Bruce Springsteen – Highway Patrolman
Bruce Springsteen cancelled a show today in North Carolina. He did to protest against the “bathroom laws” that have recently been passed there. There is a lot of commentary available on the subject already, so I won’t go into it too far other than to say that it is a ridiculous regression in human rights.
Thinking back to my travels (again) through Europe, one thing about Belgium has stayed with me – unisex toilets. You walk in, in the front you have basins, then cubicles and last you have the urinals. There is no question about gender at all. Obviously what is happening in North Carolina is bigger than unisex toilets, it’s an attack on human rights, but it would certainly remove some of the arguments that the bigots are using.
When I saw Springsteen’s name in the headlines, I started to think about his music and his incredible 1982 album Nebraska. It was recorded in a single night on a four-track in his bedroom, in a temporary studio set up by Mike Batlan.
The tracks were going to be used as demos for a new album together with the E Street Band, but after they spent time with it in the studio, they realised that the demos were better. They cleaned up the recordings and a few months later released Nebraska. There is talk about “Electric Nebraska” being in an archive somewhere, but as far as I know nothing has surfaced yet, and recordings tend to be quite buoyant.
The album is mainly about crooks, criminals, and murderers. Highway Patrolman is a little different because its protagonist is on the other side of the law.
Highway Patrolman is about Joe, a farmer, and his brother Franky who was in the Army. Joe walked off his farm in the late 1960s when wheat prices plummeted in the US. He became a highway patrolman, and his brother Franky came back from Vietnam. Franky was always trouble, and Joe as the local policeman, tried to keep him in line. Joe firmly believed that you don’t turn your back on your family.
Joe gets a call from a roadhouse saying that Frank has killed someone and is fleeing towards Canada. Joe chases him down, but when he gets close to the Canadian border he pulls over and lets Frank go – obviously a crime in itself.
Listen to the track, consider that it was recorded in the early 80s on a simple four-track in Springsteen’s bedroom. A couple of guys, a guitar, a voice and a heaping helping of incredible talent – not a team of writers, producers, autotuners and whatever else they use to produce music these days.
I’ve done a little searching and it seems as though the places, roads and songs in the lyrics are all made up. Artistic licence is forgiven, but I do like visiting song places. Like the time I went to Serviceton…
If you decide to look up the video-clip for this song, it’s taken from the film Indian Summer and kinda stinks. The movie was based on the song, quite loosely, and the initial scene from the clip sets the mood in the polar opposite of what I want. I’ve therefore linked to just the song.