By In Bruce

The Promise

Johnny works in a factory. Billy works downtown.
Terry works in a rock and roll band looking for that million dollar sound.
Got a job down in Darlington. Some nights I don’t go.
Some nights I go to the drive in. Some night I stay home.

— Bruce Springsteen. The Promise.

* * *

I remember the first time I heard The Promise. It was about a decade ago. The song had been around for a long time before I first heard it — Bruce Springsteen would say it was the first song he wrote after Born To Run made him a rock and roll star in 1975. It figures that this was the first. Born to Run, the whole album, was about longing, open highway, the amusement park rising bold and stark, the poets who write nothing at all, the ghosts in the eyes of all the boys Mary sent away. Born to Run is about that brilliant age when you know dreams don’t come true, but you still believe they might come true FOR YOU.

And The Promise is about the every day numbing of those dreams. It is a follow-up to Thunder Road, that song about the guy who learned how to make his guitar talk, and the girl who ain’t a beauty (but hey, she’s all right), both of them, pulling out of that town full of losers, pulling out of there to win. Now, that guy’s got a job. It’s a night job. Some nights he don’t go. A friend told me, “You have to listen to this song. I can’t believe you haven’t heard this song.”

I listened to the version of The Promise on 18 Tracks. It’s not the version Springsteen recorded more than 30 years ago. This version is stripped down to almost nothing, just Springsteen and a piano.

And the weirdest thing happened, something I can never remember happening before or since when I listened to a song. I felt myself crying.

* * *

I followed that dream just like those guys do way up on the screen.
Drove my Challenger down Route 9 through the dead ends and all the bad scenes.
When the promise was broken, I cashed in a few of my own dreams

* * *

If I had to pick a single memory, the memory that best summarizes my teenage years, the memory that best expresses the kind of man I hoped to become … well, it is 6 a.m., and my bed shakes. That’s how my father wakes me up. He mildly bumps the bed with his knee. It is summertime, but rain pours, so it is still dark, a harsh gray. My father walks out of the room without saying a word. There is nothing to say. It is time to get up.

I dress quickly. There are no morning showers. We have timed our morning to the minute so that we can get as much sleep as possible … or, more to the point, so I can get as much sleep as possible. Dad doesn’t sleep much except for the naps he gets in front of the television. I meet my father downstairs. He is already there — he is always there first, dressed, ready to go. He is always waiting on me. He wakes up long before 6 a.m. on his own. His lunch is packed in a brown paper sack. It is probably a salami sandwich. It is usually a salami sandwich.

We trudge out to the car, a declining Pontiac T-1000 that I hope to buy at the end of the summer. The rain hits our necks, but there’s no running. We ride in silence for a few minutes. Then we start to talk about small things. We stop at Popeyes for a breakfast biscuit. The morning gains light slowly, like an old television picture tube coming to life. The ride is 30 minutes or so. There is little traffic this early in the morning.

And then, we get out … and go into the factory. Alisa is the name of the place. It is a knitting factory. We make sweaters, I guess, though I never actually see any sweaters. Everything is yarn. It is hard to breathe because of the heat and the humidity and the dust and the cardboard boxes and because the yarn chokes the air. I feel sure that a sweater is being knitted in my lungs.

My father’s job is to make sure the knitting machines run. He unclogs jams, quiets the guttural sounds, tightens bolts that break free, loosens bolts that choke the machine. His hands are unnaturally strong; I have known this since I was a boy. Now I see that he uses his fingers to loosen bolts that are wedged tight. There is no time to find a wrench. Sometimes, when the machines run smoothly, I see him drawing Xs on graph paper as he works out a sweater color design. When kids in school used to ask me what my father did for a living, I would tell them he designs sweaters. It wasn’t because I was ashamed of what he did; quite the opposite. That was how I saw him.

My job is to stay in the warehouse and move boxes of yarn in and out, and, one day a week, Thursday, unload barrels of dye from a truck. I am doing this to raise enough money buy that old car, that Pontiac. I’m 18 years old and thoroughly without purpose except for that; I desperately want my own car. I am an accounting major at college though even the most basic accounting concepts baffle me. I can’t help but think of debits as good and credits as bad. The professors keep telling me that they are not good or bad, but I don’t believe them. I already know I won’t be an accountant but have not admitted it to myself. I don’t have any idea what I will do — or what I can do. Everything feels out of reach.

I work six days a week at Alisa, and the pay, if I remember correctly, is $4 an hour. The minimum wage at the time is $3.35 an hour, so this is the second-highest paying job of my young life. The highest paying job, at $4.50 an hour, involved calling people who were past due on their mortgage. My job there was to set up a payment schedule. I wasn’t good at this; I didn’t understand the fury and desperation of the voices on the end of dial tones. I was too young to know what it meant. I got threatened a lot. I don’t get threatened at the factory. Yelled at, yes. Threatened, no. There’s no point in threats, not here. It’s understood by everyone how easy I am to replace. I’m scrawny and weak and a non-prospect. I’m here as a favor to my father, the only guy who knows how to fix the machines if they break down.

* * *

Well now I built that challenger by myself.
But I needed money and so I sold it.
Lived a secret I should’a kept to myself.
But I got drunk one night and I told it.

* * *

Springsteen wrote The Promise for the Darkness on the Edge of Town album. People who follow the Springsteen story know that the time when he wrote The Promise, that time after Born To Run made him a star and before Darkness made him an adult, that time was strange for him. He was locked in a searing legal battle with his manager Mike Appel over creative freedom — the thing Springsteen called his musical soul — and he was struggling with what it meant to be a huge success for the first time in his life. He hated success and loved it and hated himself for loving it.

And the music poured out of him like sweat. He was 27 and hungry, still hungry, but he was not entirely sure for what. He was listening to punk music. He was listening to Hank Williams. The Born to Run sessions were legendary for Springsteen’s refusal to compromise, his 14-month insistence on making every song sound exactly like what he heard in his head. But at least with Born To Run, there was a clear vision everyone could understand. Springsteen simply wanted to make the greatest rock ‘n roll album that had ever been made. That was what 25-year-old musicians did. The kid had ambition.

But nobody quite knew what Springsteen was trying to do with Darkness, maybe not even Springsteen himself. The band learned song after song after song. Some of the songs sounded like hits, but Springsteen seemed uninterested in those. He would give away “Because The Night” to the punk star Patti Smith — her biggest hit. He gave “Fire” to The Pointer Sisters — their biggest hit. He gave “This Little Girl” to Gary U.S. Bonds … and it would become Bonds’ first hit in almost 20 years. He gave an older song, “The Fever,” and “Talk to Me” to Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. He gave “Rendezvous” to Greg Kihn. In the documentary about Darkness, Springsteen’s guitarist and foil and alter-ego Stevie Van Zandt would say, seemingly without irony, “It’s a bit tragic in a way. Because he would have been one of the great pop songwriters of all time.”

The one thing Springsteen knew for sure is that he didn’t want to be a great pop songwriter. He did not want hits, not then. He did not want to repeat Born To Run. He wanted to say something, and he wanted to “leave no room to be misunderstood.” He didn’t want to try to make the greatest rock and roll album of all time, not this time. He wanted something else, something harder to describe. “I wanted to make an honest album,” he would say. The band rehearsed and recorded “The Promise” for three months, trying to get it just right.

* * *

All my life I fought that fight
The fight that you can’t win.
Every day it gets harder to live
the dream you’re believin’ in.

* * *

My job at Alisa is monotonous and soul draining. Oh, it has sitcom elements — I am still young and detached enough to see that. There is the vicious boss who loves to yell at me for no apparent reason except that I’m not good at moving boxes and he probably hates his life. Once he takes me and a couple of warehouse guys, puts us in a truck, drives us off somewhere without explaining where or why. We end up in a ritzy neighborhood. Turns out the owner of the factory needs his couch moved. And so we move his couch.

There is a humorless old man who works with us in the warehouse who constantly tells us that he has seen kids come and go but that he has survived for all these years (we sometimes attempt to guess what he’s making after all these years; we think $5 an hour). There is the preposterous nature of the actual work — my job is to move boxes of yarn here, no, over there, no, back here, no, leave it there until later. There are even young non-beauties-but-hey-they’re-all-right identical twins who look better and better the longer I work here (it is fitting, I suppose, that in time I come to like one of them, the prettier identical twin if that makes any sense, but it’s the other one who seems to like me).

