Springsteen’s pen: Kaney’s attempt at a Crio type question

You may not be aware but Bruce Springsteen (and definitely not ‘The Boss’) has just toured Australia’s east coast, wowing audiences from Brisbane to Hanging Rock. In all, he played 10 concerts, sang 78 different songs (that’s right, 78!) and played to 184,000 people. Reviews have been euphoric. Bernard Zuel, for the SMH, said it was “fantastic musically, critically and crucially – emotionally”. Bruce describes the band as “the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, house-rocking, earth-quaking, booty-shaking, Viagra-taking, love-making, le-gen-dary E Street Band”. Having been lucky enough to see two shows (one at Rod Laver, the other at Hanging Rock) I concur most emphatically. I’m still buzzing.

Now I know of quite a number of other Almanackers who saw Bruuuuccee in concert this time around. Cookie, the website editor was in attendance. Peter B and Les E flew in from Perth. The People’s Elbow, Dave Nadal, Matty Q and Flynny all caught His Bruceness, so I’m sure there were many others as well. And following the reviews, I’m sure there were many more Almanackers regretting not stumping up the readies before the Sold Out sign went up.

In honour of the best tour in a generation to visit our humble shores I would like to start a conversation, Crio style. One of the things I was struck by in the weeks leading up to the concert, playing Springers night and day was how many great opening lines he has produced. I don’t think even Dylan could match his consistency with witty, enigmatic and connotation heavy opening lines. To get this conversation started, I’d like to throw two of my favourites into the ring.

Here we go:

“On a rattlesnake speedway in the Utah desert I pick up my money and head back into town”, from The Promised Land

“There’s a cross up yonder on Calvary Hill, there’s a slip of blood on a silver knife”, from We Are Alive

So, what are some of your favourite Bruce opening lines?

About Rick Kane

Up in the mornin', out on the job Work like the devil for my pay But that lucky old sun has nothin' to do But roll around Heaven all day


  1. Rick – Bruce is a beauty. Can I put in an opening verse, not just an opening line:

    New Yersey Turnpike, ridin’ on a wet night, ‘neath the refinery’s glow, out where the great black rivers flow.
    License, registration, I ain’t got none, but I got a clear conscience ‘Bout the things that I done.
    Mister state trooper please don’t stop me…

  2. Rick Kane says

    Stunning start Dips. Those lyrics have the hair on the back of my neck quiver. If you haven’t seen The Black Eyed Susans cover that then its a must.

  3. Jesus, Rick, you’ve called the angels out to dance. (To try and encapsulate what you’ve asked for in a Springsteenian first line.)
    “One soft infested summer, me and Terry became friends…”
    And, of course…”The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves…” Ain’t that a way to start a journey.
    “They’re still racing out at the trestles, But that blood it never burned in her veins.”
    I’ll cut out now so as not to hog all the greats, but yeah, he really pulls you into a story from zero to a hundred in nothing flat.

  4. Lord Bogan says

    ” Lights out tonight, trouble in the heartland”.
    “In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream”
    “Well my soul checked out missing as I sat listening
    To the hours and minutes tickin’ away”
    Great stuff Mr.Kane :)

  5. i bought a bourgeious house out in the Hollywood hills,
    with a truckload of hundred thousands dollar bills

    57 channels and nuthin’ on

  6. I saw her standin on her front lawn just twirlin her baton
    Me and her went for a ride sir and ten innocent people died

  7. As some of you know the Avenging Eagles is a Mary. She is convinced that Thunder Road; The River; The Rising; Mary’s Place; Mary Queen of Arkansas and Oh Mary Don’t You Weep were all personally penned with her in mind.
    I won’t do a favourite start line but the who of “If I Should Fall Behind” has become our personal hymn. The closing song version from the Live in NYC concert – done accapella with all the band members stepping into the spotlight to sing a verse – always makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck.

    “We said we’d walk together baby come what may
    That come the twilight should we lose our way
    If as were walkin a hand should slip free
    Ill wait for you
    And should I fall behind
    Wait for me

    We swore we’d travel darlin side by side
    We’d help each other stay in stride
    But each lovers steps fall so differently
    But I’ll wait for you
    And if I should fall behind
    Wait for me

    Now everyone dreams of a love lasting and true
    But you and I know what this world can do
    So lets make our steps clear that the other may see
    And I’ll wait for you
    If I should fall behind
    Wait for me

    Now there’s a beautiful river in the valley ahead
    There neath the oaks bough soon we will be wed
    Should we lose each other in the shadow of the evening trees
    Ill wait for you
    And should I fall behind
    Wait for me
    Darlin I’ll wait for you
    Should I fall behind
    Wait for me”

  8. Hey there mister can you tell me what happened to the seeds Ive sown
    Can you give me a reason sir as to why they’ve never grown….

    This Hard Land

    And I love it when Bruce says c’mon and band joins the song.

    Did he play that song in Australia?

  9. Rick Kane says

    Mr AJC, the opening lines to Backstreets haunted me for years in my late teens/early 20s. “Soft infested summer”? It was velvety and mesmerizing and indefinable. I’m still unsure if Terry is a girl or a guy. Great call.

