Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Cadillac Ranch


In the summer of 1984 I spent my days playing basketball, reading Stephen King novels, hanging out with friends, and mentally preparing myself for the daunting challenge that lay ahead -- senior year of high school. Then an event hit the popular music scene like an earthquake, the reverberations of which were felt even in my tiny midwestern town. June 4, 1984 saw the release of Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" album. At the time, this album sparked a tsunami of critical praise and fan adoration for Springsteen. It was also the album that captured my attention.

However, I am a bit of a completist (pardon my creation of new vocabulary). When I like a singer or group, I do not simply acquire one of their albums. I feel that if I am to listen at all, I should be a loyal listener and hear everything they have to sing. It's part of the explanation for why I currently own over 90 Elvis albums. I won't start on my Barry Manilow collection. (If you are one of those people who can't understand why anyone would choose to listen to Barry Manilow, then I am afraid you are beyond help and must remain forever unenlightened.)

So following my introduction to "Born in the USA", I went back and collected Springsteen's previous albums and was surprised to learn that an album prior to "Born in the USA" was actually superior in my estimation. That album was "The River." On this album is a fascinating song called "Cadillac Ranch." Springsteen's success in part stems from his position as a musical storyteller for the common person. Through his music, he addresses, comments on, deconstructs, and all around revels in the mundane occurrences of everyday life. Whether its hanging out on the boardwalk, going to a dead end job, or driving around in a stolen car, Springsteen shines a light on the unsung men and women who inhabit America's towns and, in the process, teaches us all something about life.

The message of "Cadillac Ranch" is simple compared to most of Springsteen's other songs. It is a song about the inevitability of death. Yet this dire message comes through a rousing rock song with pounding drums and an infectious beat. It reminds me why I like the Gin Blossoms. Their music is fun, bouncy, pop - yet have you ever listened closely to the lyrics? Underneath that patina of rocker joy lie some of the most depressing lyrics this side of the blues.

The title "Cadillac Ranch" derives from a famous landmark in Texas. Resting in a wheat field along Route 66 is a row of ten Cadillacs buried nose first in the ground. It is essentially a Cadillac cemetery. This visual seems to have prodded Springsteen to pen a song about Cadillacs and death. A cursory listen to the song makes one think he or she is listening to a joyful ode to cruising in a Cadillac. A closer listen, however, reveals that the Cadillac in question ("Cadillac, Cadillac, Long and dark, shiny and black") is a hearse. Essentially the message of the song is that none of us will escape a visit to the Cadillac Ranch.

James Dean in that Mercury '49
Junior Johnson runnin' thru the woods of Caroline
Even Burt Reynolds in that black Trans-Am
All gonna meet down at the Cadillac Ranch


I believe this is a song in which the message of the lyrics cannot be divorced from the music itself. These dire lyrics when coupled with the upbeat joyfulness of the music tell us that even though we cannot escape a trip to the Cadillac Ranch, we can still enjoy the journey there. The inevitability of death does not nullify the enjoyability of life. Or in the more poetic words of Springsteen:

Eldorado fins, whitewalls and skirts
Rides just like a little bit of heaven here on eartth
Well buddy when I die throw my body in the back
And drive me to the junkyard in my Cadillac

16 Comments:

At 5:06 PM, Blogger Ron Cox said...

I know you already have it on VHS, but the Zoo TV concert is coming out on DVD in September, with some plenty sweet extras (see www.atu2.com for more info).

This was awesome. I have to play Battle for Middle Earth with the offspring, and then I shall listen about the Cadillac Ranch (which is a better topic for a song than a Chicken ranch, or even a movie).

 
At 7:04 PM, Blogger Ron Cox said...

So, the SpiderMan 3 and Lady in the Water trailers are out. Have you seen them?

 
At 10:27 PM, Blogger Greg said...

Not yet. I hear that the Spider-Man 3 trailer is supposed to be shown before Superman Returns so I am waiting to see it gloriously displayed on the giant screen.

 
At 10:59 PM, Blogger Greg said...

Okay, Ron. I couldn't wait. I just utilized the awesome power of my 17 inch IMac with the Intel chip to download the Spider-Man 3 trailer in High Definition. All I can say is that was freakin' awesome!

 
At 11:38 PM, Blogger Mark said...

Did you notice the quick shot of the Sandman in action, it looked quite amazing. I wonder when they will unveil Venom in the trailers?

 
At 12:55 AM, Blogger Ron Cox said...

I saw the SandMan bit - I don't know about that character. I have reservations about Parker's goth hairdo, but the dancing with Gwen Stacey (?) was cool and the image of him and the ring - that is the triology in a nut shell isn't (since it is 'just' a love story).

Greg - remember when you had will power and could hold out? I work my evil influence, even across a continent, muh ha ha.

 
At 2:22 AM, Blogger Jim MacKenzie said...

The Boss - The Best concert ever. Great storyteller, Great singer-songwriter. I have to go listen to Jungleland now. See ya.

 
At 1:21 PM, Blogger Jim MacKenzie said...

Another thing about the boss: His songs are so real they make you feel like he is singing about you, your situation, maybe how you are feeling at the time. They are just so real. I am listening to The River right now and the stuff in that song happened to a friend of mine not long after that album came out. We were in college and we would listen to that, using it as motivation to not end up feeling that way. He's doing well, he loves his "Mary", he never gave me up. Springsteen the therapist...

 
At 2:12 PM, Blogger Jim MacKenzie said...

One more comment on Bruce: I meant to say my friend never gave up not gave "me" up at the end of the last comment.

From one "completist" to another, one of my favorite albums is Nebraska - acoustic, haunting ballads...

 
At 7:18 AM, Blogger Sermoniac said...

Your comments on the Boss are well noted but most people don't actually listen to the words of a song. That is why so many people simply sang the chorus of "Born In The USA" and thought that they were singing a partiotic diddy.

Thanks for helping me see past the infectious music.

 
At 8:34 PM, Blogger Stephanie Corp said...

I am so glad to know that I am not alone in my love of Barry Manilow!

I am not a fan of Bruce Springsteen, but I will give his music another listen based on our mutual love of Barry and your post.

--Stephanie

 
At 11:46 AM, Blogger Greg said...

Stephanie,
Most people are Manilow fans -- they just won't admit it.

 
At 12:36 PM, Blogger Jim said...

So those are the lyrics to Born in the USA...

 
At 4:09 PM, Blogger Jim MacKenzie said...

Not a Manilow fan; Not ever; Not even a little...

 
At 7:49 PM, Blogger Mark said...

When can we expect a post about Superman Returns? I'm eager to hear your impression and insights into some of the movies symbolic sequences.

 
At 12:38 PM, Anonymous Cadillac said...

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