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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Editor's Dream Revisited



By Matthew David

(First Edition: July 2010)

Image Courtesy of its rightsholder(s)

Image Courtesy of its rightsholder(s)

     If you find Hemingway and Dylan great golden DreamChasers, you're getting somewhere. You could argue the masterful Ernest Hemingway inspired most of this piece. Dylan’s The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan gave rise to the rest.


     —A profoundly literary gentleman I know sent me this. Told me it was utter trash. So I thanked him very much, explained to him that of course I didn't have a million things to do, and I'd find time to slap it up here for you.

      There is a species of composition writers call Editing. Upon conception, plan, and initial creation, Editing rounds the experience of Writing. I have not yet spoken with Michael Chabon, but maybe that extraordinary storyteller can work his way to brilliant at his current vessel's helm with the ease of a Sunday morning drive through wine country, and without a whole hell of a lot of second looks. I would probably buy that from him, or another a writer of his caliber, if we can find one. I'd accept it the way you do Tiger Woods leading the Masters after a season in hell. And if Mr. Chabon does decline to self-edit during initial composition, he may be the only Writer alive who can. But I wouldn't bet all of my net worth—not very much—that such an artist ever would.

     The great E.B White said, “The best writing is rewriting.” There is no doubt. For my money, though, and with all well-due respect to Mr. White, it is the only writing. You won't see it till you dive into the words—all the way in—and even then it's buried way down deep. Not in the oceans of college or grad school or that second-grade book report on Komodo Dragons that you summarized entirely because you drew last at the encyclopedias that day. This is when you figure out you're in love with it—head over heels—for this writing art, linguistic science, these precious human considerations. When you know you were built to swim and drink and play with them. That's where this lives.

     There's a reason it does, and it's nature. I'm no guru, nor do I claim to be. I wouldn't disrespect the great men and women who are. Can't even rightly say First Captain DreamChaser. Haven't yet earned the stripes. But for now, wordsmith feels just fine on me. 

      When you're starting out as a writer, you come from somewhere. That place buried in the dark and dank of Abilene or Allegheny or Amontillado, where you first find the time to dream about all the good stuff you could be. That place is not a passion-pure circle of writers, at least not one in the Hollywood or Tin Pan Alley sense of the word.

      No doubt, you've lived among Directors and Actors and Writers all your life, of course—even good ones. But, if you haven't spent four weeks or six months or thirty years with life-thinkers who believed in themselves long and loud enough for consummation—Doctors Heller and Wolfe and Joyce or Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner—maybe you should. You may find it infinitely worth your time—if you're thinking you might climb in the ring with these gents, I mean. It's a good gambler's bet, right? Sure. Eye the table, spot the play, sit—then mop up. Won't be long before you're rounding like a pro. You certainly don't wanna be the guy who turns the corner, wipes his boots, and slaps his stack on sticky green velvet, smiling like the theory he doesn’t realize he’s just disproved is law. That will not go anywhere good. I know a bit about it, and perhaps you may read about it sometime.

     But I understand. I get it. You went to college. You did a little work. But, if you're a hell of a DreamChaser—someone who can feel the sting of soul or faith or guidance, body and mind, for the whole of your existence—maybe you didn't do all the work. Maybe you had some Thinking to do. And I genuinely hope for you something in the vast, magic ballpark of that truth really is the case.

     Maybe when you did do all the work, you did it with half the passion. And should I hear that proud and solemn confession breathe faintly from your direction, I will empathize, and you will have earned my respect.

     If you were beaten back ten or twelve times asserting you before everyone who thought they knew you thought you should, then tried to push it all away but lost it and you and all you once believed about where you thought your one, big life could go—to the darkest corner at Nothing and Forever—okay, I'm with you.

     That whole forever part? In case you're not quite there yet, you learn that it must be the best lie you ever choked down with your green eggs and ham. It's what it has to be—it must be—because that one fights back hard when you try and push it all away. You learn that too, but Vegas odds of accepting it at first blush: three hundred thirty-three million to one. 

     If you do the math and proof it—Actors Studio, Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, plain old Hard Rock Cafe—I think you might find those figures spot-on.

      And when you do it's all Acceptance, and no other way; this is Key. Clearing Rural Farm Route 63 and Routine, bare cow pastures every bedroom window, raking up rotten apples for holiday pie (good, brave folks you know) I promise you; it is the right first step. 

      You find out when you're hiding all your cards so long you can't read them. You learned it wasn't good when anybody saw you had trip aces, and you'd hide them in your lap and ante always, just to try and fit in, stay the game. If that's the secret you're sharing—if you've ever played that hand—then yes. Some nights I know that sounds familiar.

