Songs Without Borders
Paul Gregory Alms on Why Springsteen's "The River" Couldn't Be Written Today
It was 1984 and I was twenty-one years old. My favorite song was "The River" by Bruce Springsteen. It had become so at the end of a road trip with friends from Chicago to Lincoln, Nebraska, in a rusted-out Volkswagen Beetle. As we came into Lincoln at sunset, "The River" came on the cassette player and it seemed to fit our journey perfectly. Though we could not have said so at the time, it matched not only the car trip but also our lives. Soon we would graduate from college, begin to get married, and go on to jobs and other pursuits. We would scatter, and the half-childhood, half-adulthood period of college would morph into the full challenges that come with wives and responsibilities and children of our own.
That car ride and Springsteen's song were characterized by coming up against limits. Sunset marked the end of the day. The trip marked the end of college freedom, and the song marks the end of the singer's own youth in the face of his impending fatherhood and marriage. That moment with the car stereo blaring in the tinny confines of the Volkswagen was a moment on the edge of a border, of bounds weighing in on us, limits we barely understood and often reacted against. We imagined ourselves somehow different from other beer-drinking young men of that age, anxious to distance themselves from their parents and upbringing.
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Paul Gregory Alms (paulgregoryalms.blogspot.com) is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Catawba, North Carolina. He is a graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with both MDiv and STM degrees. He has written extensively for journals such as First Things, Concordia Theological Journal, Lutheran Witness, Lutheran Forum, The Cresset, and others. He is married and the father of four girls.
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