I originally posted this for Bruce Springsteen’s birthday in 2012. After reading the Ames biography, I’m pleased to know that my original take on the song, on Bruce in general seems to be borne out by the man himself. He really does believe in his music in a way I’m not sure every musician does. It’s not that he works harder, or is more talented than other artists. But at the time he wrote and recorded “Thunder Road,” he really did believe that music was a transformative experience. If you read the book (which I recommend), you’ll find out just how much music transformed him.
“Thunder Road” is a transformative song, but whether the transformation is good or bad is left entirely unresolved. Part of Springsteen’s appeal for me is the fact that he pulls no punches. He doesn’t try to force a happy ending on his characters, knows damn well that a happy ending might be impossible for them. But there’s hope that these people really can win if they can just make it to the car together, “take that long walk, from your front porch to my front seat. The door’s open, but the ride ain’t free.” That’s all they have to do. But those are the hardest steps of all, and there is always a price for escape.
I love watching the E Street Band play together. These people are consummate musicians, perfectly in synch with one another. But something that really shines through in this clip from a concert at Madison Square Garden is how much they love what they do, how much they love the music. Bruce, Patti, Little Steven, the late great Big Man. The looks on their faces say they know how truly blessed they are. (FYI: Max Weinberg has the most perfect posture I have ever seen in a drummer.) They are true believers in the transformative power of music, a belief that can’t be bought or sold. It just is.
I guess that’s why I’ve always like Springsteen. He believes in the things he sings about, he believes happily ever after is possible. More importantly, he makes us believe in it, too. And that’s the biggest transformation of all: Believing in what is possible.