“Well they blew up the chicken man in Philly last
night now they blew up his house too.
Down on the boardwalk they're getting ready
for a fight gonna see what them racket boys can do”- “Atlantic City”, Nebraska
“Atlantic City” has always been one of my favorite songs. From the emotional studio version, to the rocking electric version he plays with the E Street Band, and even the downright whacky version with the Sessions Band. There’s something about this song that’s always kept it one of my favorites. I even love covers of the song done by The Hold Steady and The Band. You just can't go wrong with whatever version you pick.
But for the longest time I had no idea what those opening lyrics were about. What was a chicken man? And more importantly why would someone want to blow one up? It wasn’t until I was in college that I finally figured it out. I was a Criminal Justice major at Niagara University(Go Purple Eagles!) and took a class on notable cases of the 20th century. And while learning about infamous Philly Mob Boss, Philip Testa, and his involvement in the poultry business. When I went on to read more about him, and how he was killed in a bomb blast, that was ordered by his own underboss, I finally realized what Bruce was singing about!
The mafia references are prevalent throughout the song, and knowing now a little more about the Testa getting whacked, and the 4 year Philadelphia mafia-war that ensued because of it, have made the lyrics that much more meaningful. Not only are there numerous mafia references, but references to death, and the consequences of decisions we make. Something I’m sure Philip Testa would testify too, if he could. Oh well, “Everything dies, that’s a fact.”