Friday Noir: Beyond The Highway
I had a job, I had a girl.
I had something going, mister, in this world.
I got laid off down at the brickyard…
Our love went bad, times got hard.
Now I work, all through the night.
Where all it ever does is rain.
She just said “Hey I gotta go
We had it once, we ain’t got it any more.”
She packed her bags, left me behind.
She bought a ticket on the Central Line.
Nights as I sleep, I hear that whistle whining
I feel her kiss in the misty rain.
Last night I heard your voice,
You were crying, crying, you were so alone…
You said your love had never died,
You were waiting for me at home.
I put on my jacket, I ran through the woods,
I ran till I thought my chest would explode.
There in the clearing, beyond the highway,
In the moonlight, our wedding house shone.
I rushed through the yard, I burst through the front door…
My head pounding hard, up the stairs I climbed.
The room was dark, our bed was empty
Then I heard that long whistle whine
And I dropped to my knees, hung my head and cried.
Now I swing a sledge hammer, on a railroad gang
Knocking down them cross ties, working in the rain…
Don’t it feel like you’re a rider on a Downbound Train?
The next in my ongoing project, Springsteen And Noir– images influenced by the songs or lyrics of Bruce Springsteen.
Downbound Train is from Bruce’s mega-1984 hit album, Born In The U.S.A. However, it’s a leftover track from his very dark, very stark Nebraska album.
If I had only 10 songs I could listen to every day for the rest of my life, this would be one of them. Dave Marsh, Springsteen’s biographer, called this song of one his messiests. Marsh doesn’t like it. I disagree.
To me, lyrically, this is an epic gothic noir ballad. It’s also illustrative of Bruce Springsteen’s economy of writing. He writes what he means and he writes it quickly, succinctly. Jab, jab, jab, work is done. In a very short amount of time, we know this is a down-and-out guy, he had a love that he now has lost. He down on his heels, can’t hold a job. He plagued by restless nights, and nighmares. And rain.
I recently came across an interview with Springsteen from a couple of years ago, and it confirmed my hypothesis: Noir of the ’40s and ’50s did, in fact, influence his songwriting in the ’70s (and still does, I suspect).
“Noir was particularly interesting to me because it’s a world where people are always being pulled apart. In James M. Cain and Jim Thompson novels, the divided mind is a huge part of the psychological life of those characters and that’s how I always felt.” – The Telegraph, 2010
This doesn’t surprise me, though I had never actually heard him say it before.
I’ve long had this song scribbled down in my notebook, and was thinking of an image to illustrate it. Frankly, I thought I was going to put The Man In The Fedora down on some old train tracks or something.
Captain Obvious, yes, that’s me.
But I think this scene works. When I was going to through my image files after a shoot recently, this one hit me. I liked the look of the whole setting. I see The Man In The Fedora here as the protagonist of the song. He’s the one down on his heels, but still trying to look his best. Hi surroundings aren’t what they once more. The love of his live is gone.
The last line of Downbound Train leaves me wondering…railroad gang…or convict chaingang? Perhaps the reasons for his night terrors is a guilty conscience. Almost a blue-collar version of Walter Neff in Cain’s Double Indemnity.
The protagonist made his bed…and….now he’s gotta go away for what he did…
And I dropped to my knees, hung my head and cried. – That already happened.
Now I swing a sledge hammer, on a railroad gang – That’s about to happen.
This scene takes place between those two.
Put on the lid.
Straighten the tie.
One last Lucky.
Time to pay for the sins you’ve committed.
Downbound Train. This song has guts. It has soul, especially the third verse, where the angry guitar adds to the lyrical tension.
Give a listen, let me know what you think. Hopefully you’ll like it more than Dave Marsh does.
© Mark V. Krajnak | JerseyStyle Photography | All Rights Reserved 2013