by Julian Spivey
Maybe it’s just because I’m a part of E Street Nation, but I swear there’s a Bruce Springsteen lyric for every moment or occasion in life.
The one that’s been rolling around my head lately comes from the final verse of 1984’s “Born in the USA” from the album of the same name and it goes: “I’m 10 years burning down the road/Nowhere to run, ain’t got nowhere to go.”
Why is this particular lyric meaningful to me at this time in my life?
Because my 10-year high school reunion is this weekend.
Now let’s get one thing straight. “Born in the USA” may be one of the most misinterpreted songs ever recorded, but there’s not a chance in hell it has anything to do with high school reunions.
“Born in the USA” is a song about a man drafted to fight in Vietnam who comes back home to find a world that doesn’t seem to care much about or for veterans. But, as most great songwriters often do Springsteen stumbled into a perfect lyric that can strike other, unintended images in the minds of listeners.
It may not be unusual for people to think of song lyrics when approaching their 10-year high school reunion, but mostly songs that were popular when you were 17 or 18 and actually in high school. But, I’m about as interested in the music of 2006 as I am in the music of 2016, which is to say not very at all.
“I’m 10 years burning down the road/Nowhere to run, ain’t got nowhere to go” probably gives away a lot about me as a person. I’ve discussed before in my writings what Springsteen’s music means to me and many of his loyal legions of fans. His songs are often about trying to escape a poor life for a better one. They’re basically optimism for pessimists. They give hope of breaking free, but also have the knowledge that it’s likely not ever going to happen.
Ten years ago when I graduated high school and thought the whole world was available to me this lyric wouldn’t have meant anything to me other than what it was intended to mean in the construct of the song. It would’ve been about the disgrace that was America turning its back on people who never wanted to be at war in the first place. But, five years after graduating with a college degree that’s likely never going to mean more to me than just a piece of paper the lyric has more meaning, especially when Springsteen sings “nowhere to run, ain’t got nowhere to go.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve coped well. Better than most, in fact. Most things about my life I wouldn’t change if given the opportunity, but I don’t view myself as successful as I thought 10 years ago I might be. I feel as if even though most of my life I wouldn’t change the world has still let me down in many ways. It led me to believe I could do something more than I probably actually can.
And, it’s not just me. I see the same thing taking place with friends and acquaintances. Many of whom aren’t necessarily better off than me, but because they aren’t the eternal pessimists I am they’ve seemingly come to better grips with their outcomes. Maybe they never thought there was more to life than what they have or what they’ve become? Or maybe they don’t actually want more to life than the things they have or want more than what they’ve become?
It reminds me of another great lyricist I deeply respect: Jackson Browne. Toward the end of his 1978 classic “Running on Empty” his narrator comes to a similar realization as Springsteen’s does in “Born in the USA”: “I look around for the friends that I used to turn to to pull me through/Looking into their eyes I see them running too.”
I hope they’re happy. I think some of them truly are. Others I know are not and I identify with them more than they’ll probably ever know. Maybe some of us just need to learn to live with what the world has given us? Some of us like myself might need to realize everything we’ve been given or earned over the years, but again I’m the eternal pessimist.
There’s another Jackson Browne (he’s very Springsteenian when at his best) lyric I love, actually it’s the entire final verse, though it makes me nearly cry almost every time I hear it from his 1976 song “The Pretender.”
“I’m going to be a happy idiot/And struggle for the legal tender/Where the ads take aim and lay their claim/To the heart and the soul of the spender/And believe in whatever may lie/In those things that money can buy/Though true love could have been a contender/Are you there?/Say a prayer for the pretender/Who started out so young and strong/Only to surrender.”
It makes me almost cry because I see myself as the titular Pretender. And, I realize after 10 years of dreaming, pretending that there’s likely only two ways this could possibly end – keep on pretending or finally surrender into being the happy idiot.
My 10-year high school reunion is Saturday night and ever since it was announced maybe half a year ago or more I haven’t really been interested in going. My wife (who was my high school sweetheart and is one of those things I will always be grateful for) wants to go and has basically said since day one that we were going. So I’m going. A lot of it has to do with the fact that I’m not a people person and don’t feel the need to see people who never meant anything to me anyway. I’m happy to see my few friends whom I graduated with, but the ones I care about I already keep in touch with anyway. And I intend to have a blast with these few people once we blow the actual party. But, probably the reason I most worry about the reunion is I don’t need to be in a room where people see that I have “nowhere to run, ain’t got nowhere to go” nor do I need the realization that many in the same room are in the same position, even if they don’t quite know it.
