On the Fourth of July, it's tempting to write about Bruce Springsteen's anthem to the Jersey Shore, "Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)". But I am so over Bruce Springsteen by now, I just can't. That song in particular gives me pause: it starts out fine, a tender little slice of life, but why build it up and layer it on and stretch it out to make it such a Big Deal Song? I lose interest about two minutes into the thing.
Nevertheless, just thinking about Springsteen puts me in a Jersey Shore frame of mind, and what better alternative could there be than Southside Johnny? I interviewed Southside Johnny once, years ago, and he was one of the nicest guys I ever met -- absolutely no big rock-star ego at all. He'd probably say that that's because he's not a big rock star. Considering that he came out of the same Jersey Shore bar scene as Springsteen, though, I've always wondered why Bruce made it big and Johnny didn't. It's a shame.
This is a totally satisfying summer song (a great top-down driving song, too -- but then most ace summer songs are). Listening to it brings back that school's-out feeling of being out too late, not willing to give it up, wanting to squeeze every last drop out of the night. "Oh, I know that it's getting late / But I don't want to go home / I'm in no hurry baby, time can wait / 'Cause I don't want to go home." The band's still playing; there's still action in the bar. Please don't make me leave.
Of course there's more to the story than that. He's just broken up with his girlfriend, and he needs company -- "I want to hear people laughing and having a good time / I wanna know why she told me she had to go / Why did she leave me all lonely?" He's still in that stage of staggering numbly around, just going through the motions; hanging out at the bar is a powerful distraction. What does he have to go home to, anyway?
The chorus has one of my favorite grammatical mistakes of all time -- "I know we had a time / To reach up and touch the sky, baby / Whatever happened to you and I?" (hint to the grammatically challenged: it should be "you and me"). This really makes me grin because, as I remember it, Southside Johnny told me he'd once been an English teacher. But hey, he needed a rhyme for "sky," and there's something so plaintive, so young and yearning, about that image of touching the sky, that I forgive him. Besides, that's just the way the dude who sings this song would say it. It's the way we've all felt at a certain age, when we first begin to suspect that we aren't as invulnerable and omnipotent as we thought. It's such an iconic moment, it deserves all the saxes and trumpets he's layered on.
Since my main problem with Springsteen is his tendency to over-produce his songs, I'm surprised myself that I don't mind all the extra instruments on this track. But I love how the simple surf-guitar-ish lick plays off against those Philly-soul horns and strings; it's such a classic pop arrangement, it doesn't come off as pompous. I can just picture the song's hero, eyes bloodshot, hanging onto his stool at the end of the bar. As he slips in and out of his maudlin memories (every other line he has to declare again "I don't want to go home"), those musicians on the bandstand are the only thing getting him through this rough patch. "I know he's talking about the way I feel," Johnny sings at one point. I know just how he feels. That's why we need pop music.