Monday, August 4, 2008

Cars: The Bruce Springsteen Songbook

Patty Griffin: Stolen Car [purchase]

Townes Van Zandt: Racing in the Streets [out-of-print; purchase]

Ani DiFranco: Used Cars [purchase]

Bruce Springsteen: Pink Cadillac [purchase]

Those who listened to the Woody Guthrie original-and-cover set I posted yesterday may have noted the spoken preamble to Bruce Springsteen's version of Riding In My Car, in which he makes a brash, universal claim of primacy to the automobile as a topic for song. Though the challenge to Guthrie which Springsteen brings borders on the overly smug and self-inflated, it is not wrong to note that automobiles are a central image in the urban poetry of Bruce Springsteen.

For Springsteen, the car is a perfect metaphor, encapsulating the dual motifs of escape and commitment to family obligations which pepper his own songbook. And for a guy who has always come across in persona as a shy mechanic who is embarrassed to have accidentally found himself a spokesperson for American culture's blue collar underbelly, the idea of the car, and all it represents, is an especially apt vehicle for greatness.

Cataloguing the entire set of Springsteen's carsongs would be not so much an exercise in futility as a swamp of songs far too broad and long to legitimately fit within the boundaries of ethical blogging. But since I'm a cover blogger at heart, here's a representative sample of some favorite Springsteen covers, from Patty Griffin's slow, sparse take on the spinning wheels and tiger-cage pacing of Stolen Car to Townes Van Zandt's stellar live take on the young man's freedom of Racing in the Street to urban alt-folkie Ani DiFranco's fluid interpretation of the struggling middle-class arrival dreams of Used Car. Plus a single undersung original, just because the brash hillbilly rock of Bruce B-side Pink Cadillac, an Elvis tribute which was performed plenty in his Born in the USA tour in the mid eighties but has since been dropped from the general performance repertoire, is, under all it's top forty sound, a thoughtful narrative of what Bruce himself has called "the conflict between worldly things and spiritual health", especially apt in today's world of shrinking gas reserves and soaring prices.

Any of these, or a dozen more, would make a fitting spokes-song for our aging American troubador, and his ongoing exploration of our cultural fascination with all things vehicular. Feel free to add your favorite Springsteen carsong, cover or original, in the comments.

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