Friday Noir: This Cold Place
Got out of prison back in ’36 and I found a wife.
Walked the clean and narrow.
Just tryin’ to stay out and stay alive.
Got a job at the rendering plant.
It ain’t gonna make me rich.
In the darkness before dinner comes,
Sometimes I can feel the itch.
I got a cold mind to go tripping ‘cross that thin line.
I’m sick of doin’ straight time.
My uncle’s at the evenin’ table, makes his living runnin’ hot cars.
Slips me a hundred dollar bill.
Says “You best remember who your friends are.”
Eight years in it feels like you’re gonna die;
But you get used to anything.
Sooner or later it just becomes your life.
Kitchen floor in the evenin’, tossin’ my little babies high.
Mary’s smiling but she’s watching me out of the corner of her eye.
Seems you can’t get any more than half free.
I step out onto the front porch and suck the cold air deep inside of me.
In the basement, huntin’ gun and a hacksaw.
Sip a beer and thirteen inches of barrel drop to the floor.
Come home in the evening, can’t get the smell from my hands.
Lay my head down on the pillow. And go driftin’ off into foreign lands.
Got a cold mind to go tripping ‘cross that thin line.
I ain’t makin’ straight time.
This Cold Place – The next in my installment of noir inspired by the songs of Bruce Springsteen.
The image is based on the Straight Time, which came off Springsteen’s 1995 acoustic The Ghost of Tom Joad album. Thematically and musically, it feels like a close brother to Springsteen’s dark Nebraska album.
The theme of the song appears heavily influenced by the 1978 Dustin Hoffman film of the same name. I can’t find confirmation this but it certainly seems so, and it wouldn’t be the first time Springsteen used cinema to influence his music.
It’s pretty plain in what’s going on in the song: an ex-con trying to make it back in the world.
You’d think, after getting out, it would be easy to stay true. But the struggle is there. It’s hard to do the day-to-day.
He’s got the wife. He’s got the kids.
He’s got the shotgun in the basement that’s he sawing off for more punch.
What’s he going to do?
Toe the straight line, or fall.
The last lines tell us.
The smell on his hand? Literally, probably carbon from the shotgun blast. Mentally, whatever he did.
Life is dodgy. Temptation is all around.
Again, the economy of storytelling by Springsteen is there. He takes us through this man’s life, this man’s mind, in a few dark versus. Then, now, and in the future, there will be people struggling with these same themes and demons.
It’s hard to stay on the straight line, do straight time.
Have a listen to Bruce’s version.
And recap my Springsteen Noir series with a click here.