They’re probably better off if they don’t quite know it.
by Julian Spivey
Chris Stapleton, who’s been seen as something of a country music savior over the last year, brought in a ton of patrons to Little Rock’s annual Riverfest music festival on Saturday night (June 4) with an hour and a half set that highlighted his nearly perfect voice and traditional country music sound.
Now let’s get one thing straight first off, Stapleton is traditional country music, but maybe more so in the themes he chooses to sing about like heartache and drinking rather than his actual sound. When it comes to the sound it’s a glorious concoction of true country music complete with steel guitar as well as sounds of Southern Rock and even soul and R&B thrown in when you take into account his mighty soulful vocals.
Stapleton opened his set with recent ACM Song of the Year “Nobody to Blame,” his most successful single off of his Grammy-winning album Traveller. The single reached the top 10 on country radio airplay charts and immediately got the shoulder-to-shoulder jam-packed Riverfest audience into the performance.
Stapleton has generally gone from a nobody (though he’s been a successful songwriter for more than a decade in Nashville and was a member of the popular bluegrass group The Steeldrivers) to superstar in just the span of a year. Stapleton has won five ACMs, three CMAs and two Grammy Awards in the last calendar year and you can tell just how huge he’s gotten from the number of tickets he sales, as well as the fact that the majority of those seeing him live know every single word of his songs.
Stapleton truly is a musical bastion, a place true country music lovers who’ve been outcasted by the genre’s current pop-influenced, redneck-taketh over ways can go and enjoy the sounds they love and miss.
There wasn’t a single bad performance in Stapleton’s 90-minute set on Saturday night performed on a lawn in front of the Bill Clinton Presidential Library. One of the highlights came early on with a terrific cover of the Rodney Crowell/Waylon Jennings song “I Ain’t Living Long Like This,” truly one of the all-time underrated country classics. Stapleton would play another fantastic cover later on in his set with a Southern fried take on Tom Petty’s mid-‘90s hit “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” which took a couple of lyrics before I realized what it was and I don’t know that some of the audience ever figured it out.
Stapleton played the majority of his award-winning Traveller album with tracks like “Outlaw State of Mind,” “Was It 26,” “The Devil Named Music,” with an intro of “Free Bird” before it. The title track from the album along with my personal favorite from it, “Fire Away,” were true crowd favorites. Stapleton seemed particularly impressed with the crowd’s love of “Fire Away,” with the masses singing along to each chorus and following the song he allowed his legions of fans to sing the chorus back to him one last time.
Stapleton also thrilled the crowd with a performance of “Midnight Train to Memphis,” a song he performed previously with The Steeldrivers and his wife, Morgane, and himself collaborated on the traditional “You Are My Sunshine,” which appears on producer Dave Cobb’s excellent collaborative album Southern Family, which was released in March.
Stapleton was perfect all evening long, but a good portion of the packed crowd at Riverfest was a nightmare. This was no more evident than when Stapleton performed a couple of slower songs from his album in “More of You” and “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore” when the overly-loud drunken conversations from surrounding patrons helped to drown out the performance. This coupled with folks trying to shove their way through a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd for a potential better view led to some irritating moments during the show. It continues to amaze this music lover how many people pay good money to see a concert and seemingly want to do everything at the show but actually listen/watch the performance. Why not just save your money and hang out at home?
Stapleton ended his set with a couple of more great tunes from Traveller with his soulful cover of the George Jones classic “Tennessee Whiskey” followed by the rocking “Might As Well Get Stoned.”
Stapleton left the Riverfest stage to uproarious applause before returning a couple of minutes later for an encore of the truly soulful “Sometimes I Cry,” which is a song that I believe drew a lot of people to the Stapleton bandwagon after they saw him perform it on “The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon” last year.
Stapleton showed on Saturday night why he’s consider by many to be one of the artists capable of saving country music, even though it’s not a service he thinks is necessary. It is. And whether or not he believes it it’s something he’s doing, unintentionally or not.