On my walk from the office to the subway station today, Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road" just kept playing in my head. (Okay, by the time it made an encore in my head, I whipped out my MP3 player and let it repeat in my ears.) It's a song I like to dip into from time to time - for one, it's got one of my favourite couplets in pop songs: "Roy Orbison singing for the lonely / Hey that's me and I want you only". For another, it's a song that somehow manages to juxtapose a lot of contrasting emotions: the promise of getting out along with making the most of things right now in spite of the limitations of current options ("Hey what else can we do now? / Except roll down the window / And let the wind blow back your hair"), of faith despite the passing of time ("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"). (I like mixed emotions in songs - here's my little take on happy songs of despair.)
And I know I didn't grow up in Jersey, and that the roads out of this town are roads right out of the country, which makes the promise of the open road that much tougher, but how can it not mean something, right, this song of hope mixed with realism (the only real kind of hope in my book)? And because I can't really say it better, I'll end with the words of Nick Hornby, for whom this is his favourite song:
"When it comes down to it, I suppose that I, too, believe that life is momentous and sad but not destructive of all hope, and maybe that makes me a self-dramatising depressive, or maybe it makes me a happy idiot, but either way "Thunder Road" knows who I feel and who I am, and that, in the end, is one of the consolations of art." - Hornby, on "Thunder Road", in 31 Songs/SongbookNick Hornby interviews Springsteen
'It's not as if I can't see the flaws: "Thunder Road" is overwrought, both lyrically (as Prefab Sprout pointed out, there's more to life than cars and girls, and surely the word "redemption" is to be avoided like the plague when you're writing songs about redemption)......'
But doesn't that also go to your point of realism? This is not a perfect song - like humanity, it is flawed, it is imperfect, it will hope and fail and love and laugh.
And Prefab Sprout's sneering at cars and girls is silly - some of the greatest pop/rock songs have been about nothing but cars and girls.
And you're right, it's a flawed song, and even a fan such as myself would probably admit that the grandeur of the song can be read as bombast... and yes, it may not be perfect, but it can be utterly right.