      But till your fairy-tale forever dies from constant stabs by your own hand, that's the rigged goddam game you're playing. 

       It's a truth that stalled me longer than a few fine folks I know: House Game; House Rules, always—Your Honors, let the record show.

And I would like to think that in some soft enchanted moonlight in the brilliant, bare bosom of Starland, summer breeze meets grand Pacific, starshine cast just right, and a DreamChaser in solitude on sugar sand so white it blinds the non-believers says, “Piss on Forever for good. And bring the House—I'll Beat it.” And I will always hope to hear that.

     If college didn't just waste your time, and you learned other than on cramming sprees of early test-day mornings, maybe you at least picked up on Procedure. And it's true, that whole professor-student thing, that epic You talk–I listen—that stuff works. It does. But what you don't know when you're reading books on ancient native tribes and econ. graphs for GPA-approval is that you won't retain a name or date or number you'll think useful, till you're designing your course catalog.

     Best piece of advice I might have ever gotten: A literary gentleman I used to visit on occasion, right outside my door, actually, little town east of Hollywood—very east—used to tell me his secrets. 

     He'd say, “When you get older, you start to learn about every, little, inkling of chance you might've ever had. You know, you can just feel it. You don't need to look. It starts out simple. You start saying, 'shit, I have kids to feed.' Then it's, 'I can't possibly write that book with three kids of tuition and this goddamn ball-chain mortgage. It's just not happening.' And you start thinkin', I got a wife who's tired of the once-a-month laundry because she saw Hillary speak last week, and then . . . you don't do it. And you respect and respect and you give and you give, and pretty soon it doesn't matter anymore. And then, it won't take much for you to pack it in altogether.”

     Then this literary gentleman, he turned to make sure his machine was still breathing, hiding it so I don't know how much he hates he can't stop checking. He drained and refilled and continued. “Couple hours here, few million hours there of ugly black buildings and commuter traffic and goddamn airmiles from places you can't even remember, and you wake up dead. And when you know it, it's bullshit, because you're already dead.” 

     “It's not that you don't need to write that novel or that screenplay or that memoir or that story or that poem. You still do. But you can't, 'cause you been living that way so long you can't help it.” 

     “These guys I see at the Vee-Dubs used to say, 'Johnny Boy, you gotta git atta here, and go. Take the wife and go somewhere, John . . . y'oughta get on nat cruise next month. We did it last New Year's. Oh, my Gawd—beautiful.' Then they turn to their buddies and say, 'Yeah, you know what, boys we oughta git outta here an' head up to A.C., you know, for the weekend sometime. We should go fish Big Blackfoot. It’s time for a golf week in N.C.”

     “And, I'm gonna tell ya, son, I hear this bullshit every single day of my life. 'You're gonna be dead. Go do it now, while you still can, you know. Make the memory.'” 

     “You'll be dead, yeah, and that's true, you will. But I tell ya what, my young friend: most people—most guys I know—they've been fighting it, didn't know it, and now they're already there. But, hey, you know, you seem like a smart kid. You do, you know. Maybe you already know about that.”

     I think this gentleman was right. I guess you probably should by twenty-two. May just help you get somewhere you'd really love to go . . . before you wake yourself for breakfast in the haze of all Johnny's can't one day, finding out just how right one man can be, think about that man on the sands of paradise in starshine spotlight. Maybe, just maybe . . . you should grab yourself a pen for that lesson. 

     Sure, I agree, maybe you shouldn't feel it quite severely or often at fourteen years old as the man now with his heartbeat in the case in the corner, but the end of all that innocence—if you can find some left—and all that passion, all those dreams. It comes. It does. For everyone.

     It comes quickly, violently, and it sparks without warning at the gas line to the powder keg, the one that's primed to scatter scraps of your love all over DreamChase Avenue. And you can watch it all melt into ash in front of you. 

     But you could be the savvy sort, an explosives expert, and handle it before the big, bad fuse ignites, save the Day. You could do that. And if you do, you will have unlocked a coveted, prized power of the golden-starlight DreamChaser. Pin the merit badge, Life Editor, when you know. You will.

      The catch is you won't have all day to find out if you can hack it. That high-school curtain falls well before you even thought about taking your bow. If it's too late, God help you because you'll be very, very lucky if anyone else will. You'll need Angels to fly you back from there.

