When I asked myself what lyric I would choose to talk about for Ted Canova’s Springsteen-oriented “That One Lyric” podcast, where people talk about one line from a Springsteen song and “how it has shaped and impacted their lives,” the first line that sprang to mind was “Eddie, man, she don’t understand/That two grand’s practically sitting here in my pocket,” from “Meeting Across the River.” I realize it’s a line that many wouldn’t see as inspirational, in the traditional sense, so my explanation needs a lot of context. Here goes.
(You can also listen to me talk about this — and other people do the same, about other lyrics — at thatonelyric.com. It is also available at Apple Podcasts (ow.ly/NhRw30rEqYb) and Spotify (ow.ly/8nV430rEqKM, and is embedded below.)
“Meeting Across the River” is, of course, is about a small-time criminal looking to make a big score “across the river” (presumably in New York). The working title of the song was “The Heist.” He’s singing to his friend, Eddie, whose help he is trying to secure. He’s got a meeting with an intimidating fellow (“this guy don’t dance”) and is afraid of blowing it. He asks Eddie to stuff something in his pocket so it looks like he’s carrying a gun, and change his shirt ” ’cause tonight we got style.”
Then the song takes a dramatic turn. “Cherry says she’s gonna walk, ’cause she found out I took her radio and hocked it.” First thought: Whoa, how broke do to you have to be to pawn a radio? I mean, how much can you get for something like that? And that’s going to make a difference in your life?
Now here comes the important part: “But Eddie, man, she don’t understand/That two grand’s practically sitting here in my pocket.”
Okay, this may not sound that impressive in print. But listen, below, to the stunning passion with with Springsteen sings the second line, with Randy Brecker’s explosive trumpet behind him. Takes my breath away every time.
Now look what happens in the rest of the song. The pep talk the narrator has given to himself has worked. He’s calm, and his doubt is gone. Now he’s sure of his success, and he envisions himself in cool, calm post-crime splendor: “Tonight’s gonna be everything that I said/And when I walk through that door/I’m just gonna throw that money on the bed/She’ll see this time I wasn’t just talking/Then I’m gonna go out walking.”
He won’t even have to say anything, his triumph will be so obvious. Nor does he have to stick around: He’ll just go out walking, like he doesn’t have a care in the world.
Has this song “shaped and impacted” my life? I wouldn’t necessarily go that far. But it’s something that strikes a deep chord in me, because it’s something that I’ve always done, too, when I’m taking some kind of chance. I fantasize that I can get to a place where … I don’t necessarily have to live happily ever after (just like $2,000 won’t solve all of this guy’s problems) … but where it’s clear to everyone, including myself, that I made the right choice, and I made it work, and I can relax (“go out walking”).
I’m not looking to gloat, just like this guy isn’t. I just want to get it done. And if I can envision that moment vividly enough … if I can feel it, and taste it, the way Springsteen’s narrator does … that helps me get there.
By the way, it’s pretty obvious that the song had some autobiographical elements for Springsteen. He often has talked about how he saw the Born to Run album as kind of last chance for him, after his first two albums didn’t sell spectacularly. (“The word’s been passed, this is our last chance,” he sings in “Meeting Across the River,” just like he sings about a “last chance power drive” on the Born to Run title track.) But he found a way to transcend his doubts and limitations, translate his vision to vinyl, and succeed beyond his wildest dreams.
He talked about “Meeting Across the River” in a 2005 interview with Rolling Stone:
By that time, I think we’d been counted out, and it probably had something to do with that, a feeling I had about myself maybe, that you’d been underestimated. Most of the folks that go into my business have had the experience of someone counting them out, or of being underestimated, of someone judging your life as being without great value. So that song grew out of, “Hey, that guy’s sort of a small-time player, but he’s still got his sights set on what’s across that river.” I suppose that was where the emotions of it came from.
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