A track by track comparison of Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A” and @lightningrodrec tribute album “Dead Man’s Town”.
“There is something magical about youth and ‘Bobby Jean’ sings like a dirge reminding you that the kid you once saw in the mirror is gone, and he is not. It’s not closure that Springsteen’s plain words give you, but they seem to be pointing to an open ended grief – in some regard, life is loss. If you can mourn that loss then you can also wake up tomorrow a brand new creature.
You can choose to listen to Springsteen’s songs on several different levels, but actually singing them forces you to get below the surface. ‘Bobby Jean’ is written in about as plain language as you can get, but there is profound loss lying below those simple words.
The more I sang ‘Bobby Jean’ the more I realized regret and the energy that is born out wanting a thing, or missing who you were. ‘Bobby Jean’ helps you realize the difference in who you thought you’d be and who you are – how you see the world and how it really is.
Springsteen writes with such plain language that you may not initially realize what songs like ‘Bobby Jean’ are accomplishing down in your heart. One minute you’re singing about a girl, the next your whole life is laid on the table to be examined. These songs help you feel like you have a place in your own life. This is your world too, sometimes you just need Bruce to remind you.” – Ryan Culwell
Listen to the expanded version of his understanding of the song:
“Those who imitate, imitate agents who must be either admirable or inferior. (Character almost always corresponds to just these two categories, since everyone is differentiated in character by defect or excellence.) Alternatively they must be better people than we are, or worse, or of the same sort…Homer imitates better people; Cleophon, people similar to us; Nicochares, the author of the Deiliad, worse people. The very same difference distinguishes tragedy and comedy from each other; the latter aims to imitate people worse than our contemporaries, the former better.” – Aristotle, Poetics.
In Ryan Culwell’s song “The Ballad of Charlie Waters”, he depicts two lovers on the lam for a murder. Or murders. The unrepentant Charlie Waters narrates the flight, finally landing in prison expecting to die there. (This, of course, has all the markings of a comedy. :))
The song’s plot isn’t new. It’s been explored in song by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, and in film by Terrence Malick, Oliver Stone, and more recently by David Lowery. At the heart of each of these versions is an actual true story with real teen-aged serial killers, which probably means that every generation produces similar crimes. It’s tempting to say that all these versions portray people worse than our contemporaries, but I’m not sure. Springsteen is known as an Everyman songwriter, generally placing him in the company of Cleophon who portrayed people similar to us.
Mr. Culwell maintains that the song is in fact a love song. But it’s not a tragic Romeo and Juliet teenage love. They may have been foolish, but they were certainly better people than their contemporaries. The scariest part of a song like “The Ballad of Charlie Waters” is that the characters are of the same fabric as most of us. Not that most of us are murderers, but that most of us love things that eventually harm us or people around us.
In the end, I’m not sure I buy Aristotle’s distinctions in morality (or defects and excellence). I think we’re all on the same level, and I think Culwell’s song finds that note.