    Mr LB, Better Days heh? Good to see a song like that getting a gig. He really is happy. He has settled with Patti and the next stage of his life is about to begin.

    Sean, another song where Bruce is lost in a world of wealth he didn’t ask for or knows how to live in. I love the scathing way he tosses off the line about money. And still keeps it funny.

    Another good call Dips. That same song has one of Springsteen’s most simple yet profound (and eerie) lines. When the protagonist is asked why he did what he did he say I guess there’s just a meanness in this world. Written 27 years before the GFC.

    Mr PB, beautiful call, both song and version cited. He did that song at Hanging Rock, just guitar and almost whispered. Cue tear in left eye.

    Mr Les, I don’t know if he did it. Certainly hadn’t done it up until first concert in Melbourne or at the Rock (checked with Polly). He did do Seeds at first Melbourne show, which was striking.

    And here’s the opening lines from Lost in the Flood:

    The ragamuffin gunner is returnin’ home like a hungry runaway
    He walks through town all alone, “He must be from the fort,” he hears the high school girls say

  10. Dave Nadel says

    “Sandy, The fireworks are hailin’ over Little Eden tonight,
    Forcin’ a light into all those stoned-out faces left stranded on this fourth of July”

    is probably not Bruce’s best opening line (although it’s pretty good) but the song includes the line – : “Did ya hear the cops finally busted Madame Marie for telling fortunes better than they do.” This is a brilliant line that I once used to introduce an article on police verballing.

    Likewise “I got a sixty-nine Chevy with a 396,
    Fuely heads and a Hurst on the floor”

    may also not be his best but the song itself is one of Bruce’s finest pieces of storytelling and the lines

    “She sits on the porch of her Daddy’s house
    But all her pretty dreams are torn
    She stares off alone into the night
    With the eyes of one who hates for just being born”

    are both brilliant and very sad.

    In fact, the only disappointment about last Sunday’s concert at Hanging Rock, possibly the best concert I have ever been to, is that Springsteen did not sing Racing in the Streets, which has been one of my favourite songs for over thirty years.

    However if you want a Springsteen song that starts brilliantly, how about

    “Men walkin’ ‘long the railroad tracks
    Goin’ someplace there’s no goin’ back


    “Well they blew up the chicken man in Philly last night”

    Some of my favourite firat lines have already been mentioned – like virtually every first line on the Born to Run album.

  11. Neil Belford says

    So Rick – I know one is not meant to go over the top about these things, but when you say “In honour of the best tour in a generation to visit our humble shores … ” do you have a better one in mind?

    What about in the middle of the saturday night Hanging Rock show when the band decided to start channeling the Pogues and everything was as Celtic as all get out and sounded even better for it – where did that come from – was it like that at the other shows?

    For me – I have to go back to the first moments of Bruce I ever heard, indelibly etched, preserved in time and place in my memory as music often is – and still sung just as flawlessly christ knows how many years later

    The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves …

  12. In terms of setting up a song with lyrics that rival a short story by Raymond Carver, I love the introduction to ‘Highway Patrolman’…

    My name is Joe Roberts I work for the state
    I’m a sergeant out of Perrineville barracks number 8
    I always done an honest job as honest as I could
    I got a brother named Franky and Franky ain’t no good

  13. Charlie Wells says

    Ah, Bruce. I met Bruce once he was super sweet and genuine. He had just toured Australia, and he says to me in that voice. “Man, i got a joke for ya. I heard it in Australia. Why do men give their penises pet names?” Me. “I dunno Bruce. Why do men give their penises pet names?” Bruce. “Well would you want a stranger making all your decisions for you?” Ba-Boom. I used to have to get around with no license for about a year. Tough where i live to not drive. I made a loop of State trooper and played it every time i had to drive. ”
    New Jersey Turnpike ridin’ on a wet night ‘neath the refinery’s glow, out where the great black rivers flow
    License, registration, I ain’t got none, but I got a clear conscience
    ‘Bout the things that I done
    Mister state trooper please don’t stop me… ” If i should ever meet Bruce again I’m gonna ask him about the Born in the USA cover. Always looked to me like he was taking a leak on the flag.

  14. DBalassone says

    An obvious choice, but the start of ‘Thunder Road’ for mine , not just because of the lyrics, but because of the mood set by the melody and the piano, and the way the voice, lyrics and imagery blend into this.

  15. Dave Nadel says

    Litza, Highway Patrolman doesn’t just rival a short story by Raymond Carver, like a couple of Carver short stories, it was eventually the basis of a pretty good movie, Indian Runner, written and directed by Sean Penn (1991).

    I think a skilled writer/director could make a pretty good movie out of Racing in the Streets, also.

  16. Rick Kane says

    Thanks Dave N, Sandy has one of drop dead best opening lines. I deliberately asked to focus on opening lines knowing some of his best lines lie much deeper into the song (“is a dream a lie”). You did highlight (referencing the Madam Marie line) one of my all time faves.

