruce has only ever written upbeat, happy tunes. This is not the first time I’ve heard this point argued, so apparently this is a common misconception. To help clear things up, here’s six “Depressing Springsteen Songs.”

“The Promise”
Generally regarded as a sequel of sorts to “Thunder Road,” “The Promise” is about what can happen to a person when the dreams they’ve chased never come true. The song’s protagonist (presumably the same one who “pulled out of here to win” in “Thunder Road”) tells the story of everything going wrong for him since he began to “follow that dream.” The sad thing is that despite all the hardships, the guy still believes in the dream he’s created and refuses to let it go (“Every day it just gets harder to live/This dream I’m believing in”). Because of that, he is slowly dying inside (“There’s something dyin’ on the highway tonight”).

“You’re Missing”
In “You’re Missing,” Springsteen employs the imagery of objects left behind to weave a tale of tremendous loss. The narrator mentions reminders of a loved one (coffee cup, jacket, etc.) that populate his or her house and remarks that “Everything is everything” (in other words, to the untrained eye, things still appear to be in order). However, the person attached to those mementos is gone, so they serve only to haunt the narrator on a daily basis. This is simply a crushing song, especially when considering that it was ostensibly inspired by the events of 9/11.

“None But the Brave”

Like “You’re Missing,” “None But the Brave” is about loss. In this case, though, the narrator is looking for traces of his girlfriend/wife in other women. I’ll just let a part of the lyrics do the rest of the talking here: “In my dreams these nights I see you my friend/The way you looked back then/On a night like this/I know that girl no longer exists/Except for a moment in some stranger’s eyes/Or in the nameless girls in cars rushing by/That’s where I find you tonight/And in my heart you still survive.”

“The River”
“The River” is what happens when young love leads to recklessness and heartache. The protagonist in the song was wildly in love with Mary in high school, and they would take frequent trips to a nearby river for some fun and fornication. At some point, Mary got pregnant, and “man that was all she wrote.” Her boyfriend was forced to get a job and marry her with little ceremony (“No wedding day smiles/No walk down the aisle/No flowers, no wedding dress”). As a result, his life as well as his relationship becomes a complete wreck, leaving him with little more than the memories of that river, which manage to both sustain and torment him. The song also includes one of my all-time favorite grim lyrics: “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true/Or is it something worse?”

“My Hometown”
“My Hometown” tells the story of a once-great town that has been decimated over the years by jobs moving out and crime moving in. The song’s begins with the narrator reflecting on the good times he had while growing up and ends with him being forced to move his family out of the town he is so attached to. Moving is a common theme in Springsteen songs, but “My Hometown” is unique in that the narrator does not really want to leave, but is forced to in order to do what’s best for his family.

“Racing in the Street”
To be fair, this song isn’t entirely depressing, but there’s one verse that may be the saddest in Springsteen’s entire catalog. The short story here is that a girl falls in love with a guy who makes money by street racing. Apparently, her life with the street racer wasn’t exactly what she’d hoped it would be, and she becomes seriously depressed. I’ll leave you with the entirety of the verse: “I met her on the strip three years ago/In a Camaro with this dude from L.A./I blew that Camaro off my back and drove that little girl away/But now there’s wrinkles around my baby’s eyes/And she cries herself to sleep at night/When I come home the house is dark/She sighs ‘Baby did you make it all right’/She sits on the porch of her daddy’s house/But all her pretty dreams are torn/She stares off alone into the night/With the eyes of one who hates for just being born…”

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