Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Springsteen Lyrics of the Week - Blinded by the Light

He said, "Take a right at the light, keep goin' straight until night, and then, boy, you're on your own"
- "Blinded by the Light," Greetings from Asbury Park

The version of “Blinded by the Light” released by Manfred Mann's Earth Band has long been a favorite song of mine. I vividly remember the first time I heard it. I was fifteen and listening to the car radio while my Dad picked up groceries from Publix during a vacation in Florida. I was instantly captivated by its energetic intro, distinct synthesizer, drastic tempo changes... and baffling lyrics.

I listened to it nonstop that summer. The more I listened to it, the more I decided that the only explanation for the lyrics were that they were hastily scribbled down by a psychedelic rocker in the throes of mind-altering drugs. I couldn’t fathom any other explanation for the flat out bizarre lyrics.

Years later I discovered the song was written by Bruce Springsteen and I realized, “Oh it's just Bruce being Bruce.” Few rock stars have as squeaky clean a history as Bruce. To my knowledge there is no evidence or even conjecture that he's ever had any drug usage in his life. It’s tempting to posit the lyrics to “Blinded by the Light” (or “Bishop Danced”) as indication that Bruce at least tried drugs in his youth, but upon reading the lyrics closely and listening to Bruce’s original version from Greetings from Asbury Park, they seem to reflect Bruce’s observation of a surfeit of oddball characters on the Jersey Shore boardwalk and his attempt to cram them all into one song.

The lyrics above are omitted from Manfred Mann's epic toe-tapper. In a certain respect they are quintessential Bruce lyrics – they involve literal and metaphorical driving and the existentialist undercurrent that if you want to make it out of this town, you have to do it yourself. This is too deep for the Manfred Mann version – which in many respects is a superior song – but they reflect the care and precision that Bruce puts into what otherwise seems like haphazard song writing in the hands of another performer.

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