Still, at its core, there is little funny about the place or the job. Alisa is day after day after day after day after day of endless work that never gets completed. There is always another truck to unload, another tour of the floor (“Box ’em up!” the boss used to yell), another run to the dye part of the factory, which is poisonous and bleak and dangerous, like something out of a Dickens’ novel or the Batman movies. All the while, the machines whir and shriek and clank and buzz — the noise makes the boxes shake, but after a while I stop hearing the noise, at least while I’m in the factory. My ears ring for hours afterward, and sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night, and I still hear those machines.

I make it through the first couple of weeks on adrenaline and exuberance, and make it through the next two on the promise of owning my very first car. But at that point, one month in, I lose all inspiration. I go to work simply because my father kicks the bed every morning, and I know he’s waiting downstairs, and I do not know exactly how to quit. I work all day on automatic pilot — I become proficient with hand trucks, I surprise myself with how much strength I build up, I try to hide in the gaps between the boxes every now and again, I sweat off 20 pounds that, at the time, I did not have to lose. I go home exhausted and desperate for something … something hard to explain. And the next morning I wake up at the kick of the bed, into the blurry picture of my father dressed and ready, stumble into my jeans and into the Pontiac and go through it all again.

I believe that this will not be my life. I suppose this is what keeps me sane. This is not my life. This is only temporary. I tell myself this many times. But I’m not sure. Not really. I do not know what I can do. I have a hard time looking at my life realistically. I’m 18 years old, living in my parents apartment, failing accounting at a city college, and drifting through life without any marketable skills. All I have is youth, and youth tells me that this will not be my life, cannot be my life, that this is a summer job so I can buy my Dad’s car and drive off and that I really will do something bigger … all I have is youth telling me that someday summer will end.

* * *

When the promise is broken, you go on living
But it steals something from down in your soul
Like when the truth is spoken, and it don’t make no difference
Something in your heart runs cold

* * *

In the end, Bruce Springsteen stripped everything out of “Darkness on the Edge of Town” except for the hardest songs.

Badlands, I think, might be the quintessential Bruce Springsteen song, about defiance in the face of the bitter winds of daily life.

Adam Raised A Cain is is about a son clashing against a father who “worked his whole life for nothing but the pain.”

Something In The Night is about two people trying to find escape in the night but getting caught at the state line.

Candy’s Room is a hard-bitten love story about a boy who loves a beautiful prostitute who cannot be shielded from her sadness.

Racing In The Street — probably my favorite song on the album — is about a man who has lost his dream (haven’t they all lost their dreams) and finds his last bit of wildness and hope racing his ’69 Chevy Chevelle with a 396 turbojet engine at night. There’s a love story in here too, a love story with a woman he won in a race against a Camaro and who now “stares off along into the night/with the eyes of one who hates for just being born.”

The Promised Land is another anthem, the flip side of Badlands — “I get up every morning and go to work each day/But your eyes go blind and your blood runs cold/Sometimes I feel so weak I just want to explode.”

Factory is … about Bruce Springsteen’s father going to work at the factory in the rain.

Streets of Fire is more about those lost nights — “I walk with angels that have no place.”

Prove It All Night — this was an entire album about endless nights leading into unchanging days, the same endless nights that inspired a million country songs, a million short stories, a million brilliant paintings and almost every sad thing Frank Sinatra ever sang.

Darkness on the Edge of Town, I think, is about the same guy from Racing In The Street, only now his woman has left him, and he tries to keep his secrets, and all he has are “things that can only be found/in the darkness on the edge of town.”

Anyway, this is what I hear when I listen to the songs. The album is dim and black and unrelenting, there is no escape. There is not one bar song on the album, not one beach song on the album, not one happy song on the album (even though right at this time Springsteen and Stevie Van Zandt messed around one day and wrote one of their happiest songs, Sherry Darling — they left it off the album). There is not even one hopeful song on the album. And yet, the album is not without hope. The music is the hope. The music soars and it swoops down, and it grinds, and it quiets to near silence. It is the music that insists on that notion, that notion deep inside, that it ain’t no sin to be glad your alive, the seminal lyrics from the album, I think, the thing that it’s all about in the end.

And, as you know, as you can see, the song The Promise is not on Darkness. The band played it, and they knew it was great, knew that it might be the best song that Bruce Springsteen ever wrote. And it fit on the album, it was in many ways everything that Springsteen was trying to say on the album. Only Springsteen could not let go of it. The song was too close to him. He has never been able to explain it any better than that. Some think The Promise is really about his fight with Appel for control of his own music. Some think it is about his fear of losing himself in success, his fear of losing what he thought was the best part of himself. Some think it is about his friends who got left behind.

In the end, of course, it doesn’t matter what The Promise means to Bruce Springsteen — doesn’t matter beyond trivia. Like all great songs, all great art, it only matters what it means to the person who accepts it. Springsteen did not put The Promise on Darkness, though for a while he played it at clubs. Then he stopped doing that too. By the time he released it in 1999 on 18 Tracks — the first version I first heard — it was a different song, more wistful, less bitter, more sad, less rebellious, all piano. And now, more than 30 years later, Bruce Springsteen releases an album of those songs that he recorded and left by the side of the road while making Darkness. There is the bar song Rendezvous and his raw version of Because The Night and the upbeat (if disturbing) Fire and a remarkable rock version of Racing In The Streets that sounds like it belongs on Born To Run (In this version, the car is a Ford, with a 383 — probably a Mercury Marauder Engine from the late 1950s). Springsteen is 61 now and he writes now that these songs are like old friends.

And, of course, The Promise is on this re-release. On this version, the song seems to be more personal and less universal than his piano version, it is more about what Bruce Springsteen was going through at the time — the Challenger is almost certainly Bruce’s music, the secret is almost certainly the depth of feeling he had for his music, and he sold it, he told it, and this has brought him to doom. It’s a beautiful version of the song, but I’m glad it’s not the first version I heard. Because the version I heard isn’t about Bruce Springsteen and Mike Appel and a fight for art. The version I heard is about a car ride to the factory …

* * *

Thunder Road
For the lost lovers and all the fixed games
Thunder Road
For the tires rushing by in the rain.

* * *

My memory, the one that echoes in my mind, is not of my time in the factory, or the work, or the people (I cannot remember their names) or the death I’d feel at the end of the day, or even the fear I had that this is all I would become. No, the memory is of that rainy day in North Carolina, my father driving, me staring out the window, both of us sitting in what would become my first car. That Pontiac did not have a 396. It struggled to go uphill.

And I think, for the first time, I understood, really understood, what my father did. I knew of other fathers who brought home their frustrations, their fears, the discouragement, but that wasn’t my Dad. My father did not drink. He did not rage. He did not race cars in the street. He smoked two packs of Kents a day, and he bowled on Sundays, and he played chess with a club one night a week. He coached my Little League team, and he drove all of us around the neighborhood so we could see the fireworks on July 4th, and he always bought champagne and caviar for New Year’s Eve. He came home with oil on his pants, and salami on his breath. He fell asleep in front of the television.

I don’t remember what we talked about in the car. Sports, maybe. Television, maybe. Factory politics, maybe. I only remember the rain — the tires rushing by in the rain — and the way the wipers squeaked against the windshield. I only remember the way the realization hit me — that this was my father’s life. I still had years and the promise to shield me. My father was smarter than I was — still is smarter than I am. My father, like all men of his generation (it seemed to me), could fix anything, could solve anything, could lift anything — I had none of these skills. My father also could play chess with grandmasters. My father could hit any target with a rifle (though he hated guns; he had learned to shoot in the Army). My father could dribble a soccer ball forever, it seemed, and throw pop-ups high above my imagination, and quote lines word for word from any song of the 1950s. And this was his life, this morning drive to the factory, every morning, for another sunless day in the howl of sweater machines.

I had this weird experience a couple of weeks ago — I was on a plane, and I was watching the movie Invincible, you know, the one about Vince Papale, the Philadelphia bartender who tried out and made the Eagles in the 1970s. I had seen it before. I have no idea why the movie was even playing — it’s a few years old. But I was watching, and it’s entertaining enough, and then there was this scene when Vince’s father was telling him how Steve Van Buren’s touchdown, the one that gave the Eagles their championship over the Chicago Cardinals in 1948, how that touchdown was what kept him going through all the painful days.

