I am not really a Jersey Shore guy. Sure, my family took occasional trips to Atlantic City (in its pre-casino days) when I was a kid, and I’ve been to Asbury Park and other Shore towns lots of times, mostly reviewing concerts. But I grew up in New York City and northern New Jersey, and have lived in northern New Jersey for my entire adult life.
So in a way, “State Trooper,” from 1982’s Nebraska, is the Bruce Springsteen song that’s most evocative of New Jersey, for me. I am very well acquainted, after all, with that spooky northern stretch of the New Jersey Turnpike ” ‘neath the refinery’s glow,” as Springsteen sings, and “State Trooper” — even more so than its more upbeat and more detailed sister songs “Open All Night” and “Living on the Edge of the World,” with which it shares some lyrics — brings you there immediately.
Over a steadily pulsing guitar riff, Springsteen assumes that character who has probably just committed a crime (though “I got a clear conscience ’bout the things that I done”) and is praying not to be stopped by a trooper. There may be no line in his catalog more chilling — or more evocative of a drive home, late at night or early the next morning, when you’re alone, and upset about something, and mulling it over in your mind — than “Maybe you got a kid, maybe you got a pretty wife/The only thing that I got’s been both’rin’ me my whole life.” Just devastating.
New Jersey celebrated its 350th birthday in 2014. And in the 350 Jersey Songs series, we marked the occasion by posting 350 songs — one a day, from September 2014 to September 2015 — that have something to do with the state, its musical history, or both. To see the entire list, click here.