These are better days

“Better Days” is one of Bruce Springsteen’s most underrated songs.

At the beginning, Springsteen sings about “sitting around” and “waiting for life to beginning.”

A position I’m quite familiar with.

Yet as the song continues, a rock transformation happens. He acknowledges that every “fool’s got a reason for feelin’ sorry for himself.”

He knows that for “better days to shine through” he must engage with his own life.  He has to quit the self-pity, the self-victimization charade that we’re all guilty of entertaining.

The song concludes with Springsteen announcing he’s “halfway to heaven and just a mile outta hell” but he’s “ comin’ home” as he repeats, with his all his raspy New Jersey spirit, “these are better days.”

It’s catchy, convincing.  A 4 minute reminder that better days only arrive when we finally  brave up and accept our lives, for better or worse. Nothing can be excluded. We must accept the good and bad, the joy and pain, the pride and shame.

Better days will only dawn when our flawed past is fully accepted.

Be well,

Jay

A Moment with Tom Petty

When Tom Petty died I was suddenly 19 again, wearing headphones and slumped in the backseat of a rented minivan.

Dad is driving, Mom is riding shotgun and my two younger brothers are tucked in the middle bench watching Home Alone on a TV/VCR combo dad had strapped to a milk crate to entertain the kids on our first family road trip — a traverse through New York state and into Canada.

To pass the time, I brought a pen and notebook, a discman and a binder with stuffed CDs.

 I’ve forgotten large chucks of my teen years but I remember, with absolute clarity, the songs that soundtracked the most confusing, polarizing, contradictory, painful and fun years of my life.

On that trip, I listened the contemplative “Time to Move on”, the third track on Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” album over and over and over again, convinced it was written for me.

“It’s time to move on, time to get going
What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing”

I remember, as the New York tree line flicked by, writing out scenes for what I thought was going to my first novel. A fictional yarn about a rich 19 year old kid who declined a scholarship to Princeton so he could make a year long transcontinental hike from New Jersey to California. Of course, his hard-boiled father disapproved and his mother was too busy stroking the pool boy to care. It was a massive idea. Too massive for me then. Maybe too massive for me now.

When you’re 19, life gets complicated.

Choices become harder, they have more gravity and greater consequence. Time is suddenly finite. Reality is tangible. You realize you need to do something with your life. And as sad as it is, you realize your on the verge of comprising your dreams to appease the status quo.

At the end of my freshman year of college, I was 19 and had a growing awareness of how hard it was going to be to become a writer. It was a life of discipline and sacrifice and deep examination only to be rewarded with self-doubt and rejection.

When it was convenient, like in the back of a minivan in upstate New York, I would scratch down stories but I wasn’t committed. I grew frustrated by the amount of work being a writer took and I remember being 19 and concluding that writing was a cute dream, but ultimately a dream for other people to entertain.

“Broken skyline, which way to love land?
Which way to something better?
Which way to forgiveness?
Which way do I go?”

At 19 you’re wedged between the adulthood and childhood. You’re letting go of romantic ideas of adulthood and submitting to reality —  the one with time clocks and car insurance and parties that end at 9 pm. At 19, I didn’t want that adult life. And, in a way, I still don’t want.

“It’s time to move on, time to get going
What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing
But under my feet, baby, grass is growing
It’s time to move on, it’s time to get going”

When Tom Petty died, like when all great musicians die, the alchemy of music twists time and somehow the past becomes present.

And suddenly you’re 19 again, slumped in the backseat of a minivan, rolling through the mountains of New York. You’ve got your headphones on and a scruffy guitarist from Gainesville, Florida is singing out your secrets. There’s a fear swirling in your chest. A fear that will settle, take its shoes off and rest heavy in your chest for years to come.

Because you’re afraid to move on.

You’re afraid to get going.

Be well,

Jay

5 Reasons Why Springsteen’s Thunder Road is Your Life Right Now

On Friday night I’m leaving the kids at home and taking my best girl to see, hear and witness the incomparable Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

If you haven’t heard, the 67 year old Boss, is currently playing 4 hour musical marathons. Electric sets fused with 30 plus songs spanning 40 plus years of musical endurance.

bruce3

To honor Bruce’s current American tour, his upcoming biography and my wife and I’s first date in a really long time, I would like to explore one of his most enduring songs–Thunder Road.

Thunder Road is my favorite song. Period. At age 24, Springsteen wrote a near 5 minute song so wrought with maturity and human complexity that it rivals great works of literature written by much older people.

TR’s protagonist is locked in an emotional vice, he’s fixed at a personal crossroads, he needs to make a decision and he has make it now! (Can anything be more adult then that?)

TR’s timelessness is its themes. Themes that never cease. In fact, they only gain more mass and weight as time passes.

In its explosive, defiant conclusion, TR is often consider a young person’s song. I disagree. It’s not a young person or an old person’s song. It’s an ageless song. One, at its thematic core, is the most human song I know.

The Need for Companionship

Don’t turn me home again
I just can’t face myself alone again
Don’t run back inside
Darling you know just what I’m here for

It’s one of the great human contradictions– we crave companionship yet we enjoy isolation. And in life, we need others to survive yet only inside ourselves can we find the seeds of happiness and meaning.

Running from the Past

There were ghosts in the eyes
Of all the boys you sent away

Move to a new city. Make new friends. Invest in a gold toilet.Win your bowling league. No matter what you do, what you accomplish, you will never put enough miles between the present and the past.

Finding your True Self

Well I got this guitar
And I learned how to make it talk

Adults are notorious for disbanding dreams and living an unfulfilled, uninspired life. Like him or not, Springsteen has spent his entire life chasing down a dream, asking questions, pushing buttons, pursing passion all in the name of personal evolution. And that– you’ve got to respect.

The Drama of Choice

And my car’s out back
If you’re ready to take that long walk
From your front porch to my front seat
The door’s open but the ride it ain’t free

You’re reading this and you’re standing at a figurative crossroads (…hopefully not a literal one). As TR’s protagonist understands– we’ve all got choices to make and we need to make them now. One of the great tragedies of the human condition is that we will never be short on choices.

The Promise of Better Days

It’s town full of losers
And I’m pulling out of here to win
In the grand, defiant conclusion of the song we hear our protagonist triumphantly announce he has made a choice. If only we could have his confidence and moxie, we may find the courage to take risks and see the future not as a place of fearful unknowns but a place bursting with possibility and aliveness.
 road
For me, Thunder Road remains an empty church. It’s big and grand. It’s finely detailed and yet it remains mysterious and haunting while being strangely intimate, strangely comforting.

Be well,

Jay

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