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Review Racing In The Street, Bruce Springsteen

Aggiornato il 19 Feb, 2024 | Words and Music |

Melancholic ballad which in the vynil LP closes the first side of the great 1978 album Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Racing In The Street is considered by many to be one of Bruce Springsteen‘s masterpieces. Racing In The Street combines a wonderful melody, embellished live by a solo instrumental finale that leaves the listener astonished by its beauty, with lyrics that contributes to forming the backbone of Bruce Springsteen‘s poetics. The protagonists are a man, a woman and a car. So, we might say, nothing different from Born To Run or Thunder Road. Instead everything changes! The years have passed and that dream of escape to a metaphorical promised land has turned into a much harsher reality, in which illegal racing on the streets of fire are the only thrills of an otherwise flat life, often just a survival expedient. In Racing In The Street even the dream of love falters.


Bruce Springsteen puts into the verses of Racing In The Street what James Dean, Steve McQueen and other legendary heroes of the road represented for cinema. There’s a talent for the wheel, a love for danger and an inability to lift their foot off the accelerator. Above all, the impossibility of combining the need to take it to the limit with the ordinary life of relationships and projects that a normal person is supposed to lead: a home, a married life, feelings, the family. Springsteen‘s character in Racing In The Street could be Jim Stark from Rebel Without a Cause or James Dean himself. People predestined to suffer, even to death, paying the price of those who dare to live beyond that thin line that separates the possible from the unattainable.


In Racing In The Street the protagonist and his partner race on circuits, but, when these close, they also compete on the street in clandestine races. They run for money and, with their talent, they manage to win. If in the first verses we are presented with the situation in which the two men challenge and defeat anyone who happens to target them, later in the song the protagonist explains the reason that drives him to risk his life: “Some guys they just give up living and start dying little by little, piece by piece. Some guys come home from work and wash up, then go racing in the street.” Here the concepts of life and death are turned upside down. In normality, the concept of life is connected to a sense of security and the absence of danger. For those who drive a car, on the other hand, the value of a real life can only be found by risking death; only where there is the danger of dying, there is life. Those who, on the other hand, return home, seeking serenity and rest after a day’s work, start dying slowly, a little at a time.


There are people who live on the edge because they feel predestined. There are those who try to calculate the risk and those who face danger, contemptuous of the very value of life. They do this because, while aware of the risk of a quick death, otherwise they would face a slow inner death. The death that awaits those who die day after day under the blows of a factory machine, which pays you but takes away your health (parallel with Factory) or under the blows of the monotony of a life that holds you nothing (parallel with Something In The Night and Streets Of Fire). And so the man from Racing In The Street comes home, changes his clothes and goes out into the street. And he runs and steps on the accelerator to try to be the best or just to feel alive.


In Born To Run the protagonist promised his Wendy a walk in the sun with the madness of love. Now three years have passed and that guy is working, then he comes home and goes out in the summer evening to race his car through the streets. And what happened to the Sandys, Wendys or Marys back then? They wait at home, with the heavy load of so many broken dreams. They wait with death in their hearts for their young men, who had promised mad love. That promise has been broken (parallel with The Promise) and now those men have only the wild night rides in which they risk their lives. Now those girls wait for their young men, knowing that on that night or one of the next they may never come back. Instead, every night, when the protagonist of Racing In The Street returns home, he finds her in bed in the dark, waiting for him. She asks him if everything was right, but she’s really dying inside.


The woman sits alone on the porch of the house her father left her (because he didn’t even manage to guarantee the couple a home of his own) and she “stares off alone into the night with the eyes of one who hates for just being born”. This is one of the saddest but most beautiful lines in all of Bruce Springsteen‘s poetry. Hating for just being born doesn’t mean wishing to die out of regret for something beautiful that she once had and is now gone. Instead, it means not even having something beautiful to regret. And, above all, it means having no choice: that girl couldn’t choose whether to be born or not. Even as the man tries to keep the promise alive (“Tonight my baby and me, we’re gonna ride to the sea and wash these sins off our hands”), that sense of predestination inevitably returns in the last refrain: “’Cause summer is here and the time is right for racing on the street”.


This real tale in poetry is accompanied by a beautiful melody, played by the E Street Band. To the splendid studio version, in which Roy Bittan‘s piano traces the harmony and Danny Federici‘s organ the musical theme with a subdued and melancholic ending, are added the numerous live versions, in which Springsteen decides to close the song with a sort of orchestra finale. Only the piano begins, to which drums and organ are added shortly after. The bass and bass drum first, and the guitars and sax then, offer a creepy instrumental crescendo, the kind that make you close your eyes and transport you in open spaces, in timeless dreams. There is also an alternative version, a stronger one recorded in the studio in 1978, an outtake for the album at the time, but then published with other unreleased songs in The Promise in 2010. A more rock version, despite the important presence of the harmonica, for the most part different in the melodic theme and also in some lyrics parts. A version that certainly would not have lacked intensity then and that it was a pleasure to know, albeit belatedly, in the new millennium.


During the Darkness On The Edge Of Town tour Bruce Springsteen wanted the instrumental finale to close with a chord variation with respect to the main theme. That variation, from The River tour onwards, was lost, as put in evidence by the famous version that ended up in the box set Live 1975-85. After some time, in which the song reduced its presence in the concert setlists to a minimum, from the Reunion Tour onwards Racing In The Street has returned to being played more frequently, requested and acclaimed by supporters around the world. On several occasions, such as in the beautiful live version recorded in 2009 at the Paramount Theater in Asbury Park for the Darkness On The Edge Of Town celebratory box set, that harmonic variation returned to appear in all its beauty.


Read also: Born To Run (album)


Next Review: The Promised Land – 4 March 2024


Dario Migliorini


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