    A personal joke for me is that while I love Bruce I’m not a car guy at all. Nowadays, with kids in tow, I get to sing the start of Racing In The Streets as passionately as ever and then turn to the kids and say I have no idea what I just said. This is where Bruce gets really interesting. For a long time in the early part of his career he was accused of merely singing about cars and girls. Prefab Sprout even wrote a song about that dilemma. I suspect, like me, you know better. When Bruce sings (in Racing In The Streets), “tonight my baby and me we’re going to ride to the sea and wash these sins off our hands” it aint simply about cars or girls but more existential concerns. And that’s what makes him great.

    Mr Belford, no, I don’t have a better concert in mind. The best concert I had ever seen until this (even better than Ray Charles at Leeuwin Estate with David Helfgott as support), was Springsteen in Sydney in 1985. This time around was better. The boy has a future.

    Mr People’s Elbow, tip the hat to Joe Roberts. Played on Twang a couple of weeks ago and I pulled up so I could explain the song to the kids. Yes, nerd.

    Charlie Wells, well, well, well. Please let your story be true. If it is then you are the reason for me starting the conversation. I will be telling that joke (and citing the source no matter how convoluted that might be) for, like, eva.

    DB, agree with you on Thunder Road. I heard it live on this tour. Or should I say, I sung it louder than Bruce was singing it.

    Again, Dave N, good reminder. And Indian Runner was a fine movie. Trivia question. What film was Bruce Springsteen sister, Pam, in with Sean Penn? Fast Times At Ridgemount High, arguably the best 80s teen movie.

    Anyway, here are a couple more great Springsteen opening lines:

    At sixteen she quit high school to make her fortune in the promised land
    She got a job behind the counter in an all night hamburger stand, from the song From Small Things Big Things One Day Come (psst, things go downhill from here. Oh, by the way, Paul Kelly took the title of this song and turned it into a very different concept with Kev Carmody).

    Take me now baby here as I am, pull me close try an understand from Because The Night … like you, I spent the better half of ten years explaining to hip friends who didn’t like Bombastic Bruce that Springsteen wrote that one Patti Smith hit.

    And about my favourite Bruce song and opening lines:

    Spanish Johnny drove in from the underworld last night
    With bruised arms and broken rhythm in a beat-up old Buick
    But dressed just like dynamite

    From ‘Incident on 57th Street’


  17. Charlie Wells says

    @ Rick. It’s a true one alright. Super nice guy. I regularly perform Racing in the street in my acoustic set. It works really well with a stripped back arrangement of Mandolin & guitar. For me that song is not about the car. The car is a metaphor for having something purposeful in your life. Something you built and own that no one can ever take away from you, but inevitably life and responsibility catches up with you and crashes the party, but you always have the memory of the doing. For me that doing is playing music, i often find myself saying to my girl when i’m going to play a gig or rehearse that “Ii’m going racing in the street” And often i get home late and she’s waiting up to make sure i made it home alright. She’s got some wrinkles from all the worry that comes from living through hard times in this promised land of America, but i wouldn’t leave her for all the gold in the counting house. Maybe it’s quiet and we make us some lovin and then get up and try to make things better for each other. Darkness on the edge of town is one of what i call my holy trinity of records. I first heard it in the late 70”s having broken it over my brothers head in a pissed rampage. Feeling bad about breaking his album i went to Brashes to replace it, played it and ended up going straight out to buy my own copy. Funny little Bruce anecdote. I believe you could honestly say we have and are living through depression 2.0 in America. The last years since the 08 bust have ruined so many families. I personally have two friends who killed themselves , one also killing his spouse, when faced with the loss of home and hope. I was out recently at a neighborhood bar and BS was stumping for Barry O and he whistled up “we take care of our own” and in near unison two people piped up and said. ” No we don’t” It made me sad because i know Bruce is a true believer in the American dream and i know it really does hurt him in his gut to see so many people struggling. In a Beiber/Kardashian world it’s comforting to know there’s a true believer out their swinging for the fences for all the shutdown strangers and hot rod Angels rumbling through this promised land. Peace and a quick carn the cats from SOCAL

  18. haiku bob says

    Similar to Litza, the opening lines to Nebraska sets a perfect mood for the rest of the album.

    I saw her standin’ on her front lawn just twirlin’ her baton
    Me and her went for a ride sir and ten innocent people died


  19. I was at Hanging Rock with Ricky, not too close though as, bless him, he does like to shout out the lyrics without ever going near the actual tune. Near the best concert I’ve seen too (just pipped by Springsteen ’85) and without doubt the greatest live performer today.

    “Bobby said he’d pull out Bobby stayed in
    Janey had a baby it wasn’t any sin”
    Spare Parts

    “I get up in the evening, and I ain’t got nothing to say
    I come home in the morning, I go to bed feeling the same way ”
    Dancing in the Dark

    “I had skin like leather and the diamond-hard look of a cobra
    I was born blue and weathered but I burst just like a supernova”
    Hard to be a Saint in the City

  20. Good luck tonight Mr.Kane. I have Springsteen: London Calling on, Hawks-Cats in a prelim tonight, two beers at the pub for lunch – charged? I could crash through a f*cking brick wall at the moment.

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