Friday, February 10, 2012

Bruce and the City

On a mild November day, I took a break from a run through Central Park to lie on my back and take in the sights of the city. “Jungleland” came on my iPod and I thought to myself, "Ah, what a perfect New York City song."

But after a moment I realized it really wasn't about the urban jungle at all. It’s really about what’s happening just outside New York. Aside from the opening salvo - "The rangers had a homecoming / in Harlem late last night" - there isn't anything in the lyrics that distinctly grounds the story in New York (And Bruce isn’t even talking about the hockey team). While the lyrics are not distinctly New York City, the saxophone solo still screams inner city New York to me.

It got me thinking about how few Bruce songs are distinctly about New York. Even on an album like The Rising, where the majority of the songs are written in the key of 9/11, the lyrics all come from a national or at least suburban vantage point. The most explicit song, “Empty Sky,” feels very much written from the perspective of a neighboring suburb.

I posed the thought to fellow Legends of Springsteen contributor OB, who pointed me in the direction of “New York City Serenade” and “Incident on 57th Street”. The next day I listened to The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle in its entirety. From an album standpoint, it has a more distinctly New York City vibe than any of his others (it’s also his grooviest). OB also suggested “10th Avenue Freeze Out.” But really, other than the big man joining the band, who knows what the Hell is going on in that song, let alone where it's happening.

But how much do the lyrics matter in the end? They're only half the story, right? For me, “Jungleland” will always be a New York City song. Dear readers, are there other Bruce songs that will always feel like they’re about New York City to you, even if their lyrics are telling you otherwise?

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