It’s become a tradition for me; whenever I leave my hometown to head back to Brooklyn, I listen to “Thunder Road.” I grew up in New Jersey, in an area I like to describe as “the place that Bruce Springsteen sang about leaving.” Every time I drive away, or my train on the New Jersey Transit Central Jersey Coast line pulls out of the station, it feels like another successful escape.
Bruce makes it seem simple. All you needed to transcend the stifling sameness of small town life is a car and a guitar and maybe a decent-looking lady (As a kid, I thought “you ain’t a beauty but hey, you’re alright” was a compliment). For all that “Thunder Road” is a get-away song, its ending point is vague: “These two lanes can take us anywhere,” Bruce sings, as if happiness is a far off destination you can drive to if you drive fast, and with purpose. In Bruce’s great American fairytale of a song, anywhere is better than where you are.
Bruce and I were born at the same hospital in Long Branch, New Jersey. He grew up in the town of Freehold, but his glory days took place in Asbury Park, a town that’s approximately a 20-mile drive from there, or approximately five plays of “Thunder Road” away. Yes, from there he became an internationally beloved icon who has traveled the world many times over, but actually his promise land turned out to be a short distance away. I ended up, as many former Jersey girls do, in New York City, to find my way to art and culture and ambitious, intellectually curious people who don’t all look like me. My new home is all of an hour or so by car away (two full Born To Run album plays).
Neither Bruce nor I had to go very far. For all the scorn Bruce seems to have for the “town full of losers” he so passionately wants to leave, he now has homes in Colts Neck and Rumson, New Jersey, is less than one whole listen to Greetings From Asbury Park from where he grew up. In fact, today he’s a hero in central Jersey, a champion of local businesses, a philanthropist and model citizen who seems to have no beefs with any New Jerseyans except for some well-earned disdain for sniveling reprobate of a governor and wannabe Bruce fanboy, Chris Christie.
And I too have made my peace with my hometown. Yes, I’ve had to block many high school classmates on Facebook whose political opinions seem small-minded and reductive, but overall I feel a sense of pride in where I’m from. It helps that the escape Bruce so passionately sang about and I so desperately wanted to make ultimately seems to be more of a state of mind rather than a brand new place entirely. Heaven’s waiting down on the tracks, wherever you can find it.
This is one of more than 50 posts that make up our musical map of the United States, published by region—the West, Midwest, South, and Northeast—by writers who have strongly associated a song with a state.