The subtly stunning “Long Walk Home” starts out like it’s going to be a song about a failed relationship. “Last night I stood at your doorstep, trying to figure out what went wrong,” Bruce Springsteen sings.
But then he spies his hometown in the distance, and the song turns into something else. Something that summed up his feelings — and many others’, I’m sure — about the state of the country around the time he wrote it (2006). It’s not just the relationship that has veered off-track. It’s the entire country.
The guy in the song considers the town he grew up in as a place where “everybody has a friend,” and thinks about his father telling him he was lucky to be born in place that “wraps its arms around you” and where “nobody crowds you, and nobody goes it alone.”
The flag over the courthouse represented core values that were “set in stone,” he sings. “Who we are, what we’ll do, and what we won’t.” Look at Springsteen sing “what we won’t” in the first video below, glaring into the camera (at the 3:09 mark). It’s one of the greatest moments in a Springsteen video, ever.
The guy barely recognizes his hometown, now. The patrons of the barber shop are strangers. More significantly — symbolically, at least — the diner is boarded up, with a sign that says “gone.”
As Springsteen explained, in an interview with The New York Times: “The world that he knew feels totally alien. I think that’s what’s happened in this country in the past six years.”
Can we regain what we’ve lost? Perhaps, Springsteen seems to be saying. But it will be a long distance to travel, to get there.
It’s hard not to think of “My Hometown,” from more than 20 years before. The narrator of that song acknowledges the ways in which racial tensions and economic factors have devastated his hometown, and he’s thinking of moving away. But it’s still recognizable to him as his hometown, and he wants his own young son to feel that connection. The hometown in “Long Walk Home” has changed much more drastically.
Endorsing Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy in 2008, Springsteen quoted “Long Walk Home,” writing on his own website that Obama “speaks to the America I’ve envisioned in my music for the past 35 years, a generous nation with a citizenry willing to tackle nuanced and complex problems, a country that’s interested in its collective destiny and in the potential of its gathered spirit. A place where ‘… nobody crowds you, and nobody goes it alone.’ ”
Background facts: Springsteen first performed “Long Walk Home” on his Seeger Sessions Tour, in 2006 (see second video below), and released a studio version on his 2007 album, Magic.
The song’s video (see first video below) features footage from Springsteen’s adopted hometown, Asbury Park, as well as his real hometown, Freehold.
According to Brucebase, he performed “Long Walk Home” 281 times between 2006 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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