Wellington St, St Kilda, 1982
I waited ‘til dark. I waited ‘til the share house was empty. I sat in the front room. Bare boards. High ceiling. I closed the curtains, blocking out the cars from St Kilda Junction.
I’d heard this new Springsteen album was different to his previous five albums. I knew not to expect the E Street Band (or any band). I knew not to expect Clarence Clemons saxophone solos (or any saxophone). I knew not to expect fervent, triumphant choruses (or any triumphs). After all, Nebraska was recorded on a four-track tape machine by a man alone in a bedroom.
I placed the needle on the record. Turned out the light. Sat in the middle of the room. Faced the cold fireplace.
Some harmonica. Some strumming. Some mumbling. A song about two serial killers. A song about dying, and about coming back. Another song about murder. And execution.
Grim stuff. As bleak as the grey album cover. As stark as the red titles on the black print on the back.
A song about brothers, one good, one not so good.
Five songs in and I was wrung out. I didn’t catch all the lyrics that first time around but I got the gist of things. No light, no shade on this album.
Then the sixth song began, with its guitar line pulsating like a fresh bruise.
New Jersey Turnpike ridin’ on a wet night
‘neath the refinery’s glow, out where the great black rivers flow
License, registration, I ain’t got none, but I got a clear conscience
‘Bout the things that I done
Mister state trooper please don’t stop me…
At the end of the third verse Springsteen lets out two whoops, or hollers. I wouldn’t say I nearly jumped out of my chair but my heart was thumping and I started thinking about turning on the light.
Could the song, could the album, get any darker?
As the song finishes Springsteen cries out twice more, as if releasing all the tension of all six songs on that first side of the record.
That State Trooper is the last song on the first side emphasised its hypnotic dread, for when the needle lifted off the vinyl and the arm rested in its cradle you’re left there sitting in the silence. On your own. In the dark. Thinking about black rivers and serial killers.
I don’t know the second side of Nebraska as well as the first. I know My Father’s House but the other three songs could never capture and hold my attention after State Trooper.
I’ve got Nebraska on CD and iPod these days, and still on vinyl. I play the album from time to time, sitting by myself, away from the family. I brace myself for State Trooper. I leave the lights on.