That is the personal history of this particular fan, and somewhere else there is someone labouring for the Johnstown Company because it was mentioned in The River, there is someone with a daughter named Wendy because she is the heroine of Born to Run, there is someone who works down at the carwash (where all it ever does is rain) because that’s what the protagonist does in Downbound Train. There is also a girl who comes back whose name is Kitty, a girl who comes out tonight whose name is Rosalita, a girl whose dress waves whose name is Mary. And, hopefully, at the end of every hard-earned day, somewhere someone has found a reason to believe, like all the people do in, yes, Reason to Believe.
My first encounter with Bruce Springsteen, at age 11, was at the 1978 No Nukes concert at Madison Square Garden, when Bruce debuted The River. He introduced this sombre song simply by saying: “This is new.” The room got real quiet, and in it he told a terribly sad story of a young couple in love for whom everything just goes wrong: unwed pregnancy, shotgun marriage at 19, unemployment, a collapse in the economy, poverty, until finally both are just dead inside. But no matter how bad things are, the song’s narrator and his girl can always take a break and go swimming in the river, the sweet sea of love, the refreshing well of life - throughout this misery, the chorus offers continual consolation in an otherwise continuously dismal dirge. But by the end of the song, even that’s gone: the river has dried up. But the singer doesn’t care: “Now those memories come back to haunt me / they haunt me like a curse / Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true / Or is it something worse / that sends me down to the river / though I know the river is dry / That sends me down to the river tonight.”
There are many leitmotifs in Bruciana, and surely The River marks one of them: holding on for dear life, to hope against hope. Springsteen speaks to that piece of us that’s more than slightly insane, the part that keeps going back to that empty river bank, searching for cool sweet water, like a miracle may happen. Bruce speaks to what is crazy enough in us all to still believe, and to know that belief is sometimes enough. That same deep mournfulness in The River is felt in the elatedness of Thunder Road, a song in which the good news is that “All the promises will be broken”, but the narrator still promises Mary that “It’s a town full of losers / And I’m pulling out of here to win.” Vows and commitments tend to lead to loss in the long term of a Springsteen song, but the immediate fulfilment of joy is never a bad idea. In this regard, Bruce is, after all, a true rock’n’roller.
source: the guardian.