It was just a corny line in a corny movie on a plane heading to the next city and the next assignment, and dammit, I felt tears in my eyes. The same tears from The Promise. What kept my Dad going? It isn’t the sort of thing you talk about except in movies and songs. In the car that day, I finally figured it out … finally figured out what kept Dad going through all those long, dull, painful, agonizing days at the factory. He didn’t say it. I didn’t say it either. The rain kept coming down, but gently, a gentle rain, and we stopped for our biscuits, and then we pulled up to the factory just as the gray darkness turned to light.

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220 Responses to The Promise

  1. bgo says:

    That was brilliant, Joe. Write about music more often, please.

  2. Daniel says:

    this is beautiful, joe. thank you.

  3. Justin says:

    Damn Joe.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I love my father and I love Bruce and I love JoePo. and this was just a perfect triangulation of the three.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Good god. Wonderful. Just wonderful.

  6. Athenae says:

    This is glorious. Thank you. Just … thank you.


  7. Anonymous says:

    This might be the best piece of writing about music I’ve ever read. Peter Gammons might have to watch his back as the market leader in baseball guys who know music.

  8. Brian says:


  9. BillSee says:

    Another brilliant reader says, “Brilliant!”

  10. Elizabeth says:

    It doesn’t get any better than this … fantastic!

  11. Anonymous says:

    One of the best parts of my day is when I read your blog. This hit home.

  12. David Gizmo says:

    The most beautiful article I’ve ever read about Springsteen. Maybe the most beautiful article I’ve ever read about anything. Thank you, Joe.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Beautiful writing–thanks Joe.

    It made me think of one of my favorite Dave Barry articles (a serious one), called “A Million Words”.

    • Bill Belt says:

      Thanks for the reminder of this Dave Barry article. I always remember the last scene, though I had forgotten the exact words.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Thanks, Joe. God, I miss my dad.

    –Jim H.

  15. Anonymous says:

    That is wonderful–thanks.

  16. Anonymous says:

    And, you are exactly right about the version of Racing in the Streets on The Promise–it’s fantastic…I wish I could come with a song (or anything) great enough to make 2 totally different but equally brilliant versions.
    I also wish I could write like this story–but very few get that gift.

  17. Nick says:

    This article sucks

  18. Anonymous says:

    Jesus Christ, Joe. Fathers and son, factories, Bruce, the American dream, faded dreams…
    Why do you insist on making a guy cry at work?

    This blog, your writing, you — they are one of the best parts of my day. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing a piece of yours.

  19. Chris says:

    Splendidly written. Thank you.

    Fort Worth, TX

  20. Byron says:

    I don’t particularly like Bruce Springsteen (he’s not really my cup of tea) but I have to say this was a great, great article.

    Well done.

  21. Nevada Scribbler says:

    Your father raised a wonderful man. I imagine your mother played a big role as well. There’s a lump in my throat after reading this piece, perhaps your best ever, and that’s saying something.

  22. Colin says:

    I’m struggling for the words to respond that don’t sound trite and overused (and from the relatively short responses from the Brilliant Readers, I’m guessing I’m not entirely alone on this).

    So I only can say thank you. Thank you for the wonderful writing that we are privileged to read daily and the occasional masterpieces that are far more common than any one of us could ever expect.

  23. Anonymous says:

    I don’t even like Bruce Springsteen…and this was absolutely amazing. Thank you, Joe.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Joe, that’s one of the best pieces of your writing I’ve ever read.

  25. clay says:

    Writing a story about a song, you’ve written a story about your life, your father’s life, and a very big slice of American life. A home run. You know, they should give Pulitzers for blogs and this should be your entry. Not that it’s about awards, just like it’s not about hits for Bruce. Oh, and about Bruce, I’ve always liked him, but never loved him the way others love him. I now understand the way others love him, by reading this story of yours that is about so much even as it was only intended to be about something very specific. Makes me want to listen to Bruce as others must have listened to him more than 35 years ago. I will tell others to read this. Inspiring.
    Clay Horning
    Norman Transcript

  26. clay says:

    Oh, and Joe … or anybody else.
    Want to cry over another song?
    If you’re in love with anybody.
    Really in love.
    Listen to Brandi Carlile’s “The Story.”
    Great, great work.
    Again, inspiring.

  27. Victor Laszlo, Jr. says:

    I had a conversation with a friend this morning about all the things we’d ask our Dads if they were still alive.

    Your writing today helps soothe the desire with the unspoken understanding of what is already present.

    Well done, good and faithful scribe!

  28. Sean says:

    I’ll give Simmons credit for pointing me in your direction years ago. But you are an unbelievably gifted writer.

  29. Ryan McDaniel says:

    As an art history student I might be a little biased, but a great writer is as important to art as the artist himself. Amazing piece Joe. Springsteen is from before my time and all I know of his music is the hits, so you have revealed a completely unknown aspect of his work. Bruce may be one of the biggest musicians on the planet, but your writing elevates his art even higher. Well done.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Wow. Joe you capture a lot of what a son thinks of his dad.

    “My father, like all men of his generation (it seemed to me), could fix anything, could solve anything, could lift anything.”

    At 44 I still think of my 67 year old dad that way.

    Also want to say in this day, thanks to my dad and all the men and women who faithfully served in the military.


  31. Pete R says:

    Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.

    (Proverbs 13:12)

  32. Joe327 says:

    My dad died in 1994. Our drive was him taking me to junior high school, not a factory (he actually was an accountant). And I’m crying as I type this. Thank you, Joe.

  33. Mikey says:

    “Writing is easy. You just sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” – Red Smith

    Greatest post ever on this blog. Thanks Joe.

  34. Drew says:

    This is amazing. Which I think I say after reading most things you write. But I mean it now more than ever. I’ll be thinking about this for a long time. Thanks Joe.

  35. Noel says:

    What the hell are all these bumps doing on my arms?

    Fantastic piece, Joe and that’s saying something!

  36. Anonymous says:

    You’re not a sportswriter. Bruce is not a rock ‘n roller. Nope, you’re both artists.

  37. Oyster says:

    This article is about Springsteen the way Field of Dreams is about baseball. Which is to say, it has everything and nothing to do with Springsteen.

    Well done, Joe. Well freaking done.

  38. Anonymous says:

    A simply stunning piece of critical thinking about a great artist, his creative genius and the effects of that genius on an equally blessed and gifted artist.

    Thanks, Joe

  39. Anonymous says:

    Days turn to minutes/and minutes to memories/life sweeps away the dreams that we have planned/you are young and you are the future/so suck it up and tough it out/be the best you can

    Conveys quite a bit of similar feeling I think.

  40. Jacob says:

    Wow. You made me tear up at work. I actually saw Springsteen with my dad.

  41. Hartzdog says:

    Amazing. This is art, Joe. Raw and beautiful.

  42. Nato says:

    I really love it when you write about Springsteen, Joe. This piece is great – actually, you should really consider writing more about music (alternately, consider publishing what you already have written), and don’t hold back.

  43. Anonymous says:


    I’m a relatively new dad, I’m from Jersey, and I have a strained relationship with my father. You think you might have touched me with this one?

    After reading your gorgeous piece, I said to myself, “I think I want to be a dad like Joe’s dad.”

    Sheesh, are you talented. Your no-hitter continues…

    Thank you.

  44. Anonymous says:

    Joe, great work here. As a big fan of the Boss, my Dad and you – this is a gift, thanks buddy!

  45. JohnG says:

    Joe, your skill as a writer is unsurpassed. Thanks for constantly make me think and feel. You are the best writer I have ever read and I thank you for constantly brightening my day.

  46. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for a great piece. It is amazing how much smarter and more heroic my dad beciomes each day as I raise my own…

  47. DavidC says:

    I can’t wait to read Chapter 2 – how did you get from there to working at a newspaper in Georgia?

  48. kaufmak says:

    Best thing you have ever written. I have the tears right now.

  49. JJ says:

    Thank you, Joe. I can’t believe I can read this blog for free everyday. Just can’t believe it. Thanks.

  50. nightflyblog says:

    Completely superb. Thanks for this, Joe.

  51. Joel says:

    This may be the best thing that you’ve written (and that’s saying something, so far as I’m concerned).

  52. El Brendaño says:

    wonderful. and i can’t stop listening to the album.

  53. Frankie B says:

    It doesn’t matter to me what interests you; if you write about it, I want to read it. Baseball, infocos, Bruce, fathers and sons.

