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.