In case you’ve forgotten (or never knew), Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. was an incredible powerhouse of an album. Not only did it mark a change toward a more commercial sound for The Boss, it generated a mind-boggling seven top-10 singles (out of 12 total tracks on the album) and kept Springsteen’s name on the Billboard Hot 100 for nearly two years, from May 1984 to March of 1986. It remains Bruce’s best-selling album, even though he’s one of the more prolific artists out there (he’s released 11 other records in the decades since Born in the U.S.A., up to and including this year’s High Hopes), and it is one of my personal favorites by any artist.
This week’s selection for Friday Evening Videos is a song called “I’m on Fire,” which was the fourth single from Born in the U.S.A. It was kind of an odd candidate for a single, in my opinion, but perhaps its quiet wistfulness was calculated to be a palate cleanser following the upbeat pop sound of “Dancing in the Dark,” the urgency of “Cover Me,” and the outraged social commentary of the album’s title track.
I don’t have any particular anecdote or memory connected to this song; it’s simply one I have always liked, especially in the wee hours when I’m the only one awake in the house and something deep inside me is crying out for something that I often can’t even name. Surely I’m wasn’t the only angsty young man back in the Awesome ’80s who thought the line about a knife, edgy and dull, cutting a six-inch valley through the middle of someone’s soul, was written specifically about him. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found my relationship to the song has changed, but if anything, that relationship has only grown deeper and richer. It speaks to me now of a much wider range of things I feel angsty about… and that damn knife cuts more deeply than ever during those long, dark hours between midnight and dawn.
One quick thought on the video: like the song, it’s simple and no-frills, and it, too, has long been a favorite of mine, largely because of the car Bruce is driving. That’s a 1956 Ford Thunderbird, if you don’t know your vintage steel. My dad has a red ’57, which he bought when I was in middle school. It was the first of our “collector fleet,” and is the only one I still feel nervous about driving…