    Thank you, Joe.

  54. Anonymous says:

    perfect. as a divorced father of two, i can relate to the need for that kind of connection. you should be proud of yourself and your father should be proud of you as well. congratulations.

  55. Bobby A says:

    Joe, you should also write for LIFE Magazine, or at least what I think LIFE Magazine should be.

    Truly incredible storytelling, Joe. Thank you.

  56. Joel Shapira says:

    Joe, instant classic. You can repost this every Father’s Day for all I care. I think I’ll be reading this hundreds of times in subsequent years. Unbelievable.

  57. Anonymous says:

    “And the weirdest thing happened, something I can never remember happening before or since when I listened to a song. I felt myself crying.”

    Well Joe, the weirdest thing just happened to ME, somthing I have never done when reading an article or a blog post. I felt myself crying.

    Remarkable Joe.

  58. Anonymous says:

    This is brilliant writing. Thanks, Joe! I am longing to talk to my dad right now and inspired to act in ways to honor the sacrifices my parents made for their children. I read Charlie Pierce and he directed me to Joe’s blog. Thanks to Charlie, too.

  59. Irish Oriole says:

    Stunning article. I went to see Bruce live for the first time last year – it was an incredible experience to see such an artist display his craft. This is on that level.

  60. James says:

    Thank you so much for this, Joe. I hope you realize how many people you help everyday.

  61. Anonymous says:

    Great story.

    Thank you,


  62. When Tommy Tomlinson posts a link of your writing on Facebook and I finfish with tears in my eyes and the sound of squeaky wipers in my head… damn you’re good!

  63. Thank you so very much for sharing this part of you.

  64. Anonymous says:

    8:40am here is Shanghai and what a great start to the day. Nothing that happens for the rest of the day can make it a bad day.

  65. Ian S says:

    Wow! After noticing the previous comment was from someone in Shanghai, I have to tell you I am in Tokyo reading this.

    Joe you touch readers all over the world.

  66. Anonymous says:

    I’m sending this to my Dad as soon as I can clear my eyes enough to type his address…

    Thanks, Joe. This is what quality writing is about. Making people see parts of themselves they didn’t know how to articulate.

  67. Anonymous says:

    I write for a living, and I’d have given three fingers to have written this. And four fingers not to have understood it.
    Typing with ten fingers, unfortunately.
    -Peter Cooper

  68. Anonymous says:

    Hearing The Promise for the first time made me cry as well, and hearing it follow immediately after Thunder Road is an amazing listen. Reading your post made me cry as well, and it made me call my dad as well just to talk.

    Thank you, Joe.

  69. Anonymous says:

    You don’t arrive at this kind of writing by going to the right schools, interning at the New Yorker and effortlessly scoring a job at the Times. No, you have to live some of your life uphill and downtrodden. But it builds and you grow, and then it’s your time. Your time, Joe.

    Happy Veteran’s Day to the dads and moms who fought for us, in uniform and out.

  70. Christopher says:

    Wonderful piece, Joe. Thank you.

  71. Anonymous says:

    I hope Bruce sees this. Thanks for an amazing piece Joe

  72. Rob says:

    Thank you, dreams and hope and real emotions make for the best piece of writing I have read in a while

  73. Hugh Jorgan says:

    Obviously the previous 70 odd posts already covered it, but to re-emphasise…a really nice piece of writing. It’s always a pleasure to read something so heartfelt. Like a good piece of music, good literature always comes from personal experience, thanks for sharing yours.

  74. Anonymous says:

    You know, When I read things like this… I feel lucky to be European.

    America can be pathetically sentimental and mediocre at the same time.

    Not that I think JoePoz is mediocre. I reckon he may end up in the HoF as a journalist.

    No, its the country, the culture. That cheap sentimentality about everyday things. Everybody works, has children, feels lost, etc.

    Only in America that’s considered to be an unique experience.

  75. Michael Baldry says:

    Joe, this is wonderful. I find it remarkable that you write this for free and post it on the internet. You clearly love to write. Your writing is a gift and a blessing. Thankyou.

  76. Darren says:

    Simply fantastic writing – thanks so much for sharing.

  77. John H. C. says:

    European Anonymous,
    It’s precisely because it is NOT a unique experience that it is fraught with sentiment, and that descriptions of it are valued.

  78. Anonymous says:

    wow, european anonymous, just, wow. i truly feel sorry for you. maybe when you’re done smoking clove cigarettes and reading camus you’ll salvage some meaning from your life.

  79. Colin says:

    To European Anonymous,

    I suspect that “cheap” sentimentality you so artlessly deride runs true through all Western cultures.

    Every culture I know of has a common myth that binds them together in a national identity.

    For the french, their common myth is pastoral. Listen to the Marseillaise…I don’t think I’ve ever heard a national anthem as rife with references to the sacred bond between land and country and blood. And this despite the fact that the majority of Frenchmen live in cities.

    For the English, it is a romance with the sea. Tennyson wrote a great many pages on this and many subsequent writers wrote of Nelson, the little ships of dunkirk, the Armada, and plenty of things that happened a ridiculously long time ago. And this despite the fact that most Englishmen don’t have anything in their lives that ties them to the sea except for the occasional view from their flats.

    For Germans, it’s a bit harder to see given that it wasn’t a true nation until Bismarck, but I would argue that the common national identity is stems from ‘Das Land der Dichter und Denker,’ a land of poets and philosophers. German philosophy emphasizes the importance of the “Volk,” literally a national identity hewn from dust. And this despite the fact that most Germans are neither philosophers, nor poets, nor would consider themselves one people a mere two hundred years prior to now. Talk about pointless sentimentality.

    For Americans, much of our common myth is industrial and working class. I can trace my working class roots, as can many Americans. I happen to work in the financial services industry and haven’t had to loosen a bolt or work in a factory a day in my life. But I know people who have and so Joe’s piece resonates.

    These are not unique sentiments (at least among the culture of the individual nations they represent) but they are valued, simply because they give common identity.

    In conclusion, I find your statement analogous to an American saying of an Englishman, “Pfft, what’s so special about the sea? We have boats here too!”

    It’s completely true and completely pigheaded at the same time.

  80. redsock says:

    Years and years ago, if I read someone who wrote beautifully about baseball and rock and roll and whatever all else (Snuggies!), I would be both wildly envious and more than a little annoyed at my own meager abilities. Now I am smart enough to simply be glad that the other guy’s stuff exists.

    I sent this to Joe last night — studio footage of The Promise!



    3. enjoy

  81. Niagaradad says:

    DavidC, I remember Joe writing on that some time ago. Don’t know if he would still have it available. He switched over to this site a while back and I don’t think all archives have been restored.

    Well not specifically about leaving that factory but on leaving accounting and getting into writing was part of the blog I’m remembering.

  82. filkertom says:

    Wow. Amazing. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  83. Anonymous says:

    I know those tears.

  84. Matt says:

    As a 21 year old without a clear direction, this is great to read. Thanks

  85. TJB says:

    Poignant and well-written essay. The narrative through-line about your father is particularly moving, Joe. Please submit this to one of the “Best American” anthologies. This really deserves to be published somewhere and read by a wider audience. Excellent piece.

  86. What, I’m supposed to put in a good day’s work after reading this? I’m numb.

  87. I discovered Bruce Springsteen a bit more than a year ago. Since then my life has not been the same. I discovered this blog for the first time today. Things might just change again …
    I am constantly trying to put the emotions Bruce’s work stir in me into words. And constantly failing. Well, today you have certainly done it for me.
    For that I thank you.

  88. Anonymous says:

    Too bad Bruce never wrote any songs about working class women who weren’t hookers, girlfriends or wives.

  89. David in NYC says:

    What everyone else said.

    I think it’s a measure of how good this is, and how many connections it makes with your BRs, that it took until European Anonymous for any comment to be even remotely negative.

    And to EA: I would bet that my general critiques of American culture are a whole lot more pointed than yours, but if you can’t, won’t, and/or don’t understand what Joe is getting at, then I have to wonder if you even have a soul.

  90. Saburo says:

    I’m thinking of splurging for the jumbo (3CD/3DVD) package. And if the “Rosalita” footage is edited like it was in “Video Anthology” then heads will most certainly roll.

  91. Anonymous says:

    Thanks, Joe. You are the best.

