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“Atlantic City”

Posted by purplemary54 on September 24, 2013

Want to bring down a party?  Play “Atlantic City.”  This is the musical equivalent of a Thomas Hardy novel.  (I read Jude the Obscure during a sunny summer visit to Houston and my dad, and I wanted to throw myself in front of a fucking bus by the end.)  There should probably be a Surgeon General’s warning on this song saying that people prone to depression should never, ever listen to this song.  Really.

The despair in this song is palpable.  Springsteen wrote this song, and the entire Nebraska album, shortly after Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980.  He tried recording the songs with the E Street Band, but the sessions never quite jelled.  So he cleaned up the acoustic demo tapes he made, probably added a few overdubs, and released that as one of the hardest, most emotional musical experiences I’ve ever had.  I seriously have a hard time listening to this album, even though it is utterly brilliant.  “Atlantic City” is the second track, which when paired with the opening title track makes for a metaphorical punch to the solar plexus: It leaves you breathless.

I’m actually not quite sure what inspired it as today’s choice.  I’m feeling pretty good.  My test today went okay, and I got enough sleep last night.  Life is all right.

Well, I can sort of trace it back to a reply Dan made to my comment on his most recent post.  (He’s taking a little break from blogging for a while, which I hope will be productive and good for him.)  Hope is a killer, but sometimes it’s the only thing we have.  What makes “Atlantic City” so damn awful is that this guy still has hope, in spite of the odds that are so clearly stacked against him.  “Well, I got a job, and tried to put my money away.  But I got debts that no honest man can pay.  So I drew what I had from the Central Trust, and I bought us two tickets on that Coast City bus.”  You don’t need much explanation about who this guy is gonna do a favor for.  You don’t need to know anything to guess how it’s gonna turn out.  The song begins with some guy called Chicken Man getting blown up; it ends with the sound of ghosts howling down empty alleys off the boardwalk.  (Actually, the opening line of the song is a real mob killing from 1981.)  There’s no way this is gonna turn out the way this guy hopes it will, but he still tells his girl to “Put your makeup on, fix your hair up pretty, and meet me tonight in Atlantic City.”

But of course, the flip side of all this is hope itself.  Even when you know what the outcome is going to be, hope still buoys you up.  And as long as you have hope, as long as you keep trying and keep getting up just one more time, there is still a chance.  There’s always a chance.  You just gotta buy your ticket and take your chances.



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