     In those darkest places, when your gambling game's up, you learn that only Angels come and only . . . when you really need them. If you get so lucky at the tables that your skin starts turning gold—if your Angel gives much more than any mere mortal could, you might even see him sometimes.

     The gentleman next door told me, “That dead nonsense—right?—it's true. All of it. But listen to me right now because it is true but just in this one, little, tiny baby sense. Universal application, right? All that fancy Plato bullshit. Well, it doesn't and never will exist. And I know you know that by now.”

     “This is it right here, and it's no joke, son. Ahhh  . . . you just don't give a shit anymore. Nope. Doesn't matter. My back hurts. I have cats to feed. I wake up and walk to the john and walk back and type my memoirs for—well, they call themselves my friends—ten people, okay, who couldn't give a shit about my work.”

     “They just don't get it. They don't. They don't care; and they won't even skim.” He shook his head and sighed the most defeat I've ever seen for the longest of naked moments before he said, “Ahhh . . . it's all bullshit. All of it. Whatever—piss on them, you know?” He looked to the hillside beyond his cramped concentration camp of a one-floor apartment at Nowhere and said, “Oh well, right? Can you imagine how empty—how painful that is?”

      In fact, I did know. I may have read that sorta thing somewhere once. That's why I toasted him when he said it, and I'm not sure he really got that part or even wanted to know on the roll he put together that day, but it was there for him from me, wide open. I wouldn't have let him down. 

     Teenage dreamers get good at the fake-till-you-make scramble. If he didn't get it, and, now I'll never know, call it DreamSmith's compunction and we'll toast him again. 

     He continued after a good, long draw from his traditional afternoon beverage, the same one he thought Hemingway used to drink, then he turned to me, licked his lips, and said, “The point is that because I waited for forever, I lost my now forever. And so, now, I have an email group of nurses and barmaids who watch Oxygen every night and Tivo “Friends” reruns instead of reading my writing.”

      “I know they don't read. But they're real good at telling me, 'I really like it, Johnny. Wow. How do you do that?' And I give 'em a hug, and I say my horseshit thanks, and I walk away reminding myself not to paint them liar to their faces.” John returned to the glass.

     “Now, pay attention son, because if you leave here with nothin' else, here's the money ball.” 

      “All that stuff you spent every night of your life dreaming about and perfecting and loving on till you got it just right—that stuff that kept you up nights wondering what New York City looked like in October or San Francisco Bay in the crisp chill of an August night. That album or your book or the stage or the goddamn movie set—whatever. That stuff will rip and tear and cut at everything you ever were till you drop to the floor and clutch your chest 'cause all your sand's spilled over. And hey, that's no bullshit, kid, it happens every day. So, do it—whatever it might be, and do it till you can't do it anymore—swear to God—because one day soon it's gone. And when you do, just like they tell you: Don't ever come back.”

     This friend of mine was a deeply literary man. When you look for it, you can see like minds all over. They've busted their clouds and sowed their oats and stared down their distant horizons. They've set out on their first adventures in the bustling halls of DreamChaser University. And the men and women of the great long form especially, Wordsmiths in their perfectly distinct way, every one of them.

     But you can't get to the sugar sand in that place bathed in moonbeams at that moment . . . without the gold of an Editor's Badge. And the best Dreamers—those for which dreams are but great plans—know exactly where to find it. 

     Truth is, when you hear good people talk about writing, about living, about life, they love to tell you it's all just about the story. As an artist has noted: "They love to tell you/ Stay inside the Lines." Write the story, kid. Don't bother mixing paint. Slap it up there. Let's go! Write it well. It's Story time—get a job. Hey, there's Story here, all right? Get married, get divorced. C'mon, this is Life, dammit. Story stuff—go, get to it. Pay the bill; Write the check; and Carry your humble pail back home after graveyard shifts. And when you do it, don't you dare let anyone see you don't love every minute. That stuff—it's just fine. It is. In fact, it's great; it's life. It is . . . a living. 

     But the thing that those on the brink at the shores of Forever and Happiness, the DreamChasers—what they know and want to tell us all is never easy to say. And it could be because they know we Love a few of those good people who only ever see the Chase in their mind's eye and need what the Dreamer sees; but they just can't get there anymore. Or they think they can't and convince themselves they can't be one of those few who drives and digs and claws and bleeds until that golden moment on the great blue horizon.

     But if he could tell us what he knew on that perfect summer evening in the Stars, the message might sound something like this: If you never stop to look, to see, to Edit, your story goes places you'll only get to share with those almost-friends of yours, the ones you make at seventy, not far from the cozy little town where you grew up.