    Max (wiping tears)

  92. Anonymous says:

    “Anonymous said…
    Too bad Bruce never wrote any songs about working class women who weren’t hookers, girlfriends or wives.”

    Jackson Cage, Car Wash and The Wish come to mind.

  93. Anonymous says:

    My Old Man
    By Steve Goodman

    I miss my old man tonight
    And I wish he was here with me
    With his corny jokes and his cheap cigars
    He could look you in the eye and sell you a car.
    That’s not an easy thing to do,
    But no one ever knew a more charming creature
    On this earth than my old man.

    He was a pilot in the big war in the US Army Air Corps
    In a C – 47 with a heavy load
    Full of combat cargo for the Burma Road.
    And after they dropped the bomb
    He came home and married mom
    And not long after that
    He was my old man.

    And oh the fights we had
    When my brother and i got him mad;
    He’d get all boiled up and he’d start to shout
    And i knew what was coming so i tuned him out.
    And now the old man’s gone,
    and i’d give all I own
    To hear what he said when i wasn’t listening
    To my old man.

    I miss my old man tonight
    I can almost see his face
    He was always trying to watch his weight
    And his heart only made it to fifty-eight.
    For the first time since he died
    Late last night I cried.
    I wondered when I was gonna do that
    For my old man.

  94. Anonymous says:

    I figured out this morning why I love your writing so much, Joe. I’m not really a Springsteen fan, I bought Born in the USA back in college because, well, that’s what you did that year, and I like his stuff but never really got into it, if you know what I mean. But I don’t have to be a fan to love this post. And this post makes me open to checking out more Bruce, but it’s really that, to love the post, and understand it and keep reading, I didn’t have to already know and love Bruce — it was all there, beautifully expressed. Thanks again.

  95. Anonymous says:

    Damn its dusty in here

  96. Jay Ess says:

    There’s a verse Springsteen left out of the final version of the song. He used to play it when he did the song solo on piano in the ’70s (it’s on lots of bootlegs), and he sang it in the studio during a scene that’s in the documentary about the making of the album. It links The Promise to Independence Day:

    “Now my daddy taught me how to walk quiet
    And how to make my peace with the past
    And I learned real good to tighten up inside
    And I don’t say nothin’ unless I’m asked.”

    I guess that’s one way to make your peace with the past…

    It’s sung in the place of the verse:

    “I won big once and I hit the coast
    But somehow I paid the big cost
    Felt like I was carrying the broken spirits
    Of all the other ones who lost.”

    To me, it’s not better, not worse, but certainly different. What a great, great song.

  97. Perry says:

    “Too bad Bruce never wrote any songs about working class women who weren’t hookers, girlfriends or wives.”

    Well, I’m sure there are others, but “Spare Parts,” from Tunnel of Love springs to mind.

    Bobby said he’d pull out Bobby stayed in
    Janey had a baby it wasn’t any sin
    They were set to marry on a summer day
    Bobby got scared and he ran away
    Jane moved in with her ma out on Shawnee Lake
    She sighed Ma sometimes my whole life feels like one big mistake
    She settled in in a back room time passed on
    Later that winter a son came along

    Spare parts
    And broken hearts
    Keep the world turnin’ around

    Now Janey walked that baby across the floor night after night
    But she was a young girl and she missed the party lights
    Meanwhile in South Texas in a dirty oil patch
    Bobby heard ’bout his son bein’ born and
    swore he wasn’t ever goin’ back


    Janey heard about a woman over in Calverton
    Put her baby in the river let the river roll on
    She looked at her boy in the crib where he lay
    Got down on her knees cried till she prayed
    Mist was on the water low run the tide
    Janey held her son down at the riverside
    Waist deep in water how bright the sun shone
    She lifted him in her arms and carried him home
    As he lay sleeping in her bed Janey took
    a look around at everything
    Went to a drawer in her bureau and got
    out her old engagement ring
    Took out her wedding dress tied that ring up in its sash
    Went straight down to the pawn shop man and
    walked out with some good cold cash

  98. Anonymous says:


    I’m glad you found what you were meant to do.

  99. David in NYC says:

    @Perry —

    You beat me to it.

    God, I love that song — lyrics, music, performance. Just brilliant.

  100. dee says:

    I love Bruce Springsteen, I loved my father and now I love you. This is powerful, first-class writing! and it says something, many things, that needed to be said. Thank you.

  101. Anonymous says:

    Am I the only one too stupid to see what Joe realized was the thing that kept his Dad going to work everyday? It is driving me crazy. I have my ideas but I’m not sure. Or is that the point?

  102. Jay Z says:

    Joe, have you ever read The Brothers K, by David James Duncan? It is a beautiful, epic family melodrama about a minor league pitching prospect/factory worker and his family in Camas, WA. I’m sure you get “you should read X” all the time, but this is a truly gorgeous book about baseball and pretty much everything this post was about.

  103. Anonymous says:

    I remember my youth in, yes, East Germany, running through the dark, wet streets in the morning, heading to the factory where I was on training – dreaming of a completely different life while I couldn’t resist loving the wet street, the dark morning, and the factory and the people I was working with. There were other countries in the world I couldn’t even imagine but by reading books of Saul Bellow, and JD Salinger and Jack London and others. And now I’m still living in East Germany but there isn’t any “East” no more and the whole wide world seems to be filled with girls and boys and women and men struggling for their dreams and finding reasons to sigh over a Bruce Springsteen song and such wonderful articles like this one.
    Thank you very much.


  104. Perry says:

    I’ll second the nomination for The Brothers K — one of my favorite books ever.

  105. Anonymous says:

    Bruce Springsteen photographer reveals details behind dramatic cover photo of new Darkness box set:

  106. jtf says:

    Very moving piece…inspired by a gut-wrenchingly powerful song. Well done. Thanks for posting it.

  107. matt says:

    “Too bad Bruce never wrote any songs about working class women who weren’t hookers, girlfriends or wives.”

    He has written several. Example:

    Driving home she grabs something to eat
    Turns a corner and drives down her street
    Into a row of houses she just melts away
    Like the scenery in another man’s play
    Into a house where the blinds are closed
    To keep from seeing things she don’t wanna know
    She pulls the blinds and looks out on the street
    The cool of the night takes the edge off the heat

    In the Jackson Cage
    Down in Jackson Cage
    You can try with all your might
    But you’re reminded every night
    That you been judged and handed life
    Down in Jackson Cage

    Every day ends in wasted motion
    Just crossed swords on the killing floor
    To settle back is to settle without knowing
    The hard edge that you’re settling for
    Because there’s always just one more day
    And it’s always gonna be that way
    Little girl you’ve been down here so long
    I can tell by the way that you move you belong to

    The Jackson Cage

  108. William Longyard says:

    Joe, I’ve been reading Springsteen articles for over 35 years, and yours is not only the most insightful, but the most beautifully written. Thanks. Bill Longyard

  109. Anonymous says:

    Thank you

  110. Anonymous says:

    The next time someone tells me I’m crazy because I still cry thinking about my dad even though he died 16 years ago, or because I follow one musician across the country every chance I get and cry at his concerts, or because I cry over whether I’m being the best parent I can possibly be, I’m going to make them read this.

    Thank you for capturing life’s most important emotional bonds so beautifully.

  111. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the piece as it reminded me a lot of my dad and our many drives and discussions of life. I too cried when I heard the Promise as it brought back those memories by the bucket full.

  112. Anonymous says:

    Fathers and Sons is to me what Darkness is all about. This is a beautiful piece of writing about a beautiful piece of music and a bond between two people that is what makes life worth living

  113. Anonymous says:

    Always Wanted to Play Piano said…

    What, I’m supposed to put in a good day’s work after reading this? I’m numb.
    I’ve never wanted more to put in a good day’s work.

  114. Thanks Joe. I’ll be forwarding this to my best friend who’s a Springsteen nut. Really wonderful.

  115. NIck Lung says:

    I saw my first show at the Tower Theater in Philly in late 1975 and have been absorbing everything I can find on Bruce since that day.
    In all the time I have been reading and listening to people try to describe the power and meaning of Bruce’s work no one has ever done it as poignantly as you just have.
    “Darkness” turned out to be the most important music I would ever listen to (as my circumstance was almost identical to yours.) The stories on the record motivated me to seek an alternate destiny to the soul sucking factory life I had been handed.
    I couldn’t help thinking (as I was reading your beautiful piece) of the story that Bruce used to tell during “Growing up” about his father wanting him to be a lawyer and his mother wanting him to be an author. You, my friend are a writer. Thank you. I plan to share this with all of my friends that can’t quite understand my devotion to Bruce.

