Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bruce Springsteen, The Wrestler and Hundred Dollar Songs

To borrow the opening line of S. E. Hinton's great young adult novel, The Outsiders: "When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind . . . "

The two things on my mind, however, were not Paul Newman and a ride home, but the story of Randy "The Ram" Robinson, the main character in the beautiful and heartbreaking movie The Wrestler, and the haunting Bruce Springsteen song of the same name, used to stunning effect at the end of the movie. Blocks from the theater, the song's refrain ("Then you've seen me") was still playing in my head. I needed to hear the song again and I wasn't going to be satisfied until I did.

So I understood when a co-worker came to the desk with need in her eyes and said: "Laura, where can I find the Bruce Springsteen song from The Wrestler. What CD is that on?"

"Oh my God!" I said. I put my hand on my heart, my all too frequent reflex when someone mentions a Bruce song that I love, that I REALLY love, as if I'm pledging allegiance to the country of Bruce. "I love that song. It's on the new Bruce album, Working on a Dream! Oh my God, that's a great song!"

My co-worker nods--she understands--and her hand is on her heart now, too, and she sings the opening lines of the the song about a battered and broken wrestler who tries to make a life outside the ring:

"Have you ever seen a one trick pony in the field so happy and free
If you've ever seen a one trick pony then you've seen me."

I love that song," I repeat, helpless at the moment to explain why it so moves me, but happy to talk with someone else who loves it. And in trying to express the importance of the song to me, I make a goofy comment: "That's a hundred dollar song! I would pay a hundred dollars for that song! If someone told me I could never hear that song again unless I paid a hundred dollars, I'd do it.!"

My co-worker is nodding and laughing. And a few days later, I find a post-it in my box from another co-worker. It says: "Write about hundred dollar songs for the blog!" (I love that I have co-workers who indulge my Bruce fanaticism.)

Now, I'm a frugal woman, and I wouldn't want the folks at Columbia Records to start charging more for Bruce CDs. But there are songs, Bruce songs in particular, that I so love and need that their value trumps all else. If forced to choose between new winter boots, which would be nice, and the latest Bruce CD, Working on a Dream, which has the song from The Wrestler, well, you're just going to have to look at my grungy boots for one more year. However! Since the library owns almost every Bruce CD, you never actually have to choose between boots and Bruce. We own lots of rock CDs and just about every other kind of CD. And you can check them all out for free! (The CDs, not the boots. You wouldn't really want to check out used boots now, would you?)

I realize that referring to hundred dollar songs may sound crass. I've put a price tag on art when what I really want to express is my tremendous love and awe of songs that I can't live without. (And yes, I am calling "The Wrestler" art. Right about now I'm picturing a co-worker in another department rolling his eyes, but good-naturedly, I like to think.)

Mickey Rourke's performance is also a masterpiece--I can't think of another performance that has stayed with me or moved me as much as his portrait of an aging wrestler who finds life outside the arena more excruciating than the repeated and brutal blows he endures in the ring. And the Springsteen song is the perfect, haunting coda to Rourke's performance. At the end of the movie, before the credits start to roll, synth strings rise out of the darkness, faintly at first, but then swelling and joined by a few spare, well-chosen notes on the piano that sound so perfect and inevitable that the foolish will say--"I could have written that"--but they can't, because they're not Bruce and because selecting just the right notes is an art. I then hear the scratchy, familiar voice that is Bruce count out "1, 2, 3, 4," the synthesizer fades and it's Bruce on an acoustic guitar singing of a "one trick pony," a man whose only home is the ring and who has driven away some of the people and pleasures that could offer him solace. Like the best Bruce songs, it captures the humanity of a specific person in specific situation, and in doing so sheds light on those around us and ourselves.

Bruce once said: "The best music, you can seek some shelter in it momentarily, but it's essentially there to provide you something to face the world with." In spite of my reference to 100 dollar songs, music like that is really priceless, its worth immeasurable.

Is there a song that you can't live without? A song that makes you place your hand on your heart and say, "Oh my God, I LOVE that song!"


Linda K. said...

Oh, so many songs make me feel that way, but the best yet is "Pretty Amazing Grace" from Neil Diamond's recent CD "Home Before Dark." And then, of course another Neil song, "Holly Holy" is one that I just can't help turning up really loud, and start singing along. Everytime the chorus hits that word "SING" that hand goes to my heart, unless of course I'm driving, then I try to control myself, at least a little bit. (I guess it's probably obvious to everyone I work with that I feel the same way about Neil Diamond's music as Laura does about Bruce Springsteen's.)

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of songs I can't live without, but I'd say the top one on my list is ... "Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond. It's one of those songs that "everybody" knows. I was at a Wolves game this week, and the song was played. Most everybody over 40 or so sang right along. The audience participation this song elicits is just magic. "Sweet Caroline ... BUM, BUM, BUM! ... good times never seemed so good ... SO GOOD! SO GOOD! SO GOOD!" It's just fun. -- Bob B.

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