If I were to pick one song with which to show someone that Bruce Springsteen’s lyrics can stand on their own, without music, as poetry, I just might pick “Long Time Comin’.” And start with this description of a couple on a camping trip:
Out ‘neath the arms of Cassiopeia
Where the sword of Orion sweeps
It’s me and you, Rosie, cracklin’ like crossed wires
And you breathin’ in your sleep
The grandeur of the setting, the excitement and tenderness in their relationship … it’s all there.
“Long Time Comin’ ” is a jangly, mid-tempo country-rock song about rebirth and fatherhood — and one of Springsteen’s most profound statements on these two frequent topics of his.
When we first meet our hero, he’s carrying “a cache of roses” — to apologize for something? — and a “fresh map,” either for the camping trip of for his life. The next line supports the latter interpretation. “Tonight I’m gonna get birth naked and bury my old soul, and dance on its grave,” he sings.
He thinks of his own, distant father; he doesn’t want to be like that. He wants to give his children the chance to be themselves, even if that means making mistakes and committing sins.
After the Cassiopeia verse comes another one I have to quote in its entirety:
There’s just a spark of a campfire left burning
Two kids in a sleeping bag beside
I reach ‘neath your shirt, lay my hands across your belly
And feel another one kickin’ inside
And I ain’t gonna fuck it up this time
It’s amazing how much he says, in so few words. The “just a spark of a campfire left burning” suggests that this is his last chance. The obscenity in the final line draws attention to the fact that he’s finally acknowledging, in no uncertain terms, what he’s only hinted at previously: He’s made dire mistakes of his own in the past.
Still, this is a song of great hope and optimism. (Introducing “Long Time Comin’ ” at the Wachovia Spectrum in Philadelphia on Nov. 5, 2005, Springsteen joked: “I write two kinds of songs: songs of hope and songs of eternal damnation. And I don’t like to pussyfoot around in the middle.”)
Background facts: “Long Time Comin’ ” was an outtake from the 1995 album The Ghost of Tom Joad that Springsteen began performing live in 1996. A studio version was included on his 2005 album, Devils & Dust.
According to Brucebase, he performed it 161 times between 1996 and 2018.
On each of the 70 days leading up to Bruce Springsteen’s 70th birthday (on Sept. 23, 2019), NJArts.net will do a post on one of The Boss’ best songs of the last 30 years. We’re starting with No. 70 and working our way up. For more on the project, click here.
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