  116. gocart mozart says:

    A tape measure home run Joe.

  117. Llarry Amrose says:

    Joe, I hope you read this, even 3 days after the original post… I am catching up during a vacation that has had me fall behind for a week.

    I am not a Springsteen fan. He has done songs I like, but more that I just don’t care for or about. Just not my cup of tea. Still, I really enjoy your columns about him, because you are able to express so well what it is that you do like about him, and I can understand and appreciate that.

    So today, I am driving across the middle of Florida in a rental car, and the radio plays a “new Bruce Springsteen song”, I think it was the new version of Racing in the Street. And that’s when it hit me:

    Bruce Springsteen sounds like my father’s home town.

    Not that he sounds like he came from that town, and Bruce’s hometown is not quite the same kind of town as my father’s. Like people sometimes talk about how a color tastes, or how a smell takes them back to some old memory, that is how Bruce “sounds” like my dad’s hometown.

    This will not magically transform me into a big Bruce fan, I honestly don’t remember much about the song, other than it sounded like Bruce, and he sounded like he meant whatever he was singing (like always, and I understand that’s one of his big selling points among his fans). I also don’t think I would have come to this realization without the Bruce columns you have posted over the last couple of years.

    Holley, New York, is a village west of Rochester, and about 60 miles east of Buffalo. It has a nice village square, and not much more. The area is good farmland, “the Muck”, good soil kicked up by the glaciers in the last ice age, and concentrated when Lake Ontario was much bigger. The farming isn’t what it used to be, and bigger chains are coming through and killing off the smaller local stores and restaurants.

    Some folks go to work in Rochester, though the big companies there (like Kodak) aren’t what they used to be, either. Everybody else works in those local businesses that support the area. My great-grandfather was a mason. My step-grandfather ran a gas station/garage. My aunt is a nurse and her son is a sheriff’s deputy. That sort of thing.

    Dad joined the Navy, so I grew up elsewhere. We moved around a lot, but when I was 9, he retired. We spent a year in Holley before settling in a Navy town a good day’s drive away, and that’s where I finished growing up (though we visited Holley almost every summer). That’s my “hometown”, and now I live somewhere very different (big city in the Southwest).

    I would never live in Holley, and yet, for some things, it’s not an anchor, but it is a reference point. It’s still an ingrained image of, I don’t know, maybe, “How Life Works” or something like that.

    And that is what Bruce Springsteen sounds like.

  118. Anonymous says:

    Powerfull writing – a great pice ! Thanks
    Takis (takpap)

  119. Ed says:

    Dang, that was a great read.

  120. e says:

    Hey Joe…next time you’re on assignment in the NY area you should take a ride down to Freehold Boro NJ. Drive down Rt 9. Take 33 east to Asbury.

    The Boss , from what I can tell doesnt like Freehold much, hence naming his first album Greetings from Asbury Park. (man that makes me sick) Plus, Freehold once wanted to rename South Street , Bruce Spingsteen Blvd. He declined. haha

    I am always , constantly, perpetually, inspired by Springsteens success. Freehold is a dead end town (a town full of losers is a bit harsh) and he is one of the few to come out of there a winner. Just so happens he’s one of the biggest winners in the universe.

    I think you would like Freehold. Seeing where he was born, (Springsteens version of “Freehold” that he played at St Rose can make me cry if I have enough beer in me. But, alot of upper middle class people pay their bills off Bruce work so they took it off the you tube) where he grew up, and if you get real lucky you might just see him somewhere on Main Street having a beer.

    The thing I love most about my hometown is how genuine and real it is. We might be a bunch of losers, but we dont do fake in Freehold Boro. Most of us cant afford it.

    Wherever I go on the planet, Ill always be from Freehold. And it will always leave me blissfully bewildered that a nondescipt 5’8″ painfully shy man who plays a middle relievers guitar, sings like a bad Karaoke , and writes like someone put Bob Dylan in a microwave , is my ambassador wherever I go.

  121. Jim says:

    More exposure coming for this great essay. Just got linked to by Andrew Sullivan’s blog.

  122. Anonymous says:

    Followed a link from Andrew Sullivan’s blog to here. Glad I did. I think someone else already said this, but I hope Springsteen reads this. Great stuff.

  123. daisyfae says:

    another soul wandering in from Mr. Sullivan’s place… and you got me. crying and missing my dad, who busted his tail, sucked it all up, and managed to get 4 of us raised and not working in a factory.

    thank you.

  124. Butterfly says:

    I am in Europe, it’s 3.17 am and I’m suffering from blurry vision, not because of the early hours, but just because Joe’s beautiful eassay struck home in oh so many ways. I lost my dad when I was 18, but he used to wake me up early and we’s go walking the dogs together, talking about what mattered to me as a young teen and I guess sometimes what mattered to him. I discoved Bruce when I was 14. Bruce helped me go through the difficult years when I had to deal with the devastating loss of my father, a lot of broken dreams and lost direction. I came through on the other side, but I do owe a part of myself to Bruce. Now I owe a part of myself to Joe as well for describing so adequately what the love of Bruce and the love of my dad was always about.

  125. Anonymous says:

    Great article you did Bruce Proud

  126. AllisonMY says:

    And your words made me cry. I think a lot of us see our father’s lives in The Promise.

  127. Congratulations, Joe. Awesome retweet from the Boss himself!

    All the praise is well deserved. Fantastic.

  128. Anonymous says:

    That was amazing

  129. unclesmedley says:

    Turning 50 phased me for nary a moment–nothing near the other, inevitable manifestations of passing time.

    I was 15 in ’75, pimply and desperate, living in a leafy, aluminum-sided ‘burb along the erstwhile banks of the Erie Canal.

    These were the days of Bee-Gee disco, and plaid cuffs, and platform shoes, and flammable shirts: Days, bleak beyond description.

    But somebody in that pathetic milieu somehow happened across The Boss–and he became our avatar: an amalgam of rebellion, an admixture of Shakespeare, Whitman, Guthrie, Ginsberg, Elvis, Dylan and Lennon, with a whiff of Fireman’s Field Day and a hint of go-fuck-yourself that absolutely thrilled us to no fucking end.

    He was no mere rock-star–he was our polestar: We, of the flannel & denim… he, of the parking lots and visionaries…

    And over the years, as we drifted apart, and deeper into civilization and sophistication and the like, some of us looked back with ever-deeper appreciation of those winks & nods of our misspent youths…

    It culminated for me along the Seine, at 35, when in the midst of another sort of melodrama, I found myself lured to the river by a guitarist who spoke not a word of English, but strummed a familiar tune…

    “I grew up in the valley…”

    Like a Jersey poet with a nifty set of digits and a killer franche-aksxann, he reminded me the promise of warmth and moisture, down by the reservoir…”

    It didn’t save my life, but it gave me hope.

    And, in the wake o all the subsequent tabloidishness and awards… through which I resolved to keep my peace … on account of Sandy and the waitresses … and Mary, and her toes, floating, just off the porch … and we, the ghosts of all those dusty beach roads…

    And I always believed that this day would come, when the Boss would return as that guy… the one who we all knew and revered… the one that would inevitably go off ahead… and of whom I would always picture, regardless, as coming back, a bit lessened by the wisdom and diminished by the experience, but righteously bearing gifts for the faithful…

    Lovely work Joe. Tone perfect. Y’done good…

  130. scutter says:

    This album more than any other define my youth ..and clearly influenced you as well. Great work.

  131. Annie says:

    Great writing Joe. You captured all your feelings about growing up, bleak jobs and tying it to great songs by Bruce. I have listened to Bruce for over 30 years and his songs and their meanings become more relevant and personal over the years.I still think one of my favorite lines is from The River, “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse…”
    As a divorced mother of 4, it hits home.

  132. IslandJan says:

    Joe, a fervent Springsteen devotee thanks you for the gorgeous bit of writing you did. I have many bootleg tapes with “The Promise” on them, some you can barely hear all the words. Some of them have different words. I’ve always wished for “The Promise” on a CD where I can hear all the words. Such beautiful words, that always bring tears to my eyes. And so did your writing. I notice that some of the responses to your article mention that you have written other articles about Bruce. Is there somewhere I can find them? Thank you so much.