     And it is sad, and it might be true. And it happens . . . because they never could either.


MD

DreamChase Entertainment
DreamChaser Pictures

© 2010 Matthew D. Anderson; 2010-2012. All Rights Reserved.




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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Springsteen's Jungleland: A Lyrical Interpretation


By MATTHEW DAVID


DreamChaser Digest


Spring of Springsteen: A 2012 DreamChaser Special Edition

 

@MatthewDavidLIT



Bruce Springsteen, Lyrics, Jungleland,” Born To Run, Song Meaning; Analysis:

The rangers had a homecoming in Harlem late last night
And the Magic Rat drove his sleek machine over the Jersey state line
Barefoot girl sitting on the hood of a Dodge
Drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain
The Rat pulls into town rolls up his pants
Together they take a stab at romance and disappear down Flamingo Lane

Well the Maximum Lawman run down Flamingo chasing the Rat and the barefoot girl

And the kids round here look just like shadows always quiet, holding hands
From the churches to the jails tonight all is silence in the world
As we take our stand down in Jungleland


These two verses introduce the ballad section of the ballad/portrait hybrid Springsteen delivers in "Jungleland." Here, Bruce mentions the rangers, the Magic Rat, the barefoot girl and the Maximum Lawman. As for the first of these, I'm inclined to believe Springsteen did not randomly choose the word rangers. Not his style. I think he wanted us to known that by rangers he meant warriors, and by any dictionary definition of the word, rangers are most often considered soldiers trained in the guerrilla stylethe most vicious, cunning, deceptive and personal (hand-to-hand) method of warfarealmost always conducted in jungle terrain.

You may think jungle terrain too obvious or literal for "Jungleland," but Springsteen didn't ostensibly write, warriors in the jungle returned home. He told us instead, the rangers had a homecoming in Harlem, and some of the most gruesome guerrilla warfare ever executed by mankind was still transpiring in the Vietnam War. The war raged on while Springsteen wrote and played "Jungleland" live between 1973 and 1975, and it would end on April 30th, 1975, incidentally only four months before Bruce and The E Street Band finished production on Born To Run. Battle-tested soldiers returned home daily, throughout the final year of Vietnam. 

To think that the war Springsteen avoided decisively, as he intimated to Rolling Stone in an early 1984 interview, wasn't on his mind during his composition and recording of Born To Run is as inconceivable as it is foolish. While riding in a bus on the way to his induction physical, Bruce recalled for Rolling Stone, I thought one thing: I ain't goin. 

By pretending to be insane, because of a concussion, or on account of an ankle injurychoose your unconfirmed taleSpringsteen exited his physical knowing he would not be drafted for war. Springsteen doesn't address Vietnam directly, but the idea that it made some conscious or subconscious entry into Born To Run's text, considering that Springsteen wrote the entire album during the hell-on-Earth War's final stages, is no illogical leap.

The rangers line, in my mind, could be interpreted two ways. The first is the one I'm inclined to believe. This considers that the Magic Rat and several of his friends, all returning home from war, were meeting in New York City to celebrate their homecoming. Then, at some point in the evening, the Rat left the get-together after making a short appearance because he wanted to celebrate with the Jersey girl he left behind years before, the day he left for boot camp. The Magic Rat's love is a Barefoot girl,” likely because she's been walking around on Jersey Shore sand all day the summer sun, and thus, she's Drinking warm beer. 

Like "Thunder Road's" Mary, "Jungleland's" barefoot girl refers universally to any female everywhere. Bruce tells us she's sitting on the hood of a Dodge, a classically American-made car. This is an indication that what he intends to convey is an American ballad/portrait, but the universality of this situation, the development of which is a rich example of Bruce's keenest lyrical sensibility, makes this song; its themes and its situations applicable to the planet.

The other interpretive possibility is that the Magic Rat and his friends either already returned from Vietnam or never went and were all playing together in a band or bands at a gig that night in Harlem. This idea stems from the grander concept that this track is about a talented singer-songwriter-musician (Magic) from small-town Jersey (Rat,” in the romantic sense) who's struggling with the transition to stardom and dream-pursuit in the big city, away from everyone and everything he left behind at home. 

Even though Harlem isn't far from coastal New Jersey, only about 66 miles, or a Mapquest-estimated, hour and a half via Jersey's Garden State Parkway, the decision to leave all his comforts, obligations and relationships to make a career in the music industry, considering the songwriter, definitely involved some exhaustive soul searching. This 2nd possible interpretation posits that on "Jungleland's" fateful night the Magic Rat is having homesick second thoughts about stardom and thinking, if he can't have both, that his Jersey-girl love may mean more to him than making it in music.

