I first listened to Bruce Springsteen in my mother-in-law’s white Mazada Miata as I made the drive from Covington, Georgia to Auburn, Alabama one summer day in 2007. I can’t remember why I was driving her car, but it was planned out in advance. My car at the time didn’t have a CD player, and I remember hitting up my local record store to find something to listen to for the two-hour drive.
I knew Bruce Springsteen; everyone knows Bruce Springsteen. But I never intentionally sought out his stuff and only knew the tracks that bounced around the walls of Waffle House at 2am in the morning as people slopped up their food and headed outside to fire up a heater.
I saw the cover of Bruce’s Nebraska, grabbed it, and paid my $5. I was on I-85 near Newnan when the haunting harmonic and growling lyrics of the opening track, “Nebraska,” hit me. Sweet Jimminy, that’s a powerful track. A powerful album. And nothing like I expected.
I bought Born to Run after Amy and I were planted in Auburn and I was a semester into graduate school. The opening track, “Thunder Road,” haunts me a decade later and forms moments of my life.
A moment: I really started listening to the record on long bike rides around the rural outskirts of Auburn. Amy and I were entering our second year of marriage. No kids, no mortgage, no real commitments except to each other and our cat, Jake. And my attempt at grad school. With Bruce’s opening lines, my mind always turned to Amy on these rides.
The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves
Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely
Hey, that’s me and I want you only
Don’t turn me home again, I just can’t face myself alone again
Don’t run back inside, darling, you know just what I’m here for
So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore
I picture Amy in a sun dress, whirling and dancing. She doesn’t listen much to Roy Orbison, but I could see her swaying in the wind to Otis Redding, to Van Morrison. Amy was my first serious girlfriend in college. I was a withdrawn nerd, focused on school and uninterested in chasing the social scene. I went to class, went home and read, played some Nintendo. I was lonely and Amy brought me out. We married, moved into the town where her parents lived and where she grew up, and then, just a year later, I convinved her to move to Alabama with me. Amy to Alabama. Amy who had never lived outside of Georgia. We made the journey and would make many more moves.
Well now, I ain’t no hero, that’s understood
All the redemption I can offer, girl, is beneath this dirty hood
With a chance to make it good somehow
Hey, what else can we do now?
Except roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair
Well, the night’s busting open, these two lanes will take us anywhere
We got one last chance to make it real
To trade in these wings on some wheels
Climb in back, heaven’s waiting on down the tracks
Oh oh, come take my hand
We’re riding out tonight to case the promised land
Oh oh oh oh, Thunder Road
Oh, Thunder Road, oh, Thunder Road
A moment: When we moved to Oklahoma, we found ourselves in a similar situation. No kids, no mortgage, no real commitments except to each other and our cat, Jake. But things were getting more serious. More Adult. We had a kid on the way; we were looking to buy a house; I was starting a PhD program. Our first summer in Oklahoma was long and hot and lonely. We were about to become parents and were starting to get scared. So I wrote. I went outside, sat by the local playground under the shade and wrote—in longhand with a blue pen—a children’s book about a boy who couldn’t read.
Bruce’s line formed an epigraph:
Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night
This little throw-away line in the opening stanza of the song still hits me and links up with the memory of writing my first children’s book and ideas that ground who I am and how I approach the world: faith, magic, night.
The lined grabbed me then, and still grabs me.
That long hot summer, I felt the magic of the night as I typed up the words I wrote by hand during the day, as a pregnant wife rested on the sofa, as Cardinals’ baseball games played through our speakers.
At night, we would dream about who our soon-to-be-born kid would be, how we would re-make our lives in Oklahoma. Our faith grew strong as we hoped in those still Oklahoma nights.
A moment: two days ago, my wife went to run errands. We are back in Georgia now. We are surrounded by three kids. We got a house, two cars; I got a real job. We are full on Adults, freaky as that may be. And Bruce came into my mind.
My daughter, Darcy, was sitting at the kitchen table. Our little one was asleep, and the big one—the one who inspired my first children’s book—was off somewhere. I was making lunch, and put “Thunder Road” on the Spotify. The soft opening lines, the steady crescendo, and the heartfelt lyrics.
Darcy was digging it.
I shouted the lyrics and she did a little wiggly dance at her seat.
The song doesn’t quit. It doesn’t resort back to a chorus, a bridge, a hook. It just runs through, steadily gaining steam until the cheesy, but powerful, final line:
It’s a town full of losers, I’m pulling out of here to win
Strong narratives connect with us at multiple levels and at multiple points and places in our lives. This song has hit me when I was newly married, with one kid on the way, with three kids here.
And it will hit me in moments soon to come.