Written by Wilson Towne
Everyone wants to belong, and Springsteen knows that. Even though people can surround someone, at the end of the day you're alone. "Growin' Up," exemplifies this isolation, as Springsteen had to grow up in the early part of the Cold War, and had to live through the fear of being sent to the hot parts with the rest of the lower-class, sent to Vietnam. In a way the Cold War and the war on terrorism both define Springsteen and our generation, and there's a lot of similarities that transcend the temporal difference of half a century. The war on terrorism and the war on communism both unite the pariahs of society just as much as they unite mainstream society. The difference is that mainstream society tries to rhetorically associate any unsavory or subversive elements of culture with terrorism or communism, in an attempt to eliminate the opposition during wartime.
That's why Springsteen's early cuts can connect with the youth of this generation. Whether your loneliness stems from economic insecurity, or political under-representation, or even just because you feel like you're the only one to be alone, it's not the case. No one is truly alone in feeling like they are the only one alone. Springsteen responds to this isolation and alienation with a community made up of outlaws and outcasts, and the people he sings about are mostly anti-heroes, or individuals who are disillusioned with life.
"Incident on 57th St." is about the often darker and deprecating means of earning a living, and trying to survive. The song always strikes a tone with me, because I know a little about Springsteen's early career. Springsteen was caught up in a split contract to CBS Records and to Mike Appel requiring him to make a total of ten albums between the two. Of course Springsteen has become a legend despite the contract to CBS/Appel. I can't certify whether or not they were trying to rip him off, but it seems that for industry already notorious for the payola scandal was at the very least taking advantage of a kid too naïve to realize he should have gotten representation from a lawman.
Bad deals are no stranger to my generation; the gift from the baby boomers could fill Pandora's box: pollution and climate change, debt, the war on terrorism and privacy, and exorbitant incarceration. Is that really the best deal for us? Although it seems that an education is the best way to improve ourselves, it sure doesn't stop the book store for charging us 200 dollars and then telling us "don't spend it all in one place" when they give us back a half-dollar. You used to be able to pay for college by working over the summer. In my hometown, you could work spraying red-hot enamel on ceramic goods, and make enough to pay for school and more, but that's unlikely to happen considering moderate student debt can reach $100K at least.
Springsteen also can offer us insight into the very real and very nasty economic pact that many college kids have to make. Student loan debt, and the atmosphere of opportunism related to fleecing students are predatory, and too much extent the legal discrimination that affects my generation. Although many of our elders recognize that eventually they'll have to hand the reigns over, most don't. The thing that surprises me most about our current society is that there is a lack of overt investment in the future of America -- instead, there's only nostalgia for the past, and two sides squabbling over on how the remaining coffers are to be spent. We are alone. But more importantly WE are alone, the youth of America are tired of the games being played on Wall Street on their futures and derivatives. But we are together, and with a single voice we can overcome.
Wilson Towne recently completed his freshman year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he is studying History and Philosophy. He declares himself "a newcomer to Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band," but is eagerly awaiting Steve Van Zandt's return to Lillehammer.