Either way, the Magic Rat attended the homecoming or gig but left and drive over the Jersey state line, to meet his girl. In context of the balance of this track, meeting the barefoot girl must've been extremely important to justify leaving a Harlem homecoming with the rangers, which leads to the conclusion that the Rat hadn't seen his girl for years. The idea that the Rat was meeting barefoot girl in coastal Jersey is not only confirmed by the lyric, over the Jersey state line, but also the mention of Flamingo Lane, which is much more likely to be located on the Jersey Shore than on the streets of New York City. Concordantly, the idea that the Rat, roll[ed] up his pants when he reached town suggests he was preparing to walk on the beach or on sandy, seaside boardwalks and paths.

The Maximum Lawman most likely refers to the force of time or distance or fate, or to some combination. This character is the closest to God that we see in Born To Run, and the idea that the Rat and his girl are doing something illegal, a popular interpretation, is forclosed by the idea that the Lawman is running down the street after them. A policeman would likely be in a vehicle or on a bike. A gang-member, for those who would see the Rat as a rival gang member heading across town to steal another gang member's girl, would not have received such a grandiose handle as Maximum Lawman, and neither would a local policeman for that matter, not from a poet of Bruce Springsteen's expansive vision. 

The sense in these first two verses is that the two lovers, Rat and his girl, are giving love another shot, tak[ing] a stab at romance, running off together to make love in a bedroom locked/ In whispers of soft refusal and then surrender. My feeling is that time has run out for these two and that either time or fate is chasing after the Rat while he's with his girl, letting him know that this relationship is over or that his life is leading him in directions away from the hometown Jersey of faded dreams, and into the lights and fury of  NYC, where grand dreams have a chance to come true.



Bruce Springsteen, Running Dream Highway, Circa, 1978; Image Courtesy: The Bruce Springsteen Archives

Springsteen gives us the sense that everything else in the world has stopped, while the Rat and his girl negotiate their romantic encounter, figuring out if they still have enough love or time to make it work. We learn later that they don't, when the figurative ambulance whisks the Rat away from his barefoot girl. But for a while, From the churches to the jails tonight all is silence in the world. The Rat and his girl have enough timethere is even a sense that time is standing still, silent for one momentous meetingso that they can take one more shot at real love and true romance, one more stand together, down in Jungleland.

This is the Jersey Shore Jungleland, one direction of the crossroads in Rat's life, which is easily a metaphor for everyone's lifereach for the dream or let it fade because of obligations, limitations, weaknesses, fears or an infinite list of other barriers. The lyric, And the kids round here look just like shadows always quiet, holding hands, suggests the youth of this place, at a time in their lives when they must make the crucial decision to fight for their dream or simply to rest quietly, overwhelmed by their obstacles, holding hands in comfort. For a wide variety of reasons, over some of which they may have no control, these young men and women of promise simply allow their dreams to fade, in the wake of choosing a popular path, one whose fair passage they perceive is more realistically attainable.

Springsteen, like many soulful artists, posits that everyone has a dream. The place where every man and woman faces down the barriers to achieving the dreamthese demonsis their own personal "Jungleland." Again, we need to realize that Springsteen writes for the whole of man, not a single faction, locale or group. "Jungleland," like all of Born To Run, is universally applicable and, likewise, universally appealing. 

To suggest that this relatability is not part of Springsteen's artistic vision, either subconsciously, or more likely, consciously, is to foolishly underestimate his gifts; his talent; his vast awareness and, at only 24, his enlightened, insightful-beyond-his-years conception of the world and what inspires it.

The midnight gang's assembled and picked a rendezvous for the night
They'll meet 'neath that giant Exxon sign that brings this fair city light
Man there's an opera out on the Turnpike
There's a ballet being fought out in the alley
Until the local cops, Cherry Tops, rips this holy night
The street's alive as secret debts are paid
Contacts made, they vanished unseen
Kids flash guitars just like switch-blades hustling for the record machine
The hungry and the hunted explode into rock'n'roll bands
That face off against each other out in the street down in Jungleland

In the parking lot the visionaries dress in the latest rage
Inside the backstreet girls are dancing to the records that the D.J. plays
Lonely-hearted lovers struggle in dark corners
Desperate as the night moves on, just a look and a whisper, and they're gone

These verses compose the first glimpses of the portrait section of "Jungleland." Here, Springsteen gives us a wide-ranging view of the city landscape in all directions. He is also telling us that, in Bruce's vision, potential for art lives in every corner of his realist-fantasy, city world. This is another "Jungleland," different from the Jersey Shore "Jungleland" of the Rat and his girl, and, likely, different from the "Jungleland" of the rangers in Harlem. 

