Bruce Springsteen – The River

This was the first song I heard by Springsteen that informed me that he had substance.

The river – symbolic of sex, love, life, spirituality, dreams of the future all rolled into one. The idealism of life comes up against the cold reality.

“The River”

I come from down in the valley
where mister when you’re young
They bring you up to do like your daddy done
Me and Mary we met in high school
when she was just seventeen
We’d ride out of this valley down to where the fields were green

We’d go down to the river
And into the river we’d dive
Oh down to the river we’d ride

Then I got Mary pregnant
and man that was all she wrote
And for my nineteenth birthday I got a union card and a wedding coat
We went down to the courthouse
and the judge put it all to rest
No wedding day smiles no walk down the aisle
No flowers no wedding dress

That night we went down to the river
And into the river we’d dive
Oh down to the river we did ride

I got a job working construction for the Johnstown Company
But lately there ain’t been much work on account of the economy
Now all them things that seemed so important
Well mister they vanished right into the air
Now I just act like I don’t remember
Mary acts like she don’t care

But I remember us riding in my brother’s car
Her body tan and wet down at the reservoir
At night on them banks I’d lie awake
And pull her close just to feel each breath she’d take
Now those memories come back to haunt me
they haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true
Or is it something worse
that sends me down to the river
though I know the river is dry
That sends me down to the river tonight
Down to the river
my baby and I
Oh down to the river we ride

10 thoughts on “Bruce Springsteen – The River

  1. I also agree that this song’s lyrics are no more than a fleeting comment adding up to more or less nothing. Performance wise as per the band’s playing ability, it’s hammy. Springsteen’s vocal style simply horrible where he changes key mid-word as that’s the only music he’s got in him, as he never could hold a note. He’s like an old drunk railroad hobo. He’s really popular with all the Monday-night football crowd, the blue-collar red-necks. Not too many brain cells between `em.

    1. Well Zeb – shame you didn’t enjoy it or get anything out of it. One can’t please all the people. But I like it and think it’s a great song.

      1. Well Opher – when you live USA, the last thing I want to hear is ultra-patriotic dunder-headed tool-fodder like this! It’s so crass-embarrassing lighter waving in the air by mutant-with-emotion fair. Horrendous.
        When you see the kind of crowd that buys his records and attends shows – nuff said. Trailer trash IQ level approximating a score of 90, allegedly.
        Given what you said about it being the first song you’d heard that informed (strange terminology) you that he had substance makes me wonder how you’d missed the previous six years of albums. Seems you prefer sugary commercial glossy pop sound to the nitty-gritty real Springsteen of “Born To Run”. He sold out and you bought in. Shame. Move on fast, please!

      2. Well Zeb – we disagree. Born To Run was OK but I did not go overboard about the previous stuff.
        It was the Born in the USA, which was misunderstood by the crowd you are talking about, which really launched him.
        Bruce is OK and he’s written some excellent stuff. If you don’t like it then fine. No problem. I do.

  2. Opher – you’re in merrie olde England, right?
    I hate to say it, but you’re totally wrong and this is why.
    Born In The USA was four years later. A lot happened in the USA music business between 1980 and 1984 as it was almost reinvented.
    You’re confusing MTV video exposure over concrete based album sales garnered via musical critique and audience exposure merit. Basically, he’d already made it.
    What you refer to is the flaky teenage market that soon leave as soon as they arrive.
    Which is why I have to bring to your attention the fact that when “Born In The USA” sold 15-times Platinum, it’s follow up, 1987’s “Tunnel Of Love” sold only 3-times Platinum. His MTV teenage girly audience had moved on and he was back to selling far less records that he had with “The River”.
    The River – a 2LP set, which is a really big deal for marketing in USA, sold 5-times Platinum off the back of radio play alone. In USA, most 2LP’s are doomed to commercial failure, but Springsteen had already made it commercially before, especially with the previous 1975 “Born To Run”, doing 6-times Platinum, followed by “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” in 1978 doing only 3-times Platinum. That downturn slump of almost half was recovered by “The River” release, a 2LP set at almost twice the price.
    So automatically your argument does not stand up at all.
    “Born In The USA” did three times more sales than “The River” because it was a single LP, with at least 5 top-20 hit singles, all on the strength of MTV video play.
    MTV reinvented the configuration of which albums sold and which didn’t. Format radio played along second fiddle to them. “Born In The USA” as a stand alone LP sucked. big time and was full of trash. “Cover Me, “Darlington County”, “I’m On Fire”, Bobby Jean? Ferchrissakes! It’s unlistenable.
    By 1987, Springsteen looked a bit too old for the teenage orientated MTV market who had now moved on to the pretty-boy “Rawk” acts of Bon Jovi and Gun ‘n Roses type fodder. Commercially, Springsteen was over and has been ever since with sales over the last thirty years, with a couple of exceptions, barely scratching at one-times Gold status. A far cry from his day at 5-15-times Platinum. He’s made his money since on touring consistently and merchandising as with the cost of recording an album and marketing a record these days versus his sales, he’ll be lucky to recoup all costs.

    1. Zeb – you’re missing the point: ultra-patriotic dunder-headed tool-fodder
      That was what I was referring to. I know it was four years later. I do not think the River was ultra-patriotic at all (Neither was Born in the USA).
      Thanks for the info and views.

      1. Opher – I missed no such point, at least not that one. I filled in the gaps to your knowledge. Have you any ideas at all what folks down south think of Springsteen with his Stars ‘n Stripes and all that? They’d sooner hang him. Springsteen’s almost entirely supported by macho red-necked, north-east based, ultra working class, blue-collar, loud ‘n proud to be American, Monday-night football folks. Then there’s also the Trailer Parkers, but they don’t buy records. Period. They bleed true blue-blood America thru and thru. Please understand that. They do not read into the small print. His audience is mainly concerned with the feel-good factor, fists pumped into the air in tandem with the beat and there ends. They don’t do philosophy. They don’t care that women come off second best in his songs and always referred to as “baby”. They do face value. And if a song is about a broken hearted guy who’s down by the river and wishing for his lost love, that’s all that it’s ever going to be for them. They do not question the why’s and therefore’s. They don’t question that the song “Born In The USA” has another slant to it. Because if it were that obvious, he’d have been bottled off stage back in the day. This wasn’t a CSNY scenario of a few years back when they watched a third of the audiences walk out twenty minutes into the show when they played “Let’s Impeach The President”. Everybody understood that song’s message. Not by any stretch did they with The River and Born In The USA. You have by far over-estimated the mentality level of the vast majority of his US following. They are in the most – dunder-headed meat packers. Period.
        What you good English folks get from it, god knows, I cannot imagine.
        What you folks don’t understand too clearly is that if he’s got a song about the struggles of some bum-dirt poor sorry-assed drunk n’ drugged slag of a woman with more kids to more guys than she can ever remember – the majority audience of that song are those in not too dissimilar circumstances. Oh, the irony. Yes – we DO understand irony in USA, despite what you English say about us.
        Come over to New Jesey and see fo’ yo’self. You’d also very much struggle to find a black person buying his records – he just doesn’t translate at all. Even some English groups have a greater transition across the tracks. Just because you don’t think something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Springsteen is proof positive of that.

      2. Zeb – who cares what his audience is? I go by the music and the song lyrics. I think it’s got substance and worth and I like it. I take it you don’t. Fair enough.
        The River was written about his sister and her relationship with her husband – not some slut.

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