Friday, September 6, 2013

Lyrics Spotlight - Springsteen's Hard Times

This past Wednesday, I was listening to some live Springsteen on Youtube, as a Springsteen blogger is wont to do.  During this binge session, I came upon Springsteen's cover of the smash hit of 1854, Stephen Foster's "Hard Times Come Again No More".  It's just one of many highlights from his 2009 Hyde Park show, a performance spotlighted by a great solo from Clarence and Bruce's voice digging into new gravelly depths to sound like it was actually from the 1850s.

It is also a song that clearly inspired Springsteen, as he has often described the E Street Band as a band built for "hard times".  That phrase, "hard times", seems like it appears in numerous Springsteen songs.  So I began to research, and found that "hard times" appears in a whopping....three Springsteen songs.  There are songs where he is working hard, trying hard, looking so hard, having hard earned days, searching for things hard to find, and is in a hard land, but not a ton where Bruce specifically points out the hard times.  However, in these songs, as in most of his work, there is always a glimmer of hope at the other side of the dark tunnel.  Let's take a look:

"Rocky Ground"

You raise your children and you teach 'them to walk straight and sure 
You pray that hard times, hard times, come no more 

This is a bit of a cheat, since Michelle Moore is singing this part, but rumor has it that Bruce was originally going to do the rapping, so I'll assume the lyrics here were all penned by the Boss.  "Rocky Ground" really does have some great lyrics, but the song is a bit too over-produced (a problem with a lot of Wrecking Ball, as too many instruments are crammed on the tracks), and the rapping makes it feel more like a novelty Springsteen song.  It's a solid tune that I've enjoyed seeing live, but one I rarely listen to on the album.

"Waitin' On A Sunny Day"

Hard times baby, well they come to tell us all
Sure as the tickin' of the clock on the wall
Sure as the turnin' of the night into day

This, too, is another novelty-esque Springsteen song, moreso when performed live - as Bruce always finds an adorable eight-year-old girl to sing on stage with him, while I just stew in my seat, angrily thinking, "SHE DOESN'T EVEN KNOW THE WORDS!  SHE WILL PROBABLY END UP HATING YOUR MUSIC IN FIVE YEARS WHEN SHE STARTS REBELLING FROM HER PARENTS!  THAT SHOULD BE ME ON STAGE!"  Phew.

Anyway, I do love the lyrics above, as this particular "hard times" is delivered with such passion, both by Bruce, and by me singing along, trying to prove that I would've been the right choice to sing up there.  Sigh.  Perhaps I'll have better luck if I show up next time wearing my Elvis costume.

"Wrecking Ball"

And hard times come, hard times go
Hard times come, hard times go
And hard times come, hard times go
Hard times come, hard times go
Hard times come, hard times go
Yeah just to come again

First of all, it is a shame that when I search for "Wrecking Ball lyrics", Miley Cyrus's song is the top result.  Get your act together, Earth.  Anyway, fellow writer Steve is not a huge fan of the song, describing it as "overly repetitive and yet all over the place".  I completely agree, it is overly repetitive and yet all over the place - which is why I love it, because that's exactly what the process of living is like.  As Bruce repeats "Hard times come, hard times go", it invokes images of the difficulties you've had in your life and, simultaneously, your triumphs.  As you get older, you begin to see the events in your life and the world around you repeating, and you realize that these cycles have been happening way before you entered the game (to borrow from "Jack Of All Trades": It’s all happened before and it’ll happen again).  While much of "Wrecking Ball" works as a tribute to the Meadowlands, the "hard times" part here escalates the meaning of the song into another echelon, more universal for non-Jersey listeners.

There you have it, folks.  The first comprehensive look at the times Bruce has sang about, literally, "hard times".  Are there any other classic Bruce phrases that you've noticed in several songs that you'd like us to break down?  Let us know in the comments.

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