  133. Anonymous says:

    Fine writing about a great song. The Challenger, as a symbol of Bruce’s music, is a shrewd observation.

    First heard The Promise as a cover on the Light of Day tribute CD. The fellow singing it sounds quite a lot like Bruce, in full throated, high octane mode. I listened to it for days. My kids thought I was being weird. Then, later, they heard Thunder Road, and understood. Now they are 18, 20, and have jobs a bit like the one you describe, and surely understand this song even better.

  134. Anonymous says:

    joe – thank you

  135. JakartaDean says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  136. Rob says:

    Wow Joe, you got linked by Andrew Sullivan. Someone’s getting noticed!

  137. Anonymous says:

    I’m also in Europe and don’t know jack about baseball, but I know this is some excellent music journalism. Also brings back strong memories of those early morning rides with my dad to work at a plywood mill. Thank you, Joe.

  138. Anonymous says:

    Wow. Nice job, really well done-

  139. Shannon says:

    Wow. Thanks for this.

  140. Howard says:

    Brilliant stuff. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  141. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Joe!!! Enough said!!!

  142. BigTontoLove says:

    My dad was a marine, then worked in a steel mill for 37 years. He’s retired now. He mostly took care of my mom til she died a year and a half ago. Now he golfs as much as he can. Coughs a lot, something he got from the shop, along with the gold watch.

    Thanks for this. Write more.

  143. PAMELA ROSS says:

    You’ve touched many nerves and dredged up a host of emotions with this essay.

    This is what Bruce speaks about when he says a band “needs a community.” Our voices are the ghosts in his song. He hears us, we hear him, and somehow the songs transport all of us to a place we’ve all known.

    I’ve never worked in a factory but after reading your words, I feel as I just punched out of the late shift.

    I have to go put on a Bruce song. My heart both hurts and rejoices with you and I don’t feel like being alone.

    Congratulations on taking us all for a ride in that old Pontiac.

  144. Tomas says:

    Thank you. This blog gave me the same feeling I get when I listen to Springsteen, it made me think…

  145. Anonymous says:

    Got here from andrew sullivan as well. Absolutely beautiful.

  146. Anonymous says:

    Boy, I do wonder how people in Congo and Sudan would feel reading this. Certainly an unhappy teenager having enough to eat and not fearing death, rape or starvation must seem unreal, almost fantastic.

    I still see nothing special about Middle-America working class angst.

    Maybe if Americans did have universal healthcare and decent public high-schools the mood would be different, less fateful.

    A few months ago JoeP said that Roberto Clemente was a similar Player to Tim Raines. This conclusion was derived from WAR comparisons. It is nevertheless an amazing statement to come from a man with such feelings. Clemente had to overcome circumstances a bit harsher than those an American worker had to face in the 80’s (e.g real poverty, an almost absolute lack of opportunity and being a black latino in the 60’s in America).

    At the time JoeP received strong criticism that he brushed away using his stats. Now that The Boss’ music apparently produced an insight about circumstance and achievement in his own life, maybe he will understand that Clemente’s numbers were slightly more difficult to produce that Raines’.

  147. Anonymous says:

    Brilliant…(big sigh)

  148. Tadd says:

    You made a Japanese guy cry too.

  149. Anonymous says:

    Absolutely the best music commentary I have read in a long time. That’s the power of Bruce – his songs make such powerful and poignant connections to our lives. I had same reaction first time I heard Independence Day – cried because it embodied my relationship with my own father. Thanks for a brilliant piece of writing.

  150. Don says:

    WOW! Thanks Joe for putting in words what I could never express about the music I love.

  151. Anonymous says:

    This is a really amazing article! It sums up so much of what appeals to people about Bruce Springsteen and why so many of us identify with him. I particularly enjoyed the part about how the meaning of great art only matters to the person who accepts it.

    A really fine piece of writing.

  152. Donnie says:

    I read just about everything you write Joe, even met you a few times. I remember talking with you at length at Sprint campus about Buck. This piece, my friend, is a true work of art. Be proud & thank you!!!

  153. Laurel says:

    This just made me cry.

    He’s such a distinct, special, incredible voice. Aunthentic, but also smart enough to express authenticity

    So are you.

  154. Mark says:


    Simply put Bruce’s music is authentic and so is what you have written. Thank you

    A more recent Springsteen song which continues to reach me is Land of Hopes and Dreams (the live version is on some compilations)

  155. Boston Jerry says:

    wow. a lot of people really don’t get Bruce. you clearly do.

  156. Liz says:

    Your writing is like what you wrote about Bruce’s music, your writing “soars and it swoops down, and it grinds, and it quiets to near silence… that it ain’t no sin to be glad your alive,…I think, the thing that it’s all about in the end.”
    Very enyoyable reading! Thanks.

  157. Thanks, Joe.
    Your essay really hit a nerve – just as Springsteens song once did.

  158. pretention says:

    I remember listening to a lot of Springsteen back in the late nineties, my life was also on the cusp about to shoot away from Maine to the broad world. I remember the longing and thinking about the girls at UMaine and they were no beauties but hey they were alright. Thanks for this. It is just a great piece of writing.

  159. Wow. What a fabulous article. So much I could say about what thoughts it spurred or resurrected in me, but suffice it to simply say… thanks. Thanks for writing it and sending it out into the world.

  160. Anonymous says:

    Dad died a couple of months ago and this hits home in so many ways…

    Speaks to the soul about father/son relationships…

    Some of the finest writing I’ve ever had the pleasure to read…

    Thanks so much…

    Dave Hinrichsen

  161. Elaine says:

    You really captured what Bruce’s music is all about. Thanks for sharing your story.

  162. Anonymous says:

    Over the top, very well done. Brings back memories of riding in the car with my two sons and what happy times those are. Love the writing Joe and Love Bruce’s songs they help me stay alive inside.

  163. David says:

    You should be writing for Rolling Stone. This was better than anything they’ve published in years.

  164. Anonymous says:

    I’m currently as old as Joe was when he worked in that factory, and during the summer I drive with my father to a warehouse where I spend 12 hour days. He spends his whole life. Many days we listen to Bruce in the car, and I recall having the same realization about my father and the same feelings about my life and his and why he does what he does. This article holds true, even today, Thank you Joe.

  165. Anonymous says:

    As a Bruce-nut since ’75….absolutely BRILLIANT piece of writing.

    Joe JUSTS NAILS it as to why I (in Perth Australia) am a HUGE Springsteen fan…he is REAL. And I suspect (somehow KNOW) Joe is too…


  166. Anonymous says:

    I think what kept your dad going all those years was the promise that someday you would write this very personal thank you note that would be very public. This isn’t about sports or music, those are just the means to deliver the goods. I think you have your receipt.

  167. Anonymous says:

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  168. tom collins says:

    Despite my admiration and emotion for this piece, there’s something flawed at its center, and I’d like to get a handle on that. Darkness on the edge of town kind of thing.

    Someone in the comments section complained that he couldn’t find the sentences answering the question: how could my Dad keep that up for a lifetime? That’s not the darkness, but it’s a signpost in that direction.

    I have lived in three countries, and have seen the toll taken by identification with sports heroes on the part of young school kids. (Illinois, Paris, and Tokyo) Nobody wants to work in a factory, but everyone wants to become a pop star or a football player. The most touching and memorable parts of your post are those devoted to all the things you Dad knew how to do, besides and outside his nine to fiver. (probably longer than that — I just wanted to reference Eminem and his struggle to get out of eight mile). The childhood of the players you describe in the book about the 1975 Cincinnati Reds is a straight line from dream to realisation, for all the players in that incredible lineup. Perhaps the hero’s biography is always a straight line, or a broken one that ends up straightened out.

    But how many people are left stranded in the bleachers? Everyone knows this, and perhaps it’s the dark side of spectatorship, and, as such, part and parcel of the bargain. So, stop complaining, Tom.

    I promise I shall, Joe. But still I wonder: can anything be done with all the people who don’t make it into the limelight? I’m sure I underestimate the myriad ways they find to cope with these turns of fate. But I can’t write. Many of those people read you like Protestants used to read their bibles. And that’s a good thing. Their stories, however, are still waiting to be told, and, as you will live forever, I thought you might want to spend a few more posts and pieces shedding light on them. Pulling them out of the darkness at the heart of their lives.

