Saturday, June 30, 2012

Bruce Springsteen: "Shackled And Drawn"

"Shackled And Drawn."  What does the phrase mean?  It sounds great, fits the tune, evokes the requisite Americana, but what does it mean?

Bondage, that's what it means.  We're chained up so we can't move, and dragged so we can't not move.  We're back on the chain gang.  The music takes us there, too:  after a modicum of techno-shuffle we get what could be the sound of sledgehammers on stone, breaking up rocks for another Southern highway.  We're in Alan Lomax territory here. 

Of course, this being Bruce, he's going to try to free us slaves, redeem us from our bondage, and so the chain-gang rhythm is shotgun-married to a sprightly country-Celtic jig, fiddle and mandolin and Fairport Convention guitar twiddling, not to mention a celestial choir, all giving way in the end to some tent-revival testifying.

The Gospel:  that's how we know we're in bondage.  The singer wakes up one morning, takes stock of his situation "midway through this life's journey" (sez Dante), "another day older, closer to the grave" (sez Bruce), and realizes that he's in bondage.  Did somebody chain him up in the night?  Or has he always been shackled and drawn, and just now knows it?

And who's running this chain gang?  Who's sitting high on the horse, toting a shotgun, daring us to try and spree (like the guy in "Easy Money")?  The "gambing man" who sits high "up on Banker's Hill" where "the party's going strong."  You've seen them:  the people on the balcony drinking champagne in this video.  Slave drivers, every one of them.

Revival.  That's how we know we're in a "world gone wrong."  If that means "I can't be good no more, not like I did before," then whose fault is that really?  In other words, "how can a poor man stand such times and live"?