Make yourself comfortable, don’t let anybody disturb you and listen to Meeting Across The River from Born To Run, Bruce Springsteen‘s seminal album. Maybe, while listening to it, pay attention to its lyrics. Now imagine that you are watching a movie about the underworld, set in the dark Seventies between Manhattan and the opposite side of New Jersey across a murky and foggy Hudson River. Give the narrator-protagonist the face of Robert De Niro and his friend Eddie that of Harvey Keitel or Joe Pesci. Thus you will enjoy Meeting Across The River to the fullest. It is the quintessential cinematic song by Bruce Springsteen and one of the rarest pearls of his discography (and alas among the least mentioned, somehow hidden by the mammoth presence of the legendary masterpieces of Born To run). Yet even on the musical side, Meeting Across The River, with its jazz-inspired sounds, shows a very deep musical finesse.
A FILM SCRIPT
Meeting Across The River is truly a short film set to music. A fresco of life from the suburbs, in which two dried-up men are about to face a meeting with a big shot for a nasty deal. An appointment that could yield a nice swag with which they could free themselves from a situation that is certainly not rosy. After all, the details, which Bruce Springsteen certainly does not spare, present us with a truly ominous picture: Eddie is certainly inexperienced, a rookie, to whom a series of recommendations must be made. But the protagonist himself does not seem to be in good shape. He is without a car and has no money and is forced to look for a ride and a few dollars to his partner. He doesn’t even own a gun, so he advises Eddie to put something in his pocket to pretend he has one.
A HIDDEN ENDING OR IT IS ALREADY WRITTEN?
We don’t know how it will end. Bruce Springsteen, like a great director, leaves the ending open and asks us to imagine it. But, given the premises, the protagonists of the story could soon enter the long list of those who have chased easy and dirty money and have remained with nothing, provided that fate and some powerful boss have allowed them to continue to live (“We gotta stay cool tonight, Eddie, ‘cause man, we got ourselves out on that line and if we blow this one, they ain’t gonna be looking for just me this time”). They have already tried other times to enter that circle, but it always went badly. This really is their last chance. The protagonist knows this and warns Eddie not to think about getting away with it if things should go wrong again.
DEFEAT AND ROMANCE
For the protagonist it is his last chance even with Cherry, his girlfriend. After he has pawned her radio to collect the dollars he needs for the deal, she is now at her limit of patience, she will no longer forgive him for anything. He has the vain hope that he has found the right path to make up for it. The last part of the lyrics before the finale carries a melancholic sweetness, a light of romance in the midst of all that greyness. He, proud and in love, finally wants to prove to Cherry that he’s worth something: “And when I walk through that door, I’m just gonna throw that money on the bed, she’ll see this time I wasn’t just talking, then I’m gonna go out walking“. It seems to see that scene, it really seems to see Robert De Niro acting those gestures, while the woman looks at him surprised and speechless. Then, however, the scene could fade into nothingness, as if it were just a dream.
THE STUDY OF LANGUAGE
In this real gem of a song there are two of the best magnificent losers that came out of Bruce Springsteen‘s pen. And the rocker from New Jersey, a fine poet, gives his character strong credibility even in language. The scene appears real also because the character speaks like a petty gangster would speak in the slang of the New York alleys. So dollars are bucks, while grands are $1,000 bills. The man who counts for his relevance in the underworld is the real thing and he don’t dance, to say that he is someone who doesn’t joke. Springsteen also calls the gun a friend, as used in criminal jargon. And obviously the correct use of the “s” in the third person of the verbs is completely banned in those places.
A UNIQUE PEARL, MORE THAN RARE
Meeting Across The River is and will probably remain unique in Bruce Springsteen‘s long and varied discography. It’s not a folk-inspired acoustic song, it’s not the full-band rock ballad. Springsteen wants to give the song the flavor of film noir and, basing the musical theme on a dark and intense piano score, builds the song with unrepeatable arrangements. Bruce forgets the E Street Band for once and, with the exception of the essential presence of the then new-comer Roy Bittan, calls two expert jazz musicians: trumpeter Randy Brecker and bass-player Richard Davis. Most unexpectedly, Springsteen uses neither percussion nor guitars. From the mist rising from the river, while Eddie and his friend are having their last chance, Randy Brecker‘s trumpet emerges at the beginning, accompanied by some velvety touches of Roy Bittan on the piano. Then the song takes on a slow but steady rhythm, built on bass and piano scores, while the trumpet draws melodies that overlap the singing. Springsteen, intent on playing the part of the narrator smelling of defeat, sings in a humble tone. Bruce lends his suffering voice to a man who already seems to know his destiny, even when, in the last verse, a thread of hope seems to emerge.
THE SPRINGSTEEN-DE NIRO DUO
The reference to Robert De Niro in the review of a Bruce Springsteen song is far from accidental. Not only because the two great stars, moreover united by their common Italian origin, have over time become great friends and mutual admirers, but also because De Niro has revealed a significant anecdote dating back to the mid-70s. The actor has in fact declared that the inspiration for the legendary scene in front of the mirror in Taxi Driver, in which his character, Travis Bickle, obsessively repeats “You talking to me?“, came to him after seeing a concert by young Bruce Springsteen, in which the he yelled the same sentence provocatively at his audience.
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Next Review: 11 December 2023 – Jungleland