Springsteen's image is the city, probably not NYC because of Bruce's lyric, there's an opera out on the Turnpike, which most likely refers to the Jersey Turnpike. The line, The midnight gang's assembled and picked a rendezvous for the night, applies not to a single street gang, but to everyone who's alive, awake and looking for romantic passage at midnight on a soft, sweet, weekend, summer night.

There is art, romance, possibility and action everywhere in this city. The Turnpike opera suggests that vehicles rushing in all directions are composing, playing and singing the night music to their own dramatic designs all over the city. The ballet being fought in the alley may be the most definitive image of an actual downtown gang's inclusion in the song, or it may just suggest the possibility of alley-borne club and bar fights all over the city. These are confrontations whose rhythms take the form of a dance, with the onlookers posing as audience members of an artistic exhibition. The idea that this midnight gang meets beneath the giant Exxon sign suggests that everyone's filling their carsan important Springsteen symbol and thematic characterand preparing for an evening somewhere on the town, with an agenda of infinite possibility.

Springsteen's vision of youthful city life is not unrestrained. He tells us the local cops are all around, responding to situations like the alley ballets. Conversely, Bruce explains there's plenty of illicit activity happening as wellafter all, this is a realistic romantic view of city life in the context of Springsteen's larger-than-life fantasy-drama. Secret debts are paid, and Contacts made, they vanished unseen, likely refer to prostitution and drug-peddling, or at least something not exactly Kosher. Why else would the debts be secret, and why else would people who meet each other in the night disappear, trying not to be seen, immediately after they rendezvous.

Along with Springsteen's macro vision of nighttime city life, we also receive a concentrated, microcosmic view, focused on some of the people Bruce cares for most intimately, namely the musicians trying to find greater success, while making music to entertain the sundown masses. The line Kids flash guitars just like switch-blades hustling for the record machine, refers to all the bands out there working the crowds with their own private agenda. Bruce is comparing them to combatants in a knife fight because they're playing at the crowds looking to get something out of thema connection and a reaction, appreciation, notice, fame. Comparing guitars to knives suggests that guitarists in bands all over the city are looking to cut into their listeners, right to their hearts, and move them to acknowledge, appreciate, love, even revere them. 

The sense is that music is critical in this towneven of life-and-death import. It's not just about entertainment. Here, The hungry and the hunted explode into rock 'n' roll bands. Both musicians who desire something important to themThe hungry and musicians who are already sought after by the audience or making a name for themselves to the degree that rival musicians want their shot to blow them off the stagethe huntedturn from ordinary mortals into superheroes of the night, when they burn on the city's metamorphic Rock stages.

In this city music is a battle, a struggle, and bands are squaring off against their audiences and each other out in the street, fighting it out in this next-level "Jungleland," the forum where they'll either become successful, even famous, or simply be overwhelmed by the hungry, their dreams left to fade with the kids who look just like shadows. Like these unfortunates, they will remain for a lifetime, imprisoned in the first vision of "Jungleland," the Shore version, whose young dreamers are too constrained and affected by challenges to consummate their dreams.

The parking lot Springsteen refers to places frequented by visionaries, a euphemism for the creative typesthe artists, perhaps members of The hungry, who dress in high fashion to make a statement, evoke an attitude and a style, or stand out from the pack, styling themselves in the latest rage. The sense here is that bars and clubs in the city aren't just lively, late-night refuges for members of the midnight gang. They're also the places to see and be seen, the venues where reputations are forged in steel moments.

A second possibility is that these visionaries are actually the members of the rock'n'roll bands who are outside in the parking lot either on break during, or assembling outside before or after the gig, talking about the performances, carousing with like-minded musicians and plotting their reemergence in the club to mix with the backstreet girls.” These are the ladies of this disparate vision of "Jungleland" night, dancing to the hottest music played by the D.J. The mention of the D.J. and not of the bands we're told are exploding all over town suggests that the bands have already played, haven't played yet or simply aren't welcome to perform at this location. It's as common now as it was then for clubs to employ both a band or bands and a D.J., one to spell another before and after a set. Bruce's subtle implication is that the visionaries are the hungry and the hunted of the area's Rock bands.

