I sit here on Sunday night. The Sopranos just ended, with all of its pictures and images of New Jersey. Satriales’, Pizzaland, the Turnpike. Belleville. Elizabeth. Caldwell. All are my home. I really do love New Jersey. The streets on that show are those streets I’ve been on for years, since before I can remember.
Now I’m watching WLIW, which I didn’t know was still on TV. There is a Bruce Springsteen concert on from 1976, but the asshole commentator just cut out after “Backstreets” and started yapping about how Bruce Springsteen has always supported public radio, and how I should too. Fuck you commentator. I need cigarettes tomorrow, and viewers like me need to have our priorities straight.
But I tell you, this damn documentary they are selling is really interesting. I might buy it later, although certainly not from them. I see The Boss on TV, bathed in red from the stage lights, singing wildly. He’s playing the opening lines to Born To Run, and he looks like a goddamn hobo. He’s got one of the knit hats that you would think Jamaicans wear, and he looks like he hasn’t shaved in about four weeks. The sleeves on his shirt are rolled up, showing off arms that make a heroin addict look like a bodybuilder, and half the buttons are undone anyway. What a skinny bastard.
He’s got the look of a crazed gypsy, with one big hoop earring in his left ear, howling out the words of my theme song: “The highway’s jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive…”.
The song brings me back to the days when I was about seventeen, and all kinds of torn up about some girl who wasn’t worth all the whiskey I drank over her. I used to drive around, with my black truck, waiting for my buddies to get out of work, or give me a call, just searching for something interesting to do. I was pissed, always pissed, about that girl, but I could always drink until I couldn’t remember what she looked like. Unfortunately, that wasn’t a cure for my pure boredom on some of those nights. I would drive around Wayne, looking for guys I knew, looking for other trucks to race, looking for a little S-10 or some crappy Ranger that I could smoke.
I used to listen to Bruce Springsteen all of the time. Back then, I listened more to his earlier stuff, when he was a goofy hopeful kid. Songs like Born to Run, She’s the One, or Rosalita; songs about going down the shore, about hope, about living. About being out on the streets, about racing, about being a kid growing up in NJ. It really is a different place to grow up then anywhere else. You are so close to the shore, to New York City, to the Giants, to the roads, to the centers of towns. I always felt like I was on the cusp of something tremendous when I was a young kid speeding around Wayne and Little Falls and Pequannock. I think that we all did. Always another party in some other town, always something to do, always one step away from the coolest night any of us could ever remember. Sometimes, we would just find a house in Butler or Pompton that had a lot of cars in the driveway, and looked like a party, and just send a couple guys in. Eventually, most of us could end up in the house, drinking their beer, all while having no idea whose house we were in. Then we’d try to steal the keg or something and then get into a fight. Yea, we were those guys.
It all feels a bit different now. I’m not 18 anymore; I’m an aged 22. Still a dumb fuck of a kid, I guess, but things are a little stranger now. I haven’t only been smoking for a year anymore- I’ve been smoking for six (and sometimes I cough like I have been for twenty). Sometimes, when I listen to Springsteen, I identify more with songs like Born in the USA; I’m ten years burnin’ down the road, nowhere to run, nowhere to go. I worry sometimes that this college shit isn’t going to do anything for me, and I’m still going to end up driving a forklift on the docks, or pushing rocks and shoveling shit like I have been for so many years already. I dread starting out like so many other men I’ve known, having insane dreams and wonderful aspirations, only to end up working for a union or at some other shit job breaking my ass just to support a family that came too soon.
As I watch Springsteen rumble on that stage though, mumbling his words like Bob Dylan used to with his eyes closed most of the time, I think that I might have a shot. I think that when the Boss was sleeping in a warehouse in Asbury Park, writing these songs that would one day make him millions, he knew what he had to do. Maybe, just maybe, there will be a great writer to rise from the swamps of Jersey, like a phoenix, like Springsteen did in that dark decade that was the 70s, like Rocky rose from the streets of Philadelphia. Maybe, he can triumph over his own misgivings and fears about being starving, homeless, and without cigarettes. Maybe.
Or maybe I should just stay on that forklift.