  169. Anonymous says:

    Wow. That’s beautiful, Joe. Glad music can touch others the way it sometimes touches me.

  170. Anonymous says:

    I’m 21 years old. I go home and live with my parents over the summers once even applying to work at the same factory as my dad. He told me I would hate doing his job and cried when I was able to get a job that I loved and was in my major instead. I always wondered how my dad (and hero) could think that I was too good for the job that he has been doing his whole life. This post is such an eloquent way of describing a father’s love for his kid and the fact that you did it using lyrics from my favorite artist (that of course my dad introduced me to) is really just beautiful. I can’t wait to go home for thanksgiving break, see him and continue our debate on wheater Candy’s Room or Candy’s Boy is the better song. Thanks.

  171. andrewzender says:

    Joe: thanks for writing this beautiful essay. I came to know your work via the KC Star, the NLBM [I’m a former AJM employee] and love to see you flex your music writing muscles.

    Inspired me to write my own post about the recent loss of my father:

  172. gayuh says:

    the promise. nice posts, thanks for sharing.. please visit my blog

  173. ISD Music says:

    Amazing and beautiful. thx..

  174. Claudio says:

    Thanks for writing this. Writing about hope, fathers and sons, Springsteen, and about working at a factory.

  175. Hey, just looking around some blogs, seems a pretty nice platform you are using.

  176. e says:

    I figured it out!!

    It only took me three weeks!

    The answer is you. You! You are what kept your father going! You and your brother Tony and any other siblings you have.

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  178. asbury says:

    I really love how you built your story around the Bruce song and your poetic writing.

    I am a grad student in Japan, and I thought it would be nice if more Japanese Bruce fans could read your essay. So I translated it into Japanese and introduced on my own blog. I’m sorry I didn’t ask your permission beforehand. I would like to tell you that I got some response to your writing and they say it’s one of the best writing and most moving writing about the song. Thank you.

    It’s all Japanese, but it’s here where I translate your essay;

  179. John Lyon says:

    Joe, this article was awesome. Here is my recent review of the Promise:

  180. clothezliner says:

    wow, nice! — an ode to a storyteller’s muses. thanks for the great read.

  181. EatRantRun says:

    Great read.

    It’s especially interesting because today there aren’t many factory jobs to be had, or certainly not as many as there were. So there’s another story. What happened to all the factory workers. What happened to the people who were 5 years away from retirement when the factory moved to India.

  182. R. Mowat says:

    Thanks for writing this.

  183. What did your Dad think of this? I assume he’s read it, whether or not he regularly reads your blog. I’m sending it to my Daddy soon and showing it to my husband when he wakes up. Our daughter was 7 weeks old on Friday.

  184. I’m ready for the full autobiography anytime, Joe.

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  188. Ann Joseph says:

    Nice ‘promise’ music indeed. i some times ponder on the concept of promise and it is nice to see there are people out there who believe the power of music to combine with the promise theme. Apart from music, i collected a group of proverbs about promise or saying to say before promising somebody. Here are some…
    Eat and drink with your own people, but do no business with them.(Serbo-Croatian)

    1.) He is a good orator who convinces himself.(English)

    2.) Old people see best in the distance.(German)

    3.) Don’t sleep in a troubled place and you won’t dream a troubled dream.(Iranian)

    4.) Form your plans before sunrise.(Indian-Tamil)

    5.) A climbing plant does not stay alone.(African-Ovambo)

    6.) What is play to the cat is death to the mouse.(Danish)

    7.) Great politeness means “I want something”.(Chinese)

    8.) The earthen pot must keep clear of the brass kettle.(English)

    9.) Do not leave undone what is in your power to do.(Turkish)

    10.) Neither sign a paper without reading it, nor drink water without seeing it.(Spanish)

    Hope you enjoyed…Find more here….


    Ann Joseph

  189. IceCreamMan says:

    Fantastic article. My eyes were welling up reading it at my job thinking about music, my Dad and what has kept him going, and my own dreams.

    P.s. The 383 in the ’32 Ford in “Racing in the Streets” in bored and stroked Chevy 350, a very popular drag racing motor – it’s common to run 350’s in deuce coupes.

  190. Unknown says:

    I am eternally grateful to my dear friend, Greg Kahn, both for explaining the genius of Springsteen to me and for introducing me to your writing. Sadly, he passed away about a month ago – much, much too early. When I read this reposted article today though, I felt him with me and I had the great consolation of knowing that he must have seen this when it was originally posted. So now I am eternally grateful to you for giving me a piece of Greg to hold on to.

  191. Mark says:

    Wow. Sitting here on a foggy Saturday morning with my coffee reading this…wonderful piece. A couple of months ago, I showed some of my noir-themed images that were influenced by Springsteen songs. So much of what you included here would have dovetailed nicely into my talk. Now I need to go listen to Springsteen. Again.

  192. […] * For Springsteen Fans: Beautiful piece on The Promise. […]

  193. Mike says:

    Joe, just re-read this for the first time since you first posted. This is, literally, one the of best things I have ever read by anyone, anywhere. Thank you.

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  198. neix says:

    from far away: thx man U spoke from my heart …

  199. jiovino says:

    My dad’s dad worked in a factory too. I never met him. My dad loves Bruce Springsteen, and gave that music to my brother and I. This article was poetry.

  200. Liz Juarez says:

    I could relate so much to this.
    My dad has worked in a factory for 15 years,
    and I always wonder what keeps him going.
    Beautiful writing. I’m studying to be a journalist, and I
    wonder if I’ll ever be able to write this good.

  201. Jonathan Neal says:

    I’ve been trying to figure out what The Promise means since I first heard it at Staples Center in LA on 10/23/99. I just cried hearing it today, for the thousandth time. This article is beautiful writing. I wonder what is “the fight that you can’t ever win.” I wonder how many people have had the experience where they were gonna take it all and throw it all away. I sure as hell have. Just a few weeks ago. Leaving my job and literally taking all of the stuff from my office and throwing it all away. I couldn’t get The Promise out of my mind during this experience. This song knocks me off of my feet. We were gonna take it all and throw it all away.

  202. Lori Kirchoff says:

    I admit I’m a little late to this party which makes me sad that I missed your writing for this long. But now that I found you I am so grateful because you put into words how I feel about Springsteen. Sometimes words fail me when I try to explain Springsteen to folks who just don’t get him. But your words do not fail you, Joe. Meet you further on up the road. God speed.

  203. Phil Lynch says:

    I have always thought that what The Promise showed best was that Springsteen was his own best critic and editor. As amazing as it is, it did not fit on Darkness, which is, i think, his best album. This is true even though, apart from Racing, it is easily the best song from the sessions (i agree that Badlands was and is an amazing statement, but The Promise is a better work of art). Still, it didn’t fit the album. It was too much about Bruce and not enough about the shared burdens, dashed dreams, and need to go on whether one wished to or not (Darkness the title song, especially).

    Before, and right after, Darkness the album was released, Bruce delivered some stunning performances of The Promise, performances of individual ache, disappointment in self, and something bordering on despair (i especially like the boston music hall version from 77 and the KC performance in June 78). But the song never fit an album, and, superb editor that he was he never forced it (is there any better testament to his editing skills than Tracks? A lot of good songs and versions, and none that would have improved an album, not even shut out the light, one of his very greatest songs.

    The Promise on 18 tracks felt like an obligation—people want this, so here it is. To me, that version sound forced, unsure. Then, the The Promise, the album, or Tracks, Discs Five and Six. Well, with one stunning exception, the title cut. This version devastated and fulfilled. Devastated because emptiness, betrayal, self-doubt, the prospect of loss of will and promise harrowed us and yet left some hope of resurrection; fulfilled because to capture this finally, devastatingly, perfectly gave us not what had been withheld but what had not yet been found. Maybe why The Promise would not fit on Darkness was that it, then, contradicted the bookends of each side. It was too individual, too bereft, too undetermined. Maybe it took 30 years to make that hurt something, not affirmative, but broadly, existentially shared. Not Appel and Springsteen, but us and them, where we are both us and them, hurt and hurter, innocent and betrayer, romantic and survivor. Maybe it was worth waiting 30 years till the pain and the doubt and something like a resolution, without denying the pain or romanticizing it or the determination that followed, could be manifested.

  204. chrisgail says:

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