Sunday, May 14, 2006

On Accounta th’ Economy

I usually listen to the radio while I fold the laundry. There’s a decent triple-A station out of Buffalo, and yesterday they played Springsteen’s “The River.” Later on I’m talking to D, and I mention that I’ve always thought “The River” is one of the greatest fake-out songs in all of rock ‘n’ roll. She looks at me kind of blankly.

You spend three verses thinking it’s going to turn into a murder ballad, I sez. And it’s true. The song is tense; the phrasing is fraught with danger. And maybe I’ve been listening to too much Nick Cave—but the mournful melody, and the almost comical way that miseries keep piling up on the narrator, seem to be heading towards a lethal conclusion. Somebody’s gonna end up sleeping with the fishes, you think—it’s just a question of homicide or suicide.

And we seem to be heading towards it in the lead-in to the final chorus: Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse that sends me down to the river... But it’s a head-fake: the river, at first a (kinda hokey) image of endurance, now symbolizes the indifference of nature to human suffering.

But, I sez, it’s like we’re being set up to imagine the narrator snapping. Then I sing, in a woeful baritone,

I held her down in the river
And in the river she drowned
O stones from the river
Weighed her down...
A cool, curious glance. And then D says, “That really never occurred to me.”

And right then I realize: Oh shit. She’s never going to look at me again in quite the same way.

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