Driving to work last night I found the Springsteen channel on the satellite radio. The last song I listened to as I pulled into the parking lot was a live version of “Jungleland” recorded in New York sometime in the early 2000s.
On my way home the last song I caught was the same song, “Jungleland,” recorded live in 1978 in Wisconsin some place.
The Boss bookended my drive. That’s gotta mean something.
Born to Run was loaned to me by my uncle. He said it was a necessity for any record collection. By then I was in high school, it was the 1980s and Bruce’s Born in the USA was at the top of the charts. At the time, while my uncle appreciated Springsteen’s USA album, for its success everything came back to 39 minutes of driving, gritty, rock and roll etched in vinyl immortality.
“Now this,” he said sacredly holding a scuffed up white album cover by its soft edges. “This is it, man.” The cover showed a hungry, scrawny Springsteen leaning admiringly on the Big Man’s, Clarence Clemons, shoulder as he wailed on his sax. This leather jacketed, long haired rebel with his now classic Stratocaster was a far cry from the bulked up t-shirt clad Boss five years later.
He appears a man of dynamic contrasts and one of profound consistencies as well.
Last night in the car I heard the same song, but differently. Both versions were unique — the early Boss was raspy, young, driving and defiant; the later Boss while still raspy but more plaintive with a quieter intensity. What struck me was the way each Boss sung the final refrain of the song differently
Outside the street’s on fire in a real death waltz
Between what’s 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 a knife, they reach for their moment
And try to make an honest stand
But they wind up wounded, not even dead
Tonight in Jungleland
1978 Springsteen, the “Born to Run” Springsteen, dives in and driving through these lyrics punching through the night. The 2000s Springsteen sings dark and low deliberating on each and every word; in fact he leaves blank space allowing the audience to sing out the lyrics for him like some preacher waiting for his congregation to pray their parts as the elemental truths of our existence reveal their mystery through the ordinary.
The fates bookended my commute with the gospel according to Springsteen and what truth did “Jungleland” reveal there in the parking lot?
Each day we drive ourselves forward trying “to make an honest stand” and sometimes we “wind up wounded, not even dead.”
Wounded but not even dead.
There’s the key.
We punch through our days, we kick at the night all the while reaching for those moments we’re hoping to grasp. Because we reach, we will fall. It’s natural.
Some moments caress, other will scar; reaching for those moments it’s hard to predict which we’ll end up with a delicate shiver or a deep, unbinding wound. Certainly, given the choice, most of us will take being wounded over being dead any day of the week.
That’s the name of the game, right? Tonight… in… Jungleland…