(This is the first in a short series of posts leading up to the Springsteen concert in North Charleston, South Carolina this Saturday.)
“Long Walk Home,” from Bruce Springsteen’s 2007 album Magic, has become a favorite for me in the almost year since the album’s release. In the mold of “My Hometown” without the dirge-like tempo, it’s a song that speaks directly of Freehold, the small central New Jersey town where Springsteen grew up. As I’ve mentioned previously, it’s also where my own parents spent most of their younger days, and I have fond memories of summer vacations at my grandparent’s house on East George Street.
In “Long Walk Home,” then, when Bruce sings about the Veterans Hall, or South Street, these are places that I’ve seen in person. The image of the flag on the courthouse may be a common one to many small American towns, but for me, it’s about being there for many years on the Fourth of July and watching the parade roll through the heart of town and right past it.
Springsteen has often been hailed as an All-American kind of rock ‘n’ roller, and his roots in Freehold, however tortured back then, are what made that result possible. So when he sings,
My father said “Son, we’re lucky in this town
It’s a beautiful place to be born
It just wraps its arms around you
Nobody crowds you, nobody goes it alone.
That you know flag flying over the courthouse
Means certain things are set in stone
Who we are, what we’ll do and what we won’t.”
Many listeners may think he’s singing of an ideal that can’t be reached any more in America, but I think it is still possible, in Freehold and many other towns where “Everybody has a neighbor, everybody has a friend, everybody has a reason to begin again.”
Magic is in many ways an album about new beginnings, but that restart would be impossible, Springsteen knows, without the support of those who have been with him from the start, like the E Street Band members, his family, and those in and around Freehold he still calls friends and neighbors. It may be a long walk home, but what’s there is always worth the wait, especially if there are others to share it with.