Springsteen also tells us there is another contingent of youths at the club who are simply there to enjoy the music, flirt, dance and conduct the early stages of their evening's foreplay. Lonely-hearted lovers struggle in dark corners, suggests that couples and singles have materialized in this place, crowded in tight, dancing or making out or both, growing more and more desperate as the night moves on to satisfy the desires they've been feeling all night. According to Springsteen, it doesn't take much for the couples to take their lusty ambitions elsewherejust a look and a whisper, and they're gone. 

These lovers present a different group of Springsteen dreamers, those who aren't focused on their future plans but simply living in the moment, acting on immediate impulse. The fact that Springsteen describes them as Lonely-hearted and Desperate suggests that these lovers, too, will end up trapped in the corner of "Jungleland" reserved for lost and faded dreams.



Bruce Springsteen, Raising His Destiny's Key To The Heavens, Beating Back Every Inch of "Jungleland's" Darkness; Circa, 1985; Original Image Courtesy: The Bruce Springsteen Archives


Side Two, Track Five of Ten



Beneath the city two hearts beat
Soul engines running through a night so tender in a bedroom locked
In whispers of soft refusal and then surrender in the tunnels uptown
The Rat's own dream guns him down as shots echo down them hallways in the night
No one watches when the ambulance pulls away
Or as the girl shuts out the bedroom light

Outside the street's on fire in a real death waltz

Between flesh and what's fantasy and the poets down here
Don't write nothing at all, they just stand back and let it all be
And in the quick of the night they reach for their moment
And try to make an honest stand but they wind up wounded, not even dead
Tonight in Jungleland

By Bruce Springsteen. Lyrics © Bruce Springsteen. A Columbia Records Release. All lyrics are property of their rights holders and appear for educational purposes.



Just after Springsteen tells us his desperate lovers have moved on to their evenings' carnal designs, we leave the post-midnight city portrait and return to the ballad of Magic Rat and barefoot girl. Beneath the city refers to a place under the action, lights and sounds of downtown where things are simpler. This is a place where only two hearts beat. The lyric, Soul engines running through a night so tender in a bedroom locked, suggests the Rat and his girl are living the moment only with their souls, negotiating their chance at romance on a tender summer night away from all the world, and hidden in the private solace of barefoot girl's bedroom.

They're debating whether they're going to do exactly what they intended when they locked the bedroom door. The whispers of soft refusal could be emanating from both partners, but because the Rat has been the pursuer since the beginning of the piece, it's likely that he's the more willing actor on this night. Springsteen doesn't orchestrate an aggressive situation, however, or any degree of licentiousness or violence. As Bruce clearly explains, the refusal comes in soft whispers and, likewise, so does the surrender. The cleverness of this lyric is that we don't know whether it's the Rat or the barefoot girl or both who actually surrender. This image is deftly left to our imagination. 

In the line's context, it appears the surrender occurs not in the bedroom but in the tunnels uptown, which suggests the Rat has surrendered to his girl, quieting his attempts to seduce her, giving up on his dream of love and leaving this seaside town through the tunnels toward the city, perhaps even his rangers' Harlem. The line, The Rat's own dream guns him down as shots echo down them hallways in the night, proposes that it's the Rat's insistence on consummating his relationship with his barefoot girl, or his own dream, that wounds him, meaning barefoot has thrown Rat out of her house, screaming at him that their relationship is dead. 

As he's leaving, these are the shots [that] echo down them hallways in the night. Springsteen's lyric feels like barefoot is screaming at the Rat through the halls of a seaside condo, incensed that he's pushed her to do something she doesn't want, because of which she finally closes their window to real love, hence the figurative killing shots.

The other possibility here is that both Rat and barefoot are surrender[ing], meaning that barefoot has finally relented softly, whispering that she wants exactly what her lover wants. In this interpretation the tunnels uptown still signify that the Rat has left, abandoning his desire to capture the potential love he sees with the girl, but we are left to wonder if the lovers actually made their love. It's possible they did, and then shortly afterward the Rat left barefoot's house, returning to the city and realizing through their physical intimacy that the relationship doesn't involve true love. In this scenario, the barefoot girl would be screaming at the Rat her bitterness and disbelief that he would leave her again, as he did to go to war or ignite his music career. 

This mutual surrender could also mean the Rat abandoned his attempts to make love to barefoot, even though she finally relented to him, because he didn't sense they both shared the pure connection he'd hoped they could still achieve. In this scenario the Rat's own dream signifies it's his broken vision of their potential love which figuratively wounds him. 

