Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Springsteen, Crime Writer

By Tom Schreck, author of "Out Cold, A Duffy Dombrowski Mystery"

(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.

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G.M. Malliet said...

Great post, Tom. With some lyrics what you get is poetry set to music. There's no describing it - it just evokes something universally understood.

Darrell James said...

Tom- Great post. Song lyrics have always inspired me and have greatly influenced my writing. The ability to capture an entire picture (even an entire story) in a sigle word or short phrase is something every writer should apsire to. Springsteen is great, no doubt. Others that do it for me: Don Henely, Bob Seger, even Paul Simon. "..flying my bike past the gates of the factories..." (for me) cojures a fully constructed picture of life on the poor side of the city.

Thanks for reminding me how much great lyrics (great writing) means to me.

Keith Raffel said...

Tom, love those song lyrics. I came across a singer/lyricist named Alice Peacock. Used her song Time as the background of my book trailer. A sample:

And all across the universe
Everything expanding
At once a blessing and a curse
A beginning and an ending
I don't know the mystery
Of why we're here or how we came to be