Thursday, January 22, 2009

Top 10 Reasons Bruce Springsteen's "Jungleland" Rules So Hard

This might, I repeat, might, be my favorite Springsteen song. Here's why.

10. The inclusive “We”

Springsteen has flashed this sword before, to be sure. Let us not forget, “tramps like us, baby, WE were born to run.” He draws you in like an expert salesman, enfolding you in his bellowed third-person, denying you an escape to an anonymous existence in which you are not a Bruce Springsteen character. “We take our stand down in Jungleland.” It’s a battlecry, it’s a prologue, it’s perfect. Only The Hold Steady have gotten close to this sort of forced audience participation, and even then, you know who they bought their tools from…

9. The Barefoot Girl is easily the most enigmatic and engaging Springsteenesque heroine.

Come on… is there an image more inviting than a girl sitting on a car, drinking warm beer in the rain. It’s a portrait of ease, of carefreeness. And yet, of need. No one sits on the hood of a Dodge in the rain unless they want some handsome stranger to walk over and sit down next to them.

8. Phrases that you don’t recognize but totally understand

Oh, right. “Maximum lawmen”… “cherry tops”… “a real death waltz”. Yeah, I don’t get it. But I get it. (I guess that’s like, called poetry, or something.)

7. Clarence Clemons

Even if you don’t like the saxophone, you have to admit that this is the best, most soaring, most achingly passionate sax solo ever.

6. Suki Lahav

Those first 43 notes on the violin are the definition of iconic. You hear those notes and you say, “Well, guess I know what I’m doing with the next nine minutes and thirty three seconds of my life.”

5. Clarence Clemons + Suki Lahav

If you listen to the sax and violin interplay during the endless (and why would you want it to!) solo, you’ll notice the most fascinating instances of dissonance… in the battle of sax vs. violin, there is only one certainty—your heart wins. (It is like the opposite of Alien Vs. Predator.)

4. It’s set in New York.

And that is the equivalent of a good thing in my book. (My book is the Manhattan Island telephone directory!) No, for real. I love New York. I just realized that I’m going to be leaving it someday/soon/someday soon, and I am not entirely okay with the fact. This may be why I read the entirety of Netherland today.

3. It’s nine and a half friggin’ minutes long.

It’s basically a mini-opera. Not quite an operetta. An operettita. The short film version of opera. And honestly, I’ve heard it a million times and it still feels like it’s about 5:45. Six minutes, max. It’s that good. This song is so good it bends time.

2. The line “the poets down here don’t write nothing at all/they just stand back and let it all be”.

Aaaaah. I just… um… ya know? Like… just sit in that for a while.

1. Self-awareness

Honestly, despite all the trappings that recommend “Jungleland” for greatness, it could easily be a Meatloaf song. (Bloated length, plenty o’ bombast, E Street Band, etc…) This is not to damn Meatloaf. I love Meatloaf. I have Bat out of Hell on vinyl. I’m just saying there’s a reason no one karaokes with “Jungleland”. Maybe the same basic desperations and frustrations that fuel karaoke fuel the characters in this song. Maybe it’s simpler though… while Marvin “Meatloaf” Aday wrote about ecstatic flights of exaggerated American fancy bursting through the fires of hell and landing in a glorious cloud-bed of heavenly truth, The Boss wrote about people who had mundane, big dreams that led to beautiful, small failures. Springsteen knows what he’s edging on with his production values—it’s not too far from Broadway, musically or geographically, hence the “opera out on the turnpike”/”ballet being fought out in the alley” line. And yet despite the pomp, the solos, the wailing, the imagery… it’s a song about a boy who loved a girl but couldn’t stay alive long enough to make that love last.


Anonymous said...

The epic Jungleland. Your description here is perfect, but only truly understood by those who have listened to this masterpiece hundreds of times.

Anonymous said...

A heartfelt and accurate summary. You truly appreciate this masterpiece.

Baylink said...

And now, this post is, sort of accidentally, probably the best eulogy of the Big Man.

For those who wander in, a link to what I think is -- courtesy of Hard Rock -- probably the quintessential recorded live version of this work (and believe me, I listened to about a dozen of them on Saturday... :-})

*sandra* said...

Well done. Your review of Jungleland is spot on, and it embodies much of Sprinsteen's music - the passion that lies beneath each lyric and the offering of hope to the common man. Just a note - if you really don't get the "cherry top" reference, those of us older folks know it to be a term for the old-style police cars with the (now) oversized red light on top. Enjoyed your review....thanks!

Anonymous said...

You really appreciate this song when your dead tired from work. Springsteen gets it.