The last possibility for this section's interpretation is that the Rat chose another version of his dream, which would suggest he's decided he should instead be with his friends, brothers, bandmates, or all of the above, in Harlem. Essentially, under this conception, feelings the Rat thought he had for the barefoot girl, the ones that drove him to reunite with her, weren't actually there after all. This might well be the definitive truth about love that will allow him to consummate his plan for a future in music, beyond small-town Jersey.

Either way, when the Rat leaves the barefoot girl he is shattered, wounded, shot down and in intense pain. He's hurt, broken, broken-hearted or broken open to such a profound degree that he cannot drive himself from the scene. He must, instead, resort to Springsteen's figurative ambulance. This may be the vehicle in which the Rat pulls away from barefoot's place, no one watching because there's no physical ambulance. 

This night is so quiet, according to Bruce earlier in the song, that if an actual ambulance were calledin the unlikely event that barefoot girl fired real bullets at the Ratsomeone would've been alerted by the siren and flashing lights. Someone, thus, would have seen the ambulance depart. The ambulance, in the likely case that both it and the shots fired by barefoot or by the Maximum Lawmantime, fate, distance,love, God, or all of these,—are just Springsteen's metaphorical bullets. 

The pain, however, in either case, is real, and perhaps the most fitting implication is that the ambulance refers to the Rat's own self-soothing, as he walks back to where he left his sleek machine, presumably near the beach at the mouth of Flamingo Lane. Given this interpretation, Bruce's ambulance is the healing process which occurs when Rat finally sets his mind to pursuing his dream of creative success, finally accepting that he's made the right decision to chase his dream. Here, even after such a special night with the barefoot girl, he knows clearly that his artistic dream means more to him than his domestic one. 

In essence, making what he loves his careerhis lifeis illuminated by the night as the path truly deserving of his total commitment. The clarity of the decision is expressed by the fact that Rat doesn't even look back to barefoot's bedroom. No oneincluding the Ratwatches as the girl shuts out the bedroom light. This, of course, assumes that the girl's bedroom is visible from Flamingo Lane. The reality is that if barefoot's home is a seaside condo, it's likely at least one window would be visible enough to notice the transition from light to darkness, but only Bruce knows the physical perspective of the Rat's last look.

The final verse is at once the perfect symbolic summary and metaphorical conclusion of "Jungleland." The lyric, Outside the street's on fire in a real death waltz/ Between flesh and what's fantasy, cuts to the heart of "Jungleland's" major theme: everyone, everywhere is embroiled in the life-making decision of whether or not to chase their dream. This is conceptual reiteration of the first vision of "Jungleland," the rural Jersey Shore bastille where dreams die if left to blind chance, without pursuit beyond the prison walls. 

This is the place where all creative impulses and visions waste away because they are left unfulfilled, unconsummated. The poets down here/ Don't write nothing at all, they just stand back and let it all be. Springsteen's lyric cues the first death waltz movement, the flesh half, which exists in the town's limiting, cold reality. 

Death is certain in both the "Jungleland" of flesh and the "Jungleland" of fantasy, but only one offers the possibility of achieving a lifetime dream. The track's conclusion focuses on men and women who reach for their moment/ And try to make an honest stand, left behind in this flesh "Jungleland," where their true dreams will fade and where substitute visions, like the one Rat tried to consummate with barefoot girl, lead only to loss and pain. 

Springsteen tells us these pitiable, misguided, miserable souls will wind up wounded, not even dead, forced to live the rest of their lives in pieces, without the rich fullness of life that dream fulfillment presents. They will lead a creativity-crushing existence within the confining concrete walls and barbed-wire fences of their "Jungleland's" total artistic limitation.



Bruce Springsteen, Between The Poles of "Jungleland," 1975; Original Image By: Eric Meola; Original Image Courtesy: Eric Meola; Columbia Records; The Bruce Springsteen Archives


Bruce explains to us that it's not even possible to make an honest stand in this twisted, hopeless place. It's a land of inherent inequality, dishonesty and deceit. Reality in this prison of the flesh, presented by the broken souls who try hardest to keep us locked up there, is as fraudulent as the impossibly hollow promises they make. 

The defeating choice to remain in this "Jungleland" and ignore our dreams, or succumb to an endless parade of impediments to dream fulfillment, signifies a self-imposed life sentence to live as a fractional, fragmented version of ourselves, without even the rest and solace of an honorable death. Instead, these misanthropes walk the earth as shells, like ghosts forever imprisoned, blindly waltzing toward their meaningless deaths in the bent reality for which they've settled, where their fantasiestheir dreamsare already dead.


Excerpted From: DreamChaser's Highway Alive, Side 2B 



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