Bruce Springsteen – The River

My friend Dave from A Sound Day wanted some bloggers to pick a song that has lyrics that we liked or can relate to. He stated, “I just want you to pick one song that you think has fantastic lyrics, or one you like because of the lyrics, and say a bit about why you love it.”

I went through many songs to get to this one. Dylan songs mostly before I realized this one hit home. This was the title track to Bruce’s 1980 double album. I picked this song because it is so easy to relate to. I’ve known friends who have lived this song. This is not a party starter song by any stretch of the imagination. The lyrics are downright sad because they are so damn real. It contains one of my favorite Springsteen lines “And for my nineteenth birthday I got a union card and a wedding coat.

I grew up in a small town with a population of around a thousand or so at the time. The jobs there were dead-end jobs and the pay was even worse. I saw a cycle even at an early age by seeing parents and their kids doing the same thing generation after generation. Nothing wrong with that but they hated doing what they were doing. It was enough inspiration for me to explore and find new things…and to get out. Some of my friends never made it out. They are doing now what they swore they wouldn’t do before.

I saw my sister get into the same position as the Mary character in the song. It ended many years later in a divorce but at least she is happy now so there are good endings. Her son was the best thing that happened to her. The funny thing is I ended up moving back near that town but I’m doing what I want to be doing not in a job or rut that I hate. Some of my friends are not in that position.

I came to realize…it wasn’t the location at all. It was and still is a nice small town…no that wasn’t it. It was the expectations at the time set upon every one that made it seem pre-ordained for bad choices to happen.

The wedding in the song relates to Springsteen’s sister, who got married when she was still a teenager. She knew it was about her and her husband the first time she heard it. It was also based on conversations Springsteen had with his brother-in-law. After losing his construction job, he worked hard to support his wife and young child but never complained.

The song’s lyrics are outstanding. Even the opening lines are so close to how I grew up. I did grow up in a valley. “I come from down in the valley,
Where mister when you’re young, They bring you up to do like your daddy done.” So it’s easy to relate to.

Bruce saves the best for last though. He is talking about the dreams we have when we are younger about what we are going to do in life until life wakes us up with a bang…at least that is what I interrupt.

Now those memories come back to haunt me
They haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true
Or is it something worse

The song didn’t chart in America or Canada but did make it to #35 in the UK. The album was #1 in the Billboard album charts, #1 in Canada, and #2 in the UK.

The River

I come from down in the valley
Where mister when you’re young
They bring you up to do like your daddy done
Me and Mary we met in high school
When she was just seventeen
We’d ride out of that valley down to where the fields were green

We’d go down to the river
And into the river we’d dive
Oh down to the river we’d ride

Then I got Mary pregnant
And man that was all she wrote
And for my nineteenth birthday I got a union card and a wedding coat
We went down to the courthouse
And the judge put it all to rest
No wedding day smiles no walk down the aisle
No flowers no wedding dress

That night we went down to the river
And into the river we’d dive
Oh down to the river we did ride

I got a job working construction for the Johnstown Company
But lately there ain’t been much work on account of the economy
Now all them things that seemed so important
Well mister they vanished right into the air
Now I just act like I don’t remember
Mary acts like she don’t care

But I remember us riding in my brother’s car
Her body tan and wet down at the reservoir
At night on them banks I’d lie awake
And pull her close just to feel each breath she’d take
Now those memories come back to haunt me
They haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true
Or is it something worse
That sends me down to the river
Though I know the river is dry
That sends me down to the river tonight
Down to the river
My baby and I
Oh down to the river we ride

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

22 thoughts on “Bruce Springsteen – The River”

  1. Fantastic song from my favorite artist. I was there at the No Nukes concert in 1979 when most of the world heard it for the first time. I’ve always been fascinated by these lyrics:

    Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true
    Or is it something worse
    That sends me down to the river

    Is it this: “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true or is it something worse”

    Or is it: “Or is it something worse that sends me down to the river”

    I guess it could be either which lakes it so great!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for taking part as you always do. A great song with lyrics many in Appalachia or ‘the rust belt’ relate to only too well. Someday Bruce may start to get some of the accolades Dylan does.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great tune and definitely one of Springsteen’s finest. I love both the music and the lyrics. It’s remarkable how Springsteen, who as he noted himself never worked in a factory or other comparable jobs, has the ability to write songs from a blue collar perspective!

    Like

  4. This is one of my favourite posts about a song with personal insights that I have ever read. I think The River is so relateable to so many people, not just because so-many listeners may have known people who they could draw parallels to, but the song is so well conceived, written and delivered that you felt compelled to relate to it even if it strictly wasn’t relateable to you. Haha.

    Sorry, I have been absent this last little while. Busy with the kids traveling and enjoying some ‘Carribean Wind’ in Parque Tayrona. Much overdue vacation time actually. I hope this message finds you well Max! Cheers

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Matt I appreciate it.

      Enjoy yourself with your family and have a great time…..Yea I’m on a business trip to Atlanta and I